A tale of two turbochargers: The Porsche 718 Boxster

Gone is the mighty flat-six naturally aspirated engine in Porsche's midengine roadster. Folks shelling out for the renamed 718 Boxster get their choice of two turbochargers.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
7 min read

I've always been a fan of the Boxster. Porsche's midengine roadster has excellent handling and that naturally aspirated flat-six wail was one of the best exhaust notes out there.

But alas, the turbocharged flat four-cylinder engine is here. Deal with it.

Porsche recently flew me to Portugal to get the dealing started, and the deck of cards included driving joy tempered by a bit of visual disappointment.

First of all, don't blame Porsche for this new engine. With increased fuel economy and emission standards, most car companies are turning to turbocharging to downsize engines while maintaining the performance their customers demand. If I were a betting woman, I'd buy a naturally aspirated Boxster right now and watch the price go up in a few years as folks start to yearn for the good ol' days.

The absolutely lovely Porsche 718 Boxster (pictures)

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What of that turbocharger?

Simply put, the turbocharger in the Boxster S is better. The base model Boxster gets an inferior wastegate turbocharger cursed by turbo lag. For example, when my drive partner needed to shuffle around a slower-moving car, flooring the accelerator produced nothing in second gear for a quick moment while the turbocharger spooled up.

However, the Boxster S takes its turbocharger from the 911 Turbo, which uses Variable Turbine Geometry (VTG) as well as a wastegate. VTG preconditions the turbo to eliminate lag. Simply add lead to your right foot and the Boxster S responds. Low rpms, high rpms...the Boxster S just wants to get to the high revs as quickly as possible.

And that famous flat-six wail? Well, it's been choked a bit with the new turbocharged flat-four. In the low end, it sounds downright -- dare I say it -- Subaru-ish. The naturally aspirated flat-six gave the driver both an aural and physical sensation that worked together to build excitement as he or she worked through the gears. With two cylinders missing, part of that aural experience is absent as well. It still screams, but it's no longer the "Psycho" shower scene scream of yore.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

The good news is that, turbo or not, the new Boxster -- now dubbed the 718 in a nod to the original four cylinder 718 Spyder that sped its way to the podium in many a race in the late 1950s -- is still a joy to toss around the twisties.

The midengine placement gives it a perfect 50-50 weight distribution. In comparison, the rear-engine 911 can get a little squirrelly. Of course, it is possible to hang the tail of the 718 out as well, but by and large it's much more composed than its big brother. Porsche's torque vectoring system kicks in during hard cornering, applying a smidge of brake to the inside wheel. It helps scoot you around a corner, making you a better driver than you probably deserve to be.

However, it's not linear. I could feel when this brake-based torque vectoring stepped in to help. On our road trip through the Portuguese countryside, it sometimes felt like an intrusion. Sure, it helped, but at that particular moment, I wasn't asking for it.

But of course, the good folks at Porsche realize that sometimes a little help or even no help at all is required. The Porsche Stability Management system (PSM) gets a new mode in the 2017 718 Boxster: PSM Sport. Call it a half-nanny if you will, PSM Sport gets you closer to a pure driving experience. Of course, true hoonigans can still turn the darn thing all the way off.

The challenges

After a few hours carving corners through vineyards and receiving cheers from village school kids, we arrived at an airstrip. Any day you get to drive a Porsche on an airstrip is a good day. We had a few tasks ahead of us, most notably a slalom and a drive-like-hell-full-speed-for-two-kilometers-and-try-not-to-kill-yourself challenge.

2017 Porsche Boxster 718

The slalom showed off the improvements made to the chassis. With stiffer sway bars underneath giving the 718 more lateral rigidity than before, the little roadster easily seesawed through the cones in second gear. Little steering input was required here as the 718 gets the same power steering system as in the 911, resulting in steering that Porsche claims is 10 percent more direct than the outgoing model. Small movements were all that was needed.

