What does the latest Porsche 718 Boxster have in common with Justin Bieber? Stephen Corby finds out
WHAT IS IT?
The biggest change in decades for Porsche’s hugely successful soft-top. Porsche says 80 percent of its Boxster is now new, with the most obvious difference found in the engine bay. Yep, the Boxster has ditched its brilliant aspirated flat-six engines for (gasp) a 2.5-litre four pot turbo.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
To see if turbocharging has improved or irrevocably ruined one of the best two-seater roadsters you can buy.
Audi TT, Jaguar F-Type, Mercedes SLC, BMW Z4
THE WHEELS VERDICT
There’s no denying that on paper, this new 718 Boxster is an improvement. It’s lighter, faster, more efficient and looks better than ever, especially at the rear. But buying a sportscar is a decision based on emotion as much as pure numbers, and some of the magic that made the Boxster so special, is gone.
PLUS: Looks brilliant; handles better than ever; power, torque and efficiency
MINUS: Doesn’t sound like a Porsche; more expensive; some of the magic is gone
THE WHEELS REVIEW
You clap your hands and it makes a sound like a grenade. Blow into a flute and it emits the thrum of a didgeridoo. (Accidentally) click on a Justin Bieber track and discover that he’s morphed into Dolly Parton.
These are the kinds of seismic, sonic shocks that can almost compare with the horror of planting the throttle in Porsche’s new, and highly attractive, 718 Boxster. It’s as if some sneaky competitor has switched the soundtrack.
Porsches have a distinct and unmistakeable sound; a savagely sonorous metallic timpani that has long made ears happy the world over, but this new, entry-level convertible sounds like something else. Something non-Porsche. Something almost unpleasant. Crueller critics even compare it to a Subaru WRX.
Make no mistake, this is a very important car for the Stuttgart-based brand and its huge profits. Sure, Porsche now sells more SUVs than it does actual sports cars (more than 60 percent of sales, since the arrival of the latest, mid-sized Macan), but the idea that it makes sexy cars for successful people is still central to its brand.
Long-derided as the “poor man’s Porsche”, the Boxster is a volume player for the company and has become, since its early days when it looked like a push-me/pull-you designed for hairdressers, very much a car to be admired, even loved.
And with a starting price of just $113,100 rising to $148,390 for the top-line Porsche Boxster S - it’s still the cheapest entry point to Porsche country.
This almost entirely new Boxster (80 per cent of it has been re-imagined or newly minted) faced some big challenges, however, as the global focus on reducing CO₂ levels and improving fuel economy forced the company to replace its famous six-cylinder, horizontally opposed engines with comparatively puny four-cylinders - a 2.0-litre for the base model (not far off a WRX, in engineering terms) and a 2.5 for the S.
As a spokesman put it to us, those green pressures meant the company “had no choice” but to go to four cylinders.
Porsche doesn’t produce a new car unless it’s faster and more powerful than the old one, though, and the introduction of turbocharging has allowed some big jumps, particularly in torque, which leaps as much as 35 per cent, plus a power rise of 26kW.
The base model, which is slightly laggy off the line but then explodes into furious action, gets 220kW and 380Nm (up 100Nm), while the 2.5-litre makes 257kW and 420Nm.
These are serious numbers, and can hurl the light-weight (1335kg) 718 to 100km/ in 4.7 or 4.2 seconds, respectively.
The difference between the two cars is as marked as that half-second difference would suggest, and perhaps slightly more so, because the S feels ballistically fast, while the base model lacks slightly in excitement, but only in comparative terms. If you can’t afford the S, don’t test drive it.
Overall, though, on a winding bit of road, the new 718 is a hugely capable and intensely enjoyable car, with beautiful, mid-engined balance. It manages to be better, and faster, than the car it replaces (Porsche estimates it would be 16 seconds faster around the Nürburgring, if you care), and yet it has also achieved its less-exciting goals - reducing fuel consumption by 13 percent, to 6.9 litres per 100km (or 7.3L/100km for the bigger engine).
To be fair, if you’d never driven a Porsche before and this Boxster was your first, the loud, angry noises it makes might seem appropriate – or even pleasant – but compared to its forebears, it is gruff stuff. The engineers admit they’ve used various tricks to produce lots of almost artificial banging and popping from the exhaust, perhaps to distract you from what you no longer hear; the beautiful induction howls of old.
Tellingly, these bangs and burps only kick in when you’re in Sport mode, and disappear when you wick it up to SportPlus, perhaps a sign that they’re more about sound than fury.
Switching between those modes is done via the little steering-wheel switch that was launched on the new 911, which means you get the fabulous, and addictive, “push to pass” button in the middle of the dial, which unleashes Maximum Attack for 20 seconds.
If ever there was a feature more clearly designed to impress your mates when you take them for a drive, we haven’t seen it.
On the plus side, the chassis feels stiffer than ever; the new rear end, with its 3D graphics, is quite exquisitely lovely to look at (you can even choose your badging – just 718, just Boxster, just Porsche); and the steering, handling and overall feel are as fabulous as we’ve come to expect.
If you were going to be nit-picky you might suggest that there’s a little less feel from the wheel, and a little more chatter in the front end.
In the final analysis, the new 718 Boxster is both more and less than the car it replaces, but when you’re talking about a vehicle that’s mostly driven with the roof down, sound matters, and in that department at least, a little bit of the magic that Porsche represents has gone.
It won’t, however, stop them from selling like Justin Bieber songs. Perhaps sound doesn’t matter.
Model: Porsche 718 Boxster S PDK
Engine: 2497cc single turbo flat-four 16v
Max power: 257kW@ 7500rpm
Max torque: 420Nm @ 1900-4500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed twin-clutch
Fuel economy: 7.3L/100km (combined)
On sale: Now