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In defense of the turbocharged Porsche Boxster

Driven alongside its more powerful siblings, the base Boxster is hardly a bore.

2021 Porsche 718 Boxster T

In the late 1990s, the Boxster saved Porsche. It kickstarted new interest in the German sports car maker and helped set the company on a successful course. The original Boxster was simple and fun, with just enough power and a pretty reasonable price tag. Twenty-five years later, the base Boxster still slaps.

Porsche gets a lot of undeserved guff for putting a turbocharged flat-four engine in the Boxster, a change that came as part of the car's 2016 overhaul, along with the addition of 718 to its name. "It needs a flat-six!" and "This thing sounds like crap!" are common complaints among purists. But write the turbo-four Boxster off completely, and you'll miss out on so much joy.

Cloth seats, manual transmission. Perfect.


That's especially true with the Boxster T that joined the lineup in 2020. The T essentially pairs the Boxster's base engine with performance goodies found on more expensive models. You get an adaptive sport suspension, limited-slip differential and 20-inch wheels with sticky summer tires. Combine that with a punchy turbo engine and a six-speed manual transmission, and the T is a whale of a time.

Porsche recently invited me to the Santa Monica Mountains to sample a number of its Boxster models, including the hot GTS 4.0, hotter 718 Spyder and, yes, the humble T. The six-cylinder models are spectacular; there's no arguing that point. But what surprised me was how good the Boxster T was in comparison. Driven after the GTS and Spyder, the T in no way felt like a consolation prize.

Higher-performance versions of any car are only as good as the entry-level models on which they're based. That means every Boxster has an all-star core, with a perfect mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. Excellent balance and composure, quick steering, playful reflexes -- these are traits you'll find in every single Boxster model. The major differences across the line really come down to powertrain tuning, though I'll reserve a bold-type asterisk for the range-topping 718 Spyder, which has a front axle derived from the 991.2-generation Porsche 911 GT3.


So what's the beef with the Boxster's base engine? Certainly not the specs. The 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-4 produces 300 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, which is more than enough for a 3,058-pound roadster. The issue, it seems, is the use of forced induction versus a naturally aspirated setup. The latter offers a sort of predictable, linear power delivery that works really well in a sports car. You can keep these engines endlessly humming at high revs while you connect the dots between S-curves.

But what's so bad about a turbo? Porsche's used turbocharged flat-six engines in its 911 range for years now, and every time I drive one, it's a goddamn delight. In the Boxster, those same dynamics shine through: tons of low-end grunt with high-rpm horsepower if you feel like revving to redline. The 2.0-liter engine doesn't have weird power peaks and valleys, and it never runs out of steam.

I will concede to the argument that a free-breathing flat-six engine sounds a lot nicer than a boosted flat-four. But the comparisons to the 718 Boxster and Cayman sounding like a Subaru are inflammatory at best. The Boxster T comes standard with a sport exhaust that pops and burbles and crackles on overrun, and I like being able to hear the faint whistle of the turbocharger as it spools. The sound isn't bad, you guys. It's just different. And good.

They're all good cars.


Something else to consider: The Boxster is one of the cheapest ways to park a new Porsche sports car in your driveway. It starts at $63,950 including destination, and the T comes in at $73,050. The Boxster GTS 4.0? It's $17,800 more expensive, and that's before you throw in any options. That car is awesome, but for my money, so is the Boxster T.

A friend of mine says he subscribes to the belief that the best Porsche 911 is the one you can afford. And he's right: From base Carrera to Turbo S, there isn't a dud in the group. But the same is 100% true for Porsche's other models, 718 included. Get over the sound and drive one. There's no reason to complain about the base Boxster.