But now, with the 2016 Porsche 718 Boxster, the 2.7-litre flat-six has made way for a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, boxer-four – pushing that six-cylinder Porsche goal just a little bit further away. About $160k further away if a 911 is your new starting point.
The move might upset purists, but it is supported by arguments for emissions and efficiencies, and let’s face it, a four-cylinder Porsche isn’t a new thing.
There’s the 356, the 912, 914, 924, 944 and most recently the 968. Not forgetting the 1957 718 RSK Spyder, which is where the new car gets its name. Even going the other way we saw the 928 push a big atmo V8 for almost 20-years. Sure it was more GT than pure sports but you get my point, you don’t need six-eggs to bake a proper Porsche cake.
Cylinder count aside, just one look at the 718 provides reassurance that this is a ‘real’ Boxster.
Porsche’s evolutionary approach to design ensures you won’t mistake the little roadster for any other marque. You may not spot the 718 from a distance as being the ‘new’ one, but that’s part of the fun.
The changes to the nose are subtle but definite. The iconic Porsche front arches are sharper and more pronounced, and there are new headlamps which include the four-point LED running light design.
Below the bumper line, the spoiler angles back toward the wheels and incorporates a deeper airdam and LED indicators.
Along the side, there are new wing mirrors and bigger air intakes.
The biggest difference is at the rear where the pinched-strip spoiler of the 981 has been replaced by a neat black panel between the really cool ‘deconstructed’ LED tail lamps. The spoiler deploys automatically at speed (120km/h) and settles back down when you slow again (80km/h). There is a button in the cabin should you wish to raise it manually, and let everyone in the Coles carpark know that it’s there.
Here too, Boxster has been dropped as a badge in favour of just 718. You can change this, but we quite like the simplicity.
Inside, the cabin is again a subtle evolution over the 981 Boxster. Everything is in the same place, just the vents are more rounded and the Sport Chrono ‘clock’ now sits on top, rather than in the dash.
It’s a very driver-oriented cockpit, without going the ultra-modern direction of the Audi TT and removing every functional interaction from the passenger.
The seating position is good, the triple-gauge instrument pod is brilliantly clear and easy to read. That third-pod, with its adjustable display continues to impress as a convenient way of dealing with the multitude of information thrown at us while on the move. The mini-map is a particular favourite.
You do get the ‘buttonsplosion’ on the center console, the mantra from Stuttgart ruling that every function get its own piece of switchgear. We’ve seen this change in the 2017 Porsche Panamera, so perhaps the next Boxster will be simplified too?
It looks worse than it is, and once you get used to where everything is, and how to quickly make adjustments on the move, it becomes easy enough to deal with.
Generally though, the 718 is a nice place to spend time. The seats are comfortable and supportive, we love the steering wheel, and are huge fans of the rolling ‘mouse wheel’ thumb selectors at 3- and 9-o’clock.
For a tall person like me, the cabin can feel quite snug, but it's an enveloping feeling rather than a claustrophobic one. Vision out back is great, but the roll-over hoops behind the headrests can fool your peripheral vision from time to time. The best solution is to just keep driving forwards!
There’s good storage (for a two-seat roadster) but those flip out cup holders aren’t really up to dealing with the weight of a large triple-shot skinny latte. I actually moved to bottled water for my week with the Boxster, as you need something with a lid to stop things spilling out. In a way it forced me to cut down on the bad stuff, and I’m sure over time, the Porsche would eventually make me look good enough to fit with it.
In our low-specification test car, the rubberised plastic trim and black-on-black-on-black treatment leaves you a little cold. Yes those brushed aluminium strips are nice ($1390 option), and yes the touch points are all well-constructed, it just doesn’t have much character.
Luckily you can address that with the almost infinite colour and material options that Porsche offers to personalise the interior.
In fact, inside or out, there is no reason any two Boxsters need look the same, with sixteen exterior colours available in the standard Porsche palette (metallic is an $1850 option, with the special colours a $5390 option). And if that isn’t enough, Porsche can match any paint colour you like for $9490.
That’s a bit excessive though, as the traditional (but perhaps a bit boring) GT Silver would be our choice, paired with a red soft top, one of four options available.
