Weis­sach’s big bore 4.0-litre atmo flat-six tack­les one of Vic­to­ria’s hid­den semi-alpine gems

THERE IS A CER­TAIN thrill about dis­cov­er­ing a new road. It starts at home, brows­ing Google Earth like a US spy satel­lite, zoom­ing in on es­pe­cially squig­gly stretches to see if they’re sealed or not – or more than a car-width wide. Then there’s de­cid­ing to schlep the how­ever many hours out there, hop­ing to dis­cover it’s 100km/h not 80km/h, that it hasn’t been over­run by crazed trail-seek­ers in high-rid­ing old Nis­san Pa­trols, or herds of feral deer. Fair dinkum, in the Aus­tralian alps that’s very much be­come a thing.

That could have very well been the case for C486, too, the re­mote coun­try road con­nect­ing Hey­field to Jamieson in Vic­to­ria a few hours east of Melbourne, 143km run­ning roughly north-south and reaching 1558m in al­ti­tude as it crosses Mount Skene in the Aus­tralian alps. A good part of the road is un­sealed, and so treach­er­ous in win­ter (peo­ple kept need­ing to be saved) that it’s now only open sea­son­ally.

An even bet­ter part of the road, at least for en­joy­ment in a low-slung car with softly side-walled sporty tyres, is mer­ci­fully sealed, and that’s the part we’re ex­plor­ing to­day. We’re head­ing from agri­cul­tural and tim­ber town Hey­field to Licola, the only town – in all of Vic­to­ria – not on the state elec­tric­ity grid. It is en­tirely self-sus­tained.

Given that we are still in some form of lock­down as we set off, our ve­hi­cle for self-iso­la­tion to­day at least can guar­an­tee plenty of air-flow. To call the new Porsche 718 Spy­der just a pimped-up Boxster would be to do it a gross dis­ser­vice – and po­ten­tially mean you’re miss­ing out on prop­erly ap­pre­ci­at­ing what is a se­ri­ously spe­cial car.

Sit­ting 30mm lower than a reg­u­lar Boxster, on enor­mous, spindly, forged 20-inch wheels; and with low, pro­trud­ing front spoiler, duck­tail-es­que rear lip and rear dif­fuser jut­ting out­wards, the Spy­der is vis­i­bly the GT3 of Boxsters (from the side pro­file of the front wheel for­ward it could be a 991.2 GT3 es­pe­cially). But this one would be the GT3 Tour­ing if you count the fact there is an H-pat­terned lever be­tween the seats, no PDK avail­able, not yet any­way.

Al­ways some­thing to be cel­e­brated, the six-speed man­ual utilises the dual-mass fly­wheel from the 911 GT3, con­nect­ing a newly de­vel­oped 4.0-litre nat­u­rally as­pi­rated flat-six to the rear wheels only, by way of an hon­est, meat-and-pota­toes me­chan­i­cal lim­ited slip diff. The en­gine is newly de­rived from the 3.0-litre 9A2 Evo tur­bocharged flat-six as seen in the 911 Car­reras, but with tur­bos miss­ing, bore in­creased by 11mm and stroke by 5.1mm, com­pres­sion lifted to 13.0:1 and with a re­designed crank­case, dry sump, forged crank, new pis­tons, con­rods, cylin­der heads and vari­able in­take. With a max­i­mum en­gine speed of 8000rpm it’s a fairly se­ri­ous bit of hard­ware, peak power of 309kW reached at 7600rpm while 420Nm plateaus across 5000 to 6800rpm. At 3995cc it’s a big en­gine in a small car, shorter than a Golf and only mil­lime­tres wider.

The GT3 treat­ment con­tin­ues in the sus­pen­sion, front and rear sub­frames pinched from the GT di­vi­sion’s 911 heavy­hit­ter, along with Weis­sach-trade­mark in­verted dampers. Solid chas­sis mounts im­prove the con­nec­tion to the stan­dard Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport Cup 2 tyres mea­sur­ing 245/35 front and 295/30 rear. Mag­ne­torhe­o­log­i­cal trans­mis­sion mounts strengthen that fur­ther, elec­tron­i­cally firm­ing and soft­en­ing as the sit­u­a­tion de­mands. The sus­pen­sion is ad­justable for toe and cam­ber and the anti-roll bars for stiff­ness.


