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The New 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS and Cayman GTS Are Daily Drivable Track Stars

With a 4.0-liter flat six engine, the magic is back in Porsche’s mid-engine superstars

Rory JurneckaWriterManufacturerPhotographer

ESTORIL, Portugal—Get on the power, and somewhere around 4,000 rpm is when the new 2021 Porsche 718 GTS models' exhaust notes thicken. Raspy and thin at first, the bass section suddenly snaps into action. The bellowing baritone of exhaust gasses racing from combustion chamber to the atmosphere fills our ears as a grin stretches across our face. As things reach a dual-tone crescendo at 7,800 rpm, equal parts trebly whine and punchy boom, grab the shifter and pull that satisfying manual gear lever straight back for fourth and let it all soak in again as we take a brief and slightly worried glance at the speedometer.

This, friends, is a classic Porsche driving experience, but we're not driving a classic Porsche. Instead, we're in a Phyton Green 2021 718 Boxster GTS 4.0, top down, on a stretch of narrow and twisty two-lane road in the hills just outside of Estoril, Portugal, that a friendly local tells us hosts a special stage on the World Rally Championship schedule. One thing's for sure: The road isn't on our Porsche-supplied drive route, as we put ourselves slightly off course thanks to some confusing navigation prompts.

But never mind that now, the road's too amazing to worry about where we should be. Besides, the 90-degree, off-camber left turn ahead demands a hard squeeze of the Boxster GTS' big red brakes and a drop down through the gears to second. The car automatically blips the throttle to send the 4.0-liter flat-six engine's revs up as we swap cogs, and the firm brake pedal has plenty of feel as the Boxster GTS slows with authority and tucks into the bend. We're off the throttle as the car rotates just a touch, settles, then clips a late apex before getting back on the gas hard, unwinding steering and picking up speed at what seems a crazy pace for a road that's barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other. This isn't Sicily, but it sure as hell feels like we're racing in the Targa Florio. Which actually isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.

Those three little letters, GTS, have signified something special at Porsche for many decades now. Porsche itself would point to the 1964 Porsche Carrera GTS—the first Porsche to wear the moniker, and now known more commonly as the 904—as the inspiration behind the title. While that's mostly a bunch of horse-pucky, the 904 was arguably the last Porsche race car that could realistically be driven from its owner's garage to the racetrack, where it could then bring home a win before being driven home again.

In that sense, the GTS badge does start to make a little more sense, symbolically. No, we're not suggesting you're going to win your class at Le Mans or even a local SCCA event in a 2021 Porsche 718 GTS. But the new cars do deliver just the right level of sporty good fun in a package that can be driven daily on the street and flogged on a racetrack with near-equal amounts of satisfaction.

At the very heart of the changes to the 2021 718 GTS models is a naturally aspirated, 4.0-liter flat-six engine slightly detuned from Boxster Spyder and Cayman GT4 duty to produce 394 horsepower and 309 lb-ft of torque. The new mill replaces the competent but soulless 2.5-liter turbo-four found in the previous 718 GTS, while adding 29 ponies (torque remains identical). The output is 44 hp more than the current 718 Boxster S and Cayman S, which continue to make do with a 2.0-liter turbo-four engine. Paired to an honest-to-goodness six-speed manual gearbox (yes, the PDK dual-clutch automatic will be available optionally after a time), the new 718 Boxster and Cayman GTS feel like a blast from the past, and bring back a formula that's inseparable from the brand's legacy.

Porsche's philosophy of the GTS trim level is to include most of the bits you'll want to go fast, while leaving much of the equipment that doesn't help the cause off the list. That means the Sport Chrono package is included, giving Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus drive modes, along with Porsche Active Drivetrain Mounts. Porsche Torque Vectoring also makes the spec sheet, which brakes the inside rear wheel on turn-in to help rotate the car, while a mechanical limited-slip differential, long forbidden to Porsche's mid-engine cars, helps put power down effectively exiting sharp turns. Porsche's sport suspension includes Porsche Adaptive Suspension Management (PASM), which includes variable damping and lowers the car by three-quarters of an inch (standard suspension with PASM is also available at no cost, which lowers the car half that amount). A quick steering rack is donated by the 911 Turbo for use on the 718 GTS.

