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2020 Porsche 718 Spyder Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender

The Spyder has everything you want, and nothing you don’t.

Automobile's All-Stars awards are back, and this year we have one of the best fields of cars we've ever evaluated. In total, we invited 21 of our favorite new or significantly revised cars to find out which are the very best of the best. We've split them into Contenders and Winners, but let us make it clear: every car invited to our All-Stars event is one of the most special cars on sale for 2020. Each day between March 8th and March 10th, we'll bring you a new batch of Contenders, and on Wednesday, March 11, we'll announce our 2020 Automobile All-Stars Winners.

I don't like convertibles. Maybe I'm a purist. Maybe I'm worried about the wind ripping the hair from my head (I'm at an age that it's become a genuine concern). Whatever it is, I like a metal or carbon-fiber roof separating me from the outside world. There are exceptions. Three to be precise: the Caterham Seven, the Lotus Elise and, now, the Porsche 718 Spyder. Cars so immersive that rain, hail, or even a Category 5 hurricane couldn't untangle you from the deep connection and sense of purity found when you drive them on an amazing road. On a warm, dazzlingly sunny winter's day in California? Well, the Spyder really is close to perfection.

The magic of the 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder is that this time around it stands on equal footing with the headline-grabbing Cayman GT4, and was developed alongside the coupe by Porsche's GT department. That means it benefits from the same 911 GT3-inspired suspension, steering, and chassis upgrades, as well as a sublime new 4.0-liter normally aspirated 9A2 Evo flat-six engine. That engine, confusingly derived from the 3.0-liter twin-turbo engine usually found in the 911 Carrera and Carrera S rather than the even more exotic 4.0-liter from the GT3, is good for 414 horsepower at 7,600 rpm backed up by 310 lb-ft of torque. It revs to 8,000 rpm. For now, the only available transmission is a six-speed manual—which is fine by us.

Slip inside and immediately, it feels right. Honed, polished to perfection, engineered with obsessive detail and yet joyously involving. There's such clarity to its controls, such fine weighting to everything you touch and operate, and a fluidity and sense of test-drive control that beats pretty much anything, even in this All-Stars lineup. For example, it takes time to become one with the Ferrari F8's fast-twitch response or adapt to the Lamborghini Huracan Evo's complex dynamic-steering system. With the 718 Spyder you just jump in and drive. It's simple, intuitive, and freakishly symbiotic. Like how cars used to be … only faster, possessed of more grip and precision and, incredibly, with even creamier manners should you overstep the mark on a racetrack. The Spyder's balance is incredible.

On the road it's perhaps more impressive still. The gearbox is simply one of the greatest manual throws ever to grace a performance car. The ride is composed but connected and, should you wish for an edgier experience, you can simply switch the dampers to Sport mode to wake the mini-GT3 within. The engine offers such instant response and soaring reach. You can probably tell I quite like this car. In fact, for me it's closer to what Porsche is all about than the current 992-generation 911. There's a focus and purity here. Things we'd change? The gearing is tall (2nd stretches to speeds exceeding 80 mph) and the engine—brilliantly crisp as it is—feels slightly reined-in and polite considering the numbers it produces. That's about it. The optional ceramic brakes have a really strange and loud brushing noise, too. You can live with that for the unbelievable feel and braking power they deliver.

My colleagues were similarly bowled over. "Take the 911's skills, distill them into a smaller, more focused package, slice off the roof for an even more immediate experience, and you have this brilliant Boxster," said Automobile contributor Arthur St. Antoine. "Frankly, if I could have only one car for an afternoon assaulting a tricky mountain two-lane, I'd choose this one. The Spyder has everything you want, and nothing you don't." Senior editor Aaron Gold echoed those thoughts. "I respect the 911, but I really feel like I bonded with the 718," he said. "This strikes me as the perfect sports car. It's got so much grip, the steering is an art form, and it communicates every single thing it's doing through your backside. There is a level of connection with the driver that few cars can reach."

In fact, whoever I asked about the Spyder overflowed with praise. "Such a great chassis. Point the car any which way and it's happy. Gearbox is a delight," concluded pro driver Andy Pilgrim. News editor Ed Tahaney swooned, "My number one pick for best all-around All-Star that I would actually buy—if I could afford one. Smooth shifter, precise handler, and my new mistress." And it goes on. Social media editor Billy Rehbock loved it so much he wanted to wear the smell of its clutch on his clothes forevermore.

