While the Porsche Boxster (and its Cayman sibling) has often lived in the shadow of the iconic 911, this new-generation Spyder may see it finally get the proper recognition it has richly deserved for so long. Its mid-engine layout, of course, offers a superior polar moment of inertia, and its centralized weight yields freer rotation, improved chassis communication, and sharper handling, but for years Porsche reserved proper powerplants for the 911. Even when Porsche did decide to grace its mid-engine cars with a 385-hp flat-six from the 991.1 Carrera S in 2016, the best bits were saved for the fixed-roof Cayman GT4, while the Boxster Spyder made do with 10 less horsepower and inferior braking and suspension components. No more.
In steps the 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder, alongside the 718 Cayman GT4. Both cars receive a brand new 4.0-liter naturally aspirated flat-six in the same state of tune—414 hp and 309 lb-ft of torque—meaning there’s no advantage for the Cayman here. Compared to its predecessor, Porsche’s GT division had more of a hand in developing the new 718 Spyder, and thus it inherits its front axle from the 911 GT3 and its rear end is an updated unit from the last-gen Cayman GT4. The brakes come courtesy of the GT3, as well. The 718 Spyder and 718 Cayman GT4 are mechanically identical, and the Spyder is officially a car born from Porsche Motorsport.
The biggest difference between the mid-engine Porsches is an aerodynamic one. Because Porsche expects Cayman GT4 owners to frequent the racetrack more often than those who opt for a Boxster Spyder, the coupe’s aerodynamic profile demands more downforce for increased grip in high-speed corners. The Spyder also offers luxury options that aren’t available in the GT4, including a Burmester audio system and heated steering wheel.
About that engine: it’s not a detuned 911 GT3 engine. The new 4.0-liter flat-six hails from Porsche’s 9A2 Evo engine family—Porsche-speak designating the engines developed for the 992-generation 911. It’s the first of its family without turbochargers and the first with a displacement above 3.0 liters. The 4.0-liter is mated exclusively to a six-speed manual, the same unit used in 718 GTS models and before you ask, yes, the gearing is just as long as it was in the last-gen cars, and yes, we’re a little sad about it. But the new engine revs to 8,000 rpm and its power figures make this the most muscular mid-engine Porsche to date, excluding the Carrera GT and 918 Spyder. We do expect the PDK dual-clutch automatic to become available at some point.
Problem is, it’s not the lightest. Although the 718 Spyder has its manually operated tent-like roof and fabric door pulls to save weight, it still weighs 3,206 pounds. For context, that’s 174 pounds more than a manual 718 Boxster GTS, only 24 pounds lighter than the big-boy 911 Speedster, and a considerable 306 pounds heavier than the last Spyder. Combine this with the generally slower manual transmission, and it could be part of why the 718 Spyder is estimated to hit 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, 0.3 second slower than Porsche’s estimate for a PDK-equipped 718 GTS. But that’s not the point of this car. It’s about offering the unique experience of revving a naturally aspirated engine out to 8,000 rpm and hearing it sing as you blast through a long tunnel. With emissions regulations only getting stricter, free-breathing engines and manual transmissions are getting harder and harder to justify. Porsche understands what we love about driving, and it worked against those hardships to put a manual-shifting, free-breathing, race-bred roadster into production. We’re grateful this car exists.