Porsche launched its first 21st Century ‘T’ model at the end of 2017. Based on the second generation 991 Carrera, this car was powered by the base 370hp 3.0 litre turbo motor and had a specific equipment package to distinguish it as an entry-level driver focused model at the opposite end of the price spectrum from the GT3 Touring.
However, at the time even some Porsche enthusiasts, especially the younger ones that this car was targeted at were confused by the ‘T’ suffix. No surprise really as you would have to have been around in the 1970s to remember when Porsche last used the T designation.
When Porsche launched the 130hp 2.0 litre 911 in 1964 there was a significant price gap between their new 2.0 litre flat-six powered sports car and the outgoing 356.
The solution was the entry-level 912 powered by a detuned 90hp version of the 1,600cc four-cylinder from the 356. This was followed in 1967 by the introduction of two detuned versions of the 911. The T (Touring) and L (Luxury) models made 110hp and 130hp respectively, leaving the 160hp state of tune for the S (Super) model.
The L middle model became the 911E with the advent of mechanical fuel injection and a longer wheelbase in 1969. Engine capacity grew to 2.2 litres in 1970, with power up to 125hp, 155hp and 180hp, respectively, and the 912 was discontinued at this point.
By the time the T, E and S nomenclature was dropped with the introduction of the G-Series cars in 1974, the 2.4 litre models introduced in 1972 with the F-Series produced 130hp, 165hp and 190hp respectively.
The T (Touring) model of 1967 offered a simple specification and a four-speed manual gearbox, with the five-speed as an option, and it is this ethos of pure driving pleasure with few frills that the revival of the T designation was meant to evoke with the Carrera T, and now the 718 Boxster and Cayman T models.
The simplified specification begins with the engine, which in this case is the entry-level 1,988cc dry-sump flat-four motor, which features variable valve timing and VarioCam Plus on both intake and exhaust camshafts. Boosted by a single turbocharger this motor makes a healthy 300hp at 6,500rpm, underpinned by 380Nm of torque from 1,950 to 4,500rpm.
In manual form both Boxster and Cayman T weight 1,350kg, the PDK transmission adding 30kg to this. Against the stopwatch, the 5.1 sec 0-100km/h (0-60mph in 4.9 manual, 4.5 PDK Sport Plus) sprint for the manual is shaded by the rapid 4.7 sec achieved by the PDK equipped version in its Sport Plus mode. Similar gains are shown in the PDK’s 10.8 sec 0-160km/h (100mph) time versus 11.3 sec for the manual.
The top speed of all versions is identical at 275km/h, and the Nürburgring lap time for the T models is 7:50 min. Thanks to the 20mm lower sports suspension this is 2.0 seconds faster than the similarly powered base models.
A limited slip differential was the piece of the performance puzzle missing from the first two generation Boxster and Cayman that prevented them from realising the full potential of their mid-engine layout. The unit fitted to the T models has a locking ratio of 22% under acceleration and 27% on the over-run and makes a vital contribution to getting the turbocharged motor’s strong torque to the tarmac without any tail-end histrionics.
Sebastian Bien, Project Manager for the 718 Model Line, explained that the T model began development in early 2017 as a package that would create Boxster and Cayman models for the driving enthusiast at the other end of the range from the GTS.
“However, unlike the T models from the 1970s the Boxster and Cayman T have a unique standard specification of their own that makes them driver focused rather than basic through price,” he explained. “They are aimed at a specific customer who is happy with the entry-level 300hp motor but wants a unique stand alone more hard-core model that is also not too expensive.”
Thus while the T models are purist they are certainly not minimalist. The raft of equipment that enhances driving dynamics includes 20-inch diameter Carrera S alloy wheels, Sport Chrono Package with PSM, sports exhaust, PTV torque vectoring with limited slip differential, and Porsche active drivetrain mounts (PADM). To that is added 20mm lower sports suspension with PASM, normally only an option for the 2.5 litre S models.
If you were to add all this and the unique interior trim to an entry-level Boxster or Cayman you would end up with a six-percent larger invoice, which amounts to around another 3,800 euros in Germany. On that basis the T specification is exceptionally good value for money, and you can still add options like PCCB brakes.
Likewise, while the cabin treatment with the Alcantara rimmed 360mm GT sports steering wheel is unique to the T, this can be further personalised. The sports seats in my Cayman T test car were covered in a bespoke fabric, while the Boxster T had the optional 918 Spyder style seats. These expensive seats look great and hold you well in hard cornering, but unless you plan on doing a lot of track days be warned that the high sides of their bolsters make getting in and out a lot more difficult.
That apart the T models have some bespoke trim choices like red or yellow door pulls, seat belts and stitching on the seats and dashboard. I have to say I am not a fan of the yellow highlights on my Boxster test car as an easy combination with its red paintwork.
