Downsizing and turbocharging. It's a thing. In fact, it's probably the main theme of this decade other than the beginning of the now-inevitable rise of electric cars. Name a car and it's probably had a decent-sized, naturally-aspirated engine replaced with a smaller, turbocharged one that's lighter, more efficient, emits less CO2 and yet produces more power and a broader spread of torque. All the way from the Ford Focus 1.0 Ecoboost to the Ferrari 488 GTB, this trend has swept the world of cars and is killing sonorous, free-revving engines indiscriminately in the process.
The Ferrari V8 I've mentioned, but this year even the Porsche 911 Carrera succumbed to the peer pressure with a smaller, twin-turbo boxer-6 that revs lower and sounds more synthetic, in the name of greater efficiency and power-per-emission to match the advancing rivals. Oh, they tried to hide it from the driver; the turbos don't deliver their boost in a big wallop like a Ferrari F40 or Nissan GT-R, instead piling on the extra power progressively to mimic the feel of the old atmospheric 3.8 engine, and attempt to mimic the sound too with lots of exhaust trickery. The idea is that enthusiasts who care more about experience than raw numbers can still have the same fun as before, while Porsche quietly meet their targets as a manufacturer. Reviews have shown mixed responses about whether this has really worked...
...and their next new victim will find it almost impossible to hide.
This is the newly facelifted - and newly-renamed - Porsche 718 Boxster. It now has a number attached to its name (there will be a 718 Cayman too) as a nod to one specific part of Porsche's enviable history, namely the typ-718 open-top racing car from the turn of the 1960s that won the famous Targa Florio road race, the European Hillclimb Championship (twice) and even won its class at the 1958 Le Mans 24 Hours, finishing 3rd overall. Of course, car companies reference history whenever their marketing department think they'll get away with it, so why does it matter here?
Because the reason they chose to reference the 718 is for its four-cylinder engine.
Yup, this is the first Porsche with a flat-four behind the seats since the 914/4. Unlike the 2016 911, which replaced a flat-six with a quieter engine of the same type, the Boxster has shed a third of its engine altogether in the name of efficiency, now packing either a 2.0-litre single-turbo unit producing 300 horsepower and 280lb/ft of torque (the latter available in full from 1900-4500rpm) or a 2.5-litre, 350bhp, 310lb/ft version of the same engine for the 'S' version. Those are impressive numbers from a little engine, but then we saw on the track last year what kind of performance the Stuttgart massive can extract from little turbo engines. Fuel consumption is claimed to be up to 13% improved over the old 2.7 and 3.4-litre six-cylinder engines, and if you spec the PDK paddleshift gearbox you can improve that further at a cruise when it partially engages the next gear by slipping a clutch and doing nerdy witchcraft. 0-62mph (100km/h) sprint times depend on the gearbox and whether you use the PDK's Launch Control function. The 2.0-litre does it 5.1 seconds with the 6-speed manual 'box, 4.9 with PDK and 4.7 with LC on. The 2.5-litre S is exactly 0.5 seconds quicker in each respective configuration. 0-62mph in as little as 4.2 seconds is very quick, in case you were wondering.
But there is inevitably a problem once you look up from your spec sheet.
Here's what the new engine sounds like (spy video of a Nürburgring test car filmed last year):
That does not sound like the outgoing six-cylinder Boxster/Cayman. Not even a little bit. Here's proof:
I know sound is not the be-all and end-all of the driving experience, in the same way that a manual gearbox isn't, but it does play a big part in defining a car's character and identity. That flat-six sound in the second video is The Porsche Sound. Nothing else sounds the same and it's instantly recognisable. The four-pot sounds like, well, any old four-pot. It doesn't have the bassy off-beat burble of an old Subaru Impreza, it just hums along quietly sounding no more interesting than a hot hatch.
The thing is, if it delivers its power in a similarly undramatic way, then it could well be a Porsche sports car that's... uninspiring. The red-line is surprisingly only 200rpm down, at 7400rpm, but it might well not be worth going there in the new car. This would not be good. Not only would this be not-good for the future of the legendary marque's products, but it would also be not-good because the desirability - and therefore the prices - of the outgoing '981' Boxster and Cayman will rise steadily as the years go on... meaning I will never be able to afford one. Like, ever. Why do you want to make me sad, Porsche? Why?
Ah, but history! See? It's valid! And there was the 914/4! And the original Porsche, the 356! So it's OK! Look, it even looks a tiny bit like the old 718 RSK!
|[insert fatuous Clarksonian joke about Porsches looking the same, here]|
Yes, it sort of does, and the interior is largely carried over from the outgoing cars too because they sit on the same platform. So not only does it look like the car we love but cleaner, in the corners it will also feel and steer the same but cleaner (electrically-assisted steering is said to be "10% more direct"), despite revised suspension settings. I suppose it depends what you're buying it for, but I bet even the empty, soulless people who buy a car like this as a status symbol will be a bit crestfallen to find that it sounds almost exactly the same as a hot Golf...
|Insert comfortably numb person here|
The 718 Boxster and 718 Boxster S will appear in showrooms this summer at a slight premium over the outgoing six-cylinder Boxster/S/GTS/Spyder, although for the first time it's the convertible that will cost more than the coupé. My advice? Try getting a good deal on the car this replaces before it gets there. As well as most likely having more theatre to its driving experience, it ought to be a sound investment.