2020 Porsche 718 Spyder Review: …and Nothing Else Matters

Porsche's ultimate Boxster is a driving enthusiast's dream, fiddly roof and all.

I decided to get back into cycling this year.

If 2020 has had any sort of silver lining, it’s that hobbies like cycling have seen a huge resurgence. I was lucky enough to find the model I wanted at a nearby store, and used the short summer to get reacquainted with a ride I hadn’t used regularly in over a decade. It was a revelation. Slicing down paths with nature filling my eyes, ears, and nostrils, and my legs burning at the top of each hill, it was a reminder that bikes are, for many of us, our first real taste of self-propelled movement. It’s an incredibly powerful feeling, a heady mix of freedom, speed, and (a little bit of) danger.

Of course, commuting via bike is still a very real thing, especially in Toronto. But with the whole situation we’re facing this year, I’ve been able to use my bike only when I want to. It’s been liberating. As we grow older, our relationship to personal transport evolves. We rarely get the chance to go out and drive just for the sake of it. But if ever there was a car that existed for that—and so completely rewards you for doing it—the 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder is it.

What makes a Spyder, a Spyder

“Oh great,” you’re already saying to yourself, “another freaking gushing Porsche review.” You’re not wrong. I am going to wax lyrical about the Spyder for the next 1,000 or so words, because it is that good of a driver’s car.

So with that said, let’s get the negatives out of the way right now. The ride is stiff in town. The infotainment is feeling pretty old these days, and the sound system is hilariously weak. You’re also essentially looking at $100,000 for a Boxster.

Okay, cool, that’s sorted. Onto the good stuff.

The Spyder is a rolling paradox. It’s a product of Porsche’s GT division, which spits out track-focused machinery—and yet it’s a convertible, so it’s inherently less rigid than a coupe. It ditches the turbochargers found elsewhere in the 718 range, those snail-shaped bringers of low-end torque and effortless thrust, for a big-displacement, naturally-aspirated 4.0-liter flat-six. Want those whip-crack shifts that only a dual-clutch can snap off? Too bad: the Spyder only comes with a six-speed manual, at least for 2020.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo Review: Truly Electrifying

That’s because, despite the borrowed GT3 front suspension and brakes, the 1.2-inch (30 mm) lower ride height, and those ultra-sticky tires, the Spyder is about driving enjoyment just as much as it is outright speed. The H-pattern shifter is a joy to row, requiring a not-inconsiderable amount of effort to swap between ratios. The clutch is surprisingly friendly, with a good weight and plenty of travel allowing the 718 to easily roll away from lights without even touching the throttle. But oh boy will you enjoy the first full squeeze of that right-most pedal.

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Save the non-turbos

Eight thousand revolutions per minute. Writing out the Spyder’s redline figure forces the brain to consider how hard that flat-six is working. You’re never in doubt from within the car: the breathy intake noise is always audible, top up or down. With the lid stored, more of that signature Porsche soundtrack makes its way to your pleasure centers. What starts as a bass-heavy rumble cleans up in the mid-range, transforming once more to a valkyrie shriek past 6,000 rpm. I’d apologize to my neighbours for the early morning theatrics, but it wouldn’t be genuine.

The trade-off for that sensational singing voice is a comparative lack of torque versus the rest of the Cayman lineup. The 309 lb-ft peak figure is the same as the Boxster S, but whereas that car rides a wave of twist from 1,900 to 4,500 rpm, the Spyder doesn’t start hitting that number until 5,000 rpm. Like a bicycle, you need to put the effort in to reap the benefits.

Fortunately, the 718’s six-speed manual encourages you to row it often. It has such a positive feel, and that engine sounds so good, that you’ll find excuses to shift. The pedal placement allows for heel-toe downshifts, though there’s also a button on the center console for automated rev-matching.

I let the ECU handle the throttle blips for most of the week with the 718. Partly because it nails them every time, but also because, on the road, I barely need to apply more than a toe’s pressure to the middle pedal. The 15.0-inch steel brakes offer massive stopping power—I’m never left wanting for the upgraded carbon-ceramic discs.

But really, it’s the steering that brings everything together. Wonderfully weighted, the Alcantara-clad wheel is always talking to you, letting you know just how much grip remains in the front pair of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s. The answer is almost always “tons”. Body roll is practically non-existent in the chassis’ Sport setting, and with so much of the weight centered low down between the axles, the 718 remains predictable and composed no matter what you throw at it.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Review

On a twisty back road with the top down, the Spyder becomes an even more intoxicating dance partner. Exposed to the elements, you hear everything: the tires digging into the apex, the ping of errant pebbles in the wheel arches, the bolt-action of the next gear slotting into place. It’s a workout, but one you enjoy.

Open-air motoring, some assembly required

Porsche likes to do a funny thing that most manufacturers can’t get away with. It charges you more, for less, in the same way a fancy-framed racing bike will cost as much as a few more comfortable road bikes.

Like other GT department products, it uses fabric door pulls in place of regular handles. Forget any talk of weight savings: these are for an aesthetic. It’s not one my partner appreciates. “These are really dumb” were her exact words when first getting in, and it colored her opinion on the Spyder from there on out. Our relationship has recovered, thank you for your concern.

And there’s the roof. It’s a far sight easier to erect and stow than the one before, but there’s no avoiding that it’s a manually-operated top on a six-figure car. Only the hood latch is powered. That said, by the end of the week I was able to handle the roof in less than a minute. Press the button to unlock the hood and pop the rear deck cover, press the tabs hidden in the base of the roof’s ailerons to disconnect them, connect them to their secondary location on the roof, lift the whole rear section, fold the roof away, lid shut, and fold the little plastic bars behind the seats back into place.

It isn’t simple, and having a co-driver speeds things up, but I started to enjoy it by week’s end. It provides a sense of occasion that feels right in line with the Spyder’s raison d’être. That, and it looks cool. Naturally, top-down is the 718’s best look. The fairings behind the seats provide a dramatic profile, and that low nose speaks clearly to the intent of the Spyder. Just watch for sloped driveways.

The interior looks and feels good, with Alcantara covering practically every surface. The 18-way power seats are one of the few nods to luxury in here though. Porsche’s 7.0-inch touchscreen is fine, but it’s definitely starting to show its age. Even Apple CarPlay costs extra, and Android users don’t even get support. The upgraded Bose stereo doesn’t get much play from me, but that’s as much due to its weak performance as it is the flat-six soundtrack from behind my shoulders.

Driving assists? Ha. I doubt Spyder buyers are concerned with the latest cloud-powered, sign-recognition smart cruise control. Want blind-spot monitoring? Look over your shoulder.

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Verdict: 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder Review

As sublime as the 718 Spyder is to drive, it’s impossible to ignore its nearly-100-large asking price. The mid-engined C8 Corvette is perhaps the stiffest challenger, with more horsepower, more torque, and at the price of a base Boxster.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray First Drive Review

But the 718 Spyder is more than the sum of its parts. The ratio of grip to power to balance is so utterly in sync that the driving experience is on a whole other level. Factor in those arresting looks and the top-down experience and it’s not just better than the competition, it’s better than the Cayman GT4. A short blast in that one confirmed as much for me.

The 718 Spyder is everything we love about driving in concentrated form. It’s that first bike ride, but for adults. We should celebrate it while it still exists.

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