Road test: 2016 Porsche 718 Boxster

The new sports car is a peerless sporting package.

The Porsche 718 Boxster is powered by a smaller engine than its previous incarnation, but it actually has more power. Courtesy of Porsche
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The “e” word has figured prominently at almost every car launch I have been to lately. The word I’m referring to isn’t “evocative” or “exhilarating”, but rather “emissions” – specifically, reduction of, in this context.

While the number of grams of CO2 puffed out by our vehicles over a kilometre of driving isn’t something we devote much thought to in our region, ­European and United States environmental authorities are getting increasingly tough in this department, so carmakers have had to conjure up a range of measures to minimise the nasties being spewed out by their products’ tailpipes.

Even sports-car and supercar manufacturers such as ­Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Mercedes-AMG et al, have had to fall in line to clean up their respective acts. In most cases, their solution has been to go down the engine downsizing-slash-­turbocharging route.

And here’s the latest addition to the catalogue: Porsche’s 718 ­Boxster, which ditches the trusty flat-six configuration that has been a trademark of the model for the past 20 years in favour of a new four-cylinder turbo motor.

Four cylinders in a ­Porsche? It may sound sacrilegious, but let’s not forget the Zuffenhausen-­based marque enjoyed considerable success in the 1980s and 90s with the 924, 944 and 968 – all of which made do with a quartet of combustion chambers.

The raw stats bode well for the 718 Boxster range, which goes on sale here in May, starting at Dh221,448 for the base model, and Dh248,783 for the S flagship. And in case you’re wondering about the 718 prefix, it’s a historic reference to a pint-size racer that netted Porsche a swag of trophies in the 1950s and 60s.

The basic 718 Boxster’s 2.0L turbo engine pumps out 300hp and 380Nm, representing hikes of 30hp and a massive 100Nm over its 2.7L, six-cylinder predecessor. It’s decently rapid, with a 0-to-100kph split of 4.7 seconds (0.7 seconds quicker than before). Meanwhile, the new S now threatens the bigger, pricier 911 Carrera – its 2.5L turbo unit ekes out 350hp and 420Nm, propelling it to 100kph in 4.2 seconds when equipped with the PDK gearbox (the default choice in our region) and Sport Chrono package.

As luck would have it, the rain is coming down in sheets on the day I drive the new 718 range at the international launch in ­Portugal, so the softtop initially remains firmly in place. If there’s a plus to the weather, it’s that the sodden roads provide an opportunity to discover how sure-footed the revamped Boxster is in treacherous conditions.

First, I slot into the base-model Boxster, and my ears are greeted by an exhaust note that’s part Volkswagen Beetle (the old air-cooled one), part Subaru ­Impreza WRX. The staccato chatter seems strangely incongruous coming from the tailpipes of a Boxster. Things get better once on the move. It takes no more than 30 seconds to glean there’s now a fat reserve of mid-range torque – far more so than the old model – and the engine note improves with a few revs on board.

The turbo four still doesn’t sound terribly inspiring when cruising, but it takes on a pleasingly hard edge when you mash the throttle to the carpet. Should you choose to do this, you will find three-digit numbers clocking up in a virtual flash. Although largely academic unless you’re on a racetrack, the 718 Boxster can hit 275kph flat out, while the S has a 285kph max. Pretty impressive, given this is the handiwork of just four cylinders.

Although the power trains in both models are new, the chassis and major hardware are largely as before, so the Boxster’s beautiful balance and cornering composure remain untarnished. If anything, suspension and steering tweaks have yielded even sharper handling and a greater sense of connectedness to the tarmac. As a result, it proves superbly enjoyable to punt, even in the grey gloom enveloping ­Lisbon and its surrounds.

While the 718 Boxster doesn’t look hugely different to the outgoing model, the only external bits to have carried over are the softtop, boot lid and bonnet. Everything else – including front and rear wings, bumpers, headlights, taillights – is new, prompting Porsche execs to dub this a “new-generation” model. I’d call it a heavy upgrade/facelift, but I’m not here to split hairs.

The important thing is that it all gels well. The most notable visual identifier to the new 718 model is the horizontal black strip that spans the rump, and affixed to this is chrome Porsche lettering in a classic retro font. It’s a wonderful touch.

That pretty much sums up the 718 Boxster. Each of the revisions is carefully considered and well-executed. It may have lost some vocal character, but as an overall sporting package, it remains peerless.

motoring@thenational.ae