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2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 Test Drive: Old-School Perfection, Today

Does driving actually get better than this? Maybe, but not by much.

Conner GoldenWriter, Photographer

LOS ANGELES—Looking at the existence of the 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 I tested recently, I'd like to believe Porsche is listening, but logic says otherwise. Balancing insight gleaned from inane complaints, vague suggestions, and ridiculous requests from Porsche fans with the cold, unfeeling data printout of focus-group results, quarterly sales figures, and powerpoint presentations of industry analysts must be Sisyphean. The fact Porsche spends time and money developing enthusiast-forward products like the GTS 4.0 imparts the sugar-sweet false hope that maybe, somewhere inside, there's a car company that actually listens to the extraordinarily vocal but notoriously wishy-washy—in terms of what they really want—sliver of automotive nutters.

In reality, Porsche changing course from prior mass-market experiments back to enthusiast-centric products—in this case, the return to a flat-six from the controversial turbo'd flat-four in the 718 GTS—is likely driven by the very same cost-metrics that convinced Toyota the Supra doesn't need a manual transmission, Mazda that the MX-5 doesn't need a fixed-roof coupe variant, and another German marque that the U.S. doesn't need the BMW M3 Touring wagon. Money talks, and unsold inventory rotting on dealer lots talks even louder.

In the mysterious case of the turbo-four 718 GTS transforming into the natty six-cylinder 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0, according to reports, Porsche's Frank-Steffen Walliser claims it was China that bellyached the loudest about not having a six-cylinder. This, despite the country's insatiable hunger for the tax-beating four-cylinder 718.

2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 Test: A Porsche Miracle

Unlike the simple market metrics that inspired the dual-clutch-only Mustang Shelby GT500, and the conspicuous lack of forced induction in the Toyota/Subaru 86/BRZ, the noteworthy variable in this equation is the strange hardcore counterculture vein that runs thick through Porsche's well-moneyed enthusiast base. In other words, Porsche is the exception to the rule, so keep your cries of, "See? See!? Us weirdos are right! Bring on the manual transmission, rear-wheel-drive wagons" to yourself.

If we're keeping score, this is the second time Porsche has potentially given into the flag-waving from the hard-core minority. The first instance, you might recall, was the great reneging of the PDK-only 991.1 GT3 to the 991.2 GT3 that resurrected the six-speed manual transmission in the GT products. A possible asterisk there is the 991.2 GT3 Touring versus the 991.1 911 R, but that is a tremendously prickly discussion among collectors, and I'd rather not fill my hate-mail folder to bursting, so let's move on to the—spoiler alert—exceptional sports car at hand.

As you've probably surmised by now, the 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 is an update to the prior 2.5-liter, turbo flat-four 718 GTS that lasted a scant two model years between 2018 and 2019, at least in the U.S. Here, the GTS 2.5 is nixed completely to make way for the purist-bait GTS 4.0 for 2021 and beyond; note the 2.0-liter, turbo flat-four engine still found in the base 718 and 718 T, and the aforementioned 2.5-liter turbo flat-four sticking around for the 718 S family. Want more six-cylinders outside of the GTS? Don't hold your breath, but maybe a concentrated letter campaign to Porsche Club China will make headway.

2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 Test: (Not So) Mysterious Engine

For a hot second, the mere existence of the new 4.0-liter engine—seen first in the 718 Cayman GT4 and 718 Spyder a few months prior—had most of us Porsche faithful scratching our heads. Porsche swore up and down: Despite a suspiciously identical displacement as the engine found in the 991.2 GT3, this was a completely different animal and totally unrelated. Forums and Facebook groups were ablaze with speculation as to from where, exactly, Porsche mysteriously fabricated and certified an all-new, naturally aspirated flat-six.

The answer is a whole lot simpler than what the magnesium-foil hat conspiracy theorists would have you believe—the 4.0-liter is a punched-out, free-breathing derivation of the 3.0-liter twin-turbo 9A2 flat-six family found in every non-GT and non-Turbo 991.2 and current 992-generation 911s. Power is down 20 horsepower compared to the GT4, but it's up 29 hp compared to the GTS 2.5, and it matches the fizzy four-cylinder for torque. However, the turbo-four predictably punches its peak torque starting at 1,900 rpm, while the new sixer won't reach deep into its own torque curve until a relatively lofty 5,000 rpm.

Indeed, these two engines—and by extension, cars—are chalk and cheese. It starts right from the first turn of the key: The 2.5-liter bumps to life with a short growl and settles into a background mechanical hum, whereas the 4.0 gnashes and cracks from its slumber, settling into a buzzy, metallic idle that's almost uneven enough to jiggle the car. Both aurally and tactilely, the 4.0 found in this new 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 is immediately more familiar as a "Porsche" than the four-cylinder 718s. But that's a given, considering we had many years of clattering six-cylinder Boxsters and Caymans before the first 718's arrival.

