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Car Reviews The Spyder and Cayman GT4 aren’t your friendly neighbourhood Porsche 718s

2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 is powered by a four-litre six-cylinder engine.

Rossen Gargolov

There’s a new mid-mounted engine inside Porsche’s GT4: it’s a 4-litre, naturally-aspirated inline-six that shouldn’t be a popular choice. But it is.

“It’s a purpose-built engine for this car, and that was the toughest part for us,” says Frank Walliser, Porsche’s vice-president for the 718 and 911 cars. “We never considered a four-cylinder, but we did consider a turbocharger. But in the end, we just didn’t want to do it.”

A smaller turbocharged engine would have better fuel consumption, which is why it seems every manufacturer is building such cars now. But the GT4 is not about being sensible. It’s about passion and seat-of-the-pants, instant response and guttural power.

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Porsche GTs are the true sports cars of the brand, intended for track days and competition. The Cayman GT4 and the Spyder are the sportiest versions of the 718 model line, and they cost almost twice as much as the basic car, with a more powerful engine, improved aerodynamics and downforce, and a little less comfort.

The Spyder, pictured here, and Cayman GT4 are the sportiest models in the German automaker's 718 line.

Daniel Wollstein/Handout

“People still like the old idea of having a big engine in a small car. It’s always exciting and interesting,” says Walliser. “I think the execution of having a stick shift, and being a driver’s car, and how precise the car drives, is the big sensation and appeal for the GT4.”

There is only a six-speed manual transmission available – the seven-speed was too physically large to fit – but Walliser confirms there will also be a PDK automatic option in a year or so. Porsche was surprised at the demand for the faster-shifting transmission, but if drivers want it, then they’ll get it.

Not that we’ll get anything in Canada for a while yet. The first new 718 Spyders and 718 Cayman GT4s won’t arrive in Canadian dealerships until next spring. When they do, the convertible will be the less expensive, starting at $110,500, while the Cayman GT4 coupe will start at $113,800.

Tech specs

  • Base price: $110,500 Spyder/ $113,800 Cayman GT4
  • Engine: 4.0-litre naturally-aspirated inline-six
  • Transmission/Drive: 6-speed manual / RWD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): n/a
  • Alternatives: Porsche 911, BMW M2 Competition, Chevrolet Corvette, Jaguar F-Type R

Looks

The GT4 has a fixed rear wing.

Rossen Gargolov

As one would hope, it’s gorgeous, with a distinctive look. Where most people will only see a sports car, any Porschephile will recognize it as a GT. There’s a new front splitter and front apron, with large cooling air intakes and side blades behind the doors to get air to the brakes. At the back of the GT4, there’s a fixed rear wing that clearly means business.

The Spyder gets its first GT chassis for the 2020 model year.

Graeme Fordham

The Spyder (which is the GT name for the Boxster) shares the look in the front and side, but gets a GT chassis for the first time and a retractable rear spoiler. If you look more closely, you’ll notice a large black diffuser at the rear, designed to improve the undercar slipstream. Apparently, it generates 50 per cent more downforce than before, allowing for top speeds of just over 300 km/h on the autobahn.

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Interior

Optional bucket seats cost several thousands more than standard sport seats.

Rossen Gargolov

The cabin is very nicely refined for a sport-focused car (as it should be with its six-figure price tag). My test cars were fitted with optional bucket seats, which cost several thousand dollars more than the standard sport seats and are designed for track use with no reclining or electric adjustment. They do, at least, slide well back from the steering wheel for easier access, but if you have creaky knees or a dodgy hip, just give up on them now.

The Spyder's soft roof is operated manually to save on weight.

Daniel Wollstein

The Spyder’s soft roof is a manual affair: if it starts to rain, you’ll have to park under a bridge and get out to fix the top into place. It’s a relatively painless process that will probably take about a minute once you’ve figured it out, but the lack of motors saves weight and price. And the car looks just fine whether the roof is up or down.

Performance

Porsche claims the new GT4 trimmed 12 seconds off the time of its predecessor around the Nurburgring, in large part due to improved aerodynamics.

Rossen Gargolov

This is the only thing that really matters for a GT buyer. I drove the Spyder on narrow roads through the Scottish lowlands and the Cayman GT4 on the undulating Knock Hill race track. Neither car gave any cause for concern. It reacts as soon as you step on the gas (no turbo), and holds flat on the bumpiest country corner or track curb.

The big 4-litre creates 414 hp (up from 350 in the Cayman S and 300 in the Cayman), though torque is unchanged at 309 lb-ft. It’s a heavier car than the Cayman S (1,420 kg, compared to 1,355 kg), but it’s a little quicker off the mark, shaving 0.2 seconds off the zero-to-100 km/h time, which is now 4.4 seconds. It’s not really about just power, though; the number Porsche wants you to know is that the new GT4 trimmed 12 seconds off the time of its predecessor around the Nurburgring, and nine of those seconds are apparently thanks to the improved aerodynamics.

My time on the track was spent in lashing rain, so I didn’t push the car too hard. But I did some hot laps with Porsche’s Mark Webber at the wheel afterwards. Let’s just say that in the right hands, the Cayman GT4 is really, really quick.

Technology

The sport-focused Spyder and GT4 have limited options, relative to their base cars.

Rossen Gargolov

There are fewer options on the Spyder and Cayman GT4 because Porsche assumes their drivers want all sport, all the time. There are no drive modes, only Sport. There’s an engine blip button for rev-matching (which works very well), and a louder-pipes button that opens the flaps once the neighbours are awake. The active suspension, 30 mm lower than usual, can be firmed up even more. That’s about it.

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The clever stuff is in the efforts Porsche has made to improve fuel consumption without sacrificing performance. Piezo injectors atomize the fuel and feed the cylinders up to five times each stroke. Start-stop turns the engine off (if you want) when the car is at a standstill. And cylinder deactivation shuts off three of the six cylinders when the engine isn’t under load, typically below 3,000-4,000 rpm. If you have the exhaust set to “loud”, you can hear it happen.

You can hear everything else, too. This is not a quiet car inside, and isn’t supposed to be.

Cargo

Trunks in the front front and back provide a surprising amount of space – though less in the Spyder, of course. You could designate one as yours and the other as your partner’s to cut down on arguments.

The verdict

The Spyder and GT4 are impressive, track-focused cars.

Handout

If you want a Porsche just to impress your neighbours, you’ll be disappointed, because there are more options for comfort and convenience in the less costly Boxsters and Caymans. If you want a Porsche to actually take to a track, the GT4 will give 911s a run for their extra money, and will give you exactly what you want from a mid-engined car. Your choice.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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