Accidentally scheduling two different appointments for the same time slot is probably something all of us have done at least once or twice. In my case, that meant mistakenly booking a pair of test cars for the same week late last year. And they couldn’t have been more different cars. I’ve already written about the Toyota Venza—it’s an attractive and efficient hybrid crossover that charmed me far more than I expected after I drove from DC to upstate New York and back. I was already expecting good things from that week’s other car—a 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS—yet it, too, exceeded them.
The 718 Boxster is the entry point into the Porsche sports car range, but there’s nothing entry-level about the $88,900 GTS. It sits almost at the top of the tree, between the cheaper, more everyday 718 Boxster S and the more expensive 718 Spyder, a car with which it shares an engine, which in this case is a 4.0L flat-six, an engine that makes Porsche nerds get a little weak at the knees.
Most of Porsche’s power units have turned to turbocharging in the past few years—including the lesser variants of the 718—but not this four-liter lump, which remains resolutely naturally aspirated. Installed in the GTS, it makes 394hp (294kW), 20hp less than in the stripped-out Spyder. (Both GTS and Spyder make an identical 309lb-ft/420Nm). Although the engine isn’t quite as rev-happy in the GTS as in the Spyder, it’s not far off—the torque peak is between 5,000 to 6,500rpm, and peak power arrives at 7,000rpm, with a 7,800rpm redline to call time on things.
Porsche’s engine experts have plenty of expertise tweaking flat-six engines, and their bag of tricks here includes a dual-mass flywheel, forged high-strength steel crankshaft, a big main bearing, piezo-controlled direct fuel injection, and a variable intake system that boosts torque by changing the frequency of the air pulses that feed the cylinders. There’s also cylinder deactivation for low-speed, low-load situations, which disables the spark to one of the two banks of cylinders to boost fuel efficiency. (The engine will alternate cylinder banks every 20 seconds in this mode so it’s not just the same three cylinders being deactivated every time.)
Underlining the driver-focused nature of the GTS is the fact that the default transmission is a six-speed manual, with Porsche’s PDK dual-clutch automatic as an option. Our test car turned up with three pedals in the driver’s footwell, and the gearbox is a delight to use. The action of the shift mechanism is smooth and direct, and there’s a rev-matching function that blips the throttle on downshifts (which can be deactivated if you want to heel-and-toe on your own).
As you might expect, fuel efficiency is not the GTS’ first priority, even with stop-start and cylinder deactivation. The promise of 24mpg (9.8l/100km) on the freeway was one reason for picking the Venza for that long, boring drive.
The lack of adaptive cruise control also factored into my decision—it’s available as an option, but it’s one that Porsche didn’t add to the demonstrator that we drove. And you can add the lightweight single-piece bucket seats to that list as well. These were fantastic at holding me in place during spirited pre-dawn drives, but I find they can be a little too narrow for my shoulders, and the lack of padding counted against them in the context of a 13-hour drive. When you take into account that the bucket seats cost $5,900, it seems like an option you should only pick if you plan to spend a lot of time with your GTS at track days.
Boxster-lovers have lamented that the two-seat convertible left behind Porsche’s iconic naturally aspirated flat sixes for turbocharged flat fours when the 718 debuted in 2016. The return of six-cylinder power and no turbocharging adds a sense of occasion to what was already a competent sports car. But then that applies to the Boxster Spyder, too. That car’s MSRP might be $7,400 more expensive, but the difference can disappear pretty quickly once you start ticking boxes on Porsche’s option list, and the Spyder does get some unique bits like a lightweight folding roof that only heighten the drama. For those who can afford either, it must be a nice dilemma to have.
Listing image by Porsche