2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 Test: More Than Just an Engine Swap

This 62.5-percent bump in displacement and 50-percent increase in cylinder count, along with the conspicuous absence of the dual-clutch PDK gearbox from the options list (soon to be added, however), is the primary upgrade from the GTS 2.5—but isn't the whole story. According to Porsche, the GTS 4.0 we're testing adds thicker anti-roll bars, recalibrated PASM dampers, upgraded chassis mounts, slightly larger brakes, and upgraded wheels. All of this extra hotness, in addition to the larger engine and extra standard features like heated seats and dynamic lights, adds roughly 130 pounds compared to the 718 Boxster GTS 2.5.

In practice, the 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 makes an exceptionally strong case for a one-car garage, at least as equipped like the red Boxster GTS 4.0 I tore around in for a week. Even more so than the prior 991.2 911 Carrera GTS was to the base Carrera or even Carrera S, the 2021 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 feels incredibly special, arguably a more engaging and true experience offered by any other modern Porsche to wear the GTS badge. The power delivery of the GT4-sourced engine is fantastically linear, and it enthusiastically encourages constant throttle pinning and aggressive downshifts just to exercise the 7,800-rpm redline. Sure, it's nowhere near the window-shattering 9,000-rpm redline of the 991.2 911 GT3, but this car can be had for a good $100,000 less.

2021 Porsche 718  Boxster GTS 4.0 Test: Truly Neutral, Truly Good

Regarding performance, the 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 has to be the current center of the greater automotive universe, at least as it sits in 2021. As long as you don't wait for the optional PDK that is coming soon, 0-60 mph is handled in a Porsche-certified 4.3 seconds, a third of the way to the 182-mph top speed. Of course, as is the repeated refrain each time we get our hands on a Porsche, the company is rather conservative with official performance figures, so let's drop that to 4-seconds flat.

Or in other words, just right. Forget numbers—the 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 I tested is far greater than both the sum of its parts and what the spec sheet might suggest. In Goldilocks terms, this is the "just right" porridge as prepared by Gordon Ramsay, with a large chocolate milkshake on the side. I recently proclaimed the 718 Boxster S w/PDK would be considered one of the best supercars ever made if it were time-warped 25 years ago, so what the hell does that make the 4.0? It sounds, steers, and brakes stronger than the 718 S, and it exhibits none of the somewhat sketchy mid-corner wiggle the 718 S displayed.

Sometimes, it can be frustrating to evaluate Porsches and not repeat and/or contradict yourself. I'm quickly running out of different ways to outline how excellent and near-perfect the entire 718 family is as a dual-purpose sports car, all while explaining how much better and significant the latest and greatest is. Well, there you go—the 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 builds on the exceptional formula of the existing 718 Boxster/Cayman platform, retaining all that you love and enjoy about the existing cars, but better—way, way better.

Dynamically, this is as close to neutral as I've ever experienced. The front end bites ferociously, especially in the tighter, sharper stuff, but then you get to a sweeper where you suddenly goose it and discover the rear, too, must be Gorilla-Glued to the tarmac. You know when you're cutting wrapping paper, and the scissors start to glide almost on their own? It's kinda like that, especially if you have access to roads remotely equivalent to the ones snaking through the hills above Malibu. That's the kind of thought that kept popping into my mind throughout this road test.

2021 Porsche 718  Boxster GTS 4.0 Test: Please Never Stop Building This Car

All the while, the fabulous 4.0-liter engine thrums behind your head. For once, us Yanks aren't the ones getting shafted on something imported; this particular 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 is of German specification, meaning the exhaust wheezes through the gasoline particulate filter the E.U mandates, and which makes the engine sound improperly corked-up. Even with an admittedly muffled soundtrack, I could tell the unfiltered, privatized-healthcare-spec 4.0 will sound every bit the scaled-down GT3 it is.

Combine all of this with the Boxster's general top-down joy and its slick six-speed manual, and a blast uphill in Malibu was the closest experience I'll have to driving a modern 914-6 GT on the Targa Florio. What a car—it's a shame it likely won't be built for very long, as the next generation of Boxster/Cayman is expected sometime in 2022. There are strongly substantiated rumors the next round of mid-engine Porsche sports cars will offer—or force—hybrid and EV powertrains, so the 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 could very well be one great final hurrah before it all becomes a bit anodyne.

Or maybe not. After all, the six-cylinder was all but dead in the Boxster/Cayman, and along came the GTS 4.0 and the GT4/Spyder. Let's hope I and the rest of the fear-mongers are wrong, and we're saddled with cars like the 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 from now until the final drop of gasoline is squeezed from the pump.

2021 Porsche 718  Boxster GTS 4.0 Fast Facts

  • One of the best engine-swaps imaginable
  • Not the same 4.0-liter as the 991.2 911 GT3, but we're not complaining
  • Perfect amount of performance
  • S.-spec will have epic sound
  • Get it while you can—it probably will only stick around for two years
2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 Specifications
ON SALE Fourth quarter 2020 (est)
PRICE $90,250/$121,690 (base/as tested)
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
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 172.4 x 70.9 x 49.7in
WHEELBASE 97.4 in
WEIGHT 3,157 lbs
0-60 MPH 4.3 sec
TOP SPEED 182 mph