It’s generation 3.5 of the entry level Porsche
Day one: The Boxster arrives early. If you weren’t paying attention, you’d think it was the old model. In fact, every panel except the bonnet, bootlid and windscreen frame is new. But carefully styled to look very similar to what was there before. The bumph says that the changes over the old car include ‘independently styled wheel arches’. I suspect this loses something in translation. The biggest change is underneath where the old flat six has been removed and a new four cylinder, turbocharged engine installed. On start up it sounds a little bit Beetly, but without the ring-a-ding rattle that makes old VWs so wretched. Put some revs on it and it gets very fruity and a little farty, much like an old Impreza. It’s no smoothly whirring flat six, but it’s not an unpleasant sound. This car has the sports exhaust which probably helps with first impressions. Engine aside, it’s business as usual. The ride seems good, the manual gearshift is exceedingly nice, the steering has that usual Porsche sense of weight and a lack of slack in the system. Inside, there’s also the usual Porsche spec and layout madness such as the seats, which have electric backrest adjustment but manual everything else, the clocks, of which there are four, and the little slot behind the gearlever which is too small to be of any use whatsoever. If you want to stash your phone, you have to put it in the doorbin. Unless you don’t want to forget your phone and accidentally leave it in the car every sodding time you get out, in which case keep it in your pocket.
Day two: A day of driving round London. In such circumstances you’d expect to be longing for the double clutch PDK ‘box to do all the left leg work but the gearchange in this car is so light and yet precise it’s a joy to use, even in cacky traffic. Likewise, you’d expect to be cursing the firm suspension of a sports car on the capital’s terrible road surfaces but the 718ster’s ride is so decent that it’s simply not a problem. In fact, there are plenty of saloons that cover bumps with less brilliance which is as much a damning indictment on them as it is a testament to the skills of Porsche’s chassis tuners. Overall then, a very good town car. After a trip to the supermarket I’d even call it practical since at the back there’s a reasonable boot and at the nose there’s what Americans call a ‘frunk’. Or, if you’re in the UK, a froot. After two days with this car I’d dearly like to tell you what it’s like with the roof down but it’s been pissing it down almost constantly. If you’re wondering why the weather is crap at the moment, it’s because I stupidly booked in a convertible test car. Sorry.
Day three: People keep admiring the Boxstevenoneeight. And rightly so. This press demonstrator is an especially sheeny silver and from most angles it looks excellent. Only the back end doesn’t quite work, what with its nasty black bit below the spoiler and its strange, clear-effect lights, both of which look cheap and after market. The badge on the back of this car simply says ‘718’. This turns out to be an option. As standard, the badging would read ‘718 Boxster S’ which would make the back end look messier. Amazingly, Porsche has missed a chance to charge more for less with this one because the minimalist badge might be an option but it’s not one you have to pay for. Unlike the startling ‘Bordeaux Red’ interior which is an extra £1680 and best avoided unless your fantasy is to become trapped in a massive jar of strawberry jam.
Day four: The weather is dry enough to put the roof down. It’s time to take the Porsche for a proper drive in the countryside. And what a generally delightful experience this turns out to be because this car really does have a tremendous chassis. Naturally, there’s lashings of grip and you’d struggle to find much in the way of under or oversteer unless you’re a total nob but you can sling it into bends and feels it moving about in a perfectly balanced way before firing you out the other side. It helps that the ride is superb, and doesn’t get much worse when you put the dampers in sport mode. Always a sign that the engineering department outranks the marketing people and their typical desire to make things ‘feel sporty’ for the benefit of morons. Then there’s the steering which is electrically assisted and doesn’t allow the wheel to fidget in your palms like Porsches of old but does its best in the waxing and waning of its weight to give some idea of what’s happening down below. The gearchange remains excellent. Also, if you put it into sport mode with the little dial on the steering wheel, it does that auto rev-matching thing on downshifts. It feels a bit like cheating, although it’s depressing to note that the computer is bloody good at faux heel and toeing. This is a fun car to drive with a purposeful sense of urgency. The chassis is great, the gearbox is great, the brakes are great. And that just leaves the engine. Which is not completely great. Being turbocharged, it’s passes a teeny moment of lag very low down and then just grunts away in a torquey manner that was missing from the old model. This makes it feel quite fast because it simply picks up and then keeps pulling. It also masks the usual madly long gearing that Porsche fits to these cars, as if the company is amused at the idea that you could lose your licence in third. At any speed in any gear, you step on it and it goes. It’s a gutsy motor. There are, as I see it, just two problems. Firstly, when you really rev it the Scooby throb becomes a drone. And secondly, it’s just a bit too even. In the old, normally aspirated car, you revved it to release the good stuff, to get it on cam, to really let it rip. With the new car, it’s pulling from low down and there is no burst of power further up the range. Although the new engine is more flexible and more useable, it’s also less interesting just because its delivery is so one-note. Since I’m on a downer about the engine, you should also know that the computer reckoned some motorway, some A- and B-road ragging and then some town work gave an average of 30mpg which is what I got in similar circumstances from the old six cylinder car.
Day five: It’s a nice evening. I’ve got to go across North London for some podcasting. I take a cab. There are two reasons for this. One, I want to have a boozy drink. And two, because I’m not sure want to pass through some of the grittier parts of the city with the roof down. It’s the fear of being gobbed on. And the fear of this car’s new, larger, more smoothly integrated touch screen readout which allows people to clearly see that I’m listening to the best of Girls Aloud. And also a fear of recreating the scene a mate of mine once saw in which a cyclist pulled alongside a bloke in a top-down Boxster, leaned down into the cabin and shouted, ‘GIRL’S PORSCHE’.
Goodbye: The 7Box18ster is going away. In every technical sense, apart from the measurement for useful dashboard cubby holes, it’s really quite brilliant. The chassis, the brakes, the weight of the controls, they all feel as if they were set-up by people who really care about driving. It’s only the engine that doesn’t quite hit the spot. It’s technically very good but when you get to know its character, it’s also a bit one-dimensional. I wonder how many Boxster owners will really care about this. Most are just thrilled that they’ve finally got the Porsche they’ve always dreamt of and the convertible they always wanted. They like that it feels sporty and that it looks cool and they’ll rarely use it for anything more than trundling around town. In which case, the new engine makes perfect sense. And all the incredible ability of the rest of the car feels like a bit of a waste.
The car talked about here is a Porsche 718 Boxster S. It has a 2.5-litre turbocharged flat four engine making 345bhp. Porsche says it can go from 0-62 in 4.6 seconds and on to 177mph. Without options it costs £50,695.