New Porsche 718 Boxster first-ride preview: 7 things we learned from winter testing

CAR's Georg Kacher with a brace of 718 Boxster prototypes in Canada

This is anything but a routine mid-life makeover for the Porsche Boxster and its Cayman cousin. Not only are the mid-engined twins being given a new name for 2016 – they’ll now be known as the Porsche 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman – it’s all change in the engine bay too. It’s out with the naturally aspirated flat-sixes we know and love, and in with a pair of brand-new flat-four turbos. Can less really be more?

To find out, CAR’s Georg Kacher joined Porsche’s winter testing team in Canada’s Northern Territories for a white-knuckle ride in a 718 Boxster prototype. Here’s what we know so far…

It’s not just the Boxster that’s losing cubic centimetres and gaining turbochargers – read Georg’s first drive of the new, downsized Porsche 911 Carrera S on CAR+ here.

More power and more torque than before, but a 15% drop in average fuel consumption

1) Those new engines: the tech specs

The fresh flat-fours are direct-injection, variable-vane turbo 16-valvers, available in two versions:

  • Base model 718: 2.0 litres, 300bhp, 266lb ft, 5.4sec 0-62mph, 168mph+
  • 718 S: 2.5 litres, 340bhp, 295lb ft, 4.9sec 0-62mph, 174mph+

That’s a decent power hike – the outgoing 6-cyl 2.7-litre Boxsterputs out 261bhp and the 3.4-litre Boxster S 311bhp. But it’s the increased torque (as much as 74lb ft model-for-model) that is the big story here, finally giving the Boxster the right kind of punch to back up its name. And that’s combined with a 15% reduction in average fuel consumption – which of course is the primary motivation behind jettisoning two cylinders.

As before, there’s a choice of sweetly weighted manual gearbox or swift-shifting PDK twin-clutch auto. Main structural change is a re-engineered rear chassis cradle, to accommodate all the new plumbing and cooling, with an extra engine mount. Why not a smaller-displacement turbo’d flat-six? Because it simply wouldn’t have fit; Porsche tells us it was difficult enough to find space for the flat-four and all the extra plumbing and cooling.

Two engines available: 300bhp 2.0-litre and 340bhp 2.5

2) Even the base 2.0-litre feels seriously quick

From the passenger seat, and on the banana-skin slippery icy roads of Yellowknife, it was difficult to feel a great difference in outright poke between the two engines. But… subjectively, the smaller 2.0-litre engine actually feels fractionally more agile and responsive, while the 500cc-bigger unit didn’t feel like it answered the throttle pedal quite so eagerly. After a smidge of initial turbo lag, the oomph builds more rapidly and climbs to a taller peak. Slow it ain’t.

Underneath the camo blanket there's a new instrument panel

3) It sounds…. moody

The 2.5’s all baritone growl at higher revs, but our ears put the 2.0 ahead on soundtrack – it’s the sharper, more aggressive sounding of the pair, especially when fitted with the optional sports exhaust system.

The 718's undergoing winter testing in northern Canada, on the cusp of the polar circle

4) We haven’t seen the last of the six-cylinder engine…

You won’t be surprised to hear there’ll be a more powerful still GTS version in the mid-term future, but that’ll use a development of the 2.5-litre four-pot engine wound up to ‘at least’ 365bhp.

But there’s still enough room in the engine bay – and the range – for a naturally aspirated six, for high-performance models like a future Cayman GT4 and Boxster Spyder.

5) Engine aside, you’ll need to be good at ‘Spot the Difference’ to recognise a 718

Unless you’re viewing the 718 from underneath, even Porsche fetishists might need to look twice to see what’s changed from Boxster to 718. Badges aside, restyled LED head- and tail-lights are the most obvious external change, with four bright dots per unit and horizontal light bars for the indicators and rear lights. Inside, a new instrument panel gets rid of the old noisy, relatively breathless air vents.

6) The handling seems more agile than ever

Sensibly, Porsche’s not done anything drastic on the chassis front. But there are minor tweaks – half-inch-wider rear wheels, a new, grippier tyre compound, mildly tweaked suspension kinematics, bigger brakes and more sensitive stability control software. The electric power steering’s been quickened to 2.5 turns lock to lock, making it 10% speedier, and the wheel itself gets a new mannetino-style rotary selector on the steering wheel to toggle modes for the stability control, suspension and gearbox (depending on which option boxes are ticked).

7) Boxster and Cayman are swapping places

Historically the soft-top Boxster has sat below the coupe Cayman in Porsche’s pricing hierarchy, but that’s about to change. Just as a 911 Cabrio costs more than a coupe, the 718 Boxster will set buyers back around 1500 Euro more than the Cayman on the continent when it comes to market in April 2016. The Cayman will arrive six months later.