Not that any of that is of any in­ter­est to us as we tackle an in­fa­mous Spy­der quirk, the man­u­ally fold­ing roof. With no assem­blage of elec­tric mo­tors at your in­dex fin­ger’s beck and call, one must stop the Spy­der if they so de­sire some top-down liv­ing. We won’t bore you with the ex­act process but need­less to say, if some­one didn’t show you how to do it, you wouldn’t know. It takes about 30 sec­onds and you only get a bit wet if it’s just started rain­ing.

A positive of the ef­fort re­quired to re­move the roof is that the Spy­der does en­cour­age you to leave it down for longer than you prob­a­bly would have if you could just put it up at the press of a but­ton. Which right now we sort of wish we could, now on the move and with the car show­ing 1.5°C. For­tu­nately you could cook an egg with the seat heaters and there’s also a steer­ing wheel heater. Just don’t for­get your beanie.

Like all great cars, the Spy­der feels very right within the first few hun­dred me­tres of driv­ing. The seat­ing po­si­tion is ba­si­cally spot-on, po­si­tion­ing your hips low and with the 360mm steer­ing wheel (slightly smaller than a stan­dard Boxster) high and fac­ing flat to­wards you. All the ped­als are per­fectly judged for their travel, place­ment and feel, the com­puter adding revs it­self as you let the clutch out, mak­ing it very dif­fi­cult to stall (and if you do, dip the clutch and the en­gine au­to­mat­i­cally restarts). The short­ened gear lever, mean­while, is just 16cm from the steer­ing wheel (I mea­sured it) and it­self re­quires barely a move­ment of the wrist be­tween gears, each ra­tio slot­ting with a beau­ti­ful, oily, me­chan­i­cal pre­ci­sion, sat­is­fy­ing enough that you’ll be slowly row­ing gears while sta­tion­ary.

My­self and pho­tog­ra­pher Ellen hav­ing ex­tracted our­selves from Melbourne’s sprawl at an hour caf­feine can barely rem­edy, and head­ing the two hours’ east to get to the start of our new­found road, we find the Spy­der de­liv­ers the min­i­mum nec­es­sary com­fort. Pass­ing B-dou­bles is deaf­en­ing even with the roof up, and at other times the tyres roar, es­pe­cially on


coarser chip roads. The stiff ride is not un­bear­able but cer­tainly sporty. At ev­ery part-throt­tle, cruis­ing op­por­tu­nity the Spy­der’s cylin­der de­ac­ti­va­tion audi­bly switches to three cylin­ders. Wind noise with the roof off is ac­tu­ally not bad at all. And the age­ing in­te­rior is kept mod­ern enough by Porsche’s bril­liant touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, and with some nice racy GT touches like the black fab­ric strips for in­te­rior door han­dles.

Thoughts about but­ton tac­til­ity and Al­can­tara quickly fade away as we fi­nally turn on to C486 at Hey­field, smells of wood­fire and, well, cows in­fil­trat­ing the Spy­der’s open-topped in­te­rior. This part of Vic­to­ria is spec­tac­u­lar, and at this time very green, un­du­lat­ing fields work­ing up to hills and with bluet­inted moun­tains off in the dis­tance hint­ing at roads to come.

Straight away, the Spy­der makes its per­son­al­ity clear by way of the lump of atmo six wedged in its mid­dle. With a throt­tle so in­ti­mately con­nected to the en­gine you’d swear it was ca­ble, the Spy­der’s 4.0-litre is si­mul­ta­ne­ously free-revving yet awe­somely mus­cu­lar and flex­i­ble for some­thing with tur­bos. Much has been made about the Spy­der and GT4’s gear­ing and in­deed it is on the tall side, first stretch­ing to 82km/h, sec­ond 140km/h and 190km/h in third but cer­tainly the en­gine has got the grunt to pull through them very nicely.

