Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 PDK | UK Review
Boxster GTS goes from six gears to seven and three pedals to two. But is it still 10 out of 10?
By Matt Bird / Wednesday, December 2, 2020
It'll be news to precisely nobody that the Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe – or PDK, as it's also known – is a popular option. The gearbox is now standard fit in the 911, and accounts for the majority of sales where it's offered alongside the manual – yes, even in the last GT3. The only instance in recent history of manual outselling PDK was in the 991 Carrera T; bank that one for when the local is doing a pub quiz again.
Point is that PDK makes eminent sense for every single Porsche, hence the recent decision to add the seven-speed dual-clutch to all of the 4.0-litre 718 models: so that's Cayman GT4 and Boxster Spyder, plus the GTS 4.0s. It's most interesting as an addition to the Motorsport cars, given their 981 derivatives were notably manual-only, but those are to follow. For now, we have the automatic in the GTS, specifically a Gentian Blue 718 Boxster.
For the sake of a story it would be great to speak of an enormous step change when initially going from manual to PDK. But that would be a lie. It's a 718 cabin with the PDK lever sprouting from the centre, perhaps more prominently than ever with experience of the 992's dinky transmission switch. Though nicely assembled and supremely logical, there's no escaping the fact that the interior has become jolly familiar with the 981 having arrived in 2012. On the other hand, as many manufacturers are finding out, updating a driving environment for the digital world is a great deal easier said than done. So we won't diss chunky buttons and analogue dials here – it at least makes sense.
To begin with, then, the GTS could be any old PDK'd Boxster. Except, of course, it isn't just any old Boxster, because it has 50 per cent more cylinders than the rest of the 718 range beneath it. And that makes a difference, anytime and any place. Even bimbling around at urban speeds, the flat-six makes the experience that much exotic and exciting, feeling like a junior supercar with such an expensive, luxuriant sound emanating from behind – just how it always was. Except in the case of this particular car, 'junior' could be taken from the description, given it was optioned up to 105,000 euros…
Having driven the GTS back to back with the new 911 Turbo, it's interesting to note the advancements made in PDK technology. The new eight-speed is desperate to reach its higher gears, shuffling up through ratios almost imperceptibly until you're cruising along at little more than idle. This seven-speed doesn't quite do that, holding every gear longer and making each change that bit more noticeable. Compared to the 911 it's perhaps a fraction less decisive, too. It's still a great everyday auto, certainly, if no longer quite at the cutting edge of what PDK can do.
But you probably knew it was decent enough at mooching about; the more pressing question is whether this gearbox makes the GTS a better sports car than the manual. Which is a tricky one, because it's not as obvious as you might think. First point is that, even beyond the benchmark sprints, it does feel a mite quicker on the road. Not night and day, of course, but combine slightly shorter ratios – second only going to 75mph here, rather than 85 – with quicker shifts and there is a difference, the additional immediacy complementing the engine's inertia-free character and the chassis' agility just nicely. The driver isn't starved of involvement with the gears, either. Obviously a manual does give you more to do, but having the old PDK means manual changes with the lever are possible if you want. Doing so, punching it forward for downshifts and pulling for up like a touring car driver, is quite good fun. And the paddles are great. And the gearbox does quite a good job on its own, really.
With the roof down on a cold, crisp, clear December morning, flat-six howling towards 8,000rpm and the PDK obliging your every command, it's hard to imagine many better sports car experiences. It's beginning to sound trite now, but the Boxster's ability to meld all the desirable sports car attributes – it's exciting but not flighty, supple but not languid, focused but not wearing – makes it a very hard car to fault, and an ever harder one to surpass – especially in GTS guise. An Alpine perhaps flows and glides with the surface a little better, and an Elise boasts even greater agility, though neither boast a powertrain of such exquisite quality, nor the everyday viability. There's no reason why this Boxster couldn't be used as an everyday car, especially with the new transmission, and still keep something in reserve for a weekend blast. That ability to bring together both ends of the spectrum, to be little short of the consummate mid-engined sports car, is what's made the Boxster such a success for a quarter of a century. Models like the GTS will ensure that continues for a little while yet.
As for the PDK specifically, it's as natural a fit in this new 4.0 as it is elsewhere. If for whatever reason the manual prevented you from buying a GTS, rest assured that nothing is missing from the experience here. In certain situations it actually serves to make it all a bit more thrilling, reducing the time between craving more of that six-cylinder symphony and actually getting it, the Sport Response button here a speed dial for fun. As purists and dullards, we'd probably still plump for the standard six-speed, because it's a lovely gearbox and nothing quite matches the joy of working a manual transmission. However, just in case there was any doubt, the identity of the gearbox makes precious little difference to the outcome – the 718 GTS is still the best all-round sports car out there.
SPECIFICATION – PORSCHE BOXSTER 718 GTS 4.0
Engine: 3,995cc, flat-six
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],000rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],000-6,500rpm
0-60mph: 4.0 seconds
Top speed: 179mph
Weight: 1,435kg (DIN, without driver)
Price: £68,643 (£66,340 for GTS plus £2,303 for PDK. This car as a German test was €82,675, with €22,498.20 of options for a total price of €105,173.20)
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