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2017 Porsche 718 Boxster First Drive

Lisbon, Portugal. The new 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster is a brilliant automobile, but then you expected that. Do you remember when the 550 Spyder-inspired Boxster concept was unveiled in Detroit in 1993? How about when the production 986 Boxster launched in 1996? I recall both well and I ask you because the boxer-engined roadster (hence the “Boxster” name) was more of a test of tolerance and acceptance by Porschephiles than a true product launch. 

Twenty years and three generations later, you’d swear Porsche had planned it all this way. The Boxster turned out to be hugely popular with new and returning fans of the brand. A handful of limited-run, special editions such as the Spyder quickly became coveted cars for collectors and enthusiasts alike. The new, 4th-generation 982 Boxster comes to us with important changes that align the car with the demands and expectations of the buyer and environmental regulations. 

Porsche began the risky job of replacing larger engines with smaller, more efficient units in the last year or two, and although some lament the passing of the V8 and the normally aspirated flat-6, there was no doubt that Porsche was going to do right by its fanbase. This time around, it was the Boxster’s turn, and with the new powertrains comes a new name. 

All Porsche sports cars (not to be confused with utility vehicles) have historically carried a numerical designation ― that is, until the Boxster and Cayman were released. In order to mark the arrival of the new generation and its all-new, boosted 4-cylinder engines, Porsche dusted off the legendary “718” name from its racing history books and rightfully slapped it onto the current cars.  

Let’s get right down to the thick of what is truly important to note about the 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster. As previously mentioned, the flat-6 engines are now but a memory, replaced by two horizontally opposed 4-cylinder mills displacing 2.0L in the base car and 2.5L in the S version. 

Boost is always good
I’ve driven many Boxsters over the years, and I’ve come to expect a certain melody when I turn and hold the key to the “On” position, on the left side of the steering wheel. With the new model, as the engine turned over, something was already off. By the time I slotted the shifter into 1st gear, my bearings no longer meant anything. The 718 sounds so very different, but moments in, especially with the optional Sport Exhaust, I quickly adjusted to the new reality. 

And it was very easy to do so. I first went out in a manual 718 Boxster and loved the engine’s responsiveness and eagerness to rev. There is no lag, and the car feels really fast. As the 2.0L reaches 1,950 rpm, all of its 280 lb-ft of torque are moving (a 35% improvement over the outgoing 2.7L H6’s 213 lb-ft). So much quicker is the new 300-horsepower 718 Boxster that I thought I was driving an S model until I took some pictures and noticed that the “S” badge was missing. 

In fact, I think I preferred the 2.0L to the 2.5L. I found it more flexible and easier to get everything it has to offer out of it, despite the bigger engine featuring variable turbine technology. Certainly, the 2.5L’s 350 horsepower and 310 torques (from 1,900-4,500 pm) enable a PDK and Sport Chrono package-equipped 718 Boxster S to nail 100 km/h in only 4.2 seconds, or just a tenth of a second slower than a 911 Carrera S with PDK. The S is faster but not in a significant way that makes the base 718 Boxster seem like the lesser choice. 

Said PDK is the best of its kind, hands down. No other dual-clutch transmission reacts as instantaneously this side of the $200,000 price mark. Be it in automatic or manual mode, the PDK will either do exactly what it needs to do or obey your every command. There is no shame in opting for this $3,660 option. The 6-speed manual transmission is still on offer and remains as mechanical as ever ― I could feel the shift forks and syncros selecting my gear of choice as I moved the shifter. 

The driving experience in the 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster is marked by a few key components. The Sport Exhaust is a must-have as it gives the elegantly muscular roadster an unexpected dose of attitude. When off, the engine is quiet enough, but when turned on, it burbles and backfires at will. At certain engine speeds, it practically drones; in a tunnel or a narrow Portuguese village street, it wakes up the dead at wide-open throttle. 

The Sport Chrono package component brings the 718 Boxster where it deserves to be. Not only does it provide four driving modes (Normal, SPORT, SPORT PLUS, and Individual), but when matched to the PDK it unleashes launch control. Sport Response is the final element of the package. Pressing the button at the centre of the mode switch primes the turbocharger for maximum, instantaneous throttle response ― something like a push-to-pass button ― for roughly 20 seconds. 

A triumphant driver
A Porsche will always be impressively well behaved in any and all driving situations. The new 718 Boxster’s chassis tuning has been completely revised for improved cornering. Steering is lifted from the 911 Turbo and now 10% more direct. Combine the previous with wider rear wheels and tires along with available PASM sport chassis that drops the ride height by 20mm, and you get superb control, loads of grip, and massive grins. 

Turn-in is sharp but not abrupt. The 718 Boxster stays naturally and comfortably flat through bends ― it’s difficult to properly explain. There’s suppleness built in with agility and comfort. The user-friendliness of the new model is at an all-time high: The car pulls massive lateral Gs without making the occupants pay. It may be the most relaxed, hardcore-handling car I’ve ever driven. 

Standard brakes have grown to better manage the extra power. The base version inherits the 981 S’ kit, while the S is blessed with the 911’s hardware. All in all, the 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster S with PDK and Sport Chrono is 16 seconds quicker around the Nurburgring than the old car with a time of 7:42 minutes for a complete lap.

Subtle and effective changes
From a short distance, it can be difficult to point out the physical differences between the old Boxster and the new 718 Boxster. Edges are sharper and character lines are bolder for a more mature look. The revised front fascia with new intakes and available LED with 4-point daytime running lights makes for a more upscale and sportier appearance.

By far my favourite aspect is the new accent strip between the taillights. The integrated “PORSCHE” badge is boss and makes the car look wider and squatter. While the previous Boxster appeared more feminine, the 982 generation’s got a little machismo going for it. 

The cabin’s most important improvement is the new PCM communication management system that includes Apple Carplay. The remainder is typical Porsche with amazing seats and the ideal driving position for both track use and long-distance cruising. 

The number 718
To most buyers, the “718” moniker will mean little. In fact, I suspect that, like the Miata/MX-5, few will refer to their car as the 718 ― it’ll always be a Boxster. At $63,900, the base price has risen over the old car, but not in a dramatic way. The S commands $78,000 for more power and more mechanical goodies. These prices are for the 6-speed manual gearbox, which still represents about 30% of all sales (and I hope it remains that way). 

The BMW Z4, Audi TT, and Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class are all worthy direct competitors. For the purest sport driving experience, the top-line version of these cars is required to match the base Boxster, so there is little pricing advantage. The Boxster is tough to match, harder to beat. 

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