What is it?
It’s the mid-life facelift for the current-generation Porsche Boxster, a car we at Autocar India have a big soft spot for. We love its quick, sharp, communicative steering, we love its wonderful mid-engine balance and we love how easy it is for you to get comfortable driving it seriously fast. But more than anything, we love the addictive wail its normally aspirated flat-six makes just behind your ears, especially with the roof open.
Or rather, we did. That’s because this facelift has heralded the end of not just natural aspiration in all Boxster (and Cayman) models from now on, but also the end of the flat-six in these two mid-engine sportscars altogether! That’s right, from now on, all Boxsters and Caymans will only be powered by turbocharged four-cylinder motors (unless Porsche decides to do a six-cylinder special edition further down the line; we can dream). They both also get a new prefix – 718 – a number that harks back to Porsche’s mid-engine, four-cylinder racers from yesteryear, but to these eyes, seems like a way to help justify the downsizing.
The good news is that not much else has changed. You still get either a six-speed manual or seven-speed PDK automatic, that incredible balance is still there, while the superb interior has been upgraded with better trim, the (optional) steering from the 918 supercar, and a brilliant new touchscreen system. On the outside, the changes are far subtler, with new LED treatment at the front, including optional full-LED lamps, a similar update at the rear with Porsche’s new ‘four -dot’ LED signature, and a black band that now runs across the tailgate with the ‘Porsche’ badge on it. The rear tyres are also one inch wider each, which should improve grip levels.
But what we really want to know is what that new powertrain is like, which is what we aim to find out as we drive the new 718 Boxster on the road in Abu Dhabi, as well as around the Yas Marina race track.
What’s it like to drive?
First things first, that engine. In the Boxster, it’s a 2.0-litre turbocharged flat-four that produces 300hp and 380Nm. If you’re a number nerd, you’ll know that that comfortably eclipses the old Boxster’s 2.7-litre flat-six by 35hp and an incredible 100Nm. That’s the power of turbocharging, and the other benefit is that all that twist comes in at just 1,950rpm! 100kph is done with in 5.5sec, which is 0.8sec quicker, and that’s before you get to the vastly improved fuel efficiency and lower emissions. On paper then, it’s a hundred percent positive, but in a sportscar as highly regarded as this, the sensations are just as important. And this, sadly, is where the new 718 Boxster doesn’t quite hold up.
Out on the streets of Abu Dhabi, stuck in an unexpected traffic jam, the downsizing becomes very apparent. The 1,988cc motor feels distinctly turbocharged as it labours off the line each time and there’s that ‘cushion’ of resistance when you push the accelerator pedal before the power comes on in earnest. It feels and sounds strained at low revs and that’s a huge disappointment. That brilliant linearity and predictability of the old naturally aspirated six is missing. When the traffic clears, the chance to open the engine up a little reveals a much better experience, with the PDK gearbox masking a lot of the motor’s hesitation low down with its smooth and timely shifts. Then there’s the sound – it’s nice in a boomy, rorty, rally car way, and call me nostalgic, but it’s just not the same as a screaming, normally aspirated flat-six.
The good news is that it’s much, much better on the race track. Here the car tends to be in the thick of its powerband more of the time, so you barely notice the weak bottom end. The sound too is nowhere near as bad when it’s constantly banging off the redline, with an entertaining series of pops and bangs following you as you lift off. Yes, you will feel differences in power delivery, especially pulling out of corners, but on the limit, it feels just fine. The chassis brilliance is as good as ever, with razor-sharp and super quick steering, utterly predictable cornering and an all-round playful nature. Trouble is, here in India, owners don’t drive on race tracks much. The 718 Boxster experience, for them, will be on the road, and though it’s by no means a bad car, the motor is just not as fluid or evocative as before.
Should I buy one?
The thing is, I’ve also driven the new 718 Boxster S, with its larger 2.5-litre flat-four engine. It makes 350hp and 420Nm, and can do 0-100kph in 4.2sec, but more than all that, it just feels so much better to drive than the regular 718 Boxster. The larger motor is more effortless and doesn’t feel like it’s squeezing every last horsepower out. The sad news is that this is not the one we’re going to get in India; we will get the standard car, but I do hope Porsche reconsiders and offers the S as well later on. There is one rather big upside, though. Because this new motor is below 3,000cc in displacement, it now has to be homologated for India (a reason the old 2.7-litre car was never sold here) and it falls into a lower duty bracket. This means it will cost around Rs 85 lakh (ex-showroom), or about Rs 20 lakh less, when it goes on sale in September.