The 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder is the real deal, an open-top, mid-engine sports car that channels the spirit of the legendary race-bred 550 Spyder and 718 RS 60 roadsters. Sure, Porsche has produced modern riffs on the theme over the past few years, like the 987-series Boxster RS60 and the 981-series Boxster Spyder. But these have been cars that, in truth, have merely toyed with the idea of the ultimate, open-top, mid-engine performance Porsche. No toying here: The 2020 718 Spyder is nothing less than a 718 Cayman GT4 minus the roof.
The 718 Spyder is powered by the same 414-hp 4.0-liter flat-six as the GT4, and has the same six-speed manual transmission. The suspension hardware is identical, from the lightweight struts and springs, to the ultra-stiff ball joints and 1.18-inch lower ride height. Identical, too, are the standard 15-inch steel brakes and 20-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 245/35 ZR20 and 295/30 ZR20 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires front and rear, along with the mechanical limited-slip differential and standard torque-vectoring-by-brake.
The 718 Spyder is the first open-top car developed by GT model line director Andreas Preuninger’s team. Key to the concept is the rigid structure of the Boxster on which it is based, a car developed from scratch as an open-top vehicle, and not a Cayman with the roof cut off and some extra bracing added. That’s why Porsche claims the Spyder weighs exactly the same (3,130 pounds dry) as the GT4. And—no surprise—the Spyder’s performance is nearly identical. It matches the GT4’s 4.2-second 0–60 time and reaches a top speed of 187 mph, just 1 mph slower.
Major visual changes over the regular Boxster include the GT4 front and rear fascias, and a new decklid with vestigial ’50s-style streamliner humps behind the rear seat. As with the 981 Spyder, the 718 features a manually operated bikini roof to save weight. One upgrade for 2020: The roof can now be ordered in red cloth as well as black.
Those front and rear fascias aren’t there for show: As on the GT4, they are functional aerodynamic aids. Bypass ducts on the outer edges of the front fascia direct airflow to exit in front of the front wheels to counteract turbulence in the wheel housings and generate downforce on the front axle. The central opening guides the airflow upward through the center radiator to an outlet in front of the front luggage compartment lid. An additional Gurney flap generates a vacuum that sucks air from the outlet. The front spoiler lip has also been redesigned; the underside is dimpled like a golf ball so the airflow clings more closely to the surface, reducing drag. NACA ducts in the underbody panel supply cooling air to the engine compartment without increasing drag.
As the Spyder doesn’t get the GT4’s giant fixed rear wing, the rear diffuser plays an even more important role in the car’s aerodynamics. Porsche says the 718 Spyder is the first Boxster model to generate downforce on the rear axle, and 50 percent of it comes from the diffuser (compared with 30 percent on the GT4). At speeds above 75 mph, a rear spoiler deploys automatically to further increase downforce.
The Spyder drives with the same intoxicating verve as the GT4: precise, poised, light on its feet, dancing down the road or around the track. You get the same rich dialog through the steering wheel from the front tires, the same superb stability under the brakes, the same alert response to steering and throttle inputs, and the same delightful balance through corners. With more overall downforce, the GT4 will be quicker on the track. But with the roof down on your favorite back road, the Spyder is arguably a more vivid experience, the echoing snarl of the 4.0-liter flat-six overlaying a rush of colors and aromas flooding into the cabin.
We didn’t get much chance to enjoy the 718 Spyder al fresco. A soggy Scottish summer’s day meant we spent most of our nearly 200-mile loop north of Edinburgh driving with the roof up, windshield wipers clearing the view ahead. Under the conditions, the Spyder proved even more surprisingly civilized on the road than its coupe cousin. The roof might be only partially lined, with a plastic rear window, but it stays snug and taut at freeway speeds, and wind noise is remarkably low. And, like the GT4, the combination of 414 hp and low mass means the Spyder is the perfect road warrior, quick and clean and neat in traffic, fast and sure-footed when you have the road to yourself.
We’ve saved the best bit for last. At $97,650 the 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder, which arrives in U.S. Porsche dealerships in spring 2020, is $2,900 cheaper than the Cayman GT4. That’s the only thing GT4-lite about it.
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