Car enthusiasts are a fickle bunch. We demand that our favorite cars keep up with the times, yet get our undergarments in a knot whenever automakers change too much. Preserving the past while embracing the future can be a tricky dance.
Now that drivers are eying gas mileage and emissions more carefully, it’s often engines that change when it’s time for a vehicle update, and not even Porsches are immune. This year, Porsche both the Boxster roadster and Cayman coupe swapped from flat-six engines to a turbo, four-cylinder power plants.
Does the soul survive? I traveled to Austin, Texas for some wheel time to find out.
Deep in the heart of Porsche
The 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster is now powered by a turbocharged flat four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 2.0 liters, giving the car 300 horsepower, or 2.5 liters for the Boxster S, which churns up 350 horsepower and 309 pound-feet of torque. These engines can be married with a six-speed manual gearbox or Porsche’s PDK seven-speed dual clutch transmission. All power goes to the rear wheels, as you’d expect.
The hard-top Cayman mirrors all the changes to the convertible Boxster. You can swap out “Boxster” with “Cayman” at any time throughout this review. They were similar before, but the latest update nullifies their disparities so much that they are practically the same car.
For those wondering what the new 718 badge signifies, it’s Porsche’s way of paying homage to its race cars of the ‘50s and ‘60s, which also housed four-banger engines. This is proudly tagged on a body that has been resculpted for a wider, beefier appearance. As you would expect from Porsche, the packaging reflects the inner workings. For instance, the larger cooling air intakes are subtle nods to the turbocharged power plant hidden within.
The roadster also gets a new set of independently styled fenders and side skirts. A redesigned rear emphasizes width, and sports a new set of taillights. Meanwhile, the front gets fitted with the Porsche-distinct four-point running lights.
Go baby go
Inside, the layout of the Boxster is notably sleek and functional, with a driver-focused cabin that has everything placed where it’s expected to be. Running down the middle is a cascading panel of controls, starting at the 7-inch color touchscreen, flowing down to the armrest where media, air conditioning, and other controls will be found.
With the combo of Sport Chrono Package and the PDK transmission, the steering wheel gains the “sport response” button, which is like an afterburner for your car. When pressed, the engine and transmission are primed for responsiveness, delivering maximum power as quick as it can for 20 seconds, rocketing you forward faster than you can say “Doppelkupplungsgetriebe.” (That’s “dual-clutch gearbox,” to you.)
Porsche’s didn’t just want to replicate the superior handling of the last Boxster, it wanted to improve upon on it. So the chassis received loads of tweaks like a strengthened subframe to improve lateral rigidity, and the suspension gained larger pistons and aggressive retuning.
Additional options, like Porsche’s torque vectoring and an active suspension management system, are available to help things out as well. These allow the driver to change the car’s driving characteristics from comfortable to sporty, as well as improving cornering with careful application of brakes to the inside wheel on a turn. The Sport Chrono package bundles all of these features in together, making the Boxster S a part-time track car if you so desire.
With enough data to qualify for an engineering degree force-fed to my brain, I climbed in the Boxster S and hit the open road to see how it all translated to the actual driving experience.
More induction, less ceremony
For all the lamenting that the traditional flat-six engine has been replaced by a turbocharged four-pot, the numbers don’t lie: You get more with less. With 350 hp on tap, the 2.5-liter has 35 more horses in play than the engine it replaces. Those horses net the car a bit more performance, but the Boxster S’s 24 mpg combined fuel economy remains the same as what the 2016 offered. More power for the same cost is nice, but a touch more mileage would go a long way to justify the engine downsize.
Off the line, the turbo lag everyone so fears does indeed exist, but only if you’re looking for it. In fact, the focus will quickly shift elsewhere, particularly in the manual version of the car. That’s because first gear is somewhat of a guessing game. The buttery clutch is almost too smooth for its own good, reducing the feedback and making the search for the biting point like trying to find a staircase step in the dark. You might manage to feel it and progress normally, but misjudge it, and the result is an ungraceful stumble forward.
Nail it, however, and the Boxster S can get up and run from 0 to 60 in a hurry. Porsche says it can get there in 4 seconds flat with the PDK equipped, with the manual likely a half a second slower. Using both back-to-back, I sensed that the car was designed with the dual clutch primarily in mind, with the manual just being thrown in to satisfy folks who row their own gears.
One particularly windy stretch of road seemed to be perfectly designed to test out the Boxster’s capabilities, with enough bends and hairpins to keep it occupied. Through here, all the work to make the Boxster taught and controllable through bends became evident. In tighter turns, the torque vectoring pulled the car into a tighter radius, and the brakes halted the roadster with immediacy.
Porsche’s stability management has even been tweaked to be more hands-off, but still there when you need it. It now lets the driver achieve sling sideways harder and spin the wheels more before it finally jumps in to say “OK, I’ll take it from here, hotshot.”
It may be entry level, but the 718 is still a Porsche. That means it costs a pretty penny, with several more pennies for every available option – from paint, to seats, to the myriad performance assists. The 718 Boxster starts at $53,900, while the Boxster S kicks things off at $68,400. Our tester, with all the sport options ticked as well as navigation and a few style upgrades (interior, exhaust, sports seats), reached $94,310.
All the revisions to this roadster are for the better. And truthfully, it’s not that different. Every tweak is an incremental improvement towards the promise the Porsche has made to deliver a sporty cabrio befitting its badge. Those uncomfortable with change need not fear the Boxster’s transplant, either, as it delivers more without much compromise.
- Balanced, nimble handling
- Optional sport exhaust sounds good
- Porsche-level attention to engineering
- Surprisingly slushy manual gearbox
- Minor performance improvements over last gen