Porsche Boxster doesn’t drop a bum note

Porsche aficionados are annoyed by the new 718 but it still sets the benchmark

Make: Porsche

Model: Boxster S

Year: 2016

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: October 31, 2016

Wed, Nov 9, 2016, 05:25

   

We need to talk about noise. For the past three seasons, Formula One cars have been using, not big, loud V8 or V10 engines, but down-sized, quiet (relatively) 1.5-litre V6 hybrid units. While their power is not in doubt, their level of entertainment certainly is and their bland, droning exhaust notes have apparently been instrumental in getting fans to switch over to Strictly Celebrity Bake-Off. Or something.

If the entertainment value of racing cars can be so determined by the noise that they make, what hope then for the new Porsche Boxster, which has ditched the symphonic sounds of its old 2.7-litre flat-six engine for something rather different in the shape of a new 2.0-litre turbocharged flat-four unit. Downsizing is, of course, the de rigeur trend in vehicle engineering at the moment, albeit one possibly set to be overturned in coming years by new legislation, but Porsche has embraced both lower capacity and a turbo as it seeks to make its smallest car more environmentally responsible.

Four-cylinder Porsches are nothing new – after all, the original Porsche, the 356, used a flat-four (donated more or less wholesale from a VW Beetle) and such others as the 912, 914, 924, 944 and 968 were all variously lauded in spite of being two cylinders short of apparent perfection. However, the new Boxster (or 718 to give it its proper new title) has aroused more than a little ire amongst Porsche-philes for its engine note.

Whereas the old flat-six was a properly orchestral instrument, changing in pitch, tone and timbre as you wound your way up to the redline, the new flat-four is rather more mono-toned. Its sounds is a gruff thrash, something akin to a 1990s Subaru Impreza Turbo, with a hint of tweaked 1960s Beetle on top. Playing with the optional sports setting for the exhaust seems to make relatively little difference, and when you rev it, it just gets louder, not more interesting.

Turbo lag

Hmmmm. I can sympathise with those who mourn the Boston Pops soundtrack of the old engine, but while it seemed a little lacking in appeal when I first strapped in, the 718’s four-pot unit really grew on me. The basso profundo noise is perhaps less overall entertaining, but it’s not without appeal, and besides, there are more important things at stake here than how it sounds.

For a start, power and torque have been considerably increased, up now to 300hp and 380Nm. That torque is delivered at a low 1,950rpm too, and doesn’t drop off until you’ve passed 4,500rpm, so the character of the 718 is considerably different from what it was. Its only consistent flaw seems to be a touch too much turbo lag, exacerbated by the fact that the PDK paddle-shift gearbox can take a 10th of a second or so too long to make up its mind when you ask for power.

You don’t need to rev hard any more to extract significant acceleration, which some again may dislike but which, in an increasingly more tightly policed motoring environment, allows you quicker access to the car’s depth of talents.

That depth is considerable. It lops almost a full second from the previous Boxster 2.7’s 0-100km/h run (dropping to 4.7 seconds with optional launch control), while the steering and chassis are little short of sublime. Using electrically-boosted power steering, Porsche seems able at last to bridge the gap between electric and old-fashioned hydraulic steering. The slim, lightly textured wheel rim (perfectly circular, it’s worth noting, not cut-off at the bottom as is the fashion), is bursting with feel and feedback and you can place the 718 with cool, unerring accuracy.

Its levels of grip are staggeringly good, but that low-down torque arrival means you can unstick the rear end more or less at will, which is rather entertaining. A firm, but not over-firm ride helps too, giving the 718 some useful flex on bumpy back roads and, aside from a touch too much tyre roar on coarse surfaces, the 718 is a pleasant long-haul companion.

Those long hauls will be considerably cheaper than before, and the 718 is one of the very few cars that not only equalled, but exceeded, its stated fuel economy during our time with it. Porsche claims 40mpg on the combined cycle and we managed, on one long 120-mile motorway haul, to tease it up to 42mpg. That is simply astonishing, when you consider that seeing 30mpg, even momentarily, would have been an achievement with the old 2.7 engine. CO2 emissions are also down a little, to 158g/km, meaning motor tax is a surprisingly reasonable €570 a year.

The price is a little less so – the re-engine and re-naming of the old Boxster and Cayman as 718 has seen a turnaround in pricing. The Boxster used to be the entry-level model in the Porsche range, with the more driver-focused Cayman coupe as the more expensive car. That is now reversed and the convertible is the pricier one, clocking in at €71,092 for the PDK- equipped model, €3,000 more than the Coupe.

It atones for the pricing by being practical as far as two-seaters go, with decent luggage space in both front and rear boots, while the cabin has been improved with nicer seats and a new, slightly under-sized touchscreen that’s easier to navigate than the old Porsche Communications Management system.

Fun to drive

Quality is unimpeachably good, the roof flings itself up or down in a matter of seconds (at speeds of up to 60km/h) and I reckon that Porsche has finally nailed the née-Boxster’s styling, with a curvier nose now making it look properly attractive.

So it’s more efficient and faster, but still usable, still practical, still fun to drive and only slightly worse off in the value department. For all of those talents, I’ll take the loss of the old six-cylinder’s exhaust note on the chin. Or the earlobe.

Lowdown: Porsche 718 Boxster PDK.

Power: 300hp. Torque: 380Nm. 0-100km/h: 4.7sec.

Top speed: 274km/h.

Claimed economy: 6.9-litres per 100km (40.9mpg).

CO2 emissions: 158g/km.

Rice: as tested, €71,092. Verdict: Porsche diehards but the rest of the 718’s performance is as good as it gets.

Our rating: 4/5