Porsche seems to go one of two routes in the pursuit of performance. In the case of the 911 Turbo S, the watchwords are turbocharging, a sophisticated dual-clutch gearbox, a whole lot of grip, and a spacious grand-touring cabin. Think of it like a genetically modified organism, a nourishing product that’s nearly impervious to foes like bad roads and poor weather.
At the other end of the spectrum is the 2021 Porsche Boxster GTS 4.0, which sports a naturally aspirated flat-six engine, a six-speed manual transmission, and an intimate, driver-friendly cockpit nestled within a compact roadster body. It's the whiskey used to flambé a rich dessert – exceptional spirits distilled to leave behind some truly invigorating flavors. Though maybe not quite as hardcore as the everclear-grade Boxster Spyder, the GTS is still pure Porsche performance in its daily-driven form, and we jumped at the chance to spend a week behind the wheel of a European-market model.
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Like always, Porsche’s mid-engined sports car features clean, balanced styling that only improves with GTS-spec additions. Trim-exclusive front and rear bumpers, dark-tinted head- and taillights, a standard sports exhaust with black tailpipes, and black lettering for the model designation give the 718 Boxster some visual aggression. The optional Carrera Sport wheels wouldn’t necessarily be our pick – go for the standard GTS rollers – but the $2,580 needed to option Carmine Red seems like a necessity just to see the muted lipstick tone glint in the sun. That said, the color is nearly synonymous with Porsche GTS models, so it really should be standard.
The basic Boxster shape is still one of the most attractive on the market. Clearly mid-engined, the 718’s long wheelbase resolves in a short rear overhang, with peaked rear fenders that adroitly recall the classic 550 Spyder. Soft, melted lines give the Boxster an approachable appearance that makes it almost friendly, even in spite of the GTS 4.0’s added visual aggression.
Inside, our tester featured very aggressive Porsche bucket seats with wide bolsters and a fixed seatback angle, done up in beautiful black leather and Race-Tex faux suede with Carmine Red stitching and interior accents. Fit and finish are excellent, with cowhides appearing on the dashboard and door panel uppers, as well as the sueded material on the armrests and other soft-touch materials throughout the cabin.
The cabin is laid out perfectly for swift driving, with the thick-rimmed steering wheel and shift knob feeling wonderful in-hand. Race-Tex appears again on these high-touch instruments, so they’ll probably look matted and sweat-stained in a few years, but while new, they feel great. Switchgear plays par for the Porsche course, with satisfying tactile feedback on every button and secondary control. The cascading, vertical-horizontal center stack is very attractive and easy to use.
Surprisingly, the Boxster is pretty comfortable on most roads. Porsche Active Suspension Management is standard on the GTS 4.0, which includes Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus damper settings that can either take the edge off broken pavement or amp up response on smooth surfaces. That said, even Comfort can tackle twisties, and Sport Plus preserves a good amount of compliance. Somehow, the Boxster can do it all, regardless of suspension setting.
The aggressive bucket seats are wonderful for sporty canyon motoring, but they can feel a bit confining on a daily commute. Average size humans might feel a pinch in the hips or back, and the side bolsters can feel somewhat claustrophobic after a few hours in the saddle. Still, there’s lots of legroom and space in the pedal box in spite of the Boxster’s cab-forward design, and headroom is abundant with the top up and unlimited with the top down. Cargo space is likewise adequate for a roadster – the dual trunks offer 5.3 cubic feet up front and 4.4 in the rear, which is more than enough for a long trip with two passengers.
The Boxster GTS 4.0 has a weak point: its rather dated platform. Although it was heavily updated for 2017 alongside a rename to the 718 model designation, the current Boxster and Cayman still date to the 2013 model year. As such, the Porsche Communication Management infotainment system is limited to a smallish 7.0 inches, although Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard. Active safety and driver assistance features are thin on the ground. Our tester has optional blind-spot monitoring, and automatic emergency braking is available but not equipped on this specific example.
Working in its favor for the digitally deprived is a well-designed infotainment interface. This European-market example’s navigation didn’t work in sunny California, but playing with the display proved that a US car would boast lovely, high-resolution map graphics.
This is where the Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 comes good. As its name denotes, it shares the Boxster Spyder’s naturally aspirated 4.0-liter flat-six engine, making 394 horsepower (20 less than the Spyder) and 309 pound-feet, which replaces the outgoing GTS’ turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four (365 hp and 309 lb-ft). A selectable sport exhaust, standard on the GTS, means those ponies sing out loudly in the sportiest mode, hushing to a still-enthusiastic bellow in around-town driving – keep in mind, European cars require a gasoline particulate filter that muffles some of the sound out the back, so your US-market GTS 4.0 will sound even better than this one. The new engine is the 2021 GTS’ most significant alteration, giving the roadster a more playful voice than its Dyson-like turbocharged predecessor.
Stoking that noise is the job of a standard six-speed manual transmission. The company’s excellent PDK seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox is optional, but the manual stirs through the gears with so much precision and pleasure that picking the autobox feels like heresy. The clutch is cooperative even in traffic, although the accelerator and brake pedals are surprisingly far apart, making heel-toe braking a challenge.
The adaptive suspension works well with optional ceramic brakes (peep those yellow calipers) to keep the Boxster under control, although at $7,410, the expensive stoppers seem like overkill – the standard brakes would probably do just fine in most situations. Wide, grippy tires impart plenty of confidence in corners, too.
On the road, it all combines to create one of the most singular driving experiences this author has ever had the pleasure to encounter. Going hard on the brakes and digging deep into a corner, the GTS 4.0 just encourages the driver to explore its limits, offering a brilliant engine note, impeccable steering feel, and plenty of suspension feedback in return. Balancing the car through corners is the work of the throttle and brakes, allowing a good driver to finesse the 718 onto the proper line. The Boxster is driving nirvana, making lesser Porsches feel like a compromise and more expensive ones feel like overkill.
The Boxster GTS 4.0 comes standard with only one active safety feature, post-collision braking that helps prevent or reduce the severity of a secondary collision. Beyond that, our tester featured only blind spot monitoring and conventional cruise control that can brake moderately when exceeding the selected speed (as on a downhill). Adaptive cruise control and forward collision monitoring are optional on the Boxster.
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Official EPA estimates for the 718 GTS 4.0 are as-yet unavailable, so we’ve left this score out of our overall verdict. The premium-swilling roadster isn’t likely to be more efficient than its Spyder sibling, though. Expect a government rating of 16 city, 23 highway, and 19 combined miles per gallon. A well-optioned Chevrolet Corvette convertible gets the same combined rating, while the Jaguar F-Type R-Dynamic ekes 23 mpg out of its 3.0-liter supercharged V6.
The 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 comes with a starting price of $88,900 plus $1,350 for destination, but anyone familiar with a P-car order book knows that’s just the jumping-off point. The model we drove came with a gasping $31,440 worth of added features. The most expensive line item was the $7,410 brake upgrade, while the $5,900 bucket seats and $3,690 GTS Interior Package (comprising trim-specific design features) weren’t far behind. $2,320 for embedded navigation and $2,580 for Carmine Red paint were two other big-ticket offenders, but there are myriad small options as well – Race-Tex sun visors, carbon door sills, power-folding mirrors, et al.
Unfortunately, like other Porsches, the 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 will continue to be a plaything for the well-heeled, meaning those of us in lower tax brackets will only get to enjoy it from afar (or if you’re lucky enough, in a brief stint behind the wheel). Luckily, the new engine and still-gorgeous design give us plebeians something to look at and listen to while the person behind the wheel cooks up something special.
Gallery: 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 Review
2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0