And the en­gine is truly sen­sa­tional. At any rpm it’s bristling with will­ing­ness and en­thu­si­asm. From low in the revs, flat­ten the throt­tle and it pulls cleanly and strongly against the taller gears, mo­ti­vated by that mus­cu­lar mid-range un­til at about 5600rpm when the rate of ac­cel­er­a­tion steps up an­other notch, a fre­netic and po­tent surge all the way to the 8000rpm red­line. At which point the note has hard­ened into a loud, very sat­is­fy­ing flat-six roar, all be­hind you and clear with no roof in the way, with in­ter­est­ing notes of three-cylin­der and V12. It’s a noise you could eas­ily imag­ine com­ing from out of a su­per­car let alone a Boxster. In­deed, this en­gine is go­ing to be un­real with an­other 1000rpm and in the back of a 911...

While other cars re­quire you to pa­tiently learn the pace of gearchange­s to find what is hap­pi­est, the Spy­der de­mands noth­ing but the quick­est shifts, the en­gine so free to rev that it’s like the faster you can put the clutch and throt­tle in and out and ad­dic­tively snatch gears across the tight, short gates, the more the car likes it and wants it. It’s an un­real feel­ing.

Un­less you’ve jumped in from a McLaren 600LT you won’t find the Spy­der to be lack­ing ac­cel­er­a­tion ei­ther, Porsche claim­ing 0-100km/h in 4.4 sec­onds, 160km/h in 9.0 sec­onds, 200km/h in 13.8 sec­onds on to a top speed of 301km/h, roof up or down. The speedo goes to 330km/h.

You’ll want some heat in those 295-sec­tion rear Miche­lins if you’ll be at­tempt­ing any ac­cel­er­a­tion fig­ures, it must be said. After an ini­tial, spell­bind­ing fast and open sec­tion skirt­ing along the top of a ridge with in­cred­i­ble views of Aus­tralia’s ge­o­log­i­cally an­cient moun­tains, the C486 ar­rives at what is a long and steady climb up around the side of a hill and then back down again. The Spy­der is ba­si­cally rel­e­gated to sec­ond gear the whole time, with oc­ca­sional ex­cur­sions into third, which would be an­noy­ing if not for the en­gine’s re­sponse and brawn, but it does give you one less thing to think about as the sticky Miche­lins come up to tem­per­a­ture.

Hints of front end wash, wheel­spin and ABS on cold, wet roads ear­lier in the day turn out to be han­dling red her­rings as the Spy­der sinks its fangs into a dry road. The car feels com­pact and pointy, the steer­ing, while bril­liant, not giv­ing you as clear a con­nec­tion to the front tyres as the throt­tle does the en­gine, but enough to give you con­fi­dence to push on. The limit of grip, though, just keeps feel­ing fur­ther and fur­ther away de­spite in­creas­ingly bold cor­ner­ing speeds. Un­der­steer reaches a point of be­ing al­most im­pos­si­ble, un­less you pick up the throt­tle too early in a cor­ner; throt­tle steer eas­ily avail­able on exit out of a sec­ond-gear cor­ner if you wish. With very lit­tle body­roll, the weight feels low in the chas­sis, the Spy­der rev­el­ling in the brakes be­ing held right up to apexes. But be­yond that there is just so. Much. Grip. And once the tyres have tem­per­a­ture in them, the limit of brak­ing ba­si­cally be­comes how hard you can push the pedal and how late you dare do so.

Need­less to say, the Spy­der’s cor­ner­ing abil­ity is in­tense, re­quir­ing almighty levels of con­cen­tra­tion and brav­ery, but never in­tim­i­dat­ing or scary. It never feels flus­tered. It’s an almighty plat­form and one ca­pa­ble of se­ri­ously high cor­ner­ing speeds. High stakes driv­ing on the road, but for­tu­nately wildlife is likely to be scared off ahead as you can hear the Spy­der com­ing from a mile away.

The Spy­der’s tow­er­ing on-road lim­its aren’t just your own bravado ei­ther it must be said, as if the road isn’t on the smoother side, you soon find your­self hold­ing back for fear of hit­ting a big bump that un­set­tles the car. The front end is as low as you can get away with, scrap­ing on drive­ways (there’s no front-end lifter) but also caus­ing worry about it bot­tom­ing out over a big bump at speed. I might get laughed at by a Porsche en­gi­neer for think­ing that but it was enough to slow me down when the bi­tu­men got a bit choppy. The damper but­ton is no saviour here ei­ther, the two modes be­ing very close to­gether.


