The new 718 Boxster embodies a myriad of changes, but by far the most significant is a smaller, turbocharged flat-four engine. So, in losing two cylinders has it retained its soul?
These are uncertain times. Britain’s membership of the EU hangs in the balance, a man with Shredded Wheat for hair is marching towards the White House, and the Porsche Boxster has a four-cylinder engine. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine, no less.
At least you can always depend on the Scottish Borders. The B6357 that runs between Bonchester Bridge and Newcastleton is the kind of road that draws drivers and bikers from far and wide. Skirting the border with England, it packs three or four different personalities into its 14 miles, sometimes fast and flowing with a billiard table surface, sometimes tight and twisty as it tumbles down a hillside, and at other times lumpen, broken and poorly sighted. It has hosted more than one evo Car of the Year test because it’s a superb road on which to assess a performance car, the sort that can flatter a stiffly sprung car one moment and tie it in knots the very next. Today, it’ll be the stage on which the new 718 Boxster S has to prove that a downsized, turbocharged four can be just as effective and every bit as evocative as a naturally aspirated six.
Dean Smith and I are up early to beat both the sunrise and the logging lorries to the B6357. The road spears through the heart of the Borders’ timber region and I want to get in a run or two before the great trucks begin their laborious back-and-forth. Before I cake the Boxster’s taut flanks in road grime, though, I take a few moments to absorb the new look.
It’s clearly a Boxster – while almost every body panel is new, the basic structure beneath is the same as before – but in the details it’s quite different. The front end is familiar, but cleaner and smoother now, almost as though something is missing. It’s like seeing an old friend who has lost their eyebrows. It’s the back end that really distinguishes this new model from the old one, however, with rear lights like the narrowed eyes of a predator. The reflector strip that runs between them, emblazoned with the Porsche script, looks slightly tacky in pictures but is more convincing in the flesh.
The cabin is largely unchanged, save for the new and much improved infotainment system, which is to say that the standard of fit and finish is very good and the seating position is just about spot-on. With a deep front boot and a decent storage space over the rear axle, this is as useable as two-seater sports cars get.
That hasn’t changed, but in the engine bay it’s all new. Porsche has introduced a pair of engines for the updated Boxster range: both are boxers (some things are still sacred) with four cylinders (but most things aren’t), displacing 1988cc in the entry-level model and 2497cc in this S version. Unlike the new 911’s twin-turbocharged engine, both Boxster units use a single turbocharger.
The range-topping model is more powerful than ever with 345bhp and 310lb ft of torque, gains of 34bhp and 45lb ft over the outgoing Boxster S. What matters more than the torque
the 911 Turbo – which is a little more direct than the old system – has been fitted and buyers can specify the Porsche Active Suspension Management ‘sport chassis’, which lowers the car by 20mm as well as adding adaptive dampers. The basic PASM adaptive dampers are still available and that option lowers the car by 10mm. The OE tyres are the latest Pirelli P Zeros and there’s now an intermediate Sport setting for PSM that allows the driver a little more freedom before intervening. As standard the new Boxster S borrows the 911 Carrera’s front brakes, with Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes a £4977 extra.
Our test car is as fit as the 718 comes, for now at least, fitted as it is with the PASM sport chassis (£1133), ceramic brakes, Sport Chrono (£1125) and Porsche Torque Vectoring with a limited-slip diff (£890). If this 718 doesn’t hit the right dynamics notes, no 718 will.
increase, though, is the rev-band across which it’s available – it arrives at 1900rpm and doesn’t start to fade until 4500rpm, which should equate to a much stronger mid-range than with the peaky, high-revving, naturally-aspirated engines of old. The red line is set at 7500rpm, which is relatively high for a turbo unit.
