Porsche’s turbo Boxster S squeezes out more with less

Robert Duffer
Chicago Tribune

Pets, kids, sports cars — they’re all impractical. Yet we love them because they make life better.

2017 Porsche 718 Boxster S

Drop the top in a two-seater and the 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster S is about as impractically fun as it gets.

The week of whipping around a sport convertible in late October in the Midwest began with rain. Wider wheels and sticky summer tires helped the Boxster do what it does best: stay planted to the pavement even in wet conditions. When the skies cleared, the roadster seemed to celebrate its 20th anniversary with a whir, pop and burble of its all-new turbocharged powertrain.

The 718 recalls not only the racing roadster of the late 1950s, but heralds a new direction with the return of a more efficient flat-four cylinder engine. The fury of the peerless naturally aspirated six-cylinder engines are no longer offered in the entry-level Cayman and Boxster.

Innovating for efficiency is nothing new, but the gains on fuel economy are nil in the Boxster S. The 2017 gets one mpg less (highway) than the outgoing model. Changing the essence of anything good is a hard sell but the turbocharged lineup points the model and the brand in a more sustainable direction. Call it an impractical truth.

The change is less about fuel efficiency than engine optimization. The twin-turbo flat-six from the new 911 wouldn’t fit in the Boxster, and increasing output on the old 3.4-liter engine would have meant increasing displacement and making the car something other than a roadster equally suited for daily commutes, weekend getaways and a jaunt or two to the track.

There might have been more bite and growl in the old Boxster, but the 2.5-liter turbo four offers a significant boost in torque available at much lower rpm. All 309 pound-feet of torque (36 percent increase over the old one) is accessible between 1900 and 4500 rpm. Horsepower is up 35 to 350.

But comparing specs rarely tells the story. Hit the on-ramp with passengers old or young and they’ll grip the handle and squeal with the kind of roller-coaster delight you get in a car like this. We went out of our way to hit highway and cloverleaf ramps whenever possible, treating one kid then the other, one family member then another, to show how a roadster can be more than just a convertible.

2017 Porsche 718 Boxster S ditches the 3.4-liter flat-six engine for a 2.5-liter turbo flat-four cylinder to boost performance and efficiency. It gets broader wheels, fenders, air intakes and a host of sophisticated mechanical upgrades.

Zero to 60 happens in a Porsche-claimed 4 seconds, nearly a half-second quicker than the outgoing model. Porsche’s active sport suspension ($2,070 extra) that lowers the car by nearly an inch lets the driver override the stability control feature, to best suit the driver’s capability.

Drop the top (in just 10 seconds at speeds up to 43 mph), and the daily commute becomes a thing of joy. Exceed highway speed with the top down and there is no wind buffeting thanks in part to the mesh screen stretched between the roll bars.

Porsche offers enough piecemeal options to get the Boxster S into 911 pricing territory. Right-sizing the engine — and broadening the wheels, fenders, and air intakes front and side among other technologically sophisticated upgrades — upsized the starting price $4,500 to $68,400. To show off all its capabilities, Porsche trimmed the Boxster S tester to the tune of $92,370, including the optional seven-speed dual clutch quick-switch transmission known as PDK. Porsche says it’s faster than the manual and as much as we like rowing through the gears in a sports car, we were perfectly happy keeping both hands on the wheel and focusing on the road.

The S also comes with a dial to toggle between four modes, including Sport and Sport +. The difference in each mode is significant, with the rear end kicking out incrementally more.

There is no clutter on the steering wheel. Redundant controls for the dynamic instrument cluster and now standard infotainment system are moved to four stalks on the steering column. It takes getting used to but comes to feel natural. The touch screen and the buttons below it are narrow and cramped, but that comes with the territory. There just isn’t much storage space, not even a little pocket for phones, except on the door. Cup holders emerge from above the glove box. Navigation adds $1,730, and our model did not come equipped with voice commands.

But the only real problem with the 718 is not being able to share it with more people. It’s impractical, exclusively, delightfully so.

2017 Porsche 718 Boxster S

2017 Porsche 718 Boxster

Vehicle type: 2-seat roadster

Base price: $68,400

As tested: $92,370 (excluding $1,050 delivery)

Mpg: 21 city, 28 highway

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo flat-four cylinder

Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch automatic