This is very much a car that would revel to find it­self on a race­track like Phillip Is­land, where you can prop­erly row through those long gears. Per­haps never has a Boxster had legs this long to stretch. Cer­tainly it would ben­e­fit from a shorter diff clos­ing up the ra­tios; and some more reg­u­lar per­for­mance tyres bring­ing the lim­its more into the realm of re­al­ity for road driv­ing. But with or with­out the sticky Pi­lot Sport Cup 2s, the Spy­der is as much baby open-top su­per­car as it is GT3-ified Boxster. This is def­i­nitely a car fast enough to make your pas­sen­ger very quiet, one in which you have a ‘wow’ mo­ment, a car that finds its way into your mem­ory, and one you’d be very sat­is­fied to have in your garage. To many, the sports car doesn’t get much bet­ter than this.

Feel­ing pen­sive, we adopt a more re­laxed pace as we reach the end of the road, sleepy Licola nestling be­side the tran­quil Ma­cal­is­ter River and a scene com­pletely at odds with the atmo-six-fu­elled fe­roc­ity ex­pe­ri­enced just mo­ments ear­lier. Licola con­tains not much other than a few houses, a car­a­van park and a gen­eral store, the Spy­der look­ing more than a bit lost amongst some parked-up four-wheel drives. No mo­bile re­cep­tion, not even with Tel­stra, drives the iso­lated feel­ing home. If you press on after Licola to­wards Jamieson, route C486 is even qui­eter, even more pic­turesque and just as fun, with the moun­tains in the dis­tance invit­ing you to go fur­ther. Ac­cord­ing to Google Earth, how­ever, it be­comes gravel not far be­yond and you have to turn around. In a car like the 718 Boxster Spy­der, that’s a very happy three-point turn. Just watch out for the deer...


TOP Our Crayon off-white coloured press car came with a wee $22K of op­tions, from the 18-way ad­justable seats ($5150) to the Porsche logo in satin black ($310) and the must-get LED head­lights ($2320)

MID­DLE 380mm 6-pis­ton steel brakes feel more than up to the job, of­fer­ing tremen­dous feel and power, but car­bon ce­ram­ics are avail­able as an op­tion

OP­PO­SITE Stiff Spy­der stoutly re­sists body­roll and makes life a lit­tle hard for the pho­tog­ra­pher... this was fast

ABOVE There is no Sport ESC mode but the elec­tron­ics will leave you well alone if you do your best not to bother them... and even then

TOP LEFT Ex­cel­lent revmatch­ing func­tion takes care of blips and matches en­gine/wheel speed up the gears for su­per-smooth changes. De­fault is off; great for when you’re feel­ing lazy BOT­TOM LEFT Spy­der’s en­gine, com­pli­ant with the lat­est Euro 6d emis­sions regs, is do­ing more for the cli­mate than the Yal­lourn coal power sta­tion

BE­LOW LEFT A lot less down­force is pro­duced than big­winged GT4; al­most all of it thanks to the meaty rear dif­fuser. Small rear spoiler de­ploy­able at the push of a but­ton; or raises au­to­mat­i­cally above 120km/h

LEFT Tiny Licola, the only town in Vic­to­ria not on the state elec­tric­ity grid, pro­duces its own elec­tric­ity thanks to 600 so­lar pan­els charg­ing two enor­mous, 37-tonne bat­ter­ies. Diesel gen­er­a­tors, pre­vi­ously the main source of power, re­main as back-up

LEFT Spy­der has one of the best elec­tronic power steer­ing sys­tems we've ex­pe­ri­enced, quick­en­ing in speed as you ap­ply lock thanks to a vari­able ra­tio, but never un­nat­u­rally so

ABOVE 718 Spy­der, the first de­vel­oped by Porsche's GT di­vi­sion in Weis­sach, is even bet­ter than you prob­a­bly think it is

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