With a claimed 0-60mph time of 4.0sec, we can file the PDK-equipped 718 Boxster S in the ‘properly fast’ folder. The manual version is no slouch, either: we recorded a 0-60mph time of 4.4sec, matching Porsche’s claim (see p77 for our complete performance figures). And with a 13 per cent reduction in fuel consumption over the previous model, the new turbo engine makes a very strong case for itself on paper. As we’ll find out, though, the reality is not quite so convincing.
The chassis has been reworked, too, but not so drastically. The rear axle is stiffer, the electric power steering system from
‘With its more direct steering, the Boxster S feels more urgent on initial turn-in than ever before’
With its optional 20in wheels (£971) and the lower ride height, the car’s stance is just about spot-on, but rather than being unbearably crashy on the road it actually feels quite pliant and reasonably well cushioned over lumps and bumps. The 20in wheels matched with the non-adaptive chassis would be too much, though.
With its more direct steering, the Boxster S feels more urgent and more immediate on initial turn-in than ever before. And with taut body control and massive grip from its P Zeros, the overriding impression is of heightened agility and responsiveness. As has always been the case with Porsche’s mid-engined roadster, the chassis balance is sublime, with both axles sharing the cornering forces almost evenly. The front axle will begin to push a little right at the limit, with the rear letting go fractionally later, but it is expertly judged for fast road driving.
For the most part, the default PASM setting covers all bases but, when you really start to fling the car along a twisting, weaving road, it pays to switch into the stiffer damper mode. There is still enough pliancy over all but the very worst stretches of blacktop, but with a touch more support at each corner the Boxster feels more immediate and better controlled. The slight rear-end porpoising that can be felt in the softer mode is eradicated and the very modest sensation of the outside front wheel tucking underneath the car on turn-in is gone, too.
Whatever the setting, the way the car soaks up big compressions is staggering. Our test road is littered with such impacts, and time and again the Boxster lands in them with real composure, no hint of it running out of suspension travel, and none of those heart-in-mouth moments as the dampers struggle to control the rebound forces.
The chassis is a work of genius, then, but the steering is a weak point. It’s actually not as glassy as a 911 Carrera’s and doesn’t leave you guessing quite so often. It just isn’t particularly talkative. Whereas the best steering systems will chatter endlessly through a corner and let you know exactly how much grip the front axle is finding, the 718’s only does so when the car has already started to push, which is a bit like calling ‘man on’ as your teammate is being tackled.
That said, the steering is superbly accurate, so you can place the car with real precision, but I still miss the textured, granular steering feel of much older Boxsters, both in terms of high-speed driving and as a connection point between car and driver at much lower speeds. The optional GT steering wheel, 15mm smaller than the standard item, is a delight to hold, however.
This car’s limited-slip diff means traction away from tighter corners is simply huge. You do have to unsettle the car a little on the way into a corner to get the back end working from the apex onwards but, with so much more torque than before, it is actually easier to manipulate the rear axle on the throttle. In damp conditions the sharp throttle response and tight differential afford you really fine control of the driven wheels, which means you can meter-out neat little slides with impunity.
The brakes are enormously strong and, even after several runs across the B6357, they were confidence-inspiring. The pedal travels through an inch or so of sponginess – this is a road car, after all – after which it is firm and full of feel.
The six-speed manual gearbox is a delight and is, surely, the correct transmission for a two-seat roadster, the sort of car in which interaction matters so much more than outright performance. The shift action is one-part mechanical and one-part organic, as though flesh and tendons have been splined into the linkages. The lever moves through its gate with a direct and tightly sprung action, and with a touch more heft as you change down into second gear than before. It’s exactly the kind of tactility that makes driving a sports car at normal speeds such a joy; exactly the kind of tactility that I miss in the Boxster’s steering.
And so to the engine. We have to accept before we go any further that a turbocharged four is a very different beast to an atmospheric six. Breathing through the optional sports exhaust it doesn’t want for volume at idle, flooding the surrounding air with a deep, dirty warble, with touches of Subaru and a dash of V8. What it does lack, though, is tune.