When you talk ‘purist’ about cars like these you also look for weight saving. The T spec deletes things like the PCM package with its audio system and sat-nav module from the centre console, putting a storage box in its place. It also substitutes the normal door handles for strap pulls.
Frankly the five or six kilo reduction is splitting hairs and we don’t see many people doing away with the audio system and navigation for such a paltry weight saving. Luckily air-conditioning remains standard.
As with other 718 models you have the choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed PDK paddle shift transmissions. In line with the spirit of these T models I opted for the manual versions of both, and the fast and challenging country roads that made up our test routes on both days quickly vindicated this.
Where the Boxster and Cayman GTS use a short shift mechanism under a stock length gearshift lever the T models use the stock shift mechanism in combination with a 20mm shorter lever.
The metal bushes in a short shift mechanism can increase the force required to shift in cold weather, and this is likely why Porsche chose to simply shorten the lever for the 718 T models. Importantly, the end result does not feel that different, with a delightfully precise and solid feel to shifts made in and across all three planes. Just as important as the gearshift quality the pedals are perfectly positioned for heel and toe downshifts.
The 20mm sports suspension with PASM is actually 10mm lower than the PASM set-up, which is 10mm lower than the stock suspension. Together with the limpet-like mechanical grip of the 8.0J and 10.0J 20-inch wheels shod with 235/35ZR20 and 265/35ZR20 rubber, the roll angle seems negligible even when pressing on.
With the steering swift and full of feel and the nose hunting for apexes, stringing together a series of bends is pure delight. Combined with the low polar moment of inertia from the mid-engine layout this gives you the feeling that you are thinking the car into corners.
The thrust of the turbocharged 300hp 2.0 litre 718 motor makes exiting bends with gusto a given. It has plenty of low speed get up and go, a strong mid-range, and keeps going hard at the top end of its rev band. Importantly, power delivery is linear, which makes everyday driving a civilised and stress free affair whether you have the manual or PDK gearbox.
This means the more powerful 2.5 litre engine is not a necessity to help you cover ground quickly and have a lot of fun. If anything the 2.0 litre motor with its smaller pistons has a slight edge on smoothness, and its exhaust note is also more pleasing.
On that score a lot of words have been spent decrying the soundtrack of the motor that many have described as being reminiscent of a Subaru flat four. Maybe that is no surprise as all flat four engines share a unique, offbeat aural signature.
The displacements of the 2.0 and 2.5 litre Porsche engines are achieved by marrying the familiar 76.4mm stroke (from the M64 3,600cc motor) to 91mm pistons with the former, and 102mm pistons with the latter. Thanks to its smaller and lighter pistons the less over-square 2.0 litre version revs more eagerly. The electronic limiter on both engines is set at 7,500rpm.
The T models come with the sports exhaust as standard, but with the less powerful firing pulses of 2.0 litre engine combined with the exhaust particulate filter now mandatory in Europe to meet the latest emissions laws, the exhaust note has changed.
Thankfully the result is a fuller bodied soundtrack with less of the top end fizz that flat six enthusiasts objected to. In normal mode with the roof down the decibel level reaching your ears is quite subdued. In sport mode it is merely louder without much change in character, but the slight popping on the over-run can be fun in the right circumstances.
In short the latest 718 sports exhaust now has an air of sophistication, and also avoids the kind of rowdy and aggressive attention grabbing theatre that makes everyone in earshot turn around and look at you. There are always going to be flat-six fanatics who will shun the 718 flat-fours, but a couple of years on I consider the soundtrack, at least of the 2.0 litre with sports exhaust to have slowly matured to the point where it is now quite pleasing.
Although the running gear of the Boxster and Cayman T is identical, the soundtrack behind your head is different due to the very different structures above and aft of the seats.
Jumping from Roadster to Coupe it is immediately apparent that the level of road noise that permeates the Boxster cabin when its roof is up is quite different in both character and volume from the Cayman. You would think that the open car would be noisier, but ironically the opposite is true simply because the cargo area under the Cayman’s hatch acts like a resonance chamber, amplifying tyre and road noise.
In contrast the Boxster cabin ends behind the seats, its carpeted and insulated rear bulkhead acting as an acoustic bulwark against road noise. That which permeates the cabin is moderated by its exiting via the soft-top when it is up, blending into the desirable open-air roadster experience when it is down.
The corollary of this contrast in cabin volume, shape and roof materials is that holding a normal conversation or listening to the audio system is easier in the Boxster with its top up than it is in the Cayman. This conspires to make the roadster the less fatiguing partner on a long drive.
The fine balance of power, handling and tactile sensations you get from Porsche’s new 718 T models proves once again that you do not need to be the fastest thing on the road to have the biggest smile on your face. And it also proves once again that the roadster multiplies your driving enjoyment enough to win this contest for me.