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2017 Porsche 718 Boxster and Boxster S first drives

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Article by Pete Stout
Photos courtesy Porsche and by Pete Stout

So how about Porsche’s new flat four, its first in 40 years? Porsche Panorama Editor Pete Stout’s first drive in the 718 Boxster and Boxster S in Portugal left him with the following first thoughts:

With a twist of the key in front of the hotel, the new Boxster S’s 2.5-liter four sounds distinctly Porsche as it starts up. It isn’t that flat six sound, but it is horizontally opposed enough that some consumers might not catch the difference. If you're a PCA member, you will. Get going, and it is quickly apparent that it’s a flat four behind you.

There’s no sugar-coating it: The new flat four is a bit “thrummy” at low revs, especially after being spoiled by the sophistication of the flat sixes in every Boxster built to date. There are the slightest hints of 356/912 and 914-4 down low — and, yes, Subaru — but then this modern Porsche four-cam four sings past 4000 rpm all the way up to its redline at 7500 rpm, and it’s willing to reach for high revs again and again in a way no pushrod Porsche four ever was. This is a very good engine in its own right.


Above: The "front" of the new B4 engine, or the side that is closest to the cabin. The turbocharger sits low and to the right in this photo, placing it just behind the driver of a LHD car. The catalyst is next to it, with these two items taking up where two cylinders have been deleted. (Photo by Pete Stout)

There is, however, a massive silver lining: While the engine may not be a match for the previous flat sixes for sound or ultimate smoothness, the offset — as expected — is torque. The advantage is big, not only in terms of peak torque (+35% in the Boxster and +17% in the Boxster S) but especially in terms of usable torque at lower revs, where the turbo fours shred the normally-aspirated sixes. Over the road, around an autocross, and on a track, older Boxsters will have a tough time staying with the new cars. How fast is the new Boxster S? With the right options, it’s 16 seconds faster than its predecessor around the Nürburgring’s North Loop — and six seconds faster than a 997.1 GT3. Corner to corner over fast Portuguese back roads, and on a closed air strip, the new cars feel every bit that quick.

As for turbo lag? Co-driver and PCA member Michael Harley and I had to remind ourselves to look for it a while into the first leg. With variable turbine geometry (VTG), the Boxster S exhibits less lag than the 991.2 Carrera, and that’s saying something. Lag is, effectively, non-existant. The base Boxster, which does without VTG, has minimal lag, as well; the low-down ambivalence of PDK in some situations was more annoying than turbo lag ever was.


Above, from left: Transmission and exhaust system. Borg Warner turbocharger. (Photos by Pete Stout.)

As more miles piled on, two thoughts presented themselves: 1) The new four is "youthful" and in keeping with the Boxster’s fun-to-drive nature … a bit brash against Porsche’s smooth and sophisticated flat sixes and exciting in its own right; 2) the new four may be the result of fuel efficiency and emissions requirements, but it is also a clever way to further separate the Boxster/Cayman line from the 911 line — and the two were getting awfully close with the advent of the 981.1, especially in GTS form.

PDK continues to get better and better, and the way the tach moves on up- and downshifts is simply stunning — it shifts, so, so fast. It is well paired with either of the turbo fours, and if one wants to go quickly, this is the transmission to get.

The six-speed manual shifts very sweetly and was easily our preference in the car for the added mechanical interaction.

The chassis is, as expected, superb. The PASM system now benefits from four suspension movement sensors rather than three, and offered fantastic body control on rougher Portuguese mountain roads in the Normal mode. Sport mode was a bit stiff in those situations, but that’s as it should be. We were not able to test the new -20mm Sport PASM suspension system on this trip, but hope to in the U.S. at some point. The steering rack — carried over from the 981 Spyder, which borrowed it from the 991 Turbo — has been recalibrated to work with the 981.2 chassis and powertrain changes, and is pin-point accurate. Feelsome? Yes, though still not quite a match for the hydraulic assist steering in the 987. Did we spend much time lamenting that as we drove? No. Its accuracy and response are noticeably better than best 987/997 racks. Rear-wheel steer was tested for the 981.2, but ruled out due to the mid-engined Boxster’s already excellent agility and stability as well as cost, complexity and weight.

One downhill pass pounded the base Boxster’s brakes — which are last year’s Boxster S brakes — to the point that they started to smell, but no fade followed. The brakes, as expected in modern Porsches, were easy to modulate and plenty powerful. The new S brakes, with six-piston front calipers, are a nice upgrade.

So, onto the critical questions: 981.1 or 981.2 Boxster? 981.2, because the torque is transformative. Ditto for the 981.2 Boxster S. Throw 981.1 Boxster GTS into that mix and the answer is a lot tougher — because the GTS was such a fantastic package. But that really isn’t fair, because a new GTS is sure to follow. It, too, will be turbocharged, we’re told. Given that the new S is already at 350 hp, you can expect it to nip at the heels of the 375-hp GT4 — or exceed it.

As for 718 Boxster vs. 718 Boxster S? The 2.0-liter engine sings a bit more at high revs and is NOT slow, but the 2.5’s variable vane turbocharger would have us think about moving up a notch. The S is now the only way to get -20mm sport suspension, so that’s another reason we’d be tempted to upgrade.

Follow the conversation about the new 718 Boxster/Boxster S on PCA's Facebook page below. Look for a full feature article in a future issue of Panorama.


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