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First Drive

Four-cylinder Porsche 718 Boxster S review

Published: 04 Apr 2016

What’s this?

Ta-daa! It’s the new Porsche 718 Boxster. We’ve given the basic details over here and already had a little drive-along with certified Porsche engineers here, but this is the first time we’ve actually been able to drive the new four-cylinder 718 for ourselves, and the results are… mixed.

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The big news is that the ‘traditional’ naturally-aspirated flat-sixes have been superseded by a pair of turbocharged flat fours in either 2.0-litre (straight Boxster) or 2.5-litre (S) formats. Unsurprisingly, the move to forced induction has led to plenty of gasping from the purists - as has the lopping of a couple of cylinders and capacity downsizing. But that’s probably one of those psychological issues with smaller things feeling less valuable even though they aren’t, because the spec sheets are all about the good news: the basic Boxster now makes 296bhp (up from 261), and the S now manages 345bhp instead of the previous-gen’s 311. That’s a decent amount in a roadster of any stripe.

The performance figures are pleasant reading, unsurprisingly. The 2.0-litre gives 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds and 170mph with just under 41mpg efficiency as a base, and a sprint of 4.2 seconds, 177mph top end and nigh on 39mpg for the bigger-engined, more variably-vaned in the turbo S. Those figures are recorded with the optional PDK double-clutch ‘box - a manual is standard - and represent better mpg and general efficiency for a decent chunk more speed. Even given the fact that, like-for-like, new Boxster is around 50kg heavier than the previous car. Sounds like a fair trade.

Gotcha. So what’s it like then?

Well, first up, we’ve only had access to a manual Boxster S with Sport Chrono (which gives you Normal, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual settings from a rotary dial in the right-hand lower quadrant of the steering wheel), plus a sports exhaust and 19-inch wheels. The red roof and red ‘Bordeaux’ leather interior is obviously a matter of personal taste (someone else’s £1,680, hopefully), but the general look, given that pretty much every panel has changed - only the luggage compartment lids and windscreen are as before - is more of the same. Slightly more rounded and less sharp than the previous generation, but well proportioned and with some decent feature lines. The rear badging is a bit fussy, and the headlights lack aggression, but its a good-looking little roadster.

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The roof is quick and slick (and works on the move up to about 30mph), the seating position is excellent - though the steering wheel, as ever, feels very upright - and the view useful. This is not a hard car to see out of, or thread through traffic. So more of the same, but when it ain’t broke and all that.

Until you drive it?

Until you start it, actually. Because the noise is very different. Not just initially louder, but more in your face, rougher and bassier than before. The clutch and gearchange are as light and accurate as ever, but as soon as you start to move up through the gears, you’ll be swamped by deja vu. Because unsurprisingly, the flat-four Boxster sounds pretty much exactly like a more familiar Subaru Impreza. It doesn’t have the wastegate chirrup, but the off-beat throb is usually attached to an STi. This is …not necessarily a good thing.

Obviously there have been four-cylinder Porsches before, the ‘718’ tag is nicked from the four-pot cars of the ‘60s that managed a fair few race wins and the 919 Hybrid Le Mans car runs a 4-cyl turbo as part of its proven race package, but the performance-orientated flat four we’re used to hearing usually wears a Subaru badge. So it’s a bit odd-sounding when the rest of the experience is pure Boxster. I’m not a purist, but you can’t help feeling that it sounds a little cheaper when it has the exhaust burble from a fast saloon. Not unpleasant, just weird.

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Spoiled then?

In terms of performance, not a bit. The basic 2.0-litre has 74b ft more torque than the old six, and the S manages 44b ft more than it did thanks to that variable-vane turbo and extra half-litre of capacity. And the extra power and torque really make themselves felt in the S: it’s not a particularly turbo-feeling engine, and the swell of power is fabulous right from below 2,000rpm. You don’t have to change gear if you don’t fancy it, just ride the torque and revel in extra mpg. And quick? New Boxster will pretty much destroy the old. Seriously, don’t bother with a drag race, because blown four will beat six any day of the week.

