2017 Porsche 718 Boxster S
The concept of a Cayenne SUV was mere heresy to Porschephiles in 2000, not the savior that would soon provide much needed funding for now hallowed supercars such as the Carrera GT and 918 Spyder, not to mention Porsche’s more attainable sports cars, while Boxster production began just four years earlier in 1996. The model year 2001 Boxster S’ 250 horsepower 3.2-liter flat six was good for “a sensational 5.7” seconds to 60 mph, or so I stated with unbridled enthusiasm 16 years ago (I was pretty green back then), which by today’s standards is rather inefficient use of so many pistons and cubic centimeters.
The all-new fourth-generation 2017 Boxster (internally coded as 982) is designated “718” to commemorate its transformation from six- to four-cylinder power. That’s not something that would normally be a celebratory milepost for the majority of performance fans, but when factoring in the new base 718 Boxster’s horizontally-opposed 2.0-liter turbocharged boxer produces 300 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, the latter from just 1,950 rpm, and then contemplating the fact the same engine punched out to 2.5 liters and utilizing 911 Turbo-sourced variable turbine geometry (VTG) puts out 350 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque in upgraded 718 Boxster S trim, a gain of 35 horsepower and 44 lb-ft of torque over the previous 3.4-liter six-cylinder powered Boxster S, all the while improving fuel economy by 13 percent for a claimed rating of 22 mpg combined with the manual and 24 with the PDK (the base model is good for 24 combined with the manual and 25 with the PDK), not to mention reducing emissions, it’s time for dancing in the streets and singing praises on high.
The result, with PDK, as-tested launch control-enhanced Sport Chrono Package installed, and awesome new steering wheel-mounted rotating dial drive mode selector set to its zestiest Sport+ flavor, is a 4.5-second sprint to 60 mph in the regular 718 Boxster (4.7 without Sport Chrono and 4.9 with the six-speed manual), which is 0.8 seconds quicker than last year’s version, or 4.0 seconds to 60 with the Boxster S PDK Sport Chrono (4.2 without Sport Chrono and 4.4 with the manual), a 0.6-second advantage over the outgoing model. Believe me, I’d be happy with a base 718 Boxster and an extra $12k-plus in my pocket, but then again there’s more to the S than power, like larger brakes, meatier rubber, a stiffer suspension, firmer steering, etcetera, evidenced by a claimed 16-second gain over the previous version around Germany’s famed Nürburgring Nordschleife racetrack.
Before delving into that, why 718? That might be a touchy subject for the German marque’s motorsport heritage aficionados that revere Porsche’s Le Mans, Targa Florio and European Hill Climb Championship winning quad-cam four-cylinder powered 1957-64 718 RSK as the holy grail of sports cars, but considering that car and its 550 predecessor, which wasn’t quite as successful on the track yet will forever live on in pop culture lore due to the equally legendary actor and part-time racer James Dean who met his demise at its wheel, was inspiration for the original 1993 Boxster Concept that eventually morphed into the production Boxster, it seems a fitting tie-in with Stuttgart’s illustrious motorsport past.
The direct correlation is its use of quad-cam four-cylinder power, the mid-’60s to mid-’70s four-cylinder 912 Targa not quite as exciting a name-donor for an all-new Boxster model, although it did manage to place first in the European Rally Championship for Group 1 series touring cars in 1967 among other victories. The 912 was based on the otherwise six-cylinder 911 too, which I’m sure you’ll agree doesn’t work for celebrating Porsche’s mid-engine two-seat heritage. So 718 Boxster it is, and what an incredibly brilliant car it’s become.
My tale starts in two cities, and yes any day behind the wheel of a Porsche can turn the worst of times into the best of times. Day one was at the only racetrack in my neck of the woods, situated in an adjacent suburb about an hour and a half away by car, where Porsche invited yours truly along with a number of guests to play with their newest edition to the family, with performance instruction given by Porsche Driving Experience professionals Kees Nierop (Sebring 12 Hours winner, Le Mans and Daytona 24 Hours competitor, etc) and Pierre Des Marais (Rothmans Porsche 944 Turbo, World Turbo Cup Kyalami S.A., various Endurance, ice racing, etc). The cars provided were an even mix of base 718 Boxsters and 718 Boxster S models, all fitted with Porsche’s quick shifting paddle shift-actuated seven-speed automated PDK transmission, and the two main events consisting of 1) a slalom followed by a standing start and panic braking test, and 2) hours of high-speed laps around the tight, challenging, nine-corner road course.
