Porsche 718 Boxster convertible (2016 - ) review
The Porsche 718 Boxster is the finest handling open-top sports car there is, with a brilliant chassis and new turbo four-cylinder engines to go with its classy interior and stylish looks.
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While Porsche design is infamous for making minute and subtle changes over many years, the 718 does look different enough to its predecessor in ways you'll actually notice. Every panel except the bonnet is new, with the same four-point xenon headlights as the 911, LED light clusters at the rear, wider air-vents, redesigned wing mirrors, and a new raised black bar going across the boot spoiler, with lettering spelling out the word 'Porsche'. It does look sharp - and timeless - in a way that few of its rivals can match, even in standard trim. The base car has 18-inch wheels as standard, with the Boxster S adding 19-inch wheels, but a variety of 20-inchers are available, too. The only other visual change is the exhausts: one single oval exhaust for the Boxster, and twin-exit pipes for the S.
Another area where the Boxster feels like it sits on a different tier to its mainstream rivals is in cabin quality and design. In an Audi TT or a BMW Z4, there are always some buttons or trim pieces that are taken from a dowdy saloon, but in the 718, everything feels bespoke. True, it's not as modern as a TT Roadster, with conventional dials (albeit with a handy colour screen in one of them for key driving- and map data) and lots of switches on the centre console, but high-class materials (including metal and leather) are used on all the parts you most regularly touch. The driving position is spot-on, you sit low to the ground, the pedals are perfectly spaced, and visibility is decent, although it decreases significantly with the roof up. The 718 has the latest Porsche infotainment system, with high-definition maps, a responsive touch-screen and connectivity to your iPhone via Apple CarPlay. The seats are worthy of a mention, too, for being very supportive, but still comfortable over long distances.
The 718 Boxster is an unlikely class-leader in this area. So many other roadsters are compromised by a complicated roof mechanism, but because the Boxster is mid-engined, there is a deep luggage area in the nose that will swallow a large suitcase, while smaller bags can go in the 125-litre compartment at the back. You can stow coats and loose items behind the seats, but room in the cabin is still fairly tight. The glovebox is a good size, but the door pockets are narrow, and it's hard to get anything bigger than a wallet in or out of them. That brilliant driving position does make this car a little harder to climb in or out of compared to its peers, but apart from that small gripe, the Boxster really is one of the most practical two-seat sports cars money can buy. The roof itself stows away neatly in seconds and can be operated at up to 31mph; handy if you ever get caught in a sudden shower. Refinement with it up or down is pretty good, although we'd recommend choosing the optional plastic wind deflector to sit behind the headrests if you plan on doing any long-distance topless motoring.
Ride and handling
When it comes to handling, the Boxster has ruled the roadster roost for years, and the 718 continues where its predecessor left off. In fact, it's better than ever at tackling corners and putting a smile on your face. A key part of that is the mid-engined layout, which puts most of the weight between the wheels, and this helps the Boxster feel balanced and poised at all times. Its steering is borrowed from the 911 Turbo, so it's quick, direct, beautifully weighted and delivers enough feedback to keep you on top of the action. On a dry road, the Boxster has tremendous grip and body control, and because it stays so composed, with little body roll, you have total confidence when flinging it into a tight hairpin. If you want an even sharper driving experience, you can opt for a lowered, adaptive suspension set-up, which drops the ride height by 10mm, or the 'Sport' chassis, which is 20mm lower and considerably firmer when placed in its sportier settings. As standard, though, the 718 rides superbly, cushioning the driver from the worst bumps, and it doesn't suffer from as much flex or wobble as you can get in less rigid open-top cars.
