A brand new car with a naturally-aspirated engine and a manual gearbox is an incredibly rare thing today. Especially since the vehicle in question - the Porsche 718 GTS - isn’t some limited-run special or a super-exotic hypercar destined to be stuffed away in a billionaire’s collection, never to be seen again.
And yet, the manual is something we’d happily drop from the equation. Sacrilegious though this may seem, the standard six-speed ‘box has a big problem - the length of its ratios.
At the top end of second gear, you’re doing over 80mph, making this a car you cannot legally redline in anything other than first unless you’re on a race track or a German autobahn. That’s a shame considering few other modern cars come with nat-asp engines that’ll knock on the door of 8000rpm before requiring you to shift up.
It’s the same problem for the Cayman GT4 and the Boxster Spyder, but there is now a seven-speed ‘PDK’ automatic gearbox available for all of these once manual-only sports cars. For the GT4 and Spyder, the premium charged is £2000, while for either of the GTS cars it’s an extra £2303. Judging by the thusly-equipped 718 Boxster we sampled at the tail end of 2020 after also trying a manual 911 Carrera S, it’s worth the extra.
The ratios are still on the long side but reduced by a decent enough margin to make the 4.0-litre ‘9A2 Evo’ engine far more enjoyable on the road. Hitting the 7800rpm hard limiter in first gets you to 43mph, with the indicated speed rising to just over 70mph in second.
Crucially, you can now leave it in third on a country road, with the revs high enough to make full use of the handy 318lb ft of torque, which comes in at 5000rpm. Peak power is at 7000rpm, but this is a car that makes chasing the redline a worthwhile experience. The exhaust system may be hamstrung by a pair of noise-sapping petrol particulate filters, but the soundtrack is still first-rate. And, it must be said, a world away from the burbly flat-four found in the last 718 GTS.
The absent clutch pedal and a manual shift isn’t something I sorely missed at any point of the drive. It helps that you can probably rattle through all seven gears faster than it takes to say Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe. The shifts are fast and satisfying, and well-judged when the gearbox is left to make the decisions for you. Anyone wanting to take matters into their own hands can use the beautiful metal shifters on the steering wheel, or the centre console selector this car borrows for the 991.2 911 GT cars.
Another reason for not missing that extra layer of engagement is the way the rest of the package feels. Few sports cars can make you feel this connected to the driving experience. The GTS possesses genuine steering and chassis feedback, giving plenty of confidence to exploit the 718’s oh-so capable chassis.
On UK roads the adaptive dampers are best left in their slackest setting, giving more compliance but barely a hint of body roll. The chassis is wholly neutral, with a distinct lack of understeer on the way into every bend, and the rear sticks to the road nicely on the way out. Conditions during our drive were horribly greasy, but with a linear power delivery replacing the boosty nature of the old 2.5 turbo GTS, the rear boots don’t tend to get upset under demanding throttle loads.
With these new ratios courtesy of one of the best dual-clutch gearboxes is the business, one of our two main gripes about the 718 GTS has been solved. Conversely, our only other misgiving is worsened. The manual is already a pricey car, and with the PDK option, the Boxster is nudged up to £68,252.
Then again, there’s no other sports car for the money that’s as competent, engaging or special-feeling. In 2021, this is peak sports car.