Stephen Corby changes his relationship status with Porsche to ‘it’s complicated’ after getting behind the wheel of the latest 718 Boxster.
The Porsche 911 was rough, it really was. Writing in this space a few months back, I felt I’d fallen slightly out of love with my favourite car of all time because of its shift to turbocharging, and its tangible loss of greatness as a result. It hurt me deeply. The new 718 Porsche Boxster is so much worse.
With the 911, the Porsche engineers – surely some of the smartest and most passionate grease monkeys on Earth – made a stupendous effort to make the new car sound as much as possible like the old one, just with the added sound of someone whistling while it worked.
In the case of the new 718 Boxster, however, such a feat was simply not possible, because they were being asked to not only add the noise of turbochargers, but to remove two cylinders. Can a four-cylinder Porsche sound like a six-cylinder one? No. Emphatically, no.
Indeed, it saddens me to say, they didn’t manage to make it sound like a Porsche at all. There was much grumbling amongst the assembled, grizzled media at the car’s recent Australian launch, with the phrase “sounds like a Subaru WRX” getting a loud airing. This is a suggestion that makes sense, because they’re now quite similar engines in some way, particularly the base 2.0-litre version.
It’s not a fair comparison, however, because the Subaru sounds less grunty and more flatulent, with more traditional turbo popping and whooshing.
The exhaust audiophiles at Porsche - and believe me, they have a team of them - have pumped up the volume, and tried to produce an aggressive, strident tone. And it just doesn’t work. The 718 is too braying, too bonkers, too false, somehow. And just not Porsche enough.
It’s like tuning in to a new Taylor Swift song (you know you love her) and discovering that she now sings like Lou Reed, or Axl Rose.
Porsche tells us that it’s worked to “augment” the engine’s noises, using a “sound symposer", and a “frequency generator”, and through clever cam timings, to force combustion to happen while the exhaust valve is open, so that you get artificial popping and banging.
These deeply over-the-top crackles, bangs and coughs are only available in Sport mode, however, because they actually detract from optimal engine performance. Switch to Sport Plus and they go away.
So they’re about sounding serious, rather than driving seriously. How un-Porsche is that?
Does sound really matter that much? It’s the question I kept asking myself after driving the 718, which is a better looking Boxster than any before it - the new 3D rear end is a peach - and faster, and vastly more economical, and possibly better to drive, and an estimated 16 seconds quicker around the Burger Ring, and yet…
And yet I really think sound does matter. Particularly in a convertible, and particularly in a Porsche.
I’m actually driving a 911 Cabrio this week, by coincidence, and I’ve grown to quite like the sound, and even the whistle, and it’s still, obviously, a great car.
But the noises this new 718 makes are too different, too wrong, and I just can’t bring myself to love them. Frankly, if you own an old Boxster, congratulations, I reckon its value just went up.
And I find myself thinking, once again, but this time only more forcefully, that what I’d really prefer is the old car, with its fabulous metallic howl and its purity and lineage and six fabulous cylinders. Fuel economy be damned!
So I’m off to listen to an old weepy song, by an old, sleepy band called Air Supply - I’m All Out of Love.
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