2021 Porsche 718 Boxster Spyder Review: There Is Joy Still Left in Driving
No matter your own mood, you’ll find it will rise to match the eager and excited 718 Spyder.
At this point, it feels almost too obvious to say the 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster Spyder is great. Too obvious and certainly too easy. But I will anyway, because this is an undeniable truth. The 718 Spyder is great. In other news, water is wet and Cristiano Ronaldo is, like, really good at soccer.
But it's an achievable sort of great whose limits aren't so loftily out of reach like a Bugatti Chiron's. It is one that's accessible and rewards both the novice and the seasoned driver. And for everyone in between, the car still brings utter, utter happiness.
2021 718 Porsche Boxster Spyder: By the Numbers
- Base price (as tested): $63,950 ($107,190)
- Powertrain: 4.0-liter naturally aspirated flat-six | 7-speed dual-clutch | rear-wheel drive
- Power: 414 @ 7,600 rpm
- Torque: 317 lb-ft @ 5,000 to 6,800 rpm
- 0-60: 3.7 seconds (est.)
- Top speed: 186 mph
- Seating capacity: 2
- Cargo volume: 5.2 cubic feet (front trunk), 4.2 cubic feet (rear trunk)
- Curb weight: 3,273 pounds
- EPA fuel economy: 18 mpg city | 24 highway | 20 combined
- Quick take: If you've got the cash, the 718 Boxster will give you one of the best all-around driving experiences of any new car today.
King of the Boxsters
Among Porsche's two-door sports cars, the 718s are your midship offerings, coming in either the fixed-roof Caymans or the drop-top Boxsters. Once upon a time, the two were separate models but after the current and fourth-generation—carrying the internal chassis code 982—was introduced in 2016, that is no longer the case. Consolidation!
The 982 718 Boxster Spyder is the third Boxster Spyder Porsche's ever made. The trim delineates the most driver-oriented Boxsters, with aggressive weight savings and far more athletic hardware—in this case, a lightweight, manual roof, fabric door handles, and the brakes and front axle from a 911 GT3. In the Boxster hierarchy, the Spyder is the rawest and most expensive one you can buy.
The 982-gen Spyder uses a naturally aspirated, 4.0-liter flat-six with an 8,000-rpm redline that produces a claimed 414 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque. There's a mechanical limited-slip differential and Porsche's Active Suspension Management damping system which lowers the ride height by 1.18 inches over the regular 718 models. Transmission options include a six-speed manual as standard or the seven-speed PDK as an option for $3,210. Turn your nose up at it all you want, it won't change the fact that it's a bang-on gearbox regardless of its missing clutch pedal.
The 718's rear end has always been my favorite angle of it; I find it to be far more elegant than any 911's. With the twin humps of its double-bubble rear decklid, it's striking in profile. Inside, the PDK-equipped test car featured basic black leather and Alcantara touchpoints. It wasn't the most luxurious place to sit, but it was one of the most functional. All the important stuff—gear selector lever, suspension setting button, active exhaust button—were easily within reach and the GT Sport steering wheel was the most minimalist example I've seen in a very long time.
There are NO buttons on it whatsoever, my friends, save for the horn. No volume knob, no cruise control settings, no driver information cluster menu toggles. Nothing. In an age where steering wheels rival Xbox controllers in their complexity, this was refreshing. Like a step back in time.
But that retro-cool feeling morphed into bemusement at how dated the rest of the interior is. The infotainment has an interface that looks like it's from 2010 and I could only find one USB port hidden in the center armrest. Thankfully, though, much of the interior functions were still handled through traditional buttons, dials, and switches.
But it's the 718 Spyder, man! You don't get it for its interior. You get it to drive.
I don't know what witchcraft possesses the PDK, but it was clairvoyant in how it always seemed to know exactly when I wanted it to downshift. It dropped gears with even the merest suggestion of my foot grazing the throttle. The effect transformed the Spyder into an urgent, revvy thing. Past about 4,000 rpm, the flat-six gets into the meat of its exhaust note and transforms from a velvety growl to an outright roar.
The steering? Surgically precise. As with most mid-engine cars, the Spyder felt like a dancer in the corners, pivoting tightly around the central weight of its engine. Even the smallest input from your fingers wiggles the front wheels, which feeds everything you could ever want to know about the road back up to your hands. The Spyder is a small car and it drives like one, too. Elfin in its dimensions, it tucks into a tight turn and slips by unsuspecting SUVs with an excited eagerness you immediately feel your own mood rise to match.
Power from the naturally aspirated and high-revving engine is beautifully linear. With the gears as tall as they are, you feel like you can keep your foot on the gas until you touch the horizon. But it's such usable power: 414 hp in a car that weighs 3,300 pounds guarantees fun and not instant jail time. The Spyder is clearly a wonderful track car, but it also delights on legal roads. You don't need to go feeling for its limits for it to plaster an involuntary smile on your face. A superb chassis and razor-sharp handling tend to do that.