Once on the move, that sonic signature ramps up several notches in terms of quantity, but the Boxster never finds its old singing voice. Between 3000 and 6500rpm the note is constant and flat. Only over the final 1000rpm does it harden, but at no point does it light up and howl in the way the old engine did so brilliantly. You do get more character from the exhaust with the roof lowered – hood up it really does drone away – but, nonetheless, the Boxster is no longer a car that can be enjoyed for the way it sounds.
We’ve said much the same about the revised 911’s turbocharged sixes, but we’ve also praised them for how responsive and linear they are. The Boxster’s four is different. Whereas the six disguises its forced induction, feeling naturally aspirated for the most part, the Boxster engine wears its turbo like a badge of honour. In the very lower reaches it’s flat and lifeless, but at 2800rpm the turbo arrives in a sudden, furious whirlwind. It’s much more switch-like than I had expected. A typical turbocharged hot hatch engine, such as the 296bhp unit in a Golf R, begins to boost from lower engine speeds and builds progressively, but this is wholly more aggressive. If the switch arrived 1000rpm later I’d call it terrible turbo lag, but as it happens at pretty low
engine speeds I don’t mind trotting out an old cliché and calling it characterful. That aggressive switchover is actually quite good fun and the remaining rev-band is so wide that you never drop off boost in quick driving. Throttle response is fantastically sharp, too, with no hint of lethargy as you blip on a downshift, and no clumsiness as you make fine throttle inputs mid-corner.
Straight-line performance is very strong, but this is still Boxster performance; the 718 doesn’t suddenly feel supercar-fast. With so much more torque throughout the mid-range you don’t need to work the gearbox quite so hard, nor do you have to chase the red line with the same single-mindedness. The gear ratios are unchanged from the old car, which is to say they are very long indeed. You do still use second gear more often than you would in other sports cars, then, and you don’t actually need to use fourth or above on the road because third will happily pull three figures. The new engine does actually encourage you to work through the gears more often, though, simply because it doesn’t demand that you be in the lowest gear possible at all times or that you squeeze every last rev out of the engine before changing up. That’s progress in a sense, because now you can enjoy that sublime gearshift more often.
The automatic throttle blip in Sport and Sport Plus, meanwhile, is effective and really good fun, too, but such systems should always be switchable independently of other variables.
So the performance is there and throttle response is sharp once the engine has hit its stride, but the soundtrack has gone. The intensity and drama of the old engine has been lost, too, and that’s even harder to forgive. The flat-six felt as sharp as a shard of glass, but with this new engine that shard has been rolling around in the sea for several years; the edges have been worn away and the overall driving experience just isn’t as memorable as a result.
Porsche has a habit of refining new tech in the two or three years after its introduction, so perhaps there is more to come from this flat-four. The 718 Boxster S is still a sensationally capable sports car and on a road like the B6357 it is tremendously good fun to drive. Whipping through the Borders countryside, spring sunshine flooding into the cabin and chassis doing what it does oh-so well, however, I just can’t help but wish that I had six naturally aspirated cylinders firing away behind me.
Porsche 718 Boxster S
Engine Flat-four, 2497cc, turbo
Power 345bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque 310lb ft @ 1900-4500rpm
Transmission Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential, Torque Vectoring (option)
Front suspension MacPherson struts, coil springs, PASM adaptive dampers (option), anti-roll bar
Rear suspension MacPherson struts, coil springs, PASM adaptive dampers (option), anti-roll bar
Brakes Ventilated and cross-drilled ceramic composite discs (option), 330mm front, 299mm rear, ABS, EBD
Wheels 8 x 20in front,10 x 20in rear (option)
Tyres 235/35 ZR20 front, 265/35 ZR20 rear (option)
0-62mph 4.6sec (claimed)
Top speed 177mph (claimed)
Basic price £50,695
Price as tested £68,234
On sale Now
Under the skin
Porsche has introduced two new flat-four engines for the 718 Boxster – a 2-litre in the base model and a 2.5 in the S version – and, naturally, most of the pioneering technology is centred on the turbocharger. The engineers have worked hard to maintain the free-revving characteristics of a naturally aspirated engine, which is demonstrated by the relatively high 7500rpm red line. Peak power is generated at 6500rpm and the drop-off from there to the limiter is only five per cent, which, Porsche claims, is a best-in-class figure.
