Some part of my soul that I had not realized was languishing has been blessedly restored—I took a Friday off and spent some of it test-driving a new sports car. Specifically, the new 718 Boxster S.
The sky was bright but overcast, the air a cool sixty-one degrees. Convertible top down, leather jacket on, sunglasses not required. Humming merrily just behind me was not six cylinders, but four, displacing 2.5 liters total and snuggled close to a variable-geometry BorgWarner turbocharger boosting to 16 psi. I did, however, have six of something else: gears, selectable by means of a clutch pedal and shift lever. “Take as much time as you want,” Ryan Pemberton, Porsche Brand Ambassador, had said. “Keep it under a hundred, hm?”
I’ve sampled every Boxster. I test-drove a 986 while still in college before settling for my little Acura RSX. Sometime in the early 2010’s, I swapped my 996 for my friend’s 987S one day for a blast through some mountains. I demo’d a 981S PDK for a customer during the very brief phase of my life wherein it was my job to sell them. Those cars each left different, singular lasting impressions: the 986’s center of mass felt like it was connected to my right hip-bone, the 987’s interior was sharp but the car was notably slower than my 996, and the 981’s party trick was how glorious the exhaust sounded with the top down as you cracked off PDK shifts with the paddles.
On this day, I’d been driving the 718 for about two minutes when I came to the first corner requiring a heel-toe downshift. I just absolutely nailed it. Right off, the 718 disarms you and burnishes your ego by being so fundamentally driver-correct that apparently anyone can nail a heel-toe downshift in it within two minutes of first getting it rolling. Just having gotten started, I was already cackling with glee—yet it soon became clear that the ease with which the car makes you feel like a driving god is not its primary claim to fame. Nope. Instead, the foremost attribute of the car is its torque. The 718 is always ready to wallop you with twist. All three hundred nine pound-feet eternally stampede the ample plateau stretching across the tachometer from 1900 to 4500 RPM. You will see the traction control light often in this car. This engine is a playful kitten with only one setting: pounce.
The exhaust note will never be confused with a meow, however—or a flat six. Pitch is V8-low, but its vibrato at idle is too rapid to be mistaken that way. Then, too, it winds easily to a high-for-a-turbo max of 7500 RPM. I understand the comparison with Subaru’s 2.5-liter STI engine, but Porsche’s acoustic engineers have more artfully solved the riddles of this flat four, and the sound that shines through is righteous and apparent when you expect it, while fading into the background when uncalled-for. The sound is the sound. It is never irritating or wrong or bad. It does not detract.
After that heel-toe corner, the next thing that made me laugh was the G-meter. Scroll through the driver’s menu screens and you’ll find it in there, chastising you to push that dot a little closer to the edge of the circle every time you go around a corner or depart from a stop. Are you kidding me? Instant feedback like that should be illegal. It’s like a constant double-dog-dare. Every time I make a Target run I gotta manage at least 0.7 lateral G’s somewhere, right? Between the G-meter and Launch Control it’s a wonder we don’t see even more wrecked supercars than we already do. These temptations are made worse by the pure neutrality of the mid-engined 718’s chassis. A four-wheel slide is as easy as: turn wheel sharply, apply and hold throttle. Lift, and the car resumes going where it’s pointed.
The 718 further restored my soul with a perfect stop/start system that never intruded or interrupted. It was ever so easy to adapt to expecting the engine’s momentary quiver-to-cessation when coming to a stop, then feeling it just as quickly re-fire upon release of the clutch pedal. Better yet, when I stalled the car on an incline, it restarted itself for me! That unexpected assist drew another enchanted chuckle.
It is not surprising that Porsche has another hit on its hands with the 718. Getting in the car, I always expected to be in for a very competent experience. Yet somehow, all the things that the 718 does competently add up to more than merely their combined sum. The shape, the top, the wind, the shifter, the wheel, the seats, all of it. I had connected my phone via Bluetooth to play some test-drive music, and one song in particular did well to capture the mood. As I was enthralled by all the great things this car did with me and for me, Charlie Puth crooned, “stay here with me…I won’t tell a soul,” and my brain concocted the shallowest of sunset-strewn fantasies about disappearing over the horizon with naught but the contents of my pockets and this Porsche.
Please keep pooh-poohing the 718, purists. I really, really want these cars to depreciate.