Chopping a third of the cylinders off the Porsche Boxster’s flat-six engine — even if its replacement is a supremely well-engineered, brand new flat-four — is a pretty big deal. This is a 20-year-old car from a company whose bread and butter has been the flat-six for over 50 years, its iterations spread out liberally across rear-engine 911’s and mid-engine Caymans and Boxsters.
But times are changing. Porsche needs to make sacrifices on the Altar of Efficiency, and swapping out engines across a relatively small global lineup of cars can generate huge fleet-wide MPG improvements. Would Porsche do this if they weren’t under pressure? Probably not. Are Porsche enthusiasts happy about it? Not really. Will they get over it? Probably, once they’ve had time to digest the changes and once they actually drive the thing, which I did in and around Lisbon, Portugal, in both the Boxster and Boxster S trims.
The cars, now renamed the 718 Boxster in deference to the four-cylinder racer from the ’50s and ’60s, are fast, tight and smart, thanks to a host of improvements that both compensate for the smaller engine and significantly raise the car’s game overall. There’s more power and speed than the previous Boxster; innovative engine tricks ensure that turbo-boosted power is there precisely when you need it. The engine changes communicate most obviously in the exhaust note: it just doesn’t sound like a six. It sounds great, mind you — just not like a six. It’s fierce and growly, but not quite as low and rumbly.
Ultimately, that’s okay. Really. Again, times are changing. Acoustics, while thrilling and representing one of the key visceral emotional connections to a machine, are destined to be modernity’s great sacrificial lamb. Whisper-quiet electric propulsion is gaining traction in the performance sector thanks to the pavement-shredding Tesla Model S P90D, hybrid hypercars from Ferrari, McLaren — and, yes, Porsche, along with the surprisingly enjoyable Formula E racing series. The 718 Boxster is certainly no EV, but it’s not going to shatter any windows, either. What it will shatter is expectations.
This is the first Porsche with a flat-four engine since the little 912 left the scene 40 years ago — and it cranks out 300 horsepower in two-liter form and 350 in the 2.5-liter Boxster S. That’s a 35 percent bump for both models, yet they’re both also 14 percent more fuel efficient. Perhaps more significantly, though, the torque delivery for both cars is through the roof: 74 lb-ft more (to 280) in the Boxster, 43 lb-ft (to 309) in the S, with all of it delivered across much wider torque bands. The results are 0-60 times roughly a half-second faster for each car — 4.5 and 4 seconds, respectively. Still, driving around the sun-baked coastline of western Portugal, top down, enjoying the region’s legendary beaches and wild wave action, all I could feel was a bit of disappointment. Not in the car, but in the fact that it seems to have to apologize so profusely for itself.
2017 Porsche 718 Boxster
Engine: turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-four; turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Horsepower: 300; 350
Torque: 280 lb-ft; 309 lb-ft
0-60: 3.9-4.8 seconds
Top Speed: 171-177 mph
Drive System: Rear-wheel-drive
MPG: 22-24/31-35, city/highway
MSRP: Boxster, $57,050; Boxster S, $69,450
The genius of this new 718 Boxster lies overwhelmingly in the engines. Both rev up to 7,500 rpm, and benefit from their low center of gravity and compact size, but the turbochargers hold the keys to the kingdom. The 2.0-liter engine’s turbo is designed to feed more air into the cylinders, while the 2.5-liter deploys tunable turbo blades that allow the engine to precisely adjust the airstream based on the engine’s needs. This generates improved response and torque at lower revs and maximum horsepower at higher rpm’s. The turbo also now manages to stay spooled up even when you back off the gas momentarily, further guaranteeing throttle response will be immediate from the second you tip in via the pedal.
Those systems can be fine-tuned, in terms of responsiveness and degree, by selecting Normal, Sport or Sport Plus modes (if you’ve purchased the Sport Chrono Package), but the core responsiveness exists regardless. You can also choose between a conventional manual transmission and the dual-clutch PDK, each of which generates its own thrills. (Many drivers have a soft spot for the dynamics of a true manual, but you just can’t beat the millisecond response of the PDK. So what’s your pleasure?)
The 718 Boxster is certainly no EV, but it’s not going to shatter any windows, either. What it will shatter is expectations.
There are dozens of other upgrades in the new 718. The optional Sport Response button for the PDK transmissions instantly configures the transmission and turbocharger to provide maximum acceleration in 20-second bursts. The frame is more rigid, and the brakes and suspension improved. Bi-Xenon headlights and Park Assist front and rear, with a backup camera, are standard, as is the new touchscreen Porsche Communication Management system (for audio, etc.). Design enhancements include a more aggressive and wider stance, larger air intakes behind the seats, new 19- and 20-inch wheel options and a new rear fascia that’s more prominent and modern.
It’s hard to argue with the net performance all around. There was never a moment in Lisbon when I felt the car was anything less than ready for the next turn. It goes quick, dancing through the curves nice and flat, with no whiff of lag or hesitation. So do the new four-cylinder Boxsters get a pass? When you consider that Porsche took first and second place in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans with the 919 Hybrid LMP1, which uses a 2.0-liter flat-four, and when you look at this car fully objectively — hell yes it gets a pass.