There are important differences between the two engines beyond displacement. The more powerful version uses variable-turbine geometry (above right), a technology that has filtered down the Porsche model hierarchy from the 2007 911 Turbo. By adjusting the vanes’ angle of attack, the turbocharger can respond quickly to throttle inputs at low engine speeds, much like a small turbo, then generate the greater boost pressures of a much bigger turbo at higher engine speeds.
Both units feature the ‘pre-conditioning’ and Dynamic Boost functions that debuted on the revised 911 Carrera. On part throttle in the Sport and Sport Plus drive modes, the bypass valve is closed, ignition timing is retarded and the throttle is opened slightly, which increases charge pressure. This primes – or ‘pre-conditions’ – the turbo, giving more immediate response when the driver applies full throttle. The effect is more pronounced in Sport Plus than Sport.
Dynamic Boost leaves the throttle wide open for up to two seconds after the driver lifts off the throttle pedal. This means boost pressure isn’t dumped, so when the driver reapplies the throttle there’s no delay as boost builds back up again.
Although the new engines will steal the headlines, Porsche has made several significant updates to the chassis, too. The rear axle, for instance, has been strengthened to improve precision and lateral stability, while the damper pistons and cylinder tubes have been beefed up to improve wheel control. The rear wheels, meanwhile, are half an inch wider than before to give a greater footprint on the road, and therefore more mechanical grip.
The 718 uses the electrically assisted steering system from the 911 Turbo, albeit with bespoke calibration for the Boxster. Porsche says it’s ten per cent more direct than the previous set-up, making the new car more agile in all types of driving.
For the first time, Porsche offers two versions of its PASM adaptive damper system. The basic version brings a 10mm drop in ride height while the new ‘sport chassis’ option, which is only available on the Boxster S, drops the car by 20mm and further lowers its centre of gravity.
Porsche has chosen the latest-generation Pirelli P Zero to be the standard fit tyre for the new 718 Boxster. As well as better overall grip, which increases cornering ability and shortens braking distances, the new P Zero has lower rolling resistance than the previous generation. That improves fuel efficiency and contributes to a 13 per cent reduction in fuel consumption over the previous model.
Against the Clock
by HENRY CATCHPOLE
Getting a 0-60mph time out of the 718 looked, initially, as though it should be fairly simple. With Sport Plus selected, PSM off and the throttle flat to the floor, the revs hold at about 4800rpm. You would assume that these would be the ideal revs for a perfect getaway, but if you side-stepped the clutch the engine simply bogged down and dropped off boost. It wasn’t entirely ineffective, as we recorded a 4.6sec 0-60mph time with this method, but it was obvious that with a few more revs off the line the 718 could be so much quicker. Sadly, no matter what we tried, the electronics wouldn’t allow us to rev any higher while static. As a result it wasn’t possible to get the tyres juuuust over-rotating and keep the boost sustained for that perfect start.
So a bit of road tester guile was needed. It’s tricky to do, but if you judge it just right then you can do something of a granny start with far fewer revs, slipping the clutch ever- so-slightly and then mashing the throttle as soon as the tyres are rotating. It worked on the second attempt (a small chirrup from the tyres attesting to this) and yielded 4.4sec to 60mph (spot-on Porsche’s claim) and 9.8sec to 100mph. I think the 718 could go still faster without that pesky initial rev-limiter, but the figures are pretty impressive nonetheless.
"It has to prove that a downsized, turbocharged four can be just as evocative as a naturally aspirated six"