The 718 spyder with a manual gearbox is the purest embodiment of the perfect driver’s car.
On a twisty, freshly paved and relatively secluded road in the Sahyadri hills, I am quietly celebrating the internal combustion engine in all its glory. Except that it’s not exactly a quiet celebration, but a very loud one. The scream of the 420hp naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat-six engine ricochets off the black mountain rock and reverberates through the Ambenali valley. The sound isn’t a deep roar of a dampened turbocharged engine, but a spine tingling crescendo that peaks at 8,000rpm. This is natural aspiration at its best. However, it’s not just the engine that makes the driving experience so special, but also something that’s rare to find in a sportscar these days – a manual gearbox.
A manual gearbox with the good old H-pattern shifter is quite a treat in this age of twin-clutch transmissions and paddle-shifters. In fact, for purists, there’s no better treat than this car – the Porsche 718 Spyder.
Precise, short throw gearshift, well weighted pedals bring back the joy of a manual.
As far as driving experiences go, it’s hard to find anything as pure and deeply analogue as the 718 Spyder. It combines one of the most loved naturally aspirated engines, a snickety slick 6-speed manual gearbox and a soft top that exposes you to the elements, all wrapped in what is possibly the best balanced chassis in the world.
Porsche 718 Spyder: interior and features
At one level, the Spyder is an escape from today’s geeky digital world in which multiple screens, ADAS and connected tech is what is selling cars. The 718 Spyder arrogantly shuns these gizmos. The small touchscreen looks and feels outdated, all the dials are analogue and even the soft-top operation is manual. There’s no storage space to speak of inside the cabin, but the front and rear trunks offer a surprising amount of luggage space. The Spyder has its practical foibles, but Porsche isn’t out to please everyone. This is a car that has the joy of driving at its heart.
The weather in Mahabaleshwar on this early December day couldn’t be better. It’s a cool 22 degrees, the mountain air is fresh, and, as it is off-season, there is little tourist traffic. Wispy clouds punctuate the deep blue skies and mercifully filter out the harsh, direct sun on a day we’ll be driving entirely with the hood down. Taking off the fabric hood is quite a task though. The only electrical bit is the mechanism that clasps and unhooks the hood to the windscreen frame. Everything else is a manual job, right from folding the hood down to storing it under the deck lid. It’s bit fiddly, too, and you need to run from side to side to tuck the fabric in place.
Cabin doesn’t have much by way of gizmos and tech, but driving position is faultless.
Putting the hood back on is easier, except for the rear fabric strips, which are really difficult to press-fit into the body panel. In fact, on the expressway, they popped loose and furiously flapped against the engine cover, damaging the paint. All the more reason to drive the Spyder with the hood down, and it also looks simply stunning this way.
Porsche 718 Spyder: ride and handling
The Spyder is based on the Cayman GT4, so it shares the same powertrain and mechanicals as its hard-top sibling; it also shares some bits with the 911. The front axle and brakes are common with the 911 GT3 and the flat-six engine has also been derived from its bigger cousin.
Compared to the GT4, the Spyder has more toned down aero bits and looks the better for it. The Spyder has a smaller rear wing and the front splitter is less pronounced than on the GT4. This may not give the Spyder the same downforce as the GT4, but makes the nose less vulnerable on Indian roads, but it’s still prone to getting scraped if you’re not careful. Sitting 39mm lower than a standard Boxster (122mm), ground clearance is an issue and large speed breakers will make teeth clenching contact with the underbody.
The 718 Spyder shares some bits with its bigger sibling, the 911.
Getting to Mahabaleshwar no doubt tested the ground clearance of the Spyder, but quite honestly, it astonished me with the way it tip-toed over broken roads. Sure, the ride is pretty firm and on a rough road, you can feel the bumps, but the good thing is that they don’t crash through. In fact, for a car riding on low-pro tyres, I was expecting a bone-jarring ride, but was amazed at how well sharp edges were rounded off. Finding great roads that do justice to the Spyder are far and few between, and the roads that lead to them can be in terrible shape. So, it’s good to know that, if driven carefully, the Spyder can tackle rough stuff and doesn’t need to be flat-bedded to a perfect location.
The Ambenali ghat just below Mahabaleshwar is a perfect location and pure 718 Spyder country, where the otherwise illogical convertible has a sense of purpose. Top down and nothing but a few inches of air between your ears and the flat-six, the engine sound at full chat is nothing less than theatrical. You can control the engine sound with the manual gearbox and make it more musical by holding onto each gear longer and hearing the change in exhaust note from a deep throated roar to a high-pitched scream. I just love the way the revs rise and drop with each upshift and the blip of the throttle (there’s an auto blip mode) with every downshift. It’s an old-world thrill that can’t be experienced in a PDK, where the lighting-fast shifts don’t draw out the sound and let them linger like in a manual.
Porsche 718 Spyder: performance
On a tight and twisty road, the sense of control you get with this brilliant, naturally aspirated engine and the precise, short-throw manual gearbox is subliminal. The Spyder’s 4.0-litre flat-six motor is so responsive, reacting with millimetric precision to the tiniest of throttle inputs in each gear. The trouble is that only the first and second gear of this 6-speeder can be used to the fullest because of the ridiculously tall gearing, which is one of the Spyder’s few flaws. This engine makes its magic close to 8,000rpm limit, which means in second gear, you are past an illegal 130kph.
Ambenali ghat is pure Spyder country where the illogical convertible has a sense of purpose.
On the Ambenali ghat, I was limited to first and second gears, and the occasional shift to third was to see just how torquey this engine is. It gets into its stride around 3,000rpm, is blisteringly quick at 5,000rpm and goes completely ballistic when you approach 8,000rpm. Be in no doubt, this is a very fast car – hitting 100kph from standstill in 4.4sec – and if you hire the NATRAX high-speed track, you’ll get the only chance to max out the Spyder in all six gears and hit a top speed of 301kph.
But the beauty of the Spyder is how friendly and accessible it is, and you’ll be shocked how easy it is to drive fast. Firstly,it’s pretty compact, compared to other supercars, and has great all-round visibility too, which gives you the confidence to use all the road available. But what stands out is the Spyder’s terrific chassis, the pin-sharp steering, the outstanding brakes and the finesse of all its controls, making you feel totally connected and one with the car. Switch off traction control and you’ll revel in how precisely you can balance the car with the throttle, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 295/30ZR-20 rear tyres stepping out of line ever so predictably.
It’s hard to find anything as deeply analogue as the manual 718 Spyder.
Porsche 718 Spyder: verdict
The Spyder needs commitment to enjoy it to the fullest. And that commitment means having the time and inclination to seek out Spyder roads because, honestly, in the city, it’s like a fish out of water. Driving out of Mumbai was painful. The massive speed breakers had me on edge and the heavy clutch was sheer torture in stop-start rush-hour traffic. Don’t even think of this car if you’re going to use it in the city. But if you find the right road, there is simply no other car that offers the focused, precise and approachable character of the Spyder, along with the thrill of an open top. For the money (Rs 1.77 crore, ex-showroom), the Spyder is simply the best driver’s car you can buy today. Period.