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Both the 2018 Porsche 718 Cayman GTS and its convertible sister the 2018 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS are built around angry little mid-mounted engines juiced to make more noise and power than they have a right to. If that sounds like a good recipe for great driving... Yes. Yes it is.

(Full disclosure: Porsche had me flown from Los Angeles to Sacramento and then bussed to a fine Napa Valley hotel I could never afford for two nights so I could test the new 911 T and 718 GTS models. I also endured two steak dinners on the German automaker’s dime.)

What Is It?

Most of you already know that “718” is the newish moniker Porsche has picked to identify the cars originally just known as the Cayman and Boxster. The 718 is an historic name from some race cars in the 1950s and ’60s. These are currently the “entry-level” sports cars in the German performance automaker’s lineup, with MSRPs starting at around $60,000.

GTS denotes a performance variant that, for the time being, will be the beast option in the 718 lineup until something meaner with a rear wing inevitably comes along. The GTS cars start at around $80,000 and can be optioned beyond the base price of a 911 Carrera quite easily.

The only real difference between the Cayman and Boxster is a big one: the Cayman’s roof is fixed and the Boxster’s is power-retractable cloth. The Boxster Spyder, with its cool swoopy rear section and boat-style rag roof, is something else entirely and we’ll have to keep waiting to see if that comes back for this body style.

Today, we’re here to talk about the 718’s new GTS enthusiast spec.

Specs That Matter

The 718 GTS cars are 172.9 inches long with a track width of just over 60 inches. With a manual transmission, both the convertible and hardtop versions have a factory-claimed curb weight of 3,032 pounds. PDK cars are just a hair heavier at 3,098. How a hardtop and a convertible version of the same car can weigh the exact same I’m not totally sure, and Porsche wouldn’t oblige me with specifics. But I guess most of the machine’s rigidity must be built in below the driver’s shoulders.

Regardless of which roof you pick, the 718 GTS is powered by an improved version of the standard 718’s 2.5-liter flat four, which is now dialed up to a very respectable 365 horsepower and 309 lb-ft of torque thanks largely to a new turbocharger. You can have that engine hooked up to a six-speed manual or seven-speed PDK automatic, and if you pick the latter the torque output rating actually moves up to 317 lb-ft.

All 718 GTSs are rear-wheel drive with torque vectoring and a mechanical rear differential lock for improved stability.

Top speed is claimed 180 mph, which, wow. A manual 718 GTS is supposed to be able to do 0 to 60 in 4.4 seconds and a quarter mile in 12.7, too. And those times will be even quicker with the PDK transmission in Sport+ mode.

What’s Great

It seems like every time the Boxster is reborn it looks vastly prettier than its predecessor, and these days I’m even starting to appreciate the original 986 styling of the late ’90s, fried egg headlights and all.

But I digress. The point I’m planning to arrive at eventually is that the 718, both as a coupe and a convertible, looks quick and slick and refreshingly friendly at the same time. “GTS” giveaways are generally blacked-out badges and a little side-stripe. But this is Porsche we’re talking about, and that means the options catalog is so deep you probably won’t see two identical ones too often.

The 718 design is also solidly original, unlike the 911 which I’m not about to call “played out” but I might not argue if you did.

Once the 718 GTS is running, the car’s ability to dance and dive between corners is nothing short of magnificent. Coupe or ragtop, it doesn’t matter. Both versions are delightfully well balanced to provide an exciting ride that’s also predictable.

Despite the snappy 0 to 60 claim, the 718 GTS doesn’t feel intimidatingly fast off a stop. If you want gut-sucking launches, a mid-engined four-cylinder sports car is probably not your jam anyway.

Like I said–the 718 GTS comes to life when you start linking turns. The steering’s consistent and feels heavy enough to make you very aware of where the wheels are pointing. Power comes on fairly flatly; the turbo surge isn’t egregiously pronounced when you get into higher RPMs to hit full boost. That, again, contributes to the sensation of predictability that helps build your confidence behind the wheel.

