2019 Porsche 718 Boxster (USA)

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Porsche announced a comprehensive update to their entry level pair of cars, the Boxster and closely related Cayman, in the second half of 2016. Although the most obvious visual difference was a chrome strip between the rear light clusters, the external changes were much more extensive than that, with every body panel altered, interior trim and equipment revised including a new infotainment system and so the cars were given the Porsche type code of 982, whereas the pre-facelift cars were the type 981, reminding us all that a lot had in fact been changed. The name changed, too, with both models now called the 718 Boxster or 718 Cayman, supposedly as a tribute to the 718 RSK racer which triumphed at the Targa Florio in 1959 and 1960, and rather more controversially, there was a new engine, a down-sized turbo-charged four cylinder unit, replacing the silky smooth 6 cylinder units of the outgoing cars. This was dictated by emissions challenges, we were told, but Porsche knew it would likely prove contentious, and so it proved with every reviewer at launch commenting unfavourably on the change, and what was lost, which was more around noise and aural engagement than absolute power. All the other attributes of the duo which made it such an attractive proposition for those looking for true 2 seater sports car (with a decent budget to buy and run it, of course!) remained as compelling as ever, we were told, and although the press and the internet experts were all upset, sales have remained buoyant. I never managed to sample a 981-series Boxster, but it did get to drive the equivalent Cayman and was very impressed by it, finally “getting” the allure of Porsche. So when I learned that Hertz were going to get a new delivery of 718 Boxster and Cayman on fleet for 2019, I was particularly keen to try one. They started to arrive on the last day of my November 2018 trip, so I was hopeful that they would still be on fleet some four months later when I would return in March 2019. And thankfully it became clear that they were still around, with a number of entry level versions of both 718 Boxster and Cayman still in evidence at the Hertz LAX facility, painted either in black or white. Both are popular with rental customers, especially for weekend rentals, not least because Hertz will rent these for a lower daily rate than the 911s and other high end cars that they have had in recent times, so I had to bide my time but mid-week, on my return from Phoenix and my luck was in, and a 718 Boxster with the photographically easier white paint was available for an upgrade fee which I’ve been asked not to disclose (let’s just say it was a much better deal than if you booked the car outright on the website).

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Many have complained at the loss of the 6 cylinder note from the car, but when you start the 718 Boxster up, the noise is still pretty epic, with a real bark to the exhaust. As with so many cars, as the engine warms, the noise does abate somewhat, but I was still repeatedly thrilled by the sounds this car made during the time I had it. And with the roof down pretty much all the time, I got full benefit, of course. There is a very distinctive sound which reminds you that this is a flat four engine. Slightly surprisingly, you need to put the key into a slot to the left of the wheel, to start it. The car goes very well. With 300 bhp at your disposal, this is a rapid car, with voracious acceleration on tap from whatever speed you are doing and the engine is flexible and willing all the way to the 7,600 rpm red line if you really want to push it. Of course respect for the law meant that I was limited to what could be done on public roads, The test car had the optional 7 speed PDK automatic transmission and this works really well, always seemingly being in the right gear and changing to another one at lightning speed. There are paddles if you want to change the gears yourself, but the ‘box is so good doing it that I chose not to bother most of the time. I covered 280 miles during my day with the car and it needed 9.2 gallons to fill it up again, which works out at an impressive 30.43 mpg US or 36.36 mpg Imperial.

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It’s not just the performance that impresses, but also the other driving dynamics. The steering is among the very best there is, with perfect weighting and feel, just as precise around the straight ahead as it is on the twisty bits. And you will want to find some bendy roads to experience the handling and grip, which are also outstanding. The car has far more ability than I have, and you would have to do something silly to get into trouble at road legal speeds. This has to be one of the most fun cars to drive that there is, as one advantage it has over more costly cars is that the Boxster is not too big, so you don’t have to worry about excessive width even on narrower roads. There’s not even much of a penalty from a ride point of view. This version of the 718 Boxster comes on 265/40 ZR19 wheels at the rear and slightly smaller 235/40 ZR19s at the front. For sure the car is firm, but not uncomfortably so. Needless to say, there are powerful brakes which will bring things to a rapid halt should the need arise. All round visibility with the roof down is excellent, but when it is up, there is a big over the shoulder block, meaning care is needed at oblique junctions. Front and rear parking sensors are standard and there is a rear-view camera.

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There is an obvious and definite family connection to the Boxster’s big brother, the 911, ebvident when you open the door and look inside. The interior quality is superlative. High quality leather lines the dash and the door casings, and, in the test car, pleasing metal effect inlays provide some visual variety. There is a chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel which was just the right thickness and was a delight to hold. There are three round dials presented under a single binnacle, each set in its own cowl and they overlap slightly. The central dial is a rev counter and to the left there is a dial for the speedometer, which reads up to 175 mph. There is a digital repeater in the base of the rev counter. The right hand dial has the fuel level and is also used for trip data info, or other views including what is playing on the radio or if fitted (it was not, on the test car), the navigation map that you can specify. Lights operate from a rotary dial on the dash. As well as the twin column stalks for indicators and wipers, there is a stubbier stalk on the lower right for cruise control, which means that there are no buttons on the steering wheel spokes, something which is quite unusual these days. The centre of the dash contains a neatly integrated 7″ touch screen for infotainment functions and various car settings and other data points. The unit encompasses HD and XM Satellite as well as AM and FM radio, as well as Bluetooth, and the audio remains usable even with the roof down, if you turn the volume up a bit. The standard 6-speaker system was fitted. More sophisticated units with Apple Car Play and 10 or 12 speakers are available as cost options. Navigation was not fitted to the test car. There are still plenty of buttons and knobs to operate the audio functions, thankfully. Beneath this unit are the controls for the dual zone climate control. The centre console contains an array of buttons for other functions, such as erecting the rear spoiler, putting the exhaust into sport mode and selecting stop/start. It’s nothing like as bewildering a collection of buttons as you get in other Porsche models, and as such is quite easy to assimilate quickly. Every button and switch feels like a true quality item.

