All-new 718 GTS ups the power and performance but can it shake its illustrious 981 predecessor?
Fair to say the four-cylinder 718 Boxsters and Caymans haven’t met with universal approval. What can Porsche do to win over the doubters? Well, a bit more power, a little extra spring in its step and a load more kit rolled into an attractive base price aren’t a bad start.
The new 718 GTS’S biggest problem? Arguably the quality of its six-cylinder 981 GTS predecessor. In isolation, on Spanish roads and at the Ascari Race Resort as most of the press have experienced the new GTS it’s not struggled to impress. But we’re not here to give the 718 an easy ride. Which is why we’re driving it in the UK, on a particularly filthy winter day and with a 981 GTS shadowing its every move. Basically it’s got nowhere to hide, even if its Graphite Blue paint does a pretty good job of making it all-but invisible against oppressively grey and cloudy skies.
First let’s look at what makes a GTS a GTS. The stickers on the sides are one discreet giveaway but before you see those you’ll have probably noticed the rather lovely black painted 20-inch Carrera S wheels, the dark tint to the front and rear lights and the Sport Design front apron. These and the 10mm ride height drop on the standard-fit PASM give the GTS a subtly more serious stance than a Boxster S and in the established GTS style there are equivalent upgrades to the interior too. These include a smaller 350mm steering wheel trimmed in Alcantara, the same material also adding tactile quality to the centre console, armrests and the centres of the seats. Not enough? For a further £2096 you can add the GTS interior package with contrast
stitching and carbon trim elements.
So much for the style, what about the substance? Since the return of the GTS badge in 2007 on the Cayenne Porsche has used it to stand for a ‘best “of’ compilation of options topped off with a small but welcome power gain. Perhaps best expressed in the 997 GTS of 2010, the 981 Boxster and Cayman versions launched in 2014 and, in a similar fashion, combined a package of welcome options into one attractively priced standalone model. When you consider adding the same individually to a regular S would typically cost more you can see why the arrival of a GTS in the range basically counts as a no brainer.
The slightly different range hierarchy of the six-cylinder models meant the Cayman GTS got a little more power than its Boxster equivalent, the 3.4-litre S-derived motor delivering 340ps/335bhp in the former and 330ps/325bhp in the latter. For the 718 GTS models power is the same across both, the 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo gaining 15ps/bhp and taking power from 350ps/345bhp to 365ps/360bhp, a healthy 35ps/bhp increase over the 981 GTS.
You’d perhaps expect this to be a simple case of turning up the wick on the ECU but, credit to Porsche, there are hardware changes too. A new, higher-volume intake duct feeds more air to the turbo, which itself gets a larger compressor. Accordingly boost climbs from 1.1 bar on the S to 1.3 on the GTS. Say what you like about the four-cylinder turbos but they monster the six-cylinders on torque, the 718 GTS even more so. The six-speed manual has the same 420Nm/310lb ft peak as a standard S but maintains it for a further 1000rpm, extending it from 1900–5500rpm. The PDK gets a little more at 430Nm/317lb ft but dips from 5000rpm onwards, a sacrifice traded against the extra ratio on the
Say what you like, the 4-cyl turbos monster the 6-cyl for torque
On-paper gains aren’t dramatic, top speed nudging over 180mph while the manual records an identical 4.6 seconds to 62mph and the PDK drops a further tenth over the S to 4.1 seconds using the Sport Plus mode on the standard fit Sport Chrono. This would cost you an additional £1271 on an S, the GTS also getting Porsche Active Drivetrain Mounts for the gearbox as standard. Other goodies include the Porsche Torque Vectoring and limitedslip differential that would cost you £926 extra on an S and the black-tipped Sports Exhaust that would set you back an additional £1380. If you want the even more focused PASM Sports with its 20mm ride height drop it’ll cost you just £168 extra on a GTS – the same on an S would set you back £1179. You’ll be getting the gist by now, even a cursory attempt to match the spec by optioning up a 718 S bringing you to near-parity with the £61,727 starting price of the GTS. Again, why wouldn’t you…
If the improvements are marginal but welcome compared with the 718 S they are more noticeable when you set them against the 981 GTS. Consider for starters the sixcylinder engine’s torque deficit of 45lb ft, its peak 360Nm/265lb ft only available between 4500–5800rpm. Off the line it’s four tenths slower to 62mph with a manual gearbox, the margin stretching to six tenths with the PDK cars. Porsche quotes a 7min 40sec Nordschleife lap for the 718 GTS on what it describes as standard tyres, which is a couple of seconds faster than the 718 S but a gaping 16 seconds quicker than the 981.
Porsche quotes a 7m 40s Nordschleife lap for the 718 GTS
Such is progress and the fact a new Porsche is faster by every measure than the one it replaces will come as no great shock. But there is of course a much bigger story here and one that’s arguably much more important. That being, is it actually any nicer?
There have been many significant developments in Porsche history that have raised similar arguments between technical progress and the loss of the brand’s perceived heart and soul. Pick your fight – it could be power steering, water cooling or any number of innovations added to Porsche products over the years. But few have been more stark or divisive than the Boxster and Cayman’s switch from six naturally-aspirated cylinders to four turbocharged ones.
