The Porsche's two-seater mid-engined roadster gets a mid-life refresh new four-cylinder engines and a new 718 Boxster name
What do we have here?
When Porsche launched the first-generation Boxster in 1996 it brought the prospect of owning a Porsche to a whole new audience. Buyers who had previously seen the German sports brand as an object of desire and fantasy, now found the brand was within their reach.
The Boxster entered a newly forming market segment, that of the two-seater open-top premium sports car, but at half the price you’d normally expect. Initially, it battled with the BMW Z3 (now Z4) and Mercedes-Benz SLK (now SLC) but quickly established itself as the king of the class.
In the years that followed, the Audi TT has joined the battle along with the Nissan 350Z (now 370Z) and in truth, the Boxster has become increasingly isolated in its field. After the overly firm riding first-generation BMW Z4, BMW appears to have trained its eye on the SLK and the TT (still TT), each of which offers decent handling, luxurious interiors and a more comfortable ride, while the 370Z is wandering around like a caveman, grunting and using brute force.
Porsche has moulded the Boxster into a finely tuned precision tool. Unless you look at something from the Lotus stable, there’s simply nothing that has been able to live up to the Porsche’s supreme handling agility. The Boxster became so good that you were left wondering, other than the need for two extra seats, why you'd pay an extra thirty grand for a 911.
Synonymous with the Boxster is the flat-six petrol engine which has been ever-present since its launch and mounted just behind the front seats. When Porsche announced that the midlife facelift of the current third-generation car would replace its six-cylinders with smaller turbocharged four-cylinder engines instead, the gasps of shock and disbelief rivalled the scenes across the UK on waking to the news that fellow citizens had voted to leave the European Union.
So the new Boxster has been renamed the 718 Boxster, has a choice of two four-cylinder boxer engines for the first time, a 2.0-litre and a 2.5-litre. Big deal, right, or is it actually a big deal?
The 718 Boxster gets a new look, substantial for a mid-life refresh and for Porsche. The exterior of the car is completely changed other than the windscreen and roof. The front end is restyled and is wider to give a more purposeful appearance and is finished off with new Bi-Xenon headlights with integrated LED daytime running lights.
Along the side of the car, the air vents have been enlarged, while the rear has been restyled with a new bumper and new LED taillights.
Under the skin (other than the engines) there’s new suspension tuning and uprated brakes, while the inside gets a newly designed dash panel and Porsche’s latest 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system.
The entry level 718 Boxster gets 18in alloy wheels, electrically operated fabric hood, air con, sound system with 6 loudspeakers and Alcantara/leatherette part-electric sports seats.
How does it drive?
Before you drive a Porsche Boxster for the first time, you’ll be wondering what all the fuss is about. Ok, it’s a two-seater mid-engined open-top sports car, who cares? It’s for pansies and rich housewives, right? Wrong.
The Boxster is such a wonderfully accomplished machine that you’ll unintentionally take for granted many of its attributes and the depth of its talents.
Setting off, the steering feels light, making it easy to negotiate tight carparks. As the speed increases, though, so does the steering resistance, but it never goes overboard, like some. It actually stays reasonably light, but its responses are rapid. It feels as though there’s no distance at all between your hands and the front wheels. With the slightest tweak of the wheel, your line is adjusted just so, and it’ll talk back to you, letting you know exactly what’s happening beneath the front tyres. It’s not a heavy-handed struggle, more like driving a simulator but with actual feedback.
Talking about body roll and grip is rather redundant and insulting to the 718. There’s no body roll and the grip is tenacious, allowing you to circumnavigate corners with speed and precision that cars double the price can only dream of. There’s no front end pitching under hard braking either. Turn in quickly and you won’t catch out the 718 as it feels as light as a feather but as planted as bedrock. On a track, it’s so light and chuckable, that you’ll have more fun in a Boxster than any other Porsche bar the 911 GT3 RS.
Through tighter and slower corners, it’s best to feed in the power rather than be too heavy handed as the back end will step out but it’s easy to catch, so easy that the next time it happens it’s unlikely to have been by mistake.
Somehow, though, the geniuses in Stuttgart have coupled supreme handling abilities with a compliant ride. You’re aware it’s a sports car but it's not back breakingly firm and longer distances should be no problem.
