by Karl Furlong
718 may not be as large of a number as 911, but the Porsche 718 Spyder hardly feels like a poor relation of its iconic big brother. An all-new introduction last year, this is the most powerful Porsche drop-top without a 911 badge slapped on the back and retains its greatest asset for the 2021 model year: a 414-horsepower 4.0-liter naturally aspirated flat-six engine that can scream its way to 8,000 rpm. With the manual gearbox, it'll hit 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. The big news for this year is that Porsche's class-leading PDK dual-clutch transmission has become available as an option, promising even swifter performance off the mark with less effort from the driver. Vying for space in the 718 Spyder's crowded trophy cabinet is one of the greatest chassis and steering setups in any convertible, providing pin-sharp handling and plenty of feedback. At nearly $100,000 in the US, competitors like the Audi TT RS and BMW Z4 serve up more performance for a lot less money, but it's the Porsche that will leave you with a bigger smile on your face.
The biggest change this year comes with the addition of Porsche's optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. It adds $3,210 to the base price of the 718 Spyder. Whereas lesser 718s get additional standard equipment this year, Porsche has kept the Spyder's spec sheet largely unchanged, preferring to keep this version as pure as possible with an emphasis on performance.
4.0-liter Flat 6 Gas
Porsche hasn't changed the 718 Spyder's appearance for the 2021 model year, and that's just fine. The compact convertible's exterior proportions look as good as ever, with the streamliners adding a touch of distinction relative to the Boxster. Riding on 20-inch alloy wheels and with details like red brake calipers, dual exhaust outlets, and a rear diffuser, it looks suitably sporty. In front, there are bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, and the taillights are LEDs, too. To save weight, the roof is a lightweight, manually-operated design, although it does have an electric locking function. An auto-deploying rear wing is standard and is unique to the Spyder.
At 174.4 inches in length and 70.9 inches in width with the mirrors folded, the 2021 Porsche 718 Spyder is longer but narrower than the BMW Z4. Other key dimensions are a height of 49.5 inches and a wheelbase that is 97.8 inches. With a curb weight of 3,205 pounds for the manual variant, the 718 Spyder is 185 lbs heavier than a base Porsche Boxster but 252 lbs lighter than a BMW Z4 when the latter is fitted with a six-cylinder engine. The PDK pushes this figure up to 3,273 pounds.
Scour through our reviews of everything from hatchbacks to much larger SUVs, and you'll notice that the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is as common as a refrigerator. Everyone has one, and it gets the job done admirably, but more often than not, it isn't a soul-stirring device. Even Porsche succumbed by fitting an engine like this to the base Boxster. The 718 Spyder's motor is far more than an appliance, though. This hot-blooded 4.0-liter naturally aspirated flat-six will raise the hairs on any enthusiast's neck with its 414 horsepower and 309 lb-ft of torque, although the PDK bumps the latter figure to 317 lb-ft. Paired with either a crisp six-speed manual gearbox or the new option of a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch and sending power to the rear axle, it'll race from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds with the default manual transmission before reaching a top speed of 187 mph, while the PDK drops that figure to 3.7 seconds and the top speed to 186 mph. By comparison, the cheaper BMW Z4 M40i does the same sprint in 3.9 seconds and will cost far less, but the beauty of the 718 Spyder is that on-paper figures seem irrelevant. Whether changing gears yourself or letting the talented PDK 'box do its thing, both are a fine match for that gem of an engine. It's fast, immersive, and tactile in all the ways for which Porsche has become famous.
What's so impressive about the 718 Spyder is that each individual component is masterfully tuned in isolation, yet just as good when operating in concert with others. Take the electric steering, for instance. It's neither too heavy nor too light, responds with urgency and precision to driver inputs, and is pleasingly talkative. But it's not the only star of the show in a convertible that leaves the competition trailing for dynamism. Once you've added in the rigid chassis, the slick gearboxes, that amplified engine note, and the strong brakes, the 718 Spyder's cocktail of ingredients is intoxicating in the best way possible. With the stability control systems disabled and enough space, it's easy to induce oversteer in a predictable and manageable fashion. However, with the systems on, there's still plenty of entertainment to be had. As we noted in last year's Porsche 718 Spyder review, it surprises with its compliant ride quality when you aren't thrashing it. It's no Panamera, but it can do the extended cruising thing without coming across as intolerable. More of an issue for a daily driver is the roof, which keeps the rain at bay, but that's about it - a brief test drive quickly reveals loads of tire and wind roar.
