Every few years, Porsche launches a controversial new car and motoring hacks dutifully report how ‘the purists’ are crying into their cappuccinos. Nobody knows quite who these folk are, or why they’re so prone to getting upset. But this has been happening for a long time.
The sorrowful saga probably begins with the 924 of 1976 – a Porsche fitted with a Volkswagen engine. Then, in 1997, the iconic 911 went from being air-cooled to water-cooled. That was followed in 2002 by the Cayenne, a Porsche that isn’t even a sports car.
In recent years, Porsche-o-philes have faced even more anguish. There was the electric power steering on the latest 911, the lack of a manual gearbox in the GT3 and now – step away from that cup of coffee – a Boxster with four cylinders.
It’s a familiar story: engines downsized and turbocharged in the name of improved efficiency. So, out go the familiar flat sixes in favour of two new flat fours, 2.0 litres in the 300hp Boxster and 2.5 litres in the 350hp Boxster S. Power is up by 45hp and fuel consumption reduced by 13% in both cars.
The Boxster also has a new name: 718 Boxster – the numbers harking back to Porsche’s four-pot racing cars of the 1960s. Whether anyone will stop simply calling it ‘Boxster’ is perhaps a moot point, but we’re told it’s said ‘seven-eighteen’, not ‘seven-one-eight’. As a mid-life update for the 981 Boxster, the purists among you will doubtless refer to it as the 981.2.
Styling changes for the 718 are more subtle, although every body panel apart from the rear deck is new. The most noticeable difference is a pert rear spoiler, replete with wide ‘Porsche’ lettering that recalls classic Porkers of the past.
Under the skin, an uprated steering rack – nabbed from the 911 Turbo – turns 10% quicker, while the rear suspension borrows parts from the hardcore Cayman GT4. PCCB carbon-ceramic brakes and PASM adaptive suspension, which reduces ride height by 20mm, are options for the first time. And the Sport Chrono pack (also optional) gives you a Ferrari Manettino-style drive mode selector on the steering wheel, with Normal, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual settings.
As with any Porsche, the proof of the pudding is in the driving (even the Cayenne won us over eventually), so we packed our Factor 30 and headed for the mountain roads of southern Portugal. Time to find out if four into 718 really does go…
On the road
The thudding beat of a flat-four engine is inescapably associated with the Subaru Impreza. So your initial thought on firing up the 718 Boxster is of the Japanese rally rocket/chav chariot (delete as applicable). Perhaps not quite the first impression Porsche intended.
In Lisbon traffic, the Porsche is harder work than most rivals. Its steering requires a pair of trim biceps, visibility is poor with the roof up and the ride is firm on the optional 20-inch alloys (18s are standard on the Boxster 2.0, with 19s on the S).
Heading into the hills, the traffic thins and the Tarmac becomes twistier. So we drop the roof, twist the Sport Chrono switch into Sport mode and… suddenly the Boxster starts to make sense.
That 911 Turbo steering still isn’t the last word in feedback, but it’s precise and very quick. And the PCCB brakes do a sterling job of scrubbing off speed. However, as we later discover, the standard 330mm front discs, sourced from the 911 Carrera, are more than adequate for normal road use.
As for the way this car goes round corners, it’s just sensational. The new chassis set-up feels even more agile, neither pushing wide into understeer, nor sliding sideways into oversteer. Obviously, switching the PSM stability control off and applying a bootful of throttle mid-corner will unstick the rear end, but you need to try very hard to make the Boxster misbehave. This car works with you, not against you, allowing you to indulge your inner Stig in safety.
Impressions of the new engines are more mixed. The extra turbocharged torque really slingshots the car between corners, with peak pulling power of 280lb ft arriving at just 1,950rpm (310lb ft at 1,900rpm in the S). A Dynamic Boost function keeps the turbo spinning when you back off the gas, meaning throttle response is instant in any gear. Even at motorway speeds in seventh, the Boxster simply pulls, while the S surges forward with a startling turn of speed. And, with less need for high revs, both cars are easier to drive quickly.
They’re quicker against the stopwatch, too. The benchmark 0-62mph sprint takes in 4.7 seconds in the 2.0 with PDK and the Sport Chrono pack (0.8 seconds less than the outgoing car), or 4.2 seconds for the S in the same spec (down by 0.6 seconds). Top speeds are 171mph and 177mph respectively.
No Porsche review would be complete without Nurburgring lap time, of course. The company quotes an impressive seven minutes and 42 seconds for the S, which is reduced by 14 seconds – and very close to the Cayman GT4.
