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|
|ENGINE||4.0L DOHC 24-valve flat-six/414 hp @ 7,600 rpm, 310 lb-ft @ 5,000-6,800 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD convertible|
|L x W x H||174.5 x 78.6 x 49.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.2 sec|
|TOP SPEED||187 mph|
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