The (whisper it) 1988cc turbocharged four-cylinder engine kicks out 296bhp and 280lb ft of torque. That’s a lot in anyone’s book and is crucially an increase of 35bhp and 74lb ft of torque over the model it replaces. It almost matches the 311bhp of the last 3.4-litre Boxster S but actually, betters that car's 265lb ft of torque.
And yes, that means it’s fast, instantaneously fast. The maximum torque band stretches from a lowly 1,950rpm through to 4,500rpm with max power arriving at 6,500rpm, meaning throughout your rev needle's journey around the instrument panel, the Boxster just continues to pull.
Fitted with an auto box, from standstill it’ll propel you to 62mph in just 4.9 seconds (it's 0.2 seconds quicker with launch control), with 100mph being passed 6.2 seconds later (11.2s from stationary). That relentless pull means 50-75mph takes just 3.2 seconds. Keep going and the Boxster tops out at 170mph. All accomplished with a 2.0-litre engine - astonishing.
There’s no denying that the downsizing of the engine is to lessen the effect of the Boxster on its surrounding environment. Porsche claims that on a combined cycle it’ll return 40.9mpg, that’s an improvement of 4.2mpg (or 11%) over its predecessor, while CO2 emissions have been cut by 12% to 158g/km.
Our car came with Porsche’s seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic gearbox, with steering wheel-mounted paddles. It changes gear with speeds only understandable to particle physicists, but most impressive is how unnoticeable it is most of the time, just subtly slipping between gears without any drama. The PDK also brings a Sports button which notches everything up a rung or two.
And so to the noise it makes, well to these ears it’s a very pleasant one, in fact, it sounds great. Less tinny at low revs that Porsches of old, with a substantial growl when flooring it. It does have a Subaru Impreza ‘esq ring to it, and remember that’s one of the most evocative exhaust notes in motoring history. To note, the 2.5-litre, tested in the 718 Cayman sounded too boomy with the exhausts opened.
What's it like inside?
The Boxster is simply exquisite inside, a world apart from the first gen’s plastics and much less stark than the second generation.
If you’ve seen or been in a Porsche in recent times, the dash architecture will be familiar to you. But it’s been improved through simplification. The 718 Boxster feels cleaner inside next to a Macan or Cayenne which are over littered with buttons.
The materials are top notch and most surfaces are wrapped in leather. The Alcantara/leatherette upholstered sports seats are supportive, firm, but not uncomfortable. The backrest adjusts electrically but the slide is manual.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel is well sized and great to grip. It adjusts for reach and tilt so most people will find a comfortable driving position.
Each door gets two storage bins and there are two cupholders that fold out of the dash, while the storage compartment under the central armrest will take little more than a mobile phone or two.
Being mid-engine, you get Porsche’s trick of providing two boots, one in the front and one in the rear. Neither are huge and they are similar in size to each other but they are relatively deep so each should take a 'carry-on' sized suitcase.
Want some fresh air? Then simply press and hold the roof button between the seats and wait until it's fully open.
To Porsche’s credit, the service intervals on the Boxster are much better than they once were, making it more affordable to own and run. The 718 only needs to visit the dealer every 20,000 miles or two years, whichever comes first.
There are four standard exterior paint colours to choose from; white, yellow, red and black; in combination with three standard interior colours; black, grey and beige. Finally pick from black, blue, brown and red for your roof colour.
A replacement set of tyres on standard 18in alloy wheel with 235/45 ZR 18 tyres at the front and 265/45 ZR 18 tyres at the rear will set you back around £675 for Pirellis.
The Revenue will ask for £185 for your car to go on the road each year while company car drivers will face 34% BIK tax banding.
Beware that the options list is long, tempting and expensive.
The 718 Boxster is expected to retain around 55% of its value after three years and is covered by a three-year unlimited mileage warranty.
If you want a two-seater sports cars with a million miles of head room (with the top down), then look no further.
The Porsche 718 Boxster is a wonderfully agile car, that’s beautifully crafted, is super quick and manages to combine decent economy and CO2 emissions.
So, does it matter that there are now four-cylinder engines powering the Boxster? No, it doesn’t matter a hoot. Not only does the 2.0-litre question the need for the Boxster S but it casts a dark shadow over the 911.