All-new 718 GTS ups the power and per­for­mance but can it shake its il­lus­tri­ous 981 pre­de­ces­sor?

911 Porsche World - - This month - Words: Dan Trent/jeremy Laird Pho­tog­ra­phy: Antony Fraser

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

au­to­mated trans­mis­sion.

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!


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 981 GTS owner, Chris Boul­ton. It’s his fourth Boxster, hav­ing worked his way up from 986 S, 987 S and 987 Black Edi­tion


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

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