Compact, cute, and spunky, the Porsche Boxster is rarely confused with big brash exotic cars. In a move intended to bolster its performance and efficiency (with the inadvertent side effect of reinforcing its plucky personality), Porsche has traded the Boxster’s sonorous six-cylinder engine for a smaller, turbocharged four-cylinder—a move some purists would call blasphemy.
The nostalgia for the naturally aspirated flat-six is understandable. After all, that powerplant configuration was shared with the legendary Porsche 911, and in the outgoing Boxster Spyder application it produced one of the most aurally pleasing exhaust notes this side of an Italian exotic. But Porsche’s move towards turbocharging also yields 35 more hp, for a total of 300 hp in the 2.0-liter base model (which also has a 36 percent increase in torque) and 350 hp in the 2.5-liter S model (which has 17 percent more torque than the previous Boxster S). Despite the power gains, the new engines are up to 14 percent more fuel efficient than their predecessors.
This sounds like a win-win scenario for open-air sports car fanatics, but will the 718 land on the right side of sports car history? The proof in the pudding is in the tasting (or so they say), so we piloted a Porsche 718 Boxster S from Santa Barbara to Monterey, Calif., to find out.
The first thing you notice when firing up the flat-four is that, yes, the exhaust note has certainly changed. Though the sound quality is not nearly as full, robust, and melodiously pleasing as the old engine, the new mill is thankfully not lacking in character. Equipped with the sport exhaust option (a necessity, in our view), there’s a reassuring volume to the bass-heavy notes produced by the new engine, a different-but-still-there personality that marks the end of a certain era and the start of another entirely different one. With an ear to the engine, the Boxster’s personality has transformed into an arguably less sexy, but still charismatic version of its former self.
And then there’s the performance. Launch a 718 Boxster S with the PDK automatic transmission and the Sport Chrono package, and 60 mph can be reached in a mere 4 seconds flat—a dramatic 0.5-second improvement over the outgoing model. Variable turbine geometry borrowed from the 911 Turbo lends the powerplant greater flexibility, which makes it pull resolutely from low rpms. The sensation from the driver’s seat is wholly satisfying: The Boxster S charges ahead with a newfound sense of urgency, and the sound, especially when the sport exhaust is activated, is certainly there. But just as importantly, so is the thrust. This is a car that can accelerate to 60 as quickly as some V-12–powered exotics, yet proves lithe and responsive in the canyons. With a PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) option that offers a 10 mm lower suspension for the base model and 20 mm for the Boxter S, the new Boxster’s agility more closely resembles the highly maneuverable outgoing GTS model than a standard issue Boxster. Along a stretch of Highway 46 that careens through mountains on its way into the seaside town of Cambria, the Boxster hustled through the corners with gusto, shifting direction effortlessly thanks to its mass-centralized layout and under-3,000-pound curb weight. The engine revved hard to redline, and the steering offered excellent feedback.
Though heady and satisfying, if there was one thing we missed during our time with the 718 Boxster S, it was the old engine’s stirring sound. That said, the new motor’s guttural song may take some getting used to, and might even grow on us. Controversial sound aside, Porsche’s latest roadster proves the German brand is embracing a turbocharged future with aplomb—delivering more power, maneuverability, and potency than ever. In spite of its downsized engine, the 718 moves forward with a gutsier package that proves this scrappy roadster can tussle with bigger and more seemingly fearsome competitors while projecting its image as an automotive underdog. The Porsche 718 Boxster is priced from $56,000, while the S version is priced from $68,400. (porsche.com)