Boxster unboxed

Porsche’s introduction of its new 718 roadster started with this technology spree in Marseille.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Porsche’s introduction of its new 718 roadster started with this technology spree in Marseille.

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THE Porsche Boxster GTS was one of my favourite cars last year. With its responsive, sonorous 3.4-litre flat-6 engine and near-flawless driving dynamics, it was one of those cars that made me go: “Do I really need any more?”

To me, it was the Manny Pacquiao of sports cars – smallish, but pound for pound, probably providing the best punch in the sport.

Then I was asked to attend the technical presentation conducted in Marseille, France, for the new Porsche Boxster, now called the 718 Boxster as homage to Porsche’s mid-engined, 4-cylinder racecars of the 1960s.

Gone are the naturally aspirated flat-6s of the old roadster, and in their place are – gulp! – two turbocharged flat-4 units. Yup, like all other manufacturers these days, Porsche has “downsized” one of my favourite sports cars in the name of saving orangutans. It was like being made to sit through a buddy’s funeral and watching his autopsy at the same time.

There were four workshops in all, covering the newcomer’s engine, driving dynamics, chassis and suspension, and design. Each was helmed by chief engineers who looked like they’d rather be at home in Germany than repeat their slides for the 10th time.

Amid the various Venn diagrams, graphs and charts, here are the numbers that matter…

The 718 Boxster and the 718 Boxster S get all-new turbo 2- and 2.5-litre boxer 4-cylinder engines respectively. Power is up 35bhp in both models to 300bhp and 350bhp. With Porsche’s PDK dual-clutch gearbox and Sport Chrono Package, the 0-100km/h timing of the base Boxster is just 4.7 seconds (0.8 of a second quicker than the old model) and a supercar-rivalling 4.2 seconds (0.6 of a second quicker) for the uprated Boxster S.

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The 718s also receive the arcade-like Dynamic Boost function as seen in the 911 range.

Press the button and the car preps its engine mapping, transmission and turbocharging to give you maximum acceleration for 20 seconds when you floor the throttle. Intended for fast overtakes, I suspect it’ll be more affectionately known by its more popular name: “nitrous button”.

Despite these impressive numbers, the car is 13 percent cleaner and more efficient. But we’ve heard such claims before, haven’t we? The more important question is: Will the new Boxster be as fun to drive as the old one?

I was told I’d get a “taxi ride” a little later in the day so we could get a feel ourselves (sort of). The “taxi fare” to be paid? Sitting through two more workshops – design, followed by chassis and suspension.

I’m not the most technical (read: geeky) member of the Torque team, but I tried my best to ask intelligent questions.

“How did the engine’s extra torque and power affect the chassis development of the car?”

Our writer caught the drift of Porsche’s presentation, but our test-drive proper of the 718 Boxster would be later.
Our writer caught the drift of Porsche’s presentation, but our test-drive proper of the 718 Boxster would be later.

“Aaah, good question!” the expert replied to me, now beaming with pride.

Interestingly, he said it wasn’t the engine’s extra oomph that troubled his team. Rather, the immense grip from the specially produced Pirelli P Zeros made it necessary to reinforce the chassis with additional torsion beams. Even the perimeters of the PSM (Porsche Stability Management) had to be increased for the 718’s new tyres.

There’s now a PSM Sport mode that gives the driver, should he choose to role-play as a drift king, greater yaw and slip angles at the driven rear wheels without the dangers of fully deactivating PSM.

To enhance the handling prowess of the car, the extra-cost PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) can be specified with a ride height lowered by either 10mm or, for the Boxster S, 20mm. The electro-mechanical steering system employs a modified version of the 911 Turbo’s steering gear and is 10 percent more direct than before.

Design-wise, the 718 is still unmistakably a Boxster, despite carrying over only the old car’s boot lid, windscreen and soft-top. The new headlamps and tail-lights give the roadster a more sculptured look. Perhaps the most obvious giveaway is the distinctive 911 Turbo-esque air intakes behind the doors.

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With the workshops over, the journos were herded to the black test cars for our taxi rides. I picked a 718 Boxster S with PDK and Sport Chrono package, and told my driver not to hold back.

He immediately demonstrated the launch control feature and – oh, my gosh – this car was properly quick! More importantly, it sounded good. Not flat-6 good, but pretty near perfect for a flat-4.

The extra power and torque (max torque of 420Nm arrives at just 1900rpm) were obvious. The car promptly took off from a standstill, and by the time we arrived at the first banked corner less than a kilometre away, I was seeing 220km/h on the speedo.

We reached the tight handling circuit and the company’s test driver proceeded to drift the Boxster effortlessly around the many roundabouts. Honestly, I couldn’t tell much from the co-driver’s seat, except that the previous Boxster’s neutrality and balance were still very much present. The new car was mindbogglingly rapid, but not in the “chase-every-last-rpm” kind of way. I was feeling carsick at this point, but I put on a brave face.

I miss the old flat-6 boxer motors, but in terms of technology at least, the new 718 Boxsters appear to be motoring marvels.

These are two of the “doctors” who engineered the 718 Boxster.
These are two of the “doctors” who engineered the 718 Boxster.