By Shari Prymak
The Porsche 718 Spyder is not a sports car for the posers or even for the number-chasing racers. It is a purpose-built roadster designed for one purpose: to light up the hearts of true driving enthusiasts. It is completely free of the high-tech comforts and driving aids largely responsible for the lifeless personalities of many modern sports cars. Instead, Porsche has focused on perfecting and delivering the elements which make the act of driving so enjoyable. But with a price range that tip-toes into entry-level 911 territory, is the 718 Spyder the superior choice over a base 911 Carrera?
The 911 has always been the default choice for a well-balanced premium sports car. The latest 992 model, however, has edged the 911 into GT car territory, turning it into more of an upscale grand touring car with a sports car edge rather than a full-blown enthusiast special. The twin-turbo 3.0L six powering the Carrera, though tuneful and powerful, is a tad muffled from the use of forced induction. The driving experience is sharp, poised, and satisfyingly engaging, but comfort and everyday refinement are still a big part of the formula. The 911 Carrera has shifted its focus to more of a balanced sports car, which has made room for the 718 Spyder to become the driver-focused option.
Fundamental to the Spyder’s allure is its magical drivetrain. The naturally-aspirated 4.0L flat-six is a bored and stroked turboless version of the engine found in the 911. With 414 horsepower on tap, it pulls urgently and revs freely to a lofty 8000rpm, producing a wonderful symphony of noise that no turbo engine could ever hope to match. It’s an utter joy to wring out, especially thanks to the precise, mechanical-feeling 6-speed manual gearbox. The only letdown is unfortunately tall gearing. Enjoying the rush towards redline through second gear means approaching speeds of 140km/h, which is an issue for those who value their driver’s license.
If the noise and wonderful feel of the drivetrain don’t win you over, the rest of the driving experience surely will. The Spyder shares much of its hardware with the track-focused 718 GT4, which itself borrows heavily from its big brother, the GT3. The result is an ultra-precise, superbly balanced chassis that defines handling perfection. Every input, from the responsive, communicative steering, to the firm, immediate brakes, is impeccably tuned and razor sharp. More importantly though, the 718 Spyder feels alive and engaging in a way that that harks back to the very best analog sports cars of the past. There’s no endless assortment of driving modes or even a sport button to complicate things because they just aren’t needed. This is raw, filtered driving enjoyment at its absolute best.
Living with a hard-edged, stripped down sports car often means dealing with the odd annoyance here and there and the Spyder is no exception. In an effort to save weight, the top is manually-adjustable and requires a labourous multi-step process in order to fold or lock in place. Although the ride is quite comfortable, noise levels are a bit on the high side. And despite a starting MSRP of $111,600, comforts and features are fairly limited and mostly reserved for the lengthy options list. The 911 Carrera doesn’t have such comprises. Although the driving experience isn’t quite as pure or soulful, it is far more livable and comfortable to use on a daily basis. With a starting price of $111,000 nearly matching the 718, the decision boils down to what one prioritizes in their sports car.
Although the slightly less expensive 718 GTS 4.0 delivers much of the same experience without the annoying roof and other small compromises, the 718 Spyder is the purest expression of motoring in the Porsche lineup. Nothing short of a Lotus Evora GT, or perhaps a BMW M2 CS, delivers such a pure, distilled driving experience. An entry-level 911 Carrera is a wonderful package in its own right, but it is now a very different animal, designed to handle the work commute as much as the back road blast. The 911 might still be the quintessential Porsche, but the Spyder is the more rewarding Porsche, and the one any diehard would crave to have sitting in their driveway.