2017 Porsche 718 Boxster First Drive Review


The Porsche Boxster has never really gotten the credit it rightfully deserves. Porsche has worked hard to shed the Boxster's unfortunate image-looked down upon by 911 owners because the engine is in the wrong (right) place, discredited by Cayman buyers as too soft, and widely regarded by others as being a ?chick? or ?hairdresser's? car (for the record, my barber loves his first-gen Boxster)-and make it respected in its own right. It made strong headway when the current-generation 981 Series launched in 2012, and with the updated 982 Series car, it's high time the newly renamed 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster gets the respect it deserves.

Ostensibly a midcycle refresh, the new Boxster's updates are so extensive that Porsche felt the Boxster deserved a new series name-982-and a new prefix, reviving the 718 moniker that graced a storied mid-engine sports car from the '50s. Although the exterior design is generally the same as before, the only carryover body panels on the new 718 Boxster are the front and rear trunklids, windshield, and soft top. Every other body panel has been subtly tweaked, from the more aggressive front end to the larger side air intakes to the visually wider rear. The inside has been touched up, too, the major changes being a Porsche 918-inspired steering wheel and an updated infotainment system.

The big changes are hinted at by the 718's new name and the larger side air intakes. Gone is the 981 Boxster's 2.7-liter, 265-hp flat-six and the Boxster S' 3.4-liter, 315-hp flat-six. In their places behind the driver sits a new range of flat-four engines, just like the original Porsche 718 race car. Each engine is turbocharged and offers a 35-horsepower gain compared to the naturally aspirated flat-sixes they replace. The 718 Boxster is powered by a 2.0-liter, turbo flat-four making 300 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque-73 lb-ft more of the good stuff than before. The 718 Boxster S is more powerful still, its 2.5-liter, turbo flat-four making 350 hp and 309 lb-ft of torque, 43 lb-ft more than before. Both engines come standard with a six-speed manual; Porsche's PDK seven-speed twin-clutch automatic is optional. With the optional Sport Chrono pack, the 718 Boxster will do 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds with the manual or 4.5 seconds with the PDK, Porsche says. The 718 Boxster S will do a 4.4-second 0-60 run with the manual and a 4.0-second time with the PDK. The last Boxster S we tested did 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds, so we wouldn't be surprised to see the 718 Boxster S crack the 4.0-second mark in our hands.

At the launch of the 718 Boxster in Portugal, I had the chance to spend a day getting acquainted with the new 982. I kicked the day off behind the wheel of a 718 Boxster S equipped with a PDK, Sport Chrono package, and a sport exhaust. Slip into the familiar Porsche cabin and twist the key on the left-hand side of the 918 steering wheel, and you're greeted by an all too familiar, low rumble of the turbocharged flat-four. The 718 Boxster S' engine is Subaru WRX STI-like at idle and low speeds-it's got a baritone where there used to be a tenor-and it's practically begging for unequal-length headers and a loud Greddy exhaust. Head out on to the road and open up the tap, though, and the Boxster's new engine sings like a Subaru only wishes it could. Some might miss the sweet sound of the flat-six, but the 718 Boxster S sounds unmistakably like a Porsche as the engine approaches its 7,500-rpm limiter.

Twist the mode switch on the steering wheel and pop the Boxster S into Sport mode, and the engine gets better still. Sport mode firms up the optional PASM suspension system, opens up the also-optional dual-mode sport exhaust, and kicks the PDK down a few gears to keep the engine in its wide 1,900-4,500-rpm powerband. Knowing full well that its sports car drivers like a little drama in their cars, Porsche made sure Sport mode also loosens up traction control restrictions a bit and opens the engine's wastegates while engine braking, setting off a hugely entertaining cackle of overrun noises out the back of the car. It's not the fastest or most efficient way to drive the new 718 Boxster S, but it's certainly the most fun. Also fun is hitting the Sport Response button, which is located in the center of the mode switch. Hitting the button on PDK- and Sport Chrono-equipped Boxsters basically shortcuts you into Sport Plus mode for 20 seconds, upping boost, firming up the engine mounts, and sharpening up throttle and transmission response. Sport Response is a gimmick, yeah, but it's a fun one-especially when used to blast past big rigs during short overtaking lanes on backcountry two-tracks.

The 718's six-speed manual, as sampled in a Boxster S, is a treat, too. The standard manual transmission offers up long yet precise shifter throws, the beefed-up clutch still offering up good feel as it engages. There's one frustrating thing about the manual transmission, though-active rev matching on downshifts. Although the Porsche lets you do your own thing when the 718 is in the Normal drive mode, active rev matching inexplicably turns on-and can't be defeated-in Sport and Sport Plus modes. I suppose there are a handful of drivers out there who may appreciate a manual transmission rev matching for them on occasion, but I've yet to meet one who wants the system working full time during aggressive driving.

Those opting for the base 718 Boxster-as Porsche says about 55 percent of Boxster buyers do-should know they don't give up much in terms of real-world performance with the 2.0-liter engine. The baby engine still offers up plenty of low-end grunt and is still happy to sing all the way to its redline, just like the 2.5-liter mill in the Boxster S. The base 718 Boxster is a damn good car, but that being said, those considering buying one should avoid driving the 718 Boxster S. You won't need the S' 50 extra horsepower and 29 lb-ft of torque, but you damn sure aren't going to want to give it up once you experience it.

No matter the engine mounted behind you, both Boxster and Boxster S retain the handling and ride characteristics we've come to know and love. The car feels light and agile with direct steering that makes the driver feel one with the car. The 718 Boxster now more than ever is a car in which the driver becomes an integral part of the driving process; the Boxster feels as if it's an extension of the driver's body, leaping where you look and rotating around your hips during cornering. The 718 Boxster is planted and confidence-inspiring; it'll only ever fight you back if you've pushed it too far.

The 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster is currently hitting dealers nationwide now, with Boxster models starting at $57,050 and the Boxster S going for $69,450. Although the new 718 Boxster will never threaten the legendary 911 on the sales front, it's now certainly a tempting alternative in its own right to Porsche's more hardcore models.

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