It can be tough being the ambitious younger sibling of a legend. Just ask the Porsche Boxster. Ever since it debuted 25 years ago, it's been forced to live in the shadow of the older, more iconic 911. And even though its mid-engined layout can theoretically provide better performance than the rear-engined 911 — or rather, perhaps, because of exactly that — Porsche has rarely seen to give the Boxster enough motor to make the most of its potential.
Apart from rare limited-run specials meant for the folks who follow the improv maxim of "yes, and" when buying Porsches ("Would you like a new 911 GT3 RS? "Yes, and I'll take a Cayenne Turbo, too"), the Boxster and its Cayman sibling have been forced to always make do with less power than their ass-engined brethren. That trend arguably came to a head with the arrival of the most recent 982-generation models, where Porsche downsized the cars from the brand's traditional naturally aspirated boxer six-cylinder engines to turbocharged flat-fours. Power might have gone up, but the sturm und drang factor fell; Porsche's mid-engined sports cars were now forced to suffer from an exhaust note that makes Subarus sound sexy.
Then, for the 2020 model year, Porsche finally saw fit to grace a regular production Boxster with a 911-based engine. Not just any engine, mind you: the same 4.0-liter naturally aspirated flat-six found first in the pricier, more exclusive Cayman GT4 and 718 Spyder. (For the record, in spite of sharing its displacement with the motor found in the 911 GT3, it's actually based on the twin-turbo 3.0-liter flat-six found in the Carrera.)
To say the GTS 4.0 drastically changes the character of the Boxster would be an overstatement; to say it could be the best Boxster ever, however, would be right on the money.
Along with the transition to turbo-four power back in 2016, Porsche tweaked the Boxster and Cayman's names a little, shoehorning "718" between make and model. (It was ostensibly a reference to the company's four-cylinder race cars of the same name from back in the Eisenhower/Kennedy years, but it also seems as though it might have been a way to further differentiate the company's sports cars from its sedans and crossovers by giving the former numbers and the latter names.) The suffix GTS should be familiar to Porschephiles; it's the moniker for Porsche's performance-oriented setup that sits above S and below Turbo in the trim level hierarchy. Here, though, it's joined by the engine's displacement in order to distinguish it from the previous 718 Boxster GTS, which existed from 2017 to 2019.
Don't worry if you can't remember all that, though. If anybody asks you what kind of Porsche you have, just tell them "It's a Boxster Four-Point-Oh." If they know, they'll know.
Of course, you could say the same of pretty much every Porsche on sale today. Even by 2021 Porsche standards, though, the Boxster GTS stands out.
First and foremost, of course, is the engine. With 414 horsepower and a 7,800-rpm redline, the GTS 4.0 is made to be wrung out at every opportunity, both to extract full power from that flat-six and for the sheer thrill of hearing it howl. Indeed, anyone who's grown accustomed to the down-low grunt of turbo motors might need a little time to recalibrate to how high the tach needs to spin to make the engine do its thing; horsepower peaks at 7,000 rpm, and even getting all 309 lb-ft of torque means spinning the flat-six to 5,000. Once you're in the meat of the powerband, you'll wonder why any sports car needs more power than this; the Boxster's thrust there simply leaves mere mortals in its wake.
But Porsches are just as much about taking turns as they are about accelerating. Ever wonder what the Platonic ideal of automotive handling might be? Spoiler alert: it's this. With the engine sitting so close to you between the axles, the impeccably direct steering and firm-but-not-punishing suspension, the car doesn't seem to suffer from any lag or delay in your inputs; it does what you want, when you want, as much as though it were your own flesh and blood.
While Porsche's excellent PDK may be the default (or often only) choice for the 911 lineup, the GTS 4.0, like other Boxsters and Caymans, still lets you choose between a six-speed manual and a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The PDK is as close to perfect as an automatic gearbox can be — choosing gears more intelligently than you ever could, able to be manually controlled via paddles if so desired — but even so, the six-speed stick is the gearbox to go for. Especially in the Boxster, which is far less likely to be taken to the track (and thus be driven in pursuit of the quickest lap) than the hardtop Cayman.
The gearbox's throws are as precise and well-oiled as you'll find in the increasingly diminished manual-transmission market, with a satisfying action that's its own reward. If you're not confident in your ability to blip the throttle on downshifts, don't sweat; the car handles that itself with the drive mode selector in Sport or Sport Plus. (That said, if you'd rather do the work yourself, leave the car in Normal; if you opted for the active suspension, just make sure to tap the button for its firmer settings.)
As mentioned, you can, of course, use the paddles of the PDK to hold the engine's speed wherever you like if you so choose, but it's simply more satisfying to do so with the manual — using your whole arm to row from cog to cog, feeling the vibrations of the powertrain through your hand. It's engaging in a way no paddle shift can ever be.
At six-foot-four — i.e. in the 99th-percentile of American men when it comes to height — my definition of a tight automotive cabin is a little different from, well, 99 percent of the rest of the American male populace. So when I tell you that the 718's guts are a
That's even by Porsche sports car standards, mind you. The Boxster isn't quite as accommodating as the 911; blame that firewall / bulkhead situation behind the seats that separates you from the engine, which keeps the long-legged from sliding back as far as they might like. Still, while snug, it never quite reaches cramped, and the interior proportions means all the secondary controls are always within easy reach. Going with the Boxster over the Cayman helps as well, at least in nice weather; dropping the top improves headroom significantly.
And while the mid-engine layout taketh away space in the cabin, it giveth room elsewhere. The Boxster has been boasting dual trunks since long before electric cars made it cool; the frunk is deep and the trunk is wide, but either is more than large enough to fit a 30-liter Yeti cooler, as I found out when I took the 718 grocery shopping. Indeed, I was able to fit a full week's worth of groceries for two in the cargo bays with ample room to spare; use the right bags, and you could easily cram in enough gear for a week's trip.
The best part: the GTS 4.0 is almost something of a steal by Porsche standards. While a base price of $90K is, indeed, hardly cheap, it comes with just about everything you'd want, so you don't really need to make much use of Porsche's ever-growing options list. And even that price is $25,000 cheaper than the most affordable 911 Carrera Convertible.
Base Price / Price as Tested: $90,250 / $100,000
Powertrain: 4.0-liter boxer-six, six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, rear-wheel-drive
Torque: 309 lb-ft
EPA Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway
Europeans and Aussies get many of the best camper vans. But there are still some great options you can buy in the United States.