The EPA has yet to release economy estimates for the new Porsche 718 Spyder, but we expect these to remain the same as the 2020 manual's figures of 16/23/19 mpg city/highway/combined. With a 16.9-gallon gas tank, that equates to a range of around 321 miles. It's here that turbocharged rivals like the BMW Z4 M40i have another advantage, with the Bimmer managing 22/30/25 mpg from its 3.0-liter six-pot, albeit with an automatic gearbox. We suspect the PDK-equipped Spyder will be closer to those figures.
A straightforward two-seater roadster, there are no silly back seats posing as perches for adults. It's not an especially large interior, so wider-framed individuals may feel a bit cramped, but that snug feeling does engender a sense of being as one with the car. The supportive sports seats feature elevated side bolsters and have power-adjustment of the backrest, but height and fore/aft adjustments must be done manually. Sporty Alcantara inserts grip both occupants tightly. Other than having to bend down rather low to access and get out of the Spyder, it's an easy enough compact sports car to live with.
The mid-engined layout of the 718 Spyder means there are 5.2 cubic feet of trunk space in front, plus another 4.2 cubes in the rear luggage area. 9.4 cubes aren't bad for a sports car like this, but because it's split over two cargo areas, bigger items will have to be left at home. For longer items, the 'frunk' is better as it's deeper than the rear luggage area.
In the cabin, only a few options exist for storing small items, such as the shallow door pockets and the center console storage space. The usual glovebox applies, and two cupholders are hidden beneath a strip of trim ahead of the passenger seat. The downside of this is that they're more easily accessible for the passenger than the driver.
While even the base Boxster gets features like dual-zone climate control and heated seats, the 718 Spyder is more modestly equipped and, with just one trim, there aren't multiple configurations on offer. Clearly, Porsche wants to give customers the choice of buying as pure a Spyder as possible. To that end, it has a more basic air conditioning system, and heated seats will add another $530 to the base price. Other standard features include an electric locking function for the roof, power-adjustable and heated side mirrors, electric backrest adjustment for the seats, cruise control, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, and a programmable garage door opener. The classic analog tachometer is flanked by a 4.6-inch color display, and, lower down in the passenger footwell, there's a 12-volt socket. If weight-saving measures don't matter to you, the 718 Spyder can be comprehensively upgraded with options like a heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, auto-dimming mirrors, power-folding mirrors, and 18-way adaptive sport seats.
The Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system carries over unchanged for 2021, which is a bit of a pity. While logical enough, it's not the most advanced infotainment system in the business, with just an average-sized seven-inch touchscreen and no Android Auto integration. Apple CarPlay is standard on lesser 718s but disappointingly remains a $360 option on the 718 Spyder. Music and radio can be accessed via a CD/DVD drive, two USB slots, two SD card slots, SiriusXM satellite radio, and HD Radio. There's also an 11 GB internal jukebox storage and Bluetooth connectivity. The basic sound system features an integrated amplifier and six speakers for a total output of 110 watts, but a 505-watt Bose system (ten speakers) and an 821-watt Burmester high-end sound system (12 speakers) are available. Navigation is an optional extra.
Although it hasn't been on the market for all that long, the Porsche 718 Spyder has yet to suffer any early recalls. It's worth noting that Porsche has a good reputation for reliability within the sports car realm. The Spyder comes standard with Porsche's four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty along with 24-hour roadside assistance. A limited paint warranty of four years or 50,000 miles applies, as does a 12-year corrosion warranty regardless of mileage covered.
