The Boxster, or more accurately the 718 Boxster as it has now come to be known, is a very important car for Porsche. In fact, much of how the sports car market is today can be traced to some effect this car exerted.
When the first generation car debuted in the late 1990s, there was literally nothing else on the market that offered its combination of open-top thrills, poise, and yes, performance, for that price. Both the Mercedes-Benz SLK and BMW Z3 did have some share of the market, but to this day (in SLC and Z4 guise) cannot really claim to be the better sports car.
At a rough time for the company, the Boxster was the catalyst that set the stage Zuffenhausen’s big comeback. Three generations in and having undergone a naming tweak, Porsche has been diligently refining the formula it had so fortuitously discovered, but also being a little wary of overshadowing its true flagship, the 911.
With a mid-engine layout that provides inherent handling balance, strong engines, great build quality and interior, and a more accessible price point, it’s no wonder it’s a popular model. But it has had to ditch some of its most admired attributes as the times roll on, and in the name of stricter emissions and efficiency legislation, most are uniform across the Porsche stable of vehicles: hydraulic power steering for an electromechanical, the arrival of smaller engines, turbocharging, and a deletion of two cylinders.
Porsche says that that last omission informed the new name of the car, as the brand’s early motorsport success was built on flat-four powered racers such as the RSK Spyder.
In spite of all this, the Boxster remains one of the best ‘real’ sports cars on the market. Or has too much been lost? After all, rivals such as the V6-powered Jaguar F-Type is nearly as sharp to drive, but arguably has greater wow-factor.
“With each subsequent model, Porsche has infused more masculinity, elegance and pleasing proportion into the Boxster. The 718 is low, wide, mean and quite beautiful, even with the roof up.” - CarsGuide
At a glance, distinguishing the changes between the 3rd-generation Boxster and this newer (facelifted) 718 version is quite an exercise. But once noticed, the changes, subtle though they are, accumulate to a substantial amount.
It shares essentially the same body shell, and in terms of sheer dimensions they are indistinguishable. This isn’t necessarily a knock against it, as many praised the 981 series Boxster’s look as being more grown up, even markedly more masculine, than the one it replaced.
While it might be visually similar, Porsche says that the 718 only carries forward the bonnet, windscreen, and bootlid from out previous model, leaving a huge majority of the aluminium and steel body to be hewn from a new mould.
Perhaps the easiest way to spot a 718 by looking for the new headlights with its four-point daytime running light elements. At the rear, the tail lamps are share a similar illuminator pattern LEDs and gain an optical effect to make them look three dimensional.
Engine and Drivetrain
“In an effort to retain as much of the responsive, free-revving character of the old six-cylinder engines Porsche has incorporated a handful of clever technologies into the new range of four-cylinder units.” - EVO
As has always been the case, the 718 Boxster comes in standard guise or a more powerful S. All engines are turbocharged flat-four units with the former displacing 2.0-litres while the other 2.5-litres.
The smaller 2.0-litre flat-four, with aid of its turbocharger, does still produce a generous amount of shove at 220kW. Torque, though, is greatly improved to 380Nm. The 2.5-litre unit, predictably, goes further still, generating 257kW and 420Nm - enough to propel it to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds (or 4.7 second on the non-S 718 Boxster).
Unlike the previous car’s naturally aspirated flat-six, the turbocharged four-cylinders here don’t have the same zing or aural character Boxsters were known to deliver, but the upshot is that extracting performance from them feel almost effortless. As such, whether paired with a 6-speed manual or 7-speed PDK dual-clutch, speed can be summoned in-gear without much thought.
“Inside, it’s more of a facelift than a complete engineering overhaul, but the changes are positive. The infotainment screen is now flush-fitting, faster-reacting and more sensitive to inputs,” - Top Gear
Being a fast open top roadster, the previous Boxster was never really lacking in thrills when the right road found. But once the going got a more mundane, the interior didn’t do much to maintain that same sense of occasion.
Porsche fixed this, for the most part, in the third-generation 981 in 2012, and it upped its game yet again for the 718. The cabin is not what you’d call dramatic, but expecting such things from a Porsche is folly.
Instead, owners are treated to an austere interior dressed in fine materials that’s built with the same rock-like quality that sister company Audi is known for boasting about, with a logical and modern layout that doesn’t make occupants feel cramped but does enough that the driver feels nice and cocooned during a spirited drive.
