Battle of the Boxster bookends: Porsche 718T vs 718 Spyder
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. How can this be a battle of the Boxsters when one of the two cars doesn’t technically have Boxster in its name at all?
That said, the Porsche 718 Spyder has been grabbing headlines because it marks the moment when Herr Porsche finally gave us a roofless version of the hardcore Cayman GT4. And, if you’re like me, you’ll appreciate that in the real-world, having the option to drop the top is infinitely more interesting than being able to claim your fixed roof gives you an extra 0.2 seconds per lap around Brands Hatch while waving your hands around like a driving god.
But let’s ignore naming for a second, because the 718T and 718 Spyder are in effect price bookends of the Boxster range – and they’re both pretty incredible cars. But does the 718T’s four-cylinder engine rob it of any magic, and is the Spyder worth an extra £20,000? We spent two days driving them back-to-back on incredible roads near the Scottish borders to find out.
Aren’t we kind.
Meet the 718T
The 718T is a reminder that even an entry-level Boxster feels pretty special to drive
The 718T takes the entry-level, non-S Boxster with its 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine and makes it a little bit more hardcore. For your £53,916 you get a few sporty bits included as standard that you’d otherwise have to add as options – but it also gets Porsche’s sports chassis – and it’s the only base-level Boxster thus endowed.
This means you get a 20mm drop in suspension and PASM – Porsche’s Active Suspension Management, an active damper system that lets you switch between comfort or modes that reduce body roll and pitching under braking.
If that sounds a bit geeky, then what about the fact that Porsche will let you buy your 718T without an infotainment system as standard to save some weight? Clearly Porsche is aware that this is a bit silly for a daily driver, so you can add it back in to its cubbyhole without paying extra.
Heated seats were a huge bonus on our night-time drives. Note the lightweight fabric door pulls…
Power sits at 300hp, torque at 380Nm and Porsche’s claim of a 5.1-second 0-62mph time feels a little bit pessimistic. It’s a fast car, despite having Porsche’s infamously long gearing – it’s so long that you can genuinely romp along a 60mph country road without getting out of second gear. But still, the yellow 718T I drove over rain-lashed Northumberland moors pulled far harder with more immediate shove than the last naturally aspirated six-cylinder Boxster S I drove. And yes, it’s true that it’s not a great sounding engine, but in isolation it’s fine and you still get a sense of something really mechanical gnashing away over your shoulder. Just hope that you don’t remember how the old six cylinders howled – you can’t help but wonder if this is really progress.
Engine noise aside, everything else about the 718T has proper star quality.
For a start, you’ll find yourself smiling at the slight effort you have to put in just to drive it. The heft of the short-throw gearshift action, the weight of the clutch and the long accelerator throw all require you to think about the act of driving, especially when you grab the 718 by the scruff of the neck. I had a particularly memorable hour chasing a Macan through the rain-lashed night to find the UK’s darkest dogging spot.
The only constellation I could make out during my time at the wheel looked a lot like Neptune's watery wrath
With the T’s headlights punching a hole towards the SUV’s taillights it took a decent amount of concentration to balance the car through turns and ensure the Boxster was happily carving an arc on a slowly opening throttle as corners opened up. Even at 60mph, the act of balancing the car through sweeping left-right bends feels incredibly gratifying. For a relatively entry-level sports car, the 718T feels hard to match – you can sense that everything about it has been engineered to make you feel good, and Porsche has been doing this very well for a very long time.
As I pulled the 718T’s lightweight yellow fabric door handle and clambered into the pitch-black night, I half wondered what Porsche could do to really make a big improvement on the entry-level car.
And then I fired up the 718 Spyder. Oh boy.
From four cylinders to six
The Spyder gets a 4.0-litre N/A six-cylinder engine – it's good for 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds and a 187mph top speed
At £73,408, the 718 Spyder is the most expensive Boxster-based model you can buy, so you’d hope it feels a bit special. And within 50 metres of leaving the pitch-black lakeside car park in Kielder forest, I feel as if I’m in a proper Porsche GT product. The optional Alcantara wheel and unheated £3800 carbon-backed racing buckets helped a great deal, but it’s the raw feedback you get through the rim that starts sucking you into the driving experience in a way you just don’t get in the 718T. Where the 718T gives you a reasonable idea of what’s going on at the front axle, the Spyder seems to give you special kevlar gloves that slide along the road surface. It sounds silly, but you feel locked in and wired to the tyres in a way very few road cars manage.