Stage one allowed opportunity to get a feel for the new lighter weight 718, a car so ideally balanced and wonderfully communicative that you’d really need to be a novice to upset any of the six evenly placed cones while extracting most of the car’s potential, although finding the exact braking point to plop the little roadster within the confines of a small coned box after full acceleration was a bit more difficult, realized personally after first overshooting by an embarrassing margin and then overcompensating for the opposite effect the second time around. And no, I can’t blame the 66 extra pounds of curb weight found in the PDK-equipped 718 Boxster S as that model still hits the scale at a relatively featherlight 3,053 lbs, and it wouldn’t be a decent excuse anyway as my hand-foot-eye coordination isn’t so finely tuned. Sadly this is hardly my first time trying such a maneuver, but of course every new car requires a recalibration of the senses.
The road course allowed for less precision, and the many laps permitted provided opportunity to perfect each corner, from positioning the entry point, to turning in at just the right moment, to clipping the apex for the ideal exit trajectory in order to maximize speed down each short straight, and so on. Of course I don’t have the skills of sirs Nierop and Des Marais, but a few opportunities to follow their respective lines reminded of old lessons learned and I was off to the races, or at least for one great afternoon it felt like it. How I love time spent on any track, and how much more enjoyable is track time in a car as capable as the new 718 Boxster.
If you’ve ever thought of the Boxster as a poor person’s 911 Cabriolet, next time you see one I recommend paying your respects. With homage correctly paid to the 911, which remains one of the best sports cars money can buy and would likely be my first choice if funds permitted, the Boxster is easily the best performing roadster among those currently available. The only serious competitor that ever had an edge on it for pure performance was Lotus’ Elise, but being that most buyers wouldn’t want to spend their morning commutes or even weekend getaways in a car as spartan as ’40s-era Willys Jeep, the Boxster wins my nod of approval, not to mention you can no longer buy a new Elise anywhere in the U.S.
The 718 Boxster is not only a superb sports car, but it also coddles occupants within a very well finished premium level cabin. Soft touch synthetic surfaces abound, upgradable to full stitched leather on the dash and doors if requested, complemented by beautiful satin finished metals, supple leather seats, deep, rich carpeting (compared to an Elise), and Porsche’s latest electronic interfaces.
The first is a high-resolution color multi-information display found within the rightmost position of the otherwise classic three-dial Porsche primary cluster. It’s a fully functional device packed with features that’s easy to operate via steering wheel controls, that wheel an absolute delight all on its own thanks to superbly crafted leathers, ultra-thin spokes and excellent quality switchgear. The second display is Porsche’s new infotainment system that sits atop the center stack, this as good as such systems get with crystal clear resolution, excellent depth of contrast and colors, proximity-sensing digital buttons, tablet-style gesture, pinch and swipe capability, Apple CarPlay connectivity (Android Auto fans can eat cake despite being the majority of smartphone users), and finally, “ta da”, accurate navigation, which was a personal sore point with Porsche’s previous system.
Seriously, one time while parking a Cayenne six levels below my downtown condo, Porsche’s GPS mapping placed me in the middle of the largest local river some 15 miles away, and other times it either gave me the longest, most out of the way directions to get to various destinations or didn’t find them at all. It was the curse of all things GPS, but the new system is faultless, or at least that’s been my experience with the new 718 and a number of other 2017 Porsche models.
Along with the expected Porsche materials quality and build excellence, the 718 Boxster provides roomy accommodations for two adults, even if they’re large in stature. The seats are comfortable and supportive in all the right ways, and powered actuation with memory, plus generous telescopic reach from the steering column, allows for an ergonomically correct driving position for most body types. My long-legged and shorter torso doesn’t always fit well within some cars, even popular models from mass market makers, but I was able to adjust the Boxster to perfection so that driving enjoyment and the safety provided by being correctly positioned was maximized.
Another thing the Boxster has long done better than most rivals is haul gear, its two trunks providing deep carpeted wells for what-have-you, as long as it’s relatively short in length. Abbreviated cargo capacity is par for the course in sports car circles, but the 718 Boxster’s 9.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, with 5.3 cubic feet of which is available up front and 4.4 in the rear, is much better than average and doesn’t mess with the car’s near perfect weight distribution if your belongings are equally distributed.
