Meet the first four-cylinder Porsche sports car in decades. It's called the 718 Boxster, and it makes 257kW and 420Nm from its 2.5-litre turbo-four in 'S' guise.
In 1957, the successor to the much-lauded Porsche 550 A Spyder, the 718 RSK, made its international debut. In the proper hands, the 718 was a fearsome competitor that powered to wins at Le Mans and the Nürburgring. The roadster featured a 1.5-litre four-cylinder boxer engine developing a robust 105kW (142 horsepower) — at the time, more than enough to head off the competition. Close to 60 years later, the resident roadster in the 21st-century Porsche fleet, the Boxster, has returned to four-cylinder power and the spirit of the RSK has emerged largely intact with the launch of the 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster.
As devoted readers of this site will know, the move towards under-sized, turbocharged engines has turned into a stampede. This is the kind of thing that happens when regulatory bodies call for increased fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, while drivers demand equal or added performance. So, while the purists out there may recoil in horror at the thought of a Porsche with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, they should save the outrage for more suitable targets. (Plus, the true purists will know that Porsche has an established history with four-cylinder engines, of which the 718 RSK is a prime example.)
Of course, yours truly has had the benefit of sampling the new four-cylinder from Porsche, as found in the middle of the 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster and Boxster S. But in advance of this experience, I admit to my fair share of recoiling, followed by a mild sense of confusion. Was the new four-cylinder Boxster intended to be a budget-priced entry model? No, was the answer—this is just the new Boxster, full stop.
So, with these developments in mind, let the comparisons begin.
The 718 Boxster is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that develops 220kW and 380Nm of torque from 1950-4500 rpm. With its 2.7-litre six-cylinder, the outgoing Boxster chipped in with 195kW and 280Nm of torque — so there have been notable increases in both areas. The 718 Boxster S features a turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder that spins out 257kW and 420Nm of torque, as compared to 232kW and 360Nm for the previous Boxster S.
The car has changed on the outside, and the inside; a nip here, a tuck there — continual evolution of the now 20-year-old model.
Powering around the rural roads outside Lisbon, in Portugal, both cars had their merits, but the difference in performance between the Boxster and the Boxster S was significant. Passing slower traffic on two-lane roads was a breeze in the more powerful car; in the Boxster, this move required more planning and more attention to being in the correct gear and the optimal rev range. There were no such concerns with the Boxster S, which develops power a bit earlier and, of course, has more power to develop.
In terms of straight-line performance, the increases in horsepower and torque for the 718 Boxster range have led to tangible improvements against the clock. The top version of the Boxster, equipped with the optional Sport Chrono Package and the seven-speed PDK transmission, runs from 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds, a gain of about a half second over the old car. The 718 Boxster S, similarly kitted out, completes the sprint in 4.2 seconds, some three-tenths better than its predecessor.
These latter numbers of the 718 Boxster S show that the car is similar in overall performance to the 2016 Boxster Spyder, the lightweight iteration that represents the pinnacle of the current offering. Sure enough, the specifications for the new car reveal a kerb weight of 1355kg for the six-speed version; the Spyder tips the scales at 1315kg, but also has a 280kW engine. In a few years’ time, expect a lightweight 718 Boxster Spyder to appear — and expect it to eclipse the performance levels of the current Spyder.
While the road drive provided some opportunity to experience the significant performance capabilities of the new Porsche, some closed-course runs at a military base shed greater light on the situation.
The new car features a number of measures designed to strengthen the handling and balance, both of which were already strengths of the mid-engine layout. The steering rack was lifted from the new Porsche 911 and is reportedly 10 per-cent more direct than before. For both the standard 19- and optional 20-inch wheel/tyre package, the rear tyres are a-half-inch wider than the fronts.
The rear subframe has been strengthened through the addition of a new lateral member, while larger piston and rod diameters provide more precise wheel tracking. Also, for the first time, the Boxster S is available with the PASM sport suspension system and its 20mm lower ride height.
At the airfield, there were three exercises to tackle: a slalom, a high-speed lane change and a high-speed straight shot down a runway. On what was very much a rough, cracked stretch of pavement littered with dust and stones, the 718 Boxster S showed real quality. With the optional 20-inch tyres scrambling across the loose surface, the car still managed to dig into sharp corners, rotate beautifully and track with precision.
The high-speed run reinforced that the car is quick — but more than this, it proved the incredible quality of the six-speed manual transmission. The task was simple enough: perform a standing start, then keep on accelerating until reaching a preset braking point some distance down the strip. Prior to our runs, we’d heard that the top speed reached by a Boxster S fitted with the PDK was 243km/h.
In two dialed-in runs with the manual, we managed to hit 241km/h by the braking point. These runs required shifting from first to second, second to third, third to fourth and fourth to fifth. So, it was incredible to see how quick a great manual transmission can be, even when compared to one of the best dual-clutch automatics in the business.
The six-speed manual in the 718 Boxster S is the reason why manual transmissions need to survive — the three pedals are perfectly placed in relation to each other, the shift lever is just as ergonomically correct and the short-throw action is precise and resolutely quick.
At the end of this high-speed maneuver, the quality of the brakes was revealed. All versions of the new car feature improved stopping performance. The 718 Boxster utilizes the brake discs from last year’s Boxster S; the 718 Boxster S utilizes the four-piston calipers from the 911 paired with thicker discs. Both versions of the new roadster share the same rear brake discs, but the thickness of the 330mm front brake discs on the 718 Boxster S are thicker (34mm to 28mm).
In our admittedly brief test, it was difficult to find fault with a car that, on paper at least, is clearly a big improvement over its immediate predecessor. For sure, the 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster S showcases some inspired thinking and the performance gains were there for all to see. The one glaring weakness of the whole package was with the engine note, which simply fails to set hearts racing the way the naturally aspirated six-cylinder boxer of old does.
Some at the launch equated the sound of the turbocharged four-cylinder to that of an old VW Beetle; others reckoned it bore more than a passing resemblance to the Subaru WRX. The engineers no doubt worked countless hours to secure the audio quality they wanted, but in this case, there was no replacement for displacement. Those same purists mentioned earlier will find fault here, to be sure. But if they choose to let sound blind them to the obvious charms of this purebred roadster… well, it will be their loss.