4-cyl Porsches: downsized, not downgraded

4-cyl Porsches: downsized, not downgraded

Abu Dhabi – Cubic capacity’s no longer the holy grail it used to be, and regular car buyers are happily accepting the switch from larger normally-aspirated engines to smaller force-fed ones that are both more powerful and fuel efficient.

However, downsizing in the sportscar league might be more of a hard-sell to buyers in this price range, who might still expect a more direct correlation between the size of the cheque and the engine – not to mention that four cylinders aren’t known for producing the most emotive howls.

We attended the Porsche 718 Boxster’s media launch in Abu Dhabi last week, on the Yas Marina Formula One circuit, to find out how the shrinking-engine exercise has affected the driveability and character of Porsche’s mid-engined roadster, which has had its six-cylinder engines replaced with four-cylinder turbo units.

The old flat-six 2.7 and 3.4-litre engines make way for turbo flat-fours of respectively 2-litre and 2.5-litre capacity, mid-mounted as before. The car has been renamed the 718 Boxster after the multi race-winning Porsche 718 race cars of the 1950s and ‘60s and it’s the first Porsche since the 968 of the nineties to be powered by four-cylinder engines.

MORE MUSCULAR

We’re happy to report that there’s nothing to frighten off any prospective buyer, as the new four-pot engines are comfortably more muscular than their forebears. The entry-level 2.0 Boxster now packs 220kW and 380Nm which is a 26kW and 100Nm improvement over the old 2.7, while the 2.5 Boxster S has 257kW/420Nm (up by 26kW and 60Nm on the previous 3.4).

This has predictably improved straight-line performance with the baseline Boxster scooting from 0-100km/h in a claimed 4.7 seconds and the Boxster S in 4.2 – respectively 0.8 and 0.6 secs faster than their six-cylinder predecessors – while top speeds are up to a hair-ruffling 275km/h and 285km/h. Fuel consumption is also claimed to be 13% improved for both models.

Swift performance figures aside, the good news is that Porsche’s entry-level sportscars have characterful high-revving natures and accelerate rapidly to their 7500rpm maximum, a notably high red-line for turbo engines. At sea level the power delivery is both brisk and linear, with no hint of lag when paired with Porsche’s delightfully responsive seven-speed PDK dual-clutch auto gearbox.

A six-speed manual is also available, but the PDK is so good that very few Porsche customers opt for three pedals these days.

WHAT ABOUT THE SOUND?

The engines don’t roar with the smooth hedonism of a six-cylinder but the sound isn’t bad, particularly in the throatier 2.5-litre S version. And lustier vocals can be purchased for both cars with an optional sound-enhancing sports exhaust system.

Along with the power upgrade comes a suspension retune with stiffer springs and wider rear tyres for enhanced cornering ability, uprated brakes, and a 10% more direct electromechanical steering system. For both models, the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) with a lower ride height is now available as an option, and it’s been retuned for an even broader spread between driving comfort and stiffness.

Similar to the new 911, the optional Sport Chrono Package which comprises three settings: Normal, Sport and Sport Plus, now also features an Individual programme mode. Also, there’s a new Sport Response button on the steering wheel that activates an overboost function which puts the engine and gearbox into maximum-attack mode for 20 seconds, making swifter work of overtaking.

Together the engine and handling upgrades have improved the Nürburgring Nordschleife laptime of the 718 Boxster S to 7min 42secs, a full 16 seconds quicker than before, says the factory.

HITTING THE TRACK

Lapping the Yas Marina circuit, the revamped roadsters cornered like thoroughbred sports machines even if they’re on the lower rungs of Porsche’s power scale. Lighter and slimmer than the more powerful 911, the Boxster jives through turns with endearing mid-engined agility, the initial turn-in feeling scalpel-sharp and the tyres gripping like corrupt politicians to backhanders.

This mid-life upgrade for the Boxster includes a styling update both inside and out. The exterior makeover includes wider-looking front and rear ends and larger cooling air intakes, along with newly designed front and rear lights. The revised tail makes a bolder statement with its 3D-effect tail lights which are linked by a darkened accent strip with integrated Porsche badge.

Inside is a newly designed dash with the latest generation of Porsche Communication Management (PCM), with a state-of-the-art touchscreen.

Bottom line is that the Boxster doesn’t feel any less of a Porsche due to its engine downsizing, not that we expected anything else. The acceleration, the typically solid feel, the finely-honed handling and the everyday driveability are all 100% Porsche for the driver who appreciates a sporty drive without needing a gazillion kilowatts under the hood.

SO HOW MUCH DO THEY COST?

The cars arrive in South Africa next month priced at R868 000 for the 718 Boxster and R947 000 for the 718 Boxster S. A three-year DrivePlan is included in the pricing, which can be extended to five years for an extra R50 000.

The Cayman coupé will receive similar upgrades later this year.

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