There are redwoods everywhere. They reach impossibly high toward a sky not visible, despite the roof being folded away. The air is cool, and a light mist is gathering on the windshield, but the 2018 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS is moving fast enough to ensure the cabin stays bone-dry. Its center-mounted exhaust lets out an eager bark as the 6-speed manual gearbox automatically and expertly blips the throttle when downshifting into yet another corner around those redwoods. The noise reverberates off everything, and it’s glorious. The local chipmunk population probably disagrees.
The 718 Boxster, and its 718 Cayman coupe sibling, are experiential cars. It’s all about how they feel and sound. The sensations of the road filtered through the superlative steering, the seat-of-your-pants feel of its perfectly balanced midengined layout, and the boxer engine firing away just behind your tailbone. And on a road like this through California’s north-coast redwood forests, all those experiences are amplified by atmospheric scenery and the scent of fresh air. If anyone ever asks why people love cars and driving, this amounts to a pretty good explanation.
Yet does one really need a Boxster GTS for such an experience? Aren’t the base Boxster and the more powerful Boxster S already two of the finest performance cars on sale? Before answering that, it’s important to explain what the 718 GTS is. Porsche effectively dug into the deep bin of parts, features and design options available to order by anyone on the Boxster S, and curated them together to create a 718 optimized for driving precision and driver involvement.
Here’s What You Get
The Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) is standard, adding its adaptive variable dampers, Normal and Sport settings and a 10mm reduction in ride height. The PASM Sport system, which lowers the ride even further, for an increase in handling precision but a decrease in ride quality, is optional. Paired with PASM is the standard Sport Chrono Pack that, as on the Cayman S, brings with it a drive-mode switch on the steering wheel, an analog dash-mounted clock and additional Sport Plus and Individual drive settings (including those for PASM). When equipped with the PDK automated manual transmission, Sport Chrono also adds launch control and a Sport Response button that provides up to 20 seconds of extra boost from the turbocharged engine. It’s not entirely different from IndyCar’s "Push to Pass" function.
Also included from the otherwise optional box of Boxster goodies is Porsche Torque Vectoring. Basically, it uses the brakes to slow the inside wheel when going into a corner to help the car begin to rotate, then its mechanical rear differential lock ensures more power is redistributed to the slower wheel when powering out of a corner. This one-two punch increases grip and reduces understeer (not that there’s much in the 718 to begin with) in an action known as "torque vectoring" — hence the name. The brakes themselves are the same as those you’d get in the 718 S.
Visually, the GTS includes the Boxster’s optional Sport Design front fascia, which alters the elements inside the lower air dam. The rear fascia features blacked-out trim bifurcated by the standard Sport Exhaust’s dual tips finished in black. Indeed, black is added throughout the exterior, including the model script at the rear, the head- and taillight housings and the 20-inch "Carrera S" wheels. The GTS is intended to look like a meaner, more serious Boxster, and it’s certainly easy to agree with that assessment when it’s painted in our test car’s gray hue, known as "Chalk."
That color is also one of the two that can be carried inside with the optional GTS Interior package (Carmine Red is the other), as it’s applied to the seat belts, central tachometer, "GTS" headrest font and the interior stitching applied to the package’s extended black leather trim. With or without the Interior package, the GT Sports steering wheel, armrests and shifter are all finished in Alcantara. So too are the seat centers, one of the few elements unique to the GTS.
Value + Power
The starting price for the 2018 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS is $82,950, which is definitely steep, but if you were to add all of this equipment to a Boxster S, we estimate you’d be looking at a price tag of about $91,000. There is without question a value proposition here, and we haven’t even mentioned its more powerful engine yet.
Although the GTS shares the 2.5-liter turbocharged flat 4-cylinder engine found in the 718 S, its turbocharger has a larger compressor wheel and a bigger air intake that make it possible to increase boost pressure from 16.7 psi in the 718 S to 18.1 in the GTS. This raises output to 365 horsepower from 350. Torque remains the same, at 309 lb-ft with the manual and 317 lb-ft with the PDK.
Those extra 15 horses yield improved acceleration, as a PDK-equipped Boxster GTS using launch control can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.9 seconds. That’s a 0.3-second improvement over the Boxster S. The manual’s 0-to-60 time actually remains the same, at 4.4 seconds, adding fuel to the fire for those who don’t understand keeping the old 3-pedal car around when the PDK one is quicker-shifting and therefore quicker-accelerating. On the other hand, one can just as easily argue that the manual is more involving, no longer a pain to drive in traffic thanks to its easier clutch action and, really, where are you going that you’re seriously, honestly, truly going to notice those tenths of second?
OK, so if you want a 718 for track use, then sure, it absolutely matters. And in that case, you’ll be interested to know that the GTS’ time around Germany’s famed Nurburgring race track (a proving ground and badge of honor for sports cars) is 2 seconds quicker than a Cayman S, at 7 minutes and 40 seconds. It was 16 seconds faster than the old Boxster GTS, which lacked many of the current Boxster’s many improvements despite its arguably more characterful naturally aspirated engines.
And since we brought those up, it’s certainly worth noting the 718’s turbocharged engines do somewhat reduce that experiential quotient described earlier. They just don’t sound as cool, though there is something oddly pleasing about the loud whoosh coming from just left of your hip as the turbo sucks in air. The S/GTS’s 2.5-liter engine is at least far more characterful, responsive and, frankly, Porsche-like, than the base 718’s 2.0-liter, and there’s an awful lot to be said for the turbocharged engine’s immense well of low-end power. This car absolutely pulls, and its thrust is exhilarating.
Now, are those 15 extra horses in the GTS version really that noticeable? Honestly, no, unless you plan on routinely taking to a track against lesser 718s. Really, the extra power seems like a token gesture made to provide the GTS with something beyond a mix-and-match collection of otherwise-available parts at a discount price. Yet it’s important to note that collection was curated by Porsche itself — you can almost think of it as a director’s cut or a sushi chef’s omakase menu. They’re the professionals, and they know what makes for the ideal creation for connoisseur tastes. So if you’re looking for the most performance-optimized 718, well, Porsche has made it easy and cheaper for you while also providing something a little more special, exclusive and, yes, experiential.
To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.