The most exhilarating task was the two-kilometer speed run. I brought the Boxster S to the starting line, switched that baby into Sport Plus, exhaled and went for it. The manual shifter is in a perfect location for quick gear changes; from wheel to shifter quickly. Second gear. Completely floored, eyes focused ahead with quick glances at the tachometer until third gear. I got a quick look at the quarter-mile marker, but I couldn't bring myself to glance down at my speed. Fourth gear now, foot still nailed to the floor, still accelerating, wondering vaguely in the back of my head how much pressure the turbo is putting out. Fifth gear and I could see the braking cones coming up, but the 718 still had more in her. Sixth gear and the ride in the stiffer Sport Plus setting started to get a little dicey, but at that point I was at the braking zone, the four-piston calipers squeezing the 330mm rear/299mm front brakes to quickly scrub my 150 mph down to a more manageable 70 mph.

A run with the car in Sport helped eliminate some of the harshness at the higher speeds, and while I never saw more than 150 mph, a colleague of mine got to 153 mph in the manual with the Porsche Stability Management system turned all the way off. Porsche claims the top speed of the 718 Boxster is 171 mph, while the Boxster S will top out at 177 mph.

Gains all around

The 2017 718 Boxster can be had in base or S models. The base gets a 2.0-liter engine developing 300 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Step up to the S model to get a larger 2.5-liter engine making 350 horses and 310 pound-feet of torque. Those are some impressive gains over the outgoing model. Both the base and the S gain 35 horses, while the torque in the base increases by 73 pound-feet and the S gets an increase of 44.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but a seven-speed PDK can be had for $3,200. Sure, it shifts lightning fast and will turn in a better 0-to-60 time, but this is a roadster! The 718 is Porsche's little fun-mobile, and nothing beats rowing your own through the twisties.

Unfortunately, the manual transmission comes with rev-matching downshifts that can't be turned off unless you're in normal mode. It's a shame really, as the pedals are set up quite nicely for heel-toe shifting, even for my dainty lady feet.

But, if the PDK is your bag, you will get a little extra something if you shell out $1,920 for the Sport Chrono package: a Mario Kart power up. OK, Porsche calls it the Sport Response Button, but essentially it's a 20-second power-up button. The engine and transmission become incredibly responsive and the turbo spools up even quicker. Just try to keep from thumbing that button when a muscle car rolls up on you.

Almost all new

Visually the only carryovers onto the new 718 are the trunk, windshield and convertible top. All other sheet metal gets a tweak in one way or another. The front fascia is complemented by larger front air intakes, optional LED headlights and some pretty nifty daytime running lights, which give the 718 a unique look on the road.

2017 Porsche Boxster 718

The side also boasts larger air intakes and a new door design, but it's really the rear where the biggest change is seen. Gone is the spoiler that integrated into the taillights. Instead, the brake lights stand on their own, the spoiler running between them. Beneath the spoiler is a black stripe with the Porsche logo in 3D. It's a neat look, but I loved the previous rear fascia design and am sad to see it go.

Porsche's Communication Management system continues to improve. The 7-inch touchscreen could be quicker, but it includes Apple CarPlay, and the navigation system incorporates Google Earth mapping. There's even an app showing journey statistics, car and servicing status, and both geo and speed fencing. All the better to keep Darling Daughter and Precious Son out of your roadster.

The Boxster used to be the gateway Porsche, offering relatively cheap thrills with a Porsche pedigree. Not so anymore. The base 718 starts at $56,000, while the S model starts at $68,400. Add to that upgrades like ceramic composite brakes for $7,400, a Burmester sound system for $4,690, or the $1,810 interior carbon-fiber package and it's highly doubtful you'll be paying anywhere close to the starting price.

One thing is for sure: when I win the lottery I'm going straight to the Porsche dealership and plunking down the cash for a 718 Boxster S. And yes, I'll take all the upgrades, please.

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