The single biggest change for the Boxster when Porsche turned it into the 718 was in the engine bay. Gone are the old 2.7- and 3.4-litre six-cylinder engines, having been replaced by a pair of new four-cylinder turbocharged units. The standard car gets a 2.0-litre with 296bhp, but although the figures suggest it’s faster than before, it’s actually rather disappointing. It’s very over-geared – in the pursuit of efficiency – and that means it feels surprisingly sluggish at anything below 2500rpm. In fact, you have to be spinning it at around 4000rpm before it really wakes up and delivers the sort of pace you expect from a car like this. The 'S' model has a larger 2.5-litre engine with 345bhp, and this version is much more like it. Yes, it does also suffer a wee bit of lag, but it’s nowhere near as bad thanks to a more sophisticated turbocharger, making its performance much more eager and accessible. As well as getting into its stride quicker, this engine also punches much harder and faster, zinging all the way round to the 7000rpm redline. It feels especially quick when paired with the seven-speed automatic gearbox, which provides rapid, precise and instant changes, but the six-speed manual is also thoroughly enjoyable to use, with a precise action and meaty clutch. Where both engines struggle, though, is on refinement. Neither sounds as spine-tingling as its six-cylinder forebear, with the kind of synthetic bark you expect from a hot hatch, not a true-blue sports car. You’re also subjected to a collection of irritating resonances and booms, not to mention vibrations coming through the controls. That said, it’s not bad enough to ruin the experience, especially in the S, which is much quieter and smoother than the standard Boxster.
The reason behind the huge shift in engine technology from Porsche was to help improve the efficiency of the 718 Boxster, and the results on paper look promising. If you pick the standard Boxster, and then equip it with the optional PDK automatic gearbox, it'll return over 40mpg according to official figures, and emit just 158g/km. Those are brilliant figures when you consider the performance, but in reality, if you drive it hard, this engine will be just as thirsty as the old model. When you ease off, though, stick the gearbox in auto and take it easy, that's when you'll notice the added cruising range. Manual versions are cheaper, but also less efficient, in some cases jumping a couple of tax bands. Parts, servicing and insurance are all likely to be costlier than the class averages, too. Further financial pain comes in the form of the new pricing structure for the 718: previously the Boxster has been cheaper than the coupe version, known as the Cayman, but for the 718 generation, they've swapped places, so you have to pay more if you want open-air thrills.
As with most cars from Porsche, the 718 Boxster looks and feels like a quality product inside and out, and the brand prides itself on its engineering excellence. However, as this model is powered by new engines, it's hard to be sure of their durability. Likewise, the sat-nav and infotainment system is relatively new, so it's difficult to tell if it will stand the test of time. Warranty Direct's Reliability Index suggests that the previous model was pretty patchy, with expensive repairs and troublesome electrics, so we hope things have improved since then. The brand itself also sits in a very lowly position in the manufacturer table. As standard, the 718 comes with a three-year or 100,000-mile warranty, whichever you reach sooner. That covers you for more miles than the policies from Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
Crash-testing body Euro NCAP rarely tests low-volume models such as the 718 Boxster, so there is no star rating for its driver, passenger and pedestrian safety. However, it does come with an extensive suite of safety equipment as standard. True, the Audi TT Roadster does have a few more active gizmos on its equipment list, but the Porsche has all the basics covered: anti-lock brakes, roll hoops that protect your head and neck if you flip the car over, and strengthening in the doors in case of a side impact. The brakes have been uprated on both versions and have fantastic stopping power. Plus, there are plenty of options, with Active Cruise Control, blind spot monitors and Isofix child seat mounting points all available for a bit more cash.
Porsche has improved on the Boxster's standard kit count for the 718, but only slightly; this is still a remarkably basic sports car considering prices start at around £40,000. You get a manual gearbox, the touch-screen infotainment system with a seven-inch display, Bluetooth, and a couple of USB sockets, plus Apple CarPlay for iPhone connectivity. Sharp LED running lights front and rear are also standard, as are bright, xenon headlamps. In the cabin, air-conditioning, sports seats trimmed in Alcantara and faux-leather, and heated mirrors complete the spec list. If you want your 718 to hold its value, then it's worth adding the expensive sat-nav, DAB radio and parking sensors, and the leather trim for the cabin is also a must-have. You can live without the performance upgrades, such as the adaptive suspension, sports exhaust and Sport Chrono Pack (which includes launch control), but other creature comforts like heated seats are also optional, and specifying this stuff quickly adds up to a big old bill.
If you want the best-handling roadster on the market, then there is no substitute for the Porsche Boxster. The 718 is faster, grippier and more composed than any of its illustrious predecessors, and it's these attributes that raise it above its two-seat rivals. It's a shame that the new engines aren't as dazzling as the old six-cylinder units, but they are more efficient. This car has lost some of its drama as a result, but it's still brilliant to drive, and the rest of its appeal, which stems from its gorgeous cabin, styling and exclusivity, remains intact. Highly recommended.