Six is the magic number.

The Boxster and Cayman duo are Porsche's entry-level models. The soft-top Boxster was the car that saved the company before the SUV was a thing and the Cayman has been secretly acknowledged as the best handling car Porsche builds. But in 2016 when the current 718 generation launched these cars lost their 6-cylinder, normally aspirated engines, to be replaced with 4-cylinder turbo units. They were lighter, had better low-end torque and were kinder to the environment. There was outrage among the enthusiasts and automotive press alike. The new turbo engines sounded terrible, one journalist describing them as "strangely uncharismatic" and that was one of the kinder comments. Engine aside, the 718 still had a chassis to die for, but sales suffered and rivals like BMW continued to offer sports cars with large 6-cylinder engines. Last year the Porsche Motorsport developed 718 GT4 and Spyder appeared, powered by a newly-developed normally aspirated 6-cylinder engine and there were subtle hints dropped that this engine could appear in mainstream models. Well, those models have dropped in the form of the Boxster and Cayman GTS 4.0 and all is suddenly right with the world again.

The GTS 4.0 engine is pretty much identical to the one in the flagship GT4 and Spyder. It loses out in revs slightly, hitting the red line 200 rpm earlier at 7,800 rpm and has a top speed of "only" 182 mph. In this specification, it pumps out 394hp and produces 309 lb.-ft. of torque. But this is not about top speed or horsepower, rather it is about delivery. It is a normally aspirated unit, which means the power delivery is linear, revving frantically to the red line and screaming as it gets there. This visceral and aural stimulation cannot be faked and people will pay more money for the experience. In terms of emissions, it comes with cylinder deactivation to be as clean as possible in normal driving conditions. While the engine is certainly the biggest highlight, the chassis has not been ignored. It does without the aerodynamics of the GT4/Spyder and lacks those cars expensive rose-jointed front suspension but it does sit 20 mm lower than lesser Boxster and Caymans and rides on road tires. This gives the GTS a more relaxed character in the real world, while still being highly capable on the track. Initially, the GTS only comes with a six-speed transmission, though a PDK will come in time. The manual gearbox is the other half of this new powertrain package. PDKs are faster and more efficient but Porsche knows it is the interaction with the car that customers crave. Any normally aspirated engine requires constant gear changes to keep it on the boil as they say. This is fun for enthusiastic owners and is the reason they take their cars for early morning drives. It's all about emotion.

Emotion is a dangerous thing though. We all do stupid things when emotional. In this case, Porsche knows that emotional buyers are more likely to spend more money on their new GTS. People are rejoicing saying that Porsche listens to its customers, but let's cut to the chase here. Porsche listens to sales figures and profit margins more than the admittedly highly vocal (and wealthy) enthusiasts. The simple truth is that sales of the 718 have suffered since they adopted the 4-cylinder engines, particularly the higher specified models. The very same models that Porsche gets to earn a lot of sweet, sweet money on. I have no doubt that if the sales had remained consistent Porsche would not have bothered to develop a new power plant, let alone a six-cylinder, normally aspirated one. Don't get me wrong, I am personally thrilled that we have the GTS and I hope it is long-lived, but I am under no illusion. People voted with their wallets and Porsche, like any prudent company, had to listen.

Going forward, this could be a perfect way to transition the Boxster and Cayman into the electric age. I would speculate that the "standard" 4-cylinder cars will be sold as hybrid models or discontinued entirely for pure electric versions. While the GTS cars along with the GT4 and Spyder will remain old-school for as long as regulations allow. Porsche will slowly increase the prices of these cars and load them full of those expensive options as they become limited edition models.

It is a good compromise, one that will keep all the journalists, enthusiasts and Stuttgart's accountants happy.

 

Red Cayman title image from www.evo.co.uk

6-speed shifter image from www.autocar.co.uk

Engine layout image from www.thecarmagazine.com