Which begs the question … how is this not an All-Star? I guess it comes down to breadth of ability. (And this year's judges' vote was incredibly close for several cars in terms of making the final group of All-Stars or just missing out.) There were sports cars here that offered similar highs in a more useable and affordable package, and supercars that were sharper still and probably even more exciting for a 30-minute blast around our test route. Does that sound convincing? I hope so. Honestly, the 718 Spyder was my All-Star of the entire field and I suspect it'll be looked back upon with the reverence reserved for only the very best Porsches. Pilgrim nailed it best when he said, "Small audience for this one, but they will probably be in love for quite a while. " About 100 years, I reckon.

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder Specifications
PRICE $97,650 (base)
ENGINE 4.0L DOHC 24-valve flat-six/414 hp @ 7,600 rpm, 310 lb-ft @ 5,000-6,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD convertible
EPA MILEAGE TBD
L x W x H 174.5 x 78.6 x 49.6 in
WHEELBASE 97.8 in
WEIGHT 3,206 lb
0-60 MPH 4.2 sec
TOP SPEED 187 mph

2020 Automobile All-Stars Awards: The Very Best Cars of the Year

This year's Automobile All-Stars awards saw us return to the Palmdale area for track testing at Willow Springs before spending a few days in Angeles Forest and Borrego Springs. So what are the best cars of 2020? These are.

2020 Automobile All-Stars Winners 

The new Ferrari F8 Tributo is arguably the best mid-engine car on sale today, delivering ludicrous performance and, just as important, a driving experience to match.

What makes the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette an Automobile All-Stars winner? Killer performance and unbelievable value, for starters.

2020 Bentley Continental GT Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner 

The third-generation 2020 Bentley Continental GT is a car so good we couldn't help but name it a 2020 Automobile All-Star.

2020 Kia Telluride SX Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner 

In a field of supercars, sports cars, and Europe's best, Kia's Telluride three-row SUV proved it's a great choice for anyone in need of an affordable, well-built people hauler. So great, it's an Automobile All-Star for 2020.

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner

Even facing down the very best supercars of the year, this American powerhouse proves it can do finesse as well as brute force—and earns an Automobile All-Star award in the process.

With its upscale interior, great chassis, and fun-to-drive demeanor, the Mazda3 proves that a car need not be expensive to be an Automobile All-Stars winner.

2020 Toyota Supra Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner 

The new Toyota Supra has been a polarizing figure since it hit the market, and our test drivers found plenty to debate about it. But it proved it's one of the most-fun sports cars on the market, and easily claimed an Automobile All-Star award in the process.

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner 

Reimagining a legend isn't easy, but sometimes Porsche makes it look that way. The 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S is not just a great sports car, it's an Automobile All-Star.

2020 Automobile All-Stars Contenders

2020 Subaru Outback XT Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender 

Subaru's family wagon might seem a bit out of place in this company, but that's only because you haven't driven it. The 2020 Subaru Outback XT is a 2020 Automobile All-Stars Contender.

It's Mercedes' smallest offering in the U.S. , and not even the hot version, but the A220 is breathing the rarified air of the 2020 Automobile All-Stars competition.

2019 Subaru WRX STI S209 Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender 

This limited-edition, U.S.-market-exclusive super-STI is unlike any Subaru that's come before, that's for sure. But is the WRX STI S209 an All-Star?

The Lamborghini Huracán Evo is fast, loud, and gorgeous. No wonder it's a strong 2020 Automobile All-Stars contender.

It's a special edition, but is the Porsche 718 Spyder really that special? We found out during our 2020 All-Stars evaluation.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender 

We spend three days in Southern California hills and desert testing the 2020 Jeep Gladiator along with 20 other All-Stars Contenders to see which rise to the top.

2019 Honda Passport AWD Elite: Automobile All-Stars Contender 

The very fact that an affordable family hauler is rubbing shoulders with hypercars and mega-luxe cruisers should tell you the 2019 Honda Passport AWD Elite is something special. It's also a contender for the 2020 Automobile All-Stars award.

How does a car this big drive this well? We dig into what brought the 2020 Mercedes-AMG 63 S to this year's Automobile All-Stars competition.

It's McLaren's first car to put a serious emphasis on practicality and comfort over outright performance—but is the GT an Automobile All-Star?

2020 BMW Z4 M40i Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender 

The 2020 BMW Z4 M40i proves it's just as much about good handling and driving fun as it is about top-down cruising.

BMW's excellent M850i xDrive luxury sport coupe does battle with 2020's best cars but falls short in this year's Automobile All-Stars competition.

2019 Audi RS 5 Sportback Test Drive: 2020 Automobile All-Stars Contender 

The 2019 Audi RS 5 Sportback is a compelling and powerful machine that's a winner in its own right.

Electric cars have many inherent advantages over the combustion-powered competition, but does the 2020 Audi E-Tron have what it takes to hang with this year's best?