The Boxster has never been simply about raw speed, though. And some of what you gain in objective performance is lost in subjective feel. The new turbocharged engines bark and burble at low revs, but they don’t howl when extended like a flat six. And, much as we enjoy a slug of shove-you-in-the-back torque, we miss the old engines’ intoxicating high-rev rush to the redline.
On the inside
The most obvious difference inside the Boxster is the upgraded PCM touchscreen media system. Bolder, smartphone-style graphics and more intuitive menus make it easier to use, particularly via the optional Apple Carplay interface (you can even talk to the car using Siri). Porsche still expects you to pay £1,052 extra for sat nav, but – praise be – Bluetooth connectivity is now standard.
Apart from that, the upright, 918 Spyder-style steering wheel is slightly smaller and the air vents are a different shape. And, er… that’s about it.
Fortunately, there was little wrong with the Boxster’s cabin in the first place. The low-slung driving position offers plenty of adjustment, while materials and build quality feel worthy of a car that, in the case of the S, now comfortably exceeds £50,000.
Supportive and well-padded seats hug you in all the right places and a large rev counter (redlined at 7,500rpm) dominates your view ahead. The steering wheel is pleasingly bereft of buttons, too – all the better to concentrate on the job at hand.
Unlike some roadsters we could name (Mazda MX-5), there is a glovebox and several stowage spaces around the cabin. The Boxster also has two boots, one in the front and one behind the engine, making it more practical than you might expect. Combined volume is 275 litres, just 15 litres less than a Ford Fiesta.
Lowering the roof takes around 10 seconds via a button on the centre console, and doesn’t affect luggage space. Clip the wind-deflector between the seats and, with luck, it won’t even affect your hairstyle.
We came to the 718 launch straight from a visit to Porsche specialists, Autofarm. There we saw no less than five examples of the legendary 911 Carrera 2.7 RS, a car worth up to £1,000,000 in perfect condition.
The values of classic Porsches may have skyrocketed, but you’ll need to hang on to your Boxster for several decades before prices of this popular Porsche start to appreciate.
That said, the Boxster is among the slowest depreciating cars on sale. Its percentage loss in value over time is beaten only by a handful of low-volume supercars and its Cayman coupe cousin. It’s still an expensive car to buy in the first place, though – starting at £42,094 for the 2.0 and £51,105 for the 2.5 S.
We say ‘starting at’ because Porsche is a Jedi master when it comes to extra-cost options. Most people will choose the paddle-shift PDK gearbox, which adds around £1,800. Then there is the Sport Chrono pack (£1,125), sports suspension with PASM for the Boxster S (£1,133) and – if you plan to tackle some track-days – PCCB carbon brakes (a whopping £4,977).
We’d also be tempted to splash out £1,344 for LED headlights, £1,052 for sat nav, £348 for Park Assist and £284 each for digital radio and heated seats. However, we’d avoid most of the ‘personalisation’ options for the interior, such as boudoir-red leather. The good news is the none of this stuff is strictly necessary. A basic Boxster with a manual ’box is all you really need.
Porsche may trumpet the punchier performance, but the real reason for those turbocharged engines is, of course, fuel economy. Official figures of 40.9mpg for the Boxster and 38.7mpg for the S (both with PDK) represent gains of 4-5mpg.
Carbon dioxide emissions are also improved, at 158g/km and 167g/km, which equates to an annual car tax (VED) bill of £185 or £210. It’s worth noting, however, that the manual gearbox pushes both engines up by one tax band (£210 or £230).
A sports car is one of the least rational purchases you can make. How many of us can spend the price of a terraced house in Liverpool on a car with just two seats and barely enough boot space for a week away?
But it has ever been the case. Sports cars are designed to stir the soul, not soothe the bank balance. And here is where our dilemma lies.
The new 718 Boxster is, without question, superior to the model it replaces. It’s faster, better balanced and more economical. Cutting to the chase, we think it’s still the finest roadster on sale – and a five-star car.
The Boxster has always been defined by its chassis, rather than its engine. However, something has certainly been lost by lopping off two cylinders. The Subaru soundtrack is a bit of a sore point, but we’d get used to it. However, the visceral top-end rush of those naturally-aspirated sixes will be missed. That’s the price of progress.
Speaking of price, the Boxster has become very expensive. We don’t think the 50hp-more-muscular S feels different enough to justify a £9,000 premium over the regular car. And we’d save a further £1,800 by having ours with a manual ‘box, thanks.
Don’t worry if your budget doesn’t stretch to £42,000 or more, though. You can now find early 981 Boxsters, complete with flat-six engines, for less than £30,000. So while Porsche marches into the future, perhaps its canniest customers will look to the past.
Porsche 718 Boxster: specification
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Torque: 280lb ft
0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
Top speed: 171mph
Fuel economy: 38.0mpg
CO2 emissions: 168g/km