Saturday, January 7, 2017

Is the new 718 a proper Porsche?

Every Porsche evolution since 1965 seems to begin with the same cry:

"They've ruined it!"

Usually these complaints center around issues like weight, sound, design, and, most of all... tradition. The Porsche owner community values tradition over almost all other virtue. At the heart of that tradition, at least since 1965, is the catechism that proper Porsches have a flat, horizontally opposed six cylinder engine. There's a rumour that Egyptologists once found this chipped in hieroglyphics on a boulder in the Valley of the Kings. And this is why, despite their many and wonderful virtues, apostate Porsche models such as the 944 and 928 have gotten the occasional side eye since they were born.

The interloper. Doesn't look that scary, does it?
The recent launch of the 2017 718 Boxster and Cayman featured much of the same hyperventilation. Why, you ask? Well... Porsche had the temerity to replace the previous generation's flat six with an all new horizontally opposed engine design. And that design has... wait for it... four cylinders!

Oh, the horror! Quick - grab pitchforks and torches, we're headed for Stuttgart the castle!

Rivers of ink have already been spilled about this horrifying break from tradition, this refutation of all that is holy in (Porsche) life. Never mind that this engine design is where the whole Porsche adventure began with the Gmund coupes of the late 1940s. But is the new car really such an outcast? I recently spent three days in the company of a 718 Boxster. My take from that experience is a bit different.

In early January my 2002 911 did what older cars do: it broke. So off to Leith Porsche we went, and I emerged in a 2017 718 base Boxster with several nice options; PDK transmission and the all important Sport Chrono package which includes Sport+ mode.

So what did I learn in three days of commuting and one afternoon of sunny, dry spirited testing? Well, first off, the car is blindingly fast. I'll say it here and repeat it again I suspect, having driven the base 718 extensively it is hard to imagine most buyers actually needing the S version of the new Boxster or Cayman. Except for the better brakes maybe... but other than that, this 300 horsepower/4.9 second 0-60 angry little rocket does everything any mere mortal driver could need.

Optional 718 badging fits well with the new Porsche inset under the rear spoiler.

As for handling, during previous seat time with a 991S I found my first experience with electrical power steering less than satisfying. In this new generation 718 I barely noticed it. The car turned in with plenty of feedback. In fact when I returned to my own 911 it felt heavy and slow comparatively.

The interior appointments of the new generation mid-engined cars show Porsche's continued commitment to providing a driving environment commensurate with the price point. In other words, it's really nice in there - once you get in. Gotta admit, climbing in and out of the Boxster when the top was up isn't as easy as it once was. I banged my head several times before perfecting my entry technique.

But getting back to the interior... the latest version of Porsche Communication Management continues the steady evolution of this solid system. The thin film transistor (TFT) main screen is fabulous, with a seamless, modern look. Getting back in my 2012 Cayenne, the previous generation PCM that I like so much seemed old.

One of these things doesn't match.
All that said, I do have one criticism; the new Sport Chrono steering wheel mode control knob. The functionality is welcome - allowing easy swapping between Normal, Sport, Sport+, and Individual settings. No, my problem is with the knob itself. It feels cheap in a Wal-Mart plasticky way. I'm sure there is some Exclusive option that will render the part in exotic hides or marble. But the basic part just doesn't have the quality feel of the rest of the interior.

And now the elephant in the room...

Note that I have not yet mentioned sound, and I don't mean the stereo. You have no doubt already heard the loudest criticism of this new Porsche: the sound it makes. Or, more specifically the sound it does not make. This criticism is accurate, if misplaced. The new 718's flat four does not sound like the previous generation's flat six. How could it? There are many reasons Porsche went to four cylinders: fuel mileage regulations, efficiency, and space requirements among them. And let's not discount the continuing marque goal to better separate this series from it's larger and more expensive 991 sibling.

The question is whether this change compromises the car. I don't think it does. The 718 is a hoot to drive; quicker than a puck on ice combined with a purposeful and luxurious workspace. Now, the new sound took some getting used to. But in Sport+ the engine roared and popped angrily. It sounded a proper sports car. And it is important to note the car I drove did not have the Sport Exhaust option. So I'm discounting this criticism almost entirely. And I completely reject the "it sounds like a Subaru" argument. Any WRX owner would kill to have the sound a 718 makes. So just add Sport Exhaust and move on. Nothing more to see here.

That advice to add Sport Exhaust brings us to the final question: Do I want a new 718? Well... yes I do. While I'm not replacing my much beloved 911 anytime soon, if I were it might well be with a base 718 Cayman. I even optioned one the way I'd like it, in Guards Red with Sport Chrono, Sport Exhaust, and the superb 18 way adjustable sport seats. I'm still debating PDK... but that's a discussion for another day.

How would you option your 718?