Aesthetically, each example of the 2021 Porsche 718 GTS is styled to look meaner than lesser variants, with plenty of black trim, tinted lighting, and 20-inch gloss black wheels. The side air intakes get a single horizontal vane to help direct airflow, and the blacked-out front lip is specific to the GTS trim level. Inside, a GT sport steering wheel and shift knob and boot are all covered in Alcantara, while the black-dialed tachometer bears the "GTS" script. The familiar Sport Chrono clock and timer sits atop the dash aft of the central climate vents.

It's finally time to come down from the hills, so we turn the rotary drive mode dial on the steering wheel to Normal and marvel at the way the car's suspension can be both so sharp on the roads we were just driving, but so compliant over the choppy cobblestone-paved surface that leads back to Porsche's temporary home base. That, incidentally, is Autodromo do Estoril, a 13-turn, 2.6-mile road course that hosted Formula 1's Portuguese Grand Prix in the 1980s and '90s. It's hallowed ground where the late, great Niki Lauda clenched his third and final F1 championship in 1984, and where up-and-coming Jacques Villeneuve in his Williams-Renault once stuck an outrageous outside pass on reigning champ Michael Schumacher's Ferrari around the final Parabolica corner. When we arrive, a pair of 718 Cayman GTS coupes are lined up on pit road, at the ready.

The two cars are optioned slightly different, and as we swap between them for a few on-course stints, we get a better sense of which options we'd spec our own 718 Cayman GTS with. For example, while the standard six-piston front, four-piston rear, steel brakes are absolutely fine for road work, track rats will want to spec the Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes (PCCB) for sharper initial bite and an even firmer pedal, despite their added noise. Similarly, the sport seats, which do a better job of holding posteriors in place under track-level g-load, are a small chore for daily road use; their higher side bolsters require a bit of careful climbing over to prevent bruised thighs and premature wear.

Porsche says the Cayman is slightly stiffer than the soft-roofed Boxster, making it a somewhat more capable car for track duty. Makes sense to us and after a few track stints, we're in agreement. No, the 718 Cayman GTS isn't as purposeful as the GT4 Clubsport, but it's sharp, direct, and frankly mesmerizing to hustle around Estoril with a driving position that's near perfection. We've got the drive mode dial set to Sport Plus, which engages automated rev-matching (a neat trick that we reluctantly agree improves our lap times), and our hosts mandate that Porsche Stability Management (PSM) stays active. Even so, the car is engaging, allowing a satisfying slip of its tail through the tight, right-hand, 180-degree uphill Turn Three before sorting itself out. Mostly, though the car is beautifully balanced, almost benign in its behavior and perfectly stable well into the triple digits we reach on the long front straight. We could keep lapping all day, but Porsche wants its cars back with some tires and brakes remaining, so we reluctantly duck down pit lane.

Cars that are this satisfying on the track are a rare breed. Even more rare is a car that feels just as cheerful turning laps as it does bombing down back roads. In fact, we'd suggest that the 2021 Porsche 718 GTS lineup is the most well-rounded, most engaging, and most user-friendly of any cars Porsche produces. With an anticipated starting price of less than $100,000 for the 718 GTS duo (we estimate $87,000 for the Cayman and $90,000 for the Boxster, though a few options will make quick work of that), someone who doesn't need the miniscule rear seat space a larger, heavier 911 affords has to at least begin to wonder why they'd bother to pay more for one.

2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS/Cayman GTS
ON SALE Fourth quarter 2020 (est)
PRICE $87,000-$90,000 (base) (est)
ENGINE 4.0L DOHC 24-valve flat-6/394 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 309 lb-ft @ 5,500-6,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD convertible/coupe
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 172.4-173.4 x 70.9 x 49.7-50.2 in
WHEELBASE 97.4 in
WEIGHT 3,157-3,166 lb
0-60 MPH 4.3 sec
TOP SPEED 182 mph
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