The 718 engine may be fundamentally a 3.0-litre Carrera engine with a couple of cylinders lopped off and two turbos swapped for one, but that emotional link has been severed and a clearer divide between the two sports car ranges established. For that Porsche’s marketing team is probably grateful, though the bean counters probably don’t realise much advantage given the complexity of the Sspec 2.5-litre with its variable-vane turbo.
Perhaps aware of the stigma associated with the reduced cylinder count Porsche’s olive branch has been to make the 718s go like absolute stink, the GTS raising this bar and the performance advantage over the 981 to a new level. Romance over the six-cylinder engine is fine but the way the turbo ignites the performance of the 718 and that massive mid-range urge have a transformational effect. In the 981 you get the sense the balance of the Boxster and the way the engine delivers its power are well contained by the chassis and tyres – perhaps even too contained. In the 718s there’s suddenly the grunt to ask serious questions of the package, questions the new GTS seems more than capable of answering.
On the 981 GTS PTV and the limited-slip differential were an option, one our owner didn’t tick on the basis it’s more a daily driver than track slave. Even on a circuit you don’t necessarily mourn their absence. But in the 718 GTS they feel near-essential, assertive use of the throttle meaning you very much need their assistance in getting the power down.
Back to back you feel that on corner exit in particular. The 981 is smooth, fast and beautifully balanced, rewarding the commitment to rev it beyond 4000rpm and into the engine’s real sweet spot with a soundtrack that prickles the hairs on your neck. The balance and lack of inertia in the motor is palpable too, its relative lack of mid-range punch meaning it doesn’t work its tyres or chassis too hard, leaving you to enjoy the sensory delights of the package in relative security.
Meanwhile in the 718 you’ve got your torque there pretty much the moment you get on the throttle, the rear axle far keener to break traction and dictate the car’s attitude than it is in the 981. On a wet Stowe circuit at Silverstone and with the PSM set to its mid-way mode it’s a properly lively car with oversteer on demand. In slower corners that can be dramatic to the point of sweaty palms, on faster ones – even in the dry – you’ve got sufficient power to alter the line on the throttle with absolute accuracy, the sharper responses and seemingly stiffer chassis settings making the most of the Boxster’s
In the 718 the torque is there the moment you get on the throttle
inherent balance. Put simply, more power and torque give you more options on how to drive the car, the 718 responding to a more aggressive style with real class and breathtaking speed.
Workmanlike engine note or not it’s a riot to drive, the EPAS as direct and positive as any yet conceived, the chassis striking a perfect balance between neutrality and playfulness and the six-speed manual gearbox an absolute delight. PDK’S nearubiquity is understandable but the relationship between stick, pedals and engine are so sharp and add such a welcome level of interaction it’s a relief the option remains, especially given supposedly enthusiast pitched rivals like the Alfa Romeo 4C and new Alpine A110 are paddleshift only. Most impressive is this newly bombastic character in the Boxster package, now unleashed by the turbocharged engine.
All of which plays well on a press launch and for journalists not paying for their own consumables. For owners like Chris Boulton who’s generously submitted the 981 GTS for this comparison it’s not so clear cut though. This is his fourth Boxster, having progressed through 986 S, 987 S and then 987 Black Edition. He bought it new having carefully thought out the spec and gone for PDK on the basis he uses it as his daily drive as well as his holiday road trip and track day toy. He’s not opposed to the fourcylinder cars on ideological grounds and appreciates the increased poise and performance embodied in the 718 GTS. But you only have to spend a few minutes on the pit wall watching both circulate to understand why he’s in no rush to upgrade. As the 981 appears its howling crescendo of six-cylinder goodness is all Porsche, the ripple of bangs and pops as it slows for the chicane pure theatre but exactly the kind of feelgood factor you’d put before the more clinical four-cylinder car. The rebellious appeal at the heart of the six-cylinder Boxster and Cayman and sense it was the everyman Porsche with a blueblooded heart have always been hugely attractive. That it asked questions of its illustrious big brother and caused Porsche some degree of difficulty in containing its natural ability in the name of brand hierarchy has always added a frisson too. Porsche has made the distinction between its sports car ranges more clearcut while making the Boxster and Cayman faster, more technically interesting, more bombastic to drive and more relevant to modern tastes. Is the 718 GTS actually better than what went before though? On that the jury remains split.
Most impressive is the Boxster’s newly bombastic character
New Boxster 718 GTS (left) v Boxster 981 GTS. It’s not all about the noise – really!
BOXSTER GTS TWIN TEST
Graphite Blue is Porsche’s favourite launch colour at the moment. 20in black wheels suit it well
Alcantara – the interior calling card of all Porsche GTS models – abounds in both. New 718 GTS left and 981 GTS right
BOXSTER GTS TWIN TEST
Boxster 981 GTS owner, Chris Boulton. It’s his fourth Boxster, having worked his way up from 986 S, 987 S and 987 Black Edition
BOXSTER GTS TWIN TEST
Subtle variations on the 20in alloy wheel theme. Both cars feature Porsche’s PASM suspension, which makes light work of dealing with low profile tyres and British roads
The 981 Boxster GTS wins the purist vote, just as we knew it would. The 718 GTS wins in most other departments except the one named ‘soul,’ which is a difficult one to quantify