In recent years, the GTS badge hasn’t had a huge amount of meaning when slapped on the rump of a Porsche. The recipe has almost always been the same: a selection of the kind of options you’re probably considering on an S car - PASM active dampers, the Sport Chrono Pack, a Sports exhaust - coupled with some fancy black trim pieces and a small power increase.
There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily - the results of that treatment have been mostly very agreeable, and you’d end up paying more if you optioned up the standard-fit GTS stuff on an S. But the Gran Turismo Sport badge should signify more than a ‘no-brainer’ trim job, shouldn’t it?
The label was first used by Porsche on the mid-engined, ultra-light 904 GTS racer, resurrected for the outrageous widebody 924 GTS a few decades on. These are properly special cars. However, there are signs of the modern-era GTS remit changing. First, we had the Panamera GTS, which was given an extra pair of cylinders relative to its S-branded little brother, and we suspect the same thing will happen with the next Cayman GTS. The Macan GTS has a new 2.9-litre twin-turbo engine, and the new versions of the 718 Cayman and Boxster GTS? Holy hell, Porsche really has gone to town there.
We still have the usual setup of standard-fit, 20mm lowered PASM adaptive dampers (optionally lowered by further 10mm ), the Sport Chrono pack, black trim and smoked light clusters. But there’s no token 20bhp rise via an ECU tweak to the 2.5-litre flat-flour turbo engine of the S - nope, the GTS is packing a 4.0-litre naturally-aspirated flat-six.
Specifically, the ‘9A2 Evo’ engine Porsche built for the 718 Cayman GT4 and the 718 Boxster Spyder. It’s been ever-so-slightly detuned from 414bhp to 395bhp, but you really wouldn’t know the difference. The near-instantaneous response afforded thanks to the lack of turbochargers more than makes up for the mid-range shock and awe of the forced induction 2.5 in the S, with every trip to the 7800rpm redline resulting in an impressive speed increase.
The engine caps out 200rpm lower than it does in the GT4/Boxster Spyder version of the engine, so the first few times I explore the upper reaches of the Cayman GTS 9A2 Evo lump at Estoril Circuit, I find myself clipping the rev limiter. That’s about the only thing that’s different with the experience the engine offers up - it’s just as beautifully linear, and with the same exhaust system poking out of the new rear diffuser, it sounds identical.
That pipework inevitably includes gasoline particulate filters (GPFs), and that does result in a more restrained noise compared to N/A flat-six Porsches of old. But it’ll still clatter on idle, howl in the mid-range and angrily shout near the top end. It’s a soundtrack the GTS 4.0’s predominantly turbocharged rivals simply don’t have an answer for.
Few can match the way it goes around corners, either. The GTS has an amazing ability to feel like a sports car that demands your respect, while still being able to flatter you as a driver and not threaten to bite your head off if you overstep the mark. If you do, there’s plenty of warning from the communicative chassis.
The steering, is - forgive me for sounding like a stuck record here - another almost irritatingly good EPAS masterclass from Porsche. It doesn’t have that goopy, horrid artificial weight that afflicts modern BMW steering, or the nasty, aggressively self-centring habits of the refreshed 2020 Jaguar F-Type. Just bang-on weighting, pure consistency, and even a little bit of feedback. It’s the perfect tool to exploit the GTS 4.0’s brilliantly balanced, surprisingly docile chassis.
Being softer and on narrower, more road-biased tyres (Pirelli P Zeroes instead of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s), the GTS reaches the end of its tether on the road much sooner than the GT4. But it is still tremendously capable - traction from the rear is in plentiful supply, and the bite from the front end is heroic.
The GTS feels like something a normal driver can get on terms with much sooner. You won’t have to put in a whole season of track days and not see your family for half the year just to feel like you’re tapping into enough of the 4.0’s potential. And it’s this less focused setting for the nat-asp flat-six that makes it more enjoyable - it gets more of your attention when you’re not trying to become the ultimate helmsmith.
With the Cayman GTS 4.0s reserved for the track, our road GTS experience was limited to the Boxster. No matter, as there’s precious little to separate the driving experience of the two these days.
On the road, the GTS recipe is all the more appealing. 395bhp is a perfectly non-ridiculous power output to be enjoyed (mostly) within the constraints of speed limits, and with various angry-looking rock faces flanking much of our route, we have of plenty of surfaces to reverberate that flat-six bark off.
The bumpier parts of the route make me suspect the GTS 718s will be at their best in Sport Plus but with the suspension set to ‘normal’ back in the UK. It’s the best compromise, with enough give in the dampers to stop the car bouncing around, but not so much that roll becomes a problem.
What is a problem is the gearbox. Not the shifts - those are accurate and silky smooth. No - our issue is the ratios. It’s the same ‘box used in the current and former GT4s, and while the six-speeder is well-suited to track stuff, it’s less ideal for the road. Why? Because second tops out at around 80mph, FFS.
The only other real gripe is also transmission-related - as is the case with all non-GT manual Porsches, you can’t turn the rev-matching off without ditching the traction and stability controls entirely.
This makes me question if the manual is really the one to go for - not when a PDK with shorter ratios is coming either at the end of 2020 or early 2021. The seven-speed cog box will give more opportunities for redline heroics, and won’t leave you frustrated about the whole auto blip situation.
The price might seem like another snafu - at £64,088 for the Cayman (£65,949 for the Boxster), it’s almost as much as the original GT4. But pre-update, 2.5 Cayman GTS prices had crept up before the model was quietly dropped ahead of the launch of this one, meaning the premium isn’t actually that big.
Is that extra cash worth it? For a whole new N/A engine that’s 50bhp more potent than what you find in an S - the biggest increase a GTS model has ever enjoyed - hell to the yes.
And in some ways, the GTS is superior to the GT4. I like its less serious attitude. The way it’s easier to exploit on the road, while still being a weapon on track. And I like the way it’ll be easier to get hold of one.
The best thing of all is this is a car that should be sticking around. It’s not a run-out special - Porsche has suggested that the flat-six should be good to go until 2026, and potentially beyond.
The 718 GTS 4.0s are so much more than the bridesmaids to the Cayman GT4 and Boxster Spyder. They prove an era of sports cars we thought already extinct has life in it yet. For the money, it’s the only sports car you should really be considering. The only hard part is deciding which one to go for.