The Boxster S might not have the sound and the fury of Porsche's 4.0-liter 718 models, but it still makes a compelling case for itself.
Porsche's 4.0-liter 718 models have been stealing all the headlines lately, but there's still a lot to love about the rest of the Boxster and Cayman range. Take this 718 Boxster S, for example: It puts up impressive numbers, with 350 horsepower and a 0-to-60-mph time of 4 seconds. But these specs don't tell the whole story. Put the top down and hit your favorite canyon road, and the inherent brilliance of the 718 comes alive.
The 718's greatness can be described in one word: balance. It's really hard to argue against a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive chassis, especially one fine-tuned by a company that makes some of the world's best sports cars. The Boxster exhibits incredible composure while cornering, complemented by steering that's quick to react and talkative in all the right ways.
In addition to the aforementioned 350 hp, the Boxster's 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-four produces 309 pound-feet of torque in S guise, and it comes on strong from just 1,900 rpm. I know the turbo-four engine is still a major point of contention among Porsche enthusiasts, and look, I get it. Even with the sport exhaust activated, the 2.5-liter sounds rough. But I don't find it so offensive that it ruins the whole experience. It's not bad. It's just... not great.
But that turbo engine definitely has its benefits. Dig into the throttle while coming out of a turn, and the low-end torque gets right to business, letting the 718's rear end rotate. Meaty 265/35-series Pirelli P-Zero rear tires do a great job of mitigating oversteer here, but I'd be curious to see how Porsche's PTV Plus torque-vectoring tech would improve cornering speeds, with its ability to shuffle power between the rear wheels on the fly. Alas, my test car, in a color called guards red, is woefully bereft of this $1,320 option.
What this car does have, however, is the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) Sport setup, which lowers the ride height by 20mm and adds adjustable dampers at all four corners. The difference while cornering is hard to feel; I often forget if I've actually put the Boxster in its sport suspension mode or not. But in a way, that's kind of a backhanded compliment to how well the chassis is set up right out of the box. Maybe consider leaving this $2,080 option on the table? Or just go for the $1,790 standard PASM setup, which lowers the Boxster by 10mm and still gives you that mode adjustability.
Where the Boxster does exhibit the breadth of its demeanor is in its drive modes, which are included with the $2,090 Sport Chrono pack (as well as launch control, the sport response push-to-pass button and the all-important chronograph on the dash). Left alone in Normal, the 718 is perfectly happy to sit in traffic or comfortably run errands -- yes, even with my tester's stiffer suspension and 20-inch wheels, though it is a bit bouncy over highway expansion joints. Turn the knob on the steering wheel to Sport and the engine really wakes up, Porsche's PDK dual-clutch transmission eagerly holding onto each gear a bit longer before stepping up. Sport Plus fully opens the performance envelope, with quicker throttle response and shift logic that's well matched with my acceleration and braking inputs. It's very easy to drive this car very fast.
Admittedly, this sort of Sunday afternoon back road blasting really demands the added involvement of a manual transmission. Good as the rapid-fire, seven-speed PDK gearbox is, it's a $3,210 option I'd definitely leave on the table, even if it means sacrificing a few tenths of a second in that 0-to-60 dash. It's just that the standard six-speed manual is so, so good. Unless you're running numbers on your 718 at the track with regularity (you aren't), the manual is absolutely the way to go. It enhances the already strong connection between Boxster and driver.
The automatic transmission does offer a slight fuel economy benefit: 21 miles per gallon city, 28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined versus 20 mpg, 26 mpg and 22 mpg (respectively) with the stick. But just like those measly tenths of a second in acceleration, 1 or 2 mpg isn't really going to make or break life with a mid-engine sports car, now is it?
On that note, it's surprising how easy it is to actually live with the Boxster. It's low to the ground, yes, but easy to get in and out of. It's small and easy to place on the road, and outward visibility is generally good -- with the top down, at least. The leather seats are comfortable, though only the backrest is power-adjustable (unless you pony up for nicer chairs). The interior materials are as great as any other Porsche's. And you don't have to do the 718 Spyder's manual roof song and dance, either. With the push of a button, the Boxster's top can be electronically raised or lowered in a matter of seconds, and can be operated at speeds up to 31 mph.
Plus, don't forget, because the flat-four engine is nestled right behind the passenger compartment, you have two trunks in which to stow groceries, luggage, whatever. The one in back has 4.4 cubic feet of space, while the frunk has an additional 5.2 cubic feet. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but it's enough for a pair of roll-aboard suitcases and a backpack -- just, you know, split up.
As for tech, the 7-inch touchscreen in the center stack runs the older Porsche Communication Management software you'll find in the rest of the 718 range. This system isn't nearly as feature-rich and eye-catching as the newer PCM interface in Porsche's other models, but it's still snappy to use and easy to navigate. Speaking of which, if you want embedded navigation, that'll be $2,320, and it includes the Porsche Connect suite of online services. You can use Apple CarPlay, though, which is a much simpler option. Like every Porsche, it still doesn't have Android Auto.
Driver-assistance tech is limited to adaptive cruise control ($1,670) and lane-change assist ($700), both of which are perfectly nice, but don't feel like must-haves on a 718 Boxster. I do wish keyless entry and push-button start weren't optional on a $72,000 sports car, however. I know the $800 upcharge for this isn't outrageous, but come on. Just throw this one in, Porsche.
Of course, $72,000 is only the beginning when it comes to building the perfect Boxster S. If I'm spending hypothetical dollars, I'll take chalk paint ($2,580), 20-inch 911 Turbo-style wheels ($3,500, compared with the $1,600 Carrera S wheels on this test car), a blue/chalk interior scheme ($2,520), torque-vectoring tech ($1,320, plus the required PASM pack, which is $1,790), LED headlights ($2,140), heated seats ($530), the Bose stereo ($990), Apple CarPlay ($360 -- sigh) and the no-cost model name deletion, because I'm that guy. All in, that puts me at $89,520, including $1,350 for destination. Not too shabby.
And that's where you have to start to make hard decisions. Do you want the most hard-core Boxster experience in exchange for a little bit of daily livability? Get the 4.0-liter GTS. Would you prefer a car you can more easily use day to day? The Boxster S will likely be all you'll ever need.
The new-and-improved GTS does not render the Boxster S irrelevant. I like that the S is a little softer, a little easier to live with. And when you get it going on a gorgeous mountain road, it'll never, ever let you down. The 4.0-liter 718 is certainly the better performer -- and it 100% sounds better, too. But with its solid 718 foundation, the Boxster S is still a total superstar.