There’s just one problem, and that’s the feeling that the new engine doesn’t really go anywhere. Power is metered and useful, but its one long slug rather than a rising crescendo, and after peak at 6,500rpm, gets a bit flat for the remaining 1,000rpm of the dial. Where the old car would wake up and work out higher in the rev-range, the new one has retired itself for a nap. Great for poseurs, not as exciting for those who want to feel a little bit more involved. Response also has a deal less clarity - you just can't get the revs to drop as fast as in the naturally-aspirated car, and even though you’re going faster, it just isn’t quite as satisfying. You’ll never wring this one out through the gears just to hear it, because bluntly, there isn't much point.

Of course, this doesn’t mean a thing if you come to the Boxster ‘fresh’. You’ll only notice if you’ve driven an older six-cylinder, and if that’s the case, I think you’ll be mightily impressed - this kind of specific output from engines in the 2.0-litre range is phenomenal, especially given the drivability and general friendliness. Not as exceptional as it might have been a decade ago, but impressive because this engine simply doesn’t feel strung out.

Corners? It’ll still do corners, right?

Yep. And here we get to the Boxster’s party trick - because this is still pretty much where all the other roadsters need to come to find out how to handle, and pay homage. The overall feeling is that the chassis has far more talent than power, even in the S. And even given all the various chassis options and damping modes (Sport Plus is too hard for UK backroads, better stick to Sport or Normal), there’s just so much natural ability in the Boxster, it makes for exceptional fun. It’s remarkably neutral, neither overly keen on any kind of under- or oversteer, and doesn’t get perturbed by mid-corner shenanigans. Yes, if you lift on the way into a corner and boot it with the traction off, it’ll push the tail wide, but generally it’s just plain fabulous. It looks after you, this one.

The steering hasn’t got a whole lot to say, but it’s ten percent quicker than before (nicked from big brother 911 Turbo) and wonderfully precise, drilling the noise into a corner exactly where you want it without feeling nervous on a motorway - if there’s a better way to aim yourself at a corner without ending up with a track-biased car, I’ve yet to find it. It feels keen, and friendly, and the suspension has enough depth to keep the whole caboodle on the ground and working hard. I’d probably be less keen on going up to the optional 20-inch wheels though, because the S’s standard 19s are pretty much on the edge of what you need for B-road blasting.

The other superb bit of the Boxster S are the standard steel brakes lifted from the 911. Carbon ceramic (PCCB) may be an option, but for road work the instant response and immediate feel of the steel setup is peerless - it really helps you keep the speed up when you know exactly how to slow down. It also helps the Boxster S feel balanced - there’s a real feeling that you’ve got the braking performance to match the accelerative hit, and that breeds confidence.

So is it better? Still class leader?

And now for a nasty bit of cognitive dissonance, because there are two completely contradictory ideas here that you have to hold in your head: the new Boxster is subjectively improved in every area, and yet its not necessarily a better car than the one which went before.

It handles better, goes faster, is more efficient and all that nice spreadsheety ticking of boxes. If you came to this car without knowing the old one, then you’d be blown away. And yet, it’s not - quite - as emotional or engaging as the previous six-cylinder generation, simply because of the way the engine makes power. In a roadster, a sportscar, there’s no shame in having to work an engine that little bit harder to hear and feel it really get going. New Boxster is a slugger, easier to cruise around in, more accessible, but not as exciting. It’s still most likely the class leader, but the gap is less emphatic than it was… and one suspects that a late-model six cylinder Boxster has suddenly become very attractive if you want something a little more involving. Cayman will get the new suite of engines in the near future, and I suspect the results will be the same.

Price: £50,695 (£61,466 as tested)
Engine: 2497cc Flat 4-cyl, turbo
Power: 345bhp @ 6,500rpm, 420Nm @ 1,900 - 4,500rpm
Transmission: 6-spd manual (7-spd PDK option), mid-engined, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds, 177mph top speed
Efficiency: 34.9mpg (combined), 184g/km C02
Weight: 1,665kg

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