What is it?
The seven eighteen. Not seven one eight, apparently. But, then, after 20 years (twenty, not two zero), will we notice? Or will we just keep calling it Boxster?
I’ll tell you something we’ll notice. Three numbers might have been added to Porsche’s roadster’s name, but rather more significant is that two things have been deleted: engine cylinders. Gasp. The old flat six, that glorious, high-revving, naturally aspirated thing of wonder, is no more. At least, not except in GT variants, where it might still crop up. It’s the usual story: downsizing and artificial blowing is in, revving and swept capacity are out.
This is the first Porsche fitted with a flat four, then, since the 914, and even though it’s downsized from 3.4 litres, the Boxster S’s is a relatively big unit for a four-pot. Its 2.5 litres puts each cylinder at 624cc, rather larger than the half-litre-per cylinder which most manufacturers perceive as ‘about right’; and as Porsche does in the 2.0-litre, non-S, 718 Boxster, and its new turbocharged six-pot 3.0 911s.
The increased reciprocating masses and the imbalance that comes with them, then, might explain why there are now two, not one, hydraulic engine mounts at the front of the engine. It fires to life – through a sports exhaust on our test car – with an idly woofle that’s not unlike a potent Subaru or even a mild version of my own, large of ‘zorst 1973 VW Baja bug. Given all are flat-four units with unequal length exhaust headers, I don’t suppose it should be a surprise that any of them have similarities. Whether the comparisons are complimentary, though, is another matter entirely. We’ll come back to it.
Other changes, meanwhile, are both less significant and less easy to notice. The design is modestly changed: every body panel bar the rear deck – and even then its high-level brake light is modified – has been changed. The front suspension is mostly borrowed from the Porsche 911 Turbo (big ‘T’ turbocharged Turbo, not little ‘t’ turbocharged Carrera), which means the Boxster’s steering is about 10% sharper than it was. The rear suspension now contains elements of Cayman GT4, most notably to increase its lateral stiffness.
There’s also the option, for the first time on the Boxster S and fitted to our test car, of PASM adaptive suspension, which sits 20mm lower than standard. Our test 718 also wore carbon-ceramic brakes, while retaining a six-speed manual gearbox. It was about as racy a specification as you could imagine from a regular Boxster, in fact. All the better to distract you with? You might wonder.
What’s it like?
Back to the engine again, then: its power is up by 35bhp over the one it replaces and consumption is 13% less conspicuous. But it’s the way it goes about it that’s so – and here we must choose our words carefully – average? Plain? Disappointing? I long for ‘whelming’ to be a real word.
The four-pot’s is not a bad delivery, in isolation. Yes, there’s turbo lag below 2000rpm (quite a lot of it, in fact, despite peak torque arriving from 1900rpm), but above 3000rpm the response is crisp, and although peak power comes in at 6500rpm, a full 1000rpm before the redline, it’s worth hanging on to a lower gear to make the most of the high-end response. Gearing is still leggy, too: second will pull well over 60mph, perhaps unnecessarily. It leaves you using the meat of the mid-range instead of urging you to wring it out.
Perhaps that’s because it sounds at its best at those lower revs, woofling on a medium throttle; if you were rolling around in the California hills with it reverberating off the rocks, it’d feel quite special. At higher revs it smoothes out and drones on; the response is improved, but some of the engagement goes. Precisely the opposite, then, of the way a flat six Boxster rewarded as it was revved. As an example of how a Subaru BRZ STi could feel, it’s a fairly groovy thing. But this isn’t a BRZ or Toyota GT86. It’s a fifty grand Porsche.
Still, enough about the donkey, let’s move on. Inside, there are limited noticeable differences. It’s still a cabin that’s commensurate with the money, and the screen in the middle is better and easier to navigate and hook up to with a phone. The steering wheel gets a diddy manettino-type dial that plugs you into Sport and Sport+ modes, upping engine response and damper stiffness, and, when the car’s fitted with a PDK dual-clutch automatic gearbox, it adds its most useful feature – a button that puts you in the right gear for accelerating, for 20 seconds. Like the changes to the outside, though, the interior upgrades are to be expected, welcomed: what you’re getting is more polish.
Likewise the rest of the driving experience. Porsche says the 718 S will now lap a circuit as quickly as a Boxster Spyder – nearly as fast as a Cayman GT4, then – and the chassis no doubt plays some part in that, although it’s most likely that the engine gives more. The steering is sweetly stiction-free, beautifully accurate and weighted, and with sufficient feel from an electrically-assisted system.
And there’s no doubt that the chassis is improved, although it was hardly starting from a bad place to begin with. The ride is deftly controlled, as comfortable as you’d realistically hope, while body control is exceptionally tight; that the soft-top 718 achieves this with never a shimmy in the rear-view mirror shows that it has an impressively rigid architecture. The roof is all-electric, drops and secures itself in a moment. With it up insulation is good. With it down tousling is limited.
The overall handling balance remains spot on, too. A road – even a glorious, quiet, well-sighted one like this – isn’t the place to find out the lot, but you can feel a slight push from the front at the start of a turn, and a willingness for power at the rear to straighten the car’s line at the end of one; it’s incisive, connected and precise, the equal of some sports cars demanding twice the price.
Should I buy one?
Yes, although perhaps more grudgingly than you would have done a few months ago. I know, I know, we’ve been here before and we’ll get used to it. First air cooling went for water cooling: more efficient, less Porsche, grumble grumble, moan moan – but in the end, so what? Then came an SUV, which just wasn’t Porsche at all either, but, oh, actually, it’s quite nice. Then electric steering arrived, grumble, moan, grumble, and every time we get used to it.
But here’s the thing, for me: had the Boxster been powered like this when it was first launched, I’m not sure it would have so convincingly destroyed all of its competitors and rivals. It’s fundamentally still a great-driving sports car, only it feels notably less special than it did. Yes, we’ll get used to it and, yes, this is still the best sports roadster you can buy. But if I were engineering the next-generation BMW Z4 or Mercedes-Benz SLC, this time I’d think I might have been given half a chance.
Porsche 718 Boxster S
Location Wales; On Sale Now; Price £50,695; Engine 4 cyls horizontally opposed, 2497cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 345bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 310lb ft at 1900-4500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1355kg; Top speed 177mph; 0-62mph 4.4sec; Economy 34.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 184g/km, 31%
What is it?