Local authorities have yet to evaluate the 718 Spyder for crashworthiness, so for now, it does without an official safety rating. Standard safety features include tire pressure monitoring, rear parking sensors, ABS brakes, LED daytime running lights, cruise control, and dynamic stability control. The obligatory backup camera is standard, but rearview images are all you'll see on the screen as no surround-view camera system is available. There are six airbags, including head airbags mounted in each door panel. However, don't expect to find modern driver aids like lane departure warning and cross-traffic alert on the 718 Spyder. You'll need to check your blind spots yourself, too.
At a base price of nearly $100,000, the 2021 Porsche 718 Spyder doesn't make a lot of sense at first glance. A base model Porsche Boxster has more features at nearly $40,000 less and is a far more efficient drop-top. Then, there are rivals like the BMW Z4 M40i that are better-equipped and significantly cheaper. But the 718 Spyder isn't trying to be all things to all people. As a weekend toy, it enamors with its atmospheric engine and sublime handling. It's equipped with everything you need and relegates any superfluous extras to the options list as if anything that dares to threaten the unfiltered driving experience must be eliminated. The 718 Spyder's unique styling only adds to its off-the-charts desirability, while the addition of the PDK gearbox option adds more appeal to the range. If you have the means, and assuming there's something more practical in the garage to take care of the daily commute, the 718 Spyder remains one of the best Porsches to drive - and that's saying a lot.
The already expensive Porsche 718 Spyder has seen a price increase this year, with the base MSRP jumping from $96,300 in 2020 to $97,300 for 2021. That'll get you behind the wheel of the six-speed manual version but another $3,210 will be required to get the seven-speed PDK transmission, meaning you're looking at a six-figure car. The price of the 718 Spyder excludes tax, licensing, registration, and a delivery/handling charge of $1,350 in the USA. The sky is the limit in terms of options, and ticking a couple of boxes quickly saw us approaching the $150,000 mark. If, for some reason, you want to, it's possible to exceed this amount, but that'll see you get irrationally close to a 911 Turbo.
You could leave the showroom with a bog-standard 718 Spyder and emerge with one of the finest drop-tops on the planet. Not many are likely to do this, though, considering the massively long options list. We'd stick with the manual gearbox, although we wouldn't blame you if you went for the excellent PDK, either. Other than that, we'd keep the options light but spec the heated seats ($530), a heated multifunction steering wheel ($470), and dual-zone climate control ($770), all upgrades that make an open-top car easier to live with. Almost every part of the cabin can be covered in leather and there are plenty of colors to choose from, but we'd stick with the standard seats. Finally, iPhone users may want to add Apple CarPlay with Siri for $360. Including the destination charge, the total comes to $100,010. Customers who tend not to question how much something costs may choose to spend a frankly ridiculous $1,040 for an owner's manual in a carbon fiber cover
The latest 992-generation 911 Carrera is possibly the most complete sports car in the world. Unlike the more focused 718 Spyder, the 911 Carrera must thrill the driver yet also be comfortable and refined enough for the daily drive to and from the office. At an almost identical starting price, the base 911 Carrera is down on power and displacement but its 3.0-liter flat-six is boosted by two turbochargers and it gets an eight-speed PDK box as standard so is faster to 60 mph than the manual 718 Spyder. While the 718's engine makes it a touch more involving to drive, the 911 is both sharp and comfortable. It also has a far better cabin with nicer materials and standard features like heated seats, Apple CarPlay, and small rear seats for emergencies. The 718 Spyder is more fun, but the 911 is more car at the same price.
The 718 Spyder's manually operated lightweight roof robs it of some refinement, which is where the 718 Cayman GT4 steps in. The Cayman is $2,900 more expensive, but at this level, that's unlikely to be a dealbreaker for anyone preferring a hardtop. With the same 414-hp 4.0-liter engine, performance is identical between the two cars, although the GT4 has a negligibly higher top speed of 188 mph. In the GT4's favor is a much larger rear luggage area measuring 9.5 cubic feet; together with the frunk, it can accommodate quite a bit more luggage than the 718 Spyder. Added to that, the fixed roof adds a layer of refinement that's missing from the Spyder, with the GT4 better able to isolate its occupants. Both make their drivers feel like heroes, so the choice comes down to whether the more glamorous Spyder or the more practical GT4 suits your needs best.