Which is handy, because on this press car’s Dunlop Sport Maxx Race 2 tyres and in these pouring conditions, I needed a car that gave me confidence on the blast back to the hotel. Freed from the Macan convoy I was free to set my own pace – which tended to be slower in the tight, nadgery turns and much faster in the open, flowing sections where I didn't have an SUV's weight to hold me back.
The carbon-backed buckets and Alcantara steering wheel are must-tick options
Where the 718T’s more road-oriented rubber carved straight through the 1mm-thick layer of sodden leaves littering the twisty backroads, the Spyder’s more summer-oriented tyres preferred to skip over the top without really biting into the cold Tarmac. I started revving out the naturally aspirated 4.0-litre engine, revelling being back in a Porsche that sounds as I expected it to. At 5,000rpm in second gear it’d light up the rear tyres as peak torque of 420Nm laughed at the rubber’s relationship with the mucky road. Wringing the long second gear out to the 8,000rpm redline again elicited a spike of wheelspin and a sideways jink of the chassis, but those lofty revs still never gave me quite the spine-tingling howl the older Boxsters did. But it sure is sodding quick, and it’s on another level from the four-cylinder car in terms of sound.
The yellow one has a lot more traction in these sorts of conditions
The 718 Spyder’s engine deserves some attention. It’s a bored-out, stroked, de-turboed version of the new 911’s 3.0-litre engine, it’s made on the same production line, and it’s only used in the Spyder and the 718 Cayman GT4. So it’s pretty bespoke. Yet, another 500rpm up top would turn a fantastic engine into an all-time great. A drive in the new 911 Speedster the next day with its 9,000rpm GT3-derived engine would remind me how a Porsche should howl, and the Spyder’s only 80 per cent of the way there.
Not all Spyders are scary
Despite the conditions, the Spyder egged me on. It gives such a great sense of how well it’s attached to the road (or not) that you just end up trusting it very quickly. It was wet enough to find myself triggering the ABS into tighter corners, and paying out just enough of the throttle to fire out the other side without any bowel-troubling oversteer. Again, the manual gearbox in this car is one of the all-time greats. The autoblip system will rev-match for you as you work your way down the ratios in the lead-up to a corner. It’ll do it faster and better than you can ever manage, yet I still turned it off just to force myself to slow things down and savour the experience.
Pretty, isn't it? Putting the Spyder's roof up is a bit of a manual effort, but it's worth the mild inconvenience for the way it drives
The suspension’s a key part of the Spyder’s magic. There are no adaptive dampers or driving modes here. Just a solid, firm ride but with damping that doesn’t jar you or the car on sharper bumps. Yes, it feels hardcore, but it doesn’t feel out of place on British roads.
By the time I arrived back at the hotel I’d forgotten about the 718T. The Spyder’s tyres were gently steaming in the building’s yellow floodlights, and I sat in the bucket seats until my hands had stopped their gentle shaking. Sometimes a car will surprise you and give you one of those drives you’ll remember forever, and the 718 Spyder had just done exactly that.
Not a pro pic, clearly – this one's mine. I'd just got back to the hotel after a drive I won't forget in a long, long time. Epic car.
Driving the bookends of the Boxster range showed that no matter where you buy into Porsche’s convertible driver’s car, you’re going to have a pretty special time. It’s merely a case of working out how much you care about straight-line speed, engine noise and hardcore connection to the chassis.
You could take either the 718T or 718 Spyder on a track day and have an amazing time. Yet you could easily daily drive both or elope to the Swiss alps for a fortnight without requiring a chiropractor. Sure, there’s a big question over whether the four-cylinder engine in the entry-level cars sounds good enough for a convertible, but that aside you’ll struggle to buy anything other than an exceptional Boxster.