Porsche 718 Boxster review - was swapping two cylinders for a turbo a good idea?
Dynamically superior to the previous Boxster, its problems lie in the engine bay.
Initially a ploy by a struggling Porsche to grow dwindling sales alongside the then vulnerable 993 911 back in 1996, the mid-engined Boxster has been a major factor in Porsche’s rise to its current status as the world’s most profitable manufacturer.
Recently updated in its third generation, the Boxster has long been an evo favourite, winning countless group tests on the back of its supremely talented chassis and characterful flat-six engine.
However, the drive for efficiency and its constant pressure to downsize has made its mark on the Boxster with the new model now utilising an all-new flat-four turbocharged engine brought in alongside a nomenclature change to 718. Not only that, a positioning amendment now sees the previously more expensive Cayman, which shares identical powertrain specifications, drop below the entry price of the soft-top Boxster for the first time since its inception in 2005.
Both the standard and ‘S’ Boxster models receive new styling keeping the 718 in line with the current Porsche design language, meanwhile most of the interior updates seen on the 911 have also been carried across.
The conundrum is that although this new 718 Boxster is a measurably better car, the loss of the straight-six engine could well be the undoing of the Boxster’s appeal to buyers.
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Porsche 718 Boxster: in detail
- Performance and 0-62mph time > Measurable performance is improved. Power is up in all models, while torque is both up and more accessible within the rev range.
- Engine and gearbox > The source of the new 718’s most contentious change. The all-new flat four has been specifically designed for the new Boxster and it’s tin-top Cayman cousin.
- Ride and Handling > Always a strong point for the Boxster, the new 718 builds on the excellent foundations of the previous model.
- MPG and running costs > The reason for Porsche fitting the new flat-four engine; on-paper efficiency is improved, but economy in real world applications shows less progress than hoped.
- Interior and tech > In isolation, the Boxster’s interior is well constructed, ergonomically sound and refined, but is starting to feel old compared to rivals like the Audi TT and upcoming Alpine A110.
- Design > The 718’s updates are mostly confined to updated lights and re-profiled front and rear bumpers. The effect is subtle, if a little more contrived than the original 981 Boxster.
Prices, specs and rivals:
Previously the entry point of the Porsche range, the Boxster’s promotion to a place in the range above the Cayman is reflected in the higher purchase price. At just under £45,000, the Boxster's considerable rise in price is at least partly rationalised with a boost in standard equipment levels.
Basics like bi-xenon headlights and an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system are now standard fit, the latter Porsche’s ‘Communication Management System’ as seen in the 911. The seats are upholstered in part man-made leather and Alcantara although a dip into the options list will allow you to upgrade your Boxster to your hearts content.
For a £9000 premium, the Boxster S adds various performance upgrades, which we will go into more detail later, but also larger 19-inch alloy wheels in place of the standard car's 18-inch items, twin exhaust outlets and real leather seats.
Like all low level Porsches, the options list is a deep and mystical world, allowing buyers to vary the look of their Boxster to anything between the track day weapon and Miami pensioner extremes. Thankfully for those more willing to pay for performance gain rather than aesthetic overkill, Porsche also offers plenty of choices.
Notable options include the excellent PDK dual-clutch gearbox and Sport Chrono pack which has a launch control function and a useless, but pretty, stopwatch atop the dash. Adaptive dampers dubbed PASM are available, as are the eye-wateringly expensive carbon ceramic brakes (possibly a bit of overkill on a car with 295bhp).
Dynamically, few if any rivals can hold a candle to the Boxster in either basic or ‘S’ form, with the Lotus Elise Sport 220 offering a more visceral experience, but compromising everyday driveability. The Alfa Romeo 4C has the visual drama to shame both the Porsche and Lotus, but is even more difficult to live with and doesn't offer anything like the driving capability.
For buyers looking for the open-top experience without a dynamic superiority complex could look within the VW group as the Audi TTS not only undercuts the basic Boxster in price, but also offers more grunt and standard equipment. The Mercedes-AMG SLC43 is a surprise value proposition, offering more power even than the considerably more expensive Boxster S, but struggles to get close dynamically, although the AMG’s V6 engine offers more excitement.