We’ll note that our test car’s Graphite Blue ($1850 option) didn’t win too many fans over our time with the car, but it wasn’t helped by the standard 18-inch wheels, which do look pretty small.
Again there is plenty of choice available when it comes to rolling stock, with sizes growing to 20-inch, and prices rising accordingly. Here we would go for the Carrera S wheels, as 20s, for $4840 extra.
If you think the outside is complex, inside there are five core colour choices which can be run with a blanket ‘fill-all’ selection, or paired with black for a slightly less in-your-face look.
Then there are the seats, trim elements, upgrades and accessories, all seemingly with choices again of colour, wood, aluminium, lions, tigers, bears… you get the idea. Even some basic equipment is still an option too. Heated seats, rear-view camera, not huge deal breakers by any stretch, but come on Porsche, it's almost 2017...
The Porsche configurator is a great way to waste time, plus you can push the boundaries of taste and frivolous expenditure without having to explain yourself. Our best is $106,950 worth of options on top of the non-S Boxster’s price. It didn’t look that good and to be honest, working around $20-30k worth of personalisation is the sweet spot.
For 2017-specification cars, the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) infotainment system has been updated. The new seven-inch touch screen sits almost flush with the dashboard and offers predictive interaction, that displays a contextual menu as your hand moves toward it.
The thing is, like the rest of the cabin it is very smart and specific, but not particularly warm to use. It’s all too easy to click rather than swipe on some of the menus, and the driving information screens are sharp and to the point, but lack any ‘cool’ factor in the way they have been designed.
In what is possibly the most nit-picky comment about a sports car ever, the fonts on the menus look a little cheap. Why engage a graphic user interface designer when the Univers font will do (yes, I checked). It doesn’t stop anything working, but to me a Porsche should sit at a level above a normal car, and I just think they could have done more to make the menus feel more special.
Our car has Apple Carplay (Porsche call it ‘Connect Plus’) which is a $1090 option, and frankly, unless you are wedded to your iPhone (*cough, Alborz) the native navigation and audio solutions work just fine. Remember you can run a Spotify app on your phone and play music through the car’s stereo without needing CarPlay.
But enough about infotainment, lets get to the guts of the 718 – that turbo engine.
The 718 is the most powerful basic Boxster ever, the two-litre turbo offers 220kW and 380Nm, a considerable 13 per cent more power and whopping 36 per cent more torque over the 981’s 2.7-litre six.
It’s put on a bit of weight, 12kg to be precise (1333kg), and it costs about $7500 more, but you can’t argue with those output figures.
Start it up, and at idle the familiar flat-six rasp has been replaced by what could best be described as an angry Beetle.
We’re not talking a dual-ported Superbug dak-dak here, this is Herbie Goes Bananas directed by Robert Rodriguez with Dany Trejo replacing Dean Jones.
There’s a naturally similar timbre to a Subaru WRX, which also runs a 2.0-litre turbocharged boxer-four, but the Porsche sounds angrier and now has more of a thumping baseline.
Around town, with the car set to its standard driving mode, the exhaust noise is present but not overwhelming and the 718 is light and easy to drive.
It responds well, with that peak 380Nm torque available between 1950 and 4500rpm, and is very tractable at low speed. The Boxster is almost practical too, with a deep 150-litre boot in the nose, and 130-litres in the back.
For the uninitiated, you can’t ever show off your Boxster’s engine. It sits about 30cm behind the passenger compartment, below where the roof stows. When you open the boot, the only hint of motive power hiding back there is a yellow-ringed cap for oil and a blue-ringed one for coolant.
Porsche has built everything just right, and they don’t want you messing with it. If you want to spin spanners, buy an old 928.
The powered top raises and lowers at speeds up to 50km/h and takes less than ten seconds each way. You can control it from the keyfob too, should you want your top to lower as you walk up to the car for a bit of entertaining theatre. It’s as close to effortless as you can get and where the Boxster’s clean simplicity works in its favour.
Even driving slowly, with the top down and the wind in your (grey) hair, the 718 is a fun thing.