Obviously, there’s no rear seats as this is a strict two-seater. But even as far these go, clever packaging means there’s still space for a usable boot at the front and rear of the car. And when the soft top is engaged, only 9 seconds are needed for it to retract or deploy.
Behind The Wheel
“What's most noticeable in both daily driving and spirited runs is all that new torque.” - Road & Track
Held up as one of (if not the) class leader in handling for a mid-engine roadster, the 718 Boxster does come with fewer advantages than its predecessor(s) had in its arsenal. For one, that sonorous flat-six yowl is gone, and yes it’s lamentable as the tweaked exhaust noise isn’t really a good enough substitute.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, many agree that the electro-mechanical rack doesn’t have the same steering feel than the older hydraulic system. It’s still direct and, once you’re used to it, is capable of placing the car within centimetres of where you need it to be on the road. However, when compared back to back, the level of connection from road surface to driver’s finger tips is sorely missed.
Other than those fairly minor points, there’s no denying just how all-encompassing the 718 Boxster’s dynamics are. Grip is bountiful and it still handles as beautifully as you’d expect it to, as many would also attest to. Point-to-point, it remains one of the most rewarding new car drives at any price.
Paired with the new turbocharged engines, the car now has much more urge in the lower to mid RPM band, delivering power and torque that the older models required more effort to grab at the upper reaches.
In spite the car’s sporty nature, it’s actually quite a comfortable cruiser when it wants to be, even on the larger 19-inch or optional 20-inch alloys. The spring and dampers are expertly calibrated here, and with a flick of the adaptive suspension settings, can transform the car to behave in whichever way you’d like.
Safety and Technology
“Apple CarPlay was the highlight of the new infotainment system, allowing easy and simple connectivity that uses all the best features of your iPhone displayed through the car.” - CarAdvice
Porsche supplies a good amount of safety kit for their baby open-top. Occupants are protected by dual front, head, and side air bags. High strength steel is used as a protection element to create crucial survival space should a rollover occur. In addition, there’s park assist, tyre pressure monitoring, cruise control, and automatic headlights.
Inside, infotainment is provided courtesy of Porsche’s updated PCM system that now includes Apple CarPlay support and is controlled via a large central high-resolution touchscreen while audio is piped through a 6-speaker array or an optional 10-speaker BOSE setup. More demanding audiophiles can opt for a 12-speaker system from Burmester.
Evolution requires compromise, and while not all of Porsche’s decisions going into the 718 Boxster are met with unanimous praise, the core concept of a high-end compact high-performance roadster is still very much intact.
Even if you disagree with the turbocharging, downsizing, and fewer cylinders, the overall effect of this iteration’s have been for the better. Thus, owners, or just folk lucky enough to drive one, however cynical, cannot deny that it’s ultimately a better car because of these changes.
It’s still the benchmark, and there’s arguably no more desirable badge in this space than Porsche. Having said that, rivals like the Jaguar F-Type and Alfa Romeo 4C are hot on its heels, offering a more old school approach to the equation the original Boxster started two decades ago.
EVO - 4.5/5 - “Faster than ever and still brilliant to drive, but the new turbo engine lacks character.”
Road & Track - Few cars have been so purposefully designed to produce such moments as the Porsche Boxster. A mid-engine convertible barely sized for two, built for pleasure and escape.
Top Gear - 8/10 - “ Out goes the tuneful harmony that’s been a Boxster trademark for the past two decades, in comes something more normally associated with Subaru Impreza Turbos. Bold progress indeed, Porsche.”
CarsGuide - 7/10 - “On paper, the 718 Boxster S is a better car. The on-road reality says that's highly debatable. One thing is certain: the 3.4-litre atmo six is sorely missed.”
Pistonheads - “…for buyers wanting to use their car in all scenarios including commuting, motorway slogs, B-road blasts and track days, they will find a lot more to like about this four-cylinder 'base' Boxster than they may have initially thought.”
CarAdvice - 8.5/10 - “…it’s hard to fault the new Boxster as a package. It looks good, it drives extremely well both around suburbia and windy roads. In all reality, it’s faster, better equipped and more balanced. It does everything the old car did, but better, except that it just doesn’t sound as good.”