And good cornering doesn’t really require the suspension’s stiffer Sport+ mode to be activated. In fact, the car mostly just seemed more punishing rather than sharper with the shocks dialed to maximum attack, which is done with a little button in the center console. But the adjustability might be more useful on a smooth track.

On the road, the car is really just rewarding to fling up and down the gears with the manual car’s gloriously notchy gearshift and swing through corners like it’s on a centrifuge.

What’s Weak

I called out the 718 GTS’s consistent responsiveness as a highlight, and if that’s what you’re looking for, it is there. But if you prefer a looser, maybe what some might describe as a more “natural” drive, this might not be the car for you.

The 718 GTS feels extremely competent, but it’s also buttoned down. I’ve heard others call this out as a “digital driving experience.” It’s extremely precise, but one could argue it lacks flavor. That was my main hangup with the 911 GTS: an extremely capable machine. Too capable, I thought, to be really enjoyed by a mortal driver on a public road. But the 718 GTS felt much more accessible. The sensation of speed seemed stronger, and I felt like I could boot the pedals without instantaneously outrunning my talent.

Another aspect of the 718 GTS some might classify as a weakness is its diminutive size. For real though–this is a car you wear, not ride in. Every square inch of the cabin feels close enough to sniff from the driver’s position and the body doesn’t seem to extend much further. Claustrophobes will need to ride with the roof down if they don’t want to wig out. That said, this essence of compactness is excellent for spirited, steering-intensive driving.

Is it passé to compare a sports car to a go-cart? Yes? Well, then let’s just say that the 718 GTS feels like a tiny version of a regular car. A really fast one.

As such, it’s great for hard cornering but a pain to get in and out of and wouldn’t be a whole lot of fun on a long ride.

The Sound

The Porsche 718 GTS’s exhaust note gets its own subheading because it’s a point of serious contention. I have already seen some people on the internet saying the sound sucks, and for the record I disagree.

Of course, a flat four-cylinder turbocharged engine is not going to have the robust burble of a V8 you might be looking for in a performance machine, or the raspy whooshing of a 911’s flat six for that matter.

No, the 718’s 2.5-liter makes its own music. This video clip (after the 02:15 mark) captures it fairly nicely but I’ll do my best to describe it for those who can’t watch YouTube at work: the car makes a lot of sucking sounds on acceleration, and the punctuated purring betrays its small size but there’s a nice resonance to the little farts it makes on shifts.

From the driver’s seat, I found the 718 GTS to sound small but strong. Present, but reasonably refined. It’s not piercing or inconsistent like a tuner car, which you’d be forgiven for expecting from a tweaked four-pot turbo. It’s good and fine–don’t go futzing with it with aftermarket parts.

Early Verdict

The 718 GTS didn’t set my hair on fire or ignite a passion for the Porsche brand in my cells, but it most definitely earned my respect and appreciation by nailing it with two characteristics: the car feels simultaneously light and overbuilt.

In a day of slicing and dicing the twisty roads north of Napa Valley, I felt more like I was wearing a jet pack than driving a car. The 718 GTS felt so competent and capable that it actually let me trick myself into thinking I’ve got decent driving skills.

I would advise against trying to convince yourself that this is a fun performance car you can use every day though–climbing in and out of it will get old fast and so will its escape pod dimensions. But the “fun” part is spot on. The car’s rewarding as hell to flog and feels pretty much ready for anything.

All that said, justifying the MSRP is going to be tough no matter how much cash you’ve got burning a whole in those khakis. $91,000 gets you into a Porsche 911, which is always going to be inherently cooler. These start at $80,000 but once you start putting options on, and I know you can’t resist putting options on, you can climb toward six-figures easily enough.

But the 718 GTS is unique in its compact competence, and I bet a seriously skilled driver could raise real hell with the thing. Even if you’re not a hot shoe, the car can most definitely put a smile on your face.

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About the author

Andrew P. Collins

Reviews Editor, Jalopnik | 1975 International Scout, 1984 Nissan 300ZX, 1991 Suzuki GSXR, 1998 Mitsubishi Montero, 2005 Acura TL