Until now though, the basic Boxster has been overshadowed by its big brother, the Boxster S. The standard car is more of a cruiser to fit in with the Porsche-as-a-life-goal buyer who wants the red, black and gold crest, but isn’t too fussed about pushing things in the remote direction of the limit.
Yes, the Boxster has improved over the years, gradually adding more oomph to the 150kW/260Nm 2.5-litre six-cylinder it came with back in 1997, but the 718 is a full step change in terms of performance.
Get out of town and start to wind on the power, and the littlest sports-Porsche is now properly quick.
Porsche claims a sub five-second sprint to 100km/h, which is faster than the classic 964 Turbo (Bad Boys, Bad Boys…). Not bad for a car that used to be scoffed at as being a bit soft.
Ticking the Sport Chrono box ($4990) always gave you the cool clock and timer on the dash, but now there is the ‘Driver Preference’ dial as well. It sits at about five o’clock on the steering wheel and allows you to change quickly from standard driving mode to sport or sport plus. There’s an individual setting too.
Taking it up a notch though, is the ‘push-to-pass’ button in the center, which engages a ‘Sport Response’ mode for a period of 20 seconds. Like Roger Ramjet, it puts the car in its most ‘sporty’ mode for a short period of time, allowing you to jump from your preferred, relaxed driving mode to a more ‘expedited’ one without having to fiddle with settings, or change it back when you are done.
Driving like this, the angry Beetle becomes an angry Boxster, with pops and cracks on overrun, and a fast revving growl that just builds ferocity the more you wind out to that 7000rpm redline.
We have the optional sports exhaust fitted ($4990) which just amplifies the situation and makes you feel every bit the driver behind the wheel. Forget the haters who don’t like change – yes the four-cylinder Porsche sounds different, but that doesn’t stop it from sounding great!
Through tighter, winding sections of road it feels balanced and confident. Our car is fitted with the PTV torque vectoring system ($3190) but honestly, you don’t need it. With the power that the 718 delivers, it doesn’t really need that minutia of traction and torque management. It grips exceptionally well through bends and powers out nicely on the other side.
We have (and would recommend) the PASM active suspension option ($2710) which lowers the ride-height by 10mm and gives you varying rates of damper adjustment and a more intelligent ‘speed’ of the adjustment process.
There’s great communication from the road to the driver, regardless of suspension settings, and when paired with Sport Chrono, means you can tune the individual setting to suit your roads and driving style.
Turn-in is well weighted for all but the most extreme steering angles, where the Boxster can feel almost too light. It’s a very Porsche thing this, and something you do get used to, as it doesn’t stop the accurate and balanced nature of the Boxster.
If you push hard you can instigate a bit of oversteer, but you really need to be working the 718 to do this. It's not really ‘that’ car though, and you can drive it fast, with excellent grip, without feeling like you need to be a hero.
The big brakes (330mm front, 299mm rear) can reduce your rate of travel from ‘jail’ to ‘breathe’ very rapidly, and we found next to no fade or drop in performance after a day of spirited driving around the Mornington Peninsula.
Our car is fitted with the seven-speed PDK automatic transmission ($4990 option) which is superbly quick when shifting high in the rev range. The alloy paddles on the wheel feel good to touch and the car is still sporty when left to change gears by itself.
If it were my money, I’d leave this and stick with the six-speed manual transmission for a little more ‘connection’ to the car. The PDK is faster and more accurate than I will ever be, but sometimes that’s not the point.
There’s honestly not that much you can criticise about the 2016 Porsche 718 Boxster (except maybe the colour of this one). It is supposed to be an attainable yet capable sports car with some wind in the hair style, and it is.
The 718 is balanced, pacey and thoroughly enjoyable. Sure, the list price is more of a ‘you need to be this tall to ride’ type guideline, but that’s all part of the Porsche experience. By all rights of reasoning, if you can justify a $110k two-seater, you can justify a $130k one.
Best Boxster yet? You bet. The gap to the flat-six Porsche might have widened, but the gap to a true sports Porsche has narrowed.
You now have to ask the question, do you really need the S? We say no. This one will do just fine.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.