Such practical benefits were experienced with the 718 Boxster S I drove around the second city in question, my hometown. Like all Boxsters and most Porsches, the 718 is as easy to drive through traffic as dominate the track. I found slotting it through tight crowded streets no more difficult than driving any compact car, although its ability to quickly sneak into open gaps between slower moving cars is rare. With it’s standard auto start/stop system engaged the engine shuts off when it would otherwise be idling, which not only reduces fuel consumption but also limits local emissions (the ones you personally breathe) and cuts down on noise, making it more comfortable to live with as a daily driver without giving up anything when the road opens up and playtime begins.
Fast-paced driving in mind, S trim improves brake performance thanks to adoption of the previous 911 Carrera’s binders (the base 718 Boxster now gets the old Boxster S’ brakes) and aids handling due to larger 19-inch alloys on 235/40 front and 265/40 rear ZR rubber compared to the base Boxster’s 235/45 front and 265/45 rear tires, while some of my testers, including the one I drove around town, were upgraded to 20s, as well as Porsche’s Active Suspension Management (PASM), available for the first time in the Boxster, which drops the ride height by 0.8 inches for a lower center of mass and truly improves at-the-limit handling and ride quality. The 20s didn’t seem to upset the compliant nature of the latter much at all, but remember this is a firm German sports car. Still, compared to that aforementioned Lotus it’s a velvet carpet ride, the less aggressive base Boxster being the most comfortable if cossetting buttocks takes priority.
More critical to most buyers is design, and while the previous Boxster was easily the best looking of its kind yet, the new 718 hasn’t lost any style points. It takes seeing it side by side with its predecessor to notice all the changes, the only carryover panels being its front and rear deck lids, windshield, and powered fabric top, which remains quick and easy to retract or deploy. A reshaped front fascia seems wider and more substantive, with bigger air intakes at each side, while Porsche’s now trademark four-point LED DRLs add unique character to the revised optional LED headlamps included with some of my testers; simpler HIDs come standard. The four-point LEDs are standard in back, mind you, and look great with new clear lenses. From the side you’ll see new clear side markers on new fenders, more heavily sculpted rocker panels, and larger rear fender intakes for a little more aggression. Boxster fans should be delighted with all the updates, and those who might not have previously considered Porsche’s entry-level roadster may now take it more seriously.
Problems? Nothing you wouldn’t expect in a two-seat ragtop. The standard backup camera, which is clear and enhanced with active guidelines, makes up for poor rearward visibility, which is a good thing I suppose, and don’t expect to maintain your perfectly primped coif if speed ramps up, even if the rather large wind blocker is fixed into place. Other than that, the wonderfully guttural blatt of the bigger six is sorely missing from the mechanical audio track, replaced by a coarser, raspier four that will only be welcomed by true purist motorsport buffs who happen to like the sound of raw, unfettered performance, of which I’m one so it didn’t put me off one iota.
Really, if one of these minor irritants causes issue I’d recommend something larger, fully closed, and more domesticated yet equally quick, such as a Macan, Cayenne or Panamera. Porsche now has a full lineup of superb SUVs and yes, even a sedan (er, four-door coupe), plus the legendary 911 in all its iterations, and the hardtop version of this car now dubbed 718 Cayman, and as you might expect mechanically identical. They’ve got all bases covered allowing the ability to be an all-Porsche family, but then again if you’d rather reconnect with the playful side of your personality I highly recommend the new 718 Boxster.
Pricing starts at $56,000 for the base model and $68,400 for the S, with the PDK adding $3,200 to either. My track testers came in various states of trim, although the white painted and black striped model I spent the majority of time in featured the upgraded Carrera S 20-inch alloys, PDK transmission, Sport Chrono Package, dynamic cornering headlamps, power-folding side auto-dimming side mirrors, proximity access and start, rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated 14-way powered memory seats, dual-zone auto climate control, sensational sounding Bose surround audio, lane change assist, and more, which when tallied up with freight and fees came close to the mid-$80k region.
For a car this good it still seems a very reasonable price to pay, and while it nudges up against a base 911, this pricier model with similar features will set you back tens of thousands more. Additionally, if you can find anything in the 718 Boxster’s class that comes close to its all-round performance you’ll also find this Porsche drives great value.
In the end, the 718 Boxster is a far, far better two-seat roadster than Porsche has ever built before. It may be down two cylinders but it’s gained in every other way.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press