Never before have I experienced electrically assisted power steering with so much engagement.
Introduced in late 1996 for the 1997 model year, the Porsche Boxster was slotted below the 911 Carrera as an entry point into the Porsche lineup. Many armchair critics wrote it off immediately as not being a real Porsche, but the Boxster’s mid-engined layout, near-perfect weight distribution and wonderful flat-six engines gained it entry onto my all-time favourites list. Now in its third generation (codenamed 981), the Boxster receives a massive overhaul, and a new name. The 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster is more than just a facelift, so we took one for a spin to see what it’s like.
At first glance from a distance, one would be hard-pressed to identify the new 718 from the outgoing model. It uses the same iconic lines that the Boxster debuted with nearly two decades ago, but modernized and evolved appropriately. The car is just stunning, with excellent proportions. The 718 now gets clear taillight lenses and the four-LED daytime running lights that we’ve seen before on both the Carrera (reviewed here) and the Macan. Porsche’s mid-engined, rear-drive only layout works beautifully here, as the Boxster remained their most popular car until the debut of the Cayenne (reviewed here) in 2004.
On the inside, the Boxster, in usual Porsche fashion, is all business. The interior is perfectly laid out and everything is easy to find. The ergonomics are bang-on, with an ideal driving position easily found. The optional sport seats are nice, but the memory function had a habit of forgetting its programming. Multimedia is controlled through the latest version of Porsche Communication Management (PCM), which now supports pinch-to-zoom and other functions on the touchscreen. One easily overlooked nice touch is that the screen has matte finish and looks great even with direct sunlight shining on it.
Something Porsche does well is maintaining real buttons for major controls, namely the automatic dual-zone climate control. Though the console itself can look busy and intimidating at first, everything is nicely laid out and well organized. Considering this is the base 718 Boxster and not the 718 Boxster S, there are a few missing buttons, such as “Sport Plus” mode and the optional sports exhaust. Even still, the interior doesn’t feel cheap or lacking in anything. The cupholders are hidden away in front of the passenger, above the glovebox, but for such small and simplistic units, they are remarkably rigid.
Despite serious criticism from purists who loath the omission of a naturally aspirated flat six-cylinder, Porsche has opted to outfit the 718 with a 2.0L horizontally-opposed flat four-cylinder. Predictably, it’s also turbocharged, and demonstrates far better power delivery than the outgoing six. This model is good for 300 horsepower at 6,500RPM, hauling to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds (reduced to 4.7 seconds with the Sport Chrono Package). The 2.0L also boasts 280 lb-ft of torque, peaking between 1,950 and 4,500RPM.
The real question is – how does this engine feel in real-world operation? The numbers are there, and it may take some adjustment for those used to the older six-cylinder Boxster models, but the response is there too. There is an ever-so-slight hint of turbocharger lag at first, but as soon as boost hits, you’re gone. PDK is still the benchmark in dual-clutch technology, and that’s the example we tested, but purists can rejoice. Porsche will continue to offer the six-speed manual as standard equipment on all 718 Boxster and Boxster S models.
The seven-speed PDK is capable of pulling off instantaneous shifts. When left alone to fend for itself, it’s able to find the optimal shift points effortlessly and get the job done with no fuss. Enabling the “Sport” setting holds gears longer for athletic driving, and manual shift mode (tilting the gear lever to the left) lets you gain full control via either the paddle shifters or the lever itself. This is easily the best automatic transmission on the market, and manual snobs should give it a whirl before chalking it off as “improper”.
Next up is the noise; I wholly expected the 718 Boxster to sound somewhat like the Subaru WRX STi (reviewed here). This is because both cars use turbocharged flat-four engines, but of course, they could not be more different. The Boxster makes a meatier, more substantial note from behind the driver’s seat, and it will soon become immediately identifiable. Even though this car wasn’t equipped with the optional Sport Exhaust, it’s capable of making excellent sounds on upshifts, downshifts, and acceleration. When letting off the throttle, if the car is in “Sport” mode, the exhaust burbles aggressively.
And then there’s the steering – never before have I experienced electrically assisted power steering with so much engagement and actual feel. It’s effortless but has a good amount of heft to the wheel, The Boxster is undeniably a Porsche, and handles as such. Tackling a curve on a twisty road or a highway on-ramp, the car just feels so perfectly balanced that its rivals are all but forgotten. Pushing the car hard will induce oversteer, but the weight distribution is so perfect that the Boxster is very easy to become comfortable with. The car’s limit cannot be reached on the street, but every single corner will make you smile profusely.
Porsche rates the 718 Boxster with PDK at 10.5L/100km in the city, 8.0L/100km on the highway. Using strictly premium fuel (as everybody should) on an evaluation with about 70% city driving, I averaged 10.4L/100km. Our particular Boxster test vehicle was displaying a lifetime average of 10.1L/100km, which is perfectly acceptable. The change to a smaller-displacement engine undoubtedly helps economy as well, and the 718’s fuel tank will hold 54L of premium, allowing for plenty of range for those longer road trips.
Priced aggressively for nearly two decades, the 718 Boxster starts at $63,900. Unsurprisingly for Porsche, ours came stacked with a series of options, many of which the typical 718 buyer will opt for. This includes the PDK gearbox, PCM with navigation, Bose audio, 14-way power sport seats with thigh support, Porsche Active Suspension Management, and a series of other options. Most importantly was the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) for $2,050. The sticker on our test vehicle was just over $81,000 before freight and PDI fees.
The convertible top can be raised or lowered in under fifteen seconds at the touch of conveniently-located buttons on the center stack. There’s no need to fuss with any latches or levers, it’s all taken care of electronically. The top can function at speeds up to about 30 km/h, meaning drivers don’t have to come to a complete stop or pull over for this purpose. The Boxster’s mid-engined layout means even with the necessity to store the top while it’s down, there’s actually space for both a small trunk in the rear, as well as a “frunk” at the front of the car. Both offer adequate space for mini-vacations for two.
Rivals for the Boxster now include the Alfa Romeo 4C (reviewed here), along with the Audi TT-S Roadster (reviewed here) and even the Mercedes-AMG SLC 43. While each of these contenders offer up their own respective characteristics, the 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster offers a staggering amount of precision, balance, and smiles-per-dollar that renders it nearly untouchable within its segment. If buyers remain conservative with options, the smallest Porsche could very well be the perfect, semi-practical daily driver with more personality than anything else at its price point.