Speed is tangible here in the form of a healthy exhaust howl and a ride quality that feels like you and the car are melded as one. Plenty of supercars and super-sedans offer hundreds of horsepower more, but also pack on extra body fat. The Spyder laughs at the idea of body roll, grabbing hold of the road and hanging onto it like a tightrope walker on Michelins. There's no beating good old physics.
Off of the fun roads and onto more pedestrian ones, the Spyder is still unrelentingly sporty. The PDK has no creep function, so the car will roll if you're on a hill upon stopping without braking. I didn't mind this, though; it reminded me of driving a manual. And even in traffic, the shifts came smoothly and seamlessly, without so much as a hiccup in the throttle response.
The biggest reminder that this isn't some ordinary sports car is when you encounter rough road. Even in its most comfortable setting, the Spyder rides harshly. But I'm happy to trade some jarring for all the magic that suspension setup brings. Punish me, Porsche daddy. You're worth it.
That Manual Roof
Of course, you can't drive a Spyder for the weekend and not take its roof down. The car and I vibed perfectly everywhere else, but not here.
Porsche's own literature will tell you it takes five steps to put down and stow the top after electrically unlocking the rear decklid and roof. But it still took me 15 minutes and multiple YouTube how-to videos to completely figure out the process for the first time.
I'll show you:
A few things to note. I was by myself and doing everything one-handed, which undoubtedly lengthened the endeavor. Second, the test car was extremely new so I expect the initial mechanical resistance I experienced to lessen over time. Third, user error: We cannot discount that I'm probably just bad at using this roof and that any real buyer would get it down a lot faster through repeated use. Still, it's a pretty physical process.
Driving with the top down is goddamn glorious. Porsche was great about engineering the car's shape so turbulence in the cabin was minimal. I'm not a convertible fan in the slightest but this was nice.
However, after I parked, it still took me about three tries to put the roof back up properly and I felt like a tremendous tool the entire time, standing in the parking lot and futzing with it. I'd be lying if I said it didn't discourage me from putting the roof down more often during the weekend I spent with the car, a couple of gorgeous mid-June days. Owners with their own insurance might feel more comfortable parking and walking away with the roof still down, but that's unwise when the $100,000 Porsche doesn't belong to you.
My favorite manually operated soft-top is obviously found on the Mazda Miata (are there any others?). It's a triumph in design because you can operate it without leaving your seat, it takes about three seconds, and all you need is one arm.
When asked if Porsche had considered a similar system in the Spyder, a Porsche rep responded, "The roof design of the current 718 Spyder is the same as the 981 Boxster Spyder, which was itself a simplified version of the mechanism used on the 987 Boxster Spyder. While admittedly somewhat analog, the purpose of the 718 Spyder design is to combine the pure driving experience that comes from reduced weight and simplification by using a manually operated top while also integrating design elements that acknowledge some of the purest models in mid-engine Porsche history including the 718 RS 60 Spyder."
Oh, and like in the previous two Boxster Spyder generations, you cannot access the rear trunk unless the roof is already unlatched.
A Unicorn in 2021
As far as options, the Spyder doesn't have too many—a deviation from Porsche's otherwise famously extensive and complicated menu. Standard 982 Spyders, with a starting price of $99,650, come with 20-inch wheels, a black leather and Alcantara interior, two-way sport seats, and the six-speed manual. The test car came outfitted with Gentian Blue metallic paint ($650), heated seats ($530), Apple CarPlay ($360), auto-dimming mirrors with an integrated rain sensor ($700), navigation ($2,320), and the seven-speed PDK ($3,210). In total, the final MSRP came out to $107,190. I won't waste precious internet ink complaining about the price, because it's a lot. It's easily 911 money.
In the dwindling Fun Cars market, not much else offers a roofless, naturally aspirated, manual-transmission car like the Spyder does. As for me? My heart belongs to the Lotus Evora GT because it's a weirdo nerd's ride that's bad in all the best ways. Porsche's 718s are the mature choice for fun-lovers who want a, you know, finished car. But when you start comparing cars such as these, all rationale goes out the window and is replaced purely by taste and preference. There's no logical call to be made.
The 911s may get all the love and attention because of "tradition" or whatever, but I've long believed the mid-engine Porsches are the superior Porsches. They're set up to be inherently better balanced. They feel so much smaller to drive. And the 718 Spyder is objectively a perfect vehicle. Any issues you might have with it definitely come from within yourself and have nothing to do with the car. (And if one asks if Porsche currently makes a bad car, one would immediately answer oneself with, "No.")
Whether or not the price or engine placement gives you pause, I'll leave you with this: There is joy left in driving still and it's taken the form of a 718 Spyder. Cherish it before it's gone.
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