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Traditional two seater sports cars had roofs which were always quite a challenge in every respect, from putting the up and down, how good they actually kept rain and cold out, and the restricted visibility on offer when they were in position. The 718 Boxster avoids most of these problems. The roof is electrically operated, so lowering it is as simple was pressing a button fro 20 seconds, which is the time it takes for the roof to fold down neatly into a stowage well behind the seats. There is an anti-buffeting screen and the combination of this and driving with the side windows up means that it is perfectly viable to drive at freeway speed with the roof down, and indeed that is what I did. The roof fits well and the car is much quieter with it in situ, so the only lingering issue is that the visibility is not as good with the roof erect as when it is down. But with a rear-view camera part of the standard spec, the only significant issue is the over the shoulder view, something that is not that hard to live with.

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The 718 Boxster is a strict two seater. Like all cars of this genre, this is an art to getting in and out, as it is quite low slung. The doors open nice and wide, but you still have to get yourself installed on a low-set seat, so a modicum of agility is called for. The leather-trimmed seats are electrically adjustable and once you have found the ideal driving position, there are two memory settings to store its co-ordinates. There is also a manually extensible bolster under the driver’s thighs for those longer in that part of their anatomy. The seats have heated elements in them, though I had no cause to test this in my early April drive. I can report that the seat was very comfortable, and although you are sitting very low – which is kind of the point for a sports car – it all felt “just right”.

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You don’t buy a 2 seater sports car and expect a vast carrying capacity, but it is clearly helpful if there is some room for luggage for a couple of people, and the Boxster actually scores surprisingly well in this regard. Thanks to the mid-engined configuration, there are boots both at the front and the back. The one at the rear of the car is relatively modest, but you could certainly get a soft bag or two in there and the one at the front is surprisingly deep and will readily accommodate a suitcase, albeit put in upright, with space around for a few smaller items. Provided it is in the right sized bags to make best use of the available space, there is probably enough space for the luggage of two people who want to go away for a few days. If either front seat is set well forward, there is even space for a bit more between the seats and the rear bulkhead. There are also a few places in the cabin for smaller items, with a glovebox, an armrest cubby and door pockets whose access is eased by pivoting around the outer face. There are a pair of cupholders, though these are quite well hidden, folding out from the dash above the glovebox.

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The 2019 Porsche 718 Boxster is a two-seat, rear-wheel-drive soft-top convertible sports car that is available in three trims: base, S and GTS. The three are primarily differentiated by the size and output of the turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with the GTS being the most powerful. Porsche offers an exhaustive (and frequently costly) supply of options for all trims. The related 718 Cayman coupe mirrors the 718 Boxster range. The base 718 Boxster comes with a turbocharged 2.0-litre flat (horizontally opposed) four-cylinder (300 bhp, 280 lb/ft of torque) and 18-inch wheels. Aside from the badges, you can tell it apart from the S by its black brake calipers and single central tailpipe. The S model is furnished with a turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder (350 bhp, 309 lb/ft of torque). It is visually differentiated from the base model by 19-inch wheels, two centrally mounted exhaust tips and red brake calipers. The GTS trim uses a slightly more powerful version of the S engine; output is increased to 365 hp regardless of transmission. The dual-clutch automatic also receives a bump to 317 lb-ft (the manual-transmission torque is unchanged). The GTS also features 20-inch wheels, restyled front and rear fascias, the Sport Chrono package (detailed below), adaptive suspension, sport seats, and a mechanical rear differential that also includes a brake-actuated torque vectoring system. Note that these additions are available on Boxster and Boxster S models. With the above exceptions, the trim levels start with the same level of standard equipment, including a power-folding soft top, xenon headlights, a six-speed manual transmission, front and rear parking sensors, a sport exhaust, a rearview camera, power and heated side mirrors, automatic climate control, sport seats, partial leather upholstery, Bluetooth, a touchscreen display, and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio and two USB ports. All trims have equal access to Porsche’s exhaustive options list, providing numerous opportunities for prospective owners to personalize their car. Performance choices include Porsche’s PDK seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and carbon-ceramic brakes. The Sport Chrono package adds a stopwatch to the top of the centre console, a drive mode selection dial to the bottom right of the steering wheel, and a less intrusive stability control setting. When optioned with the PDK transmission, the package also includes launch control. Interior options to look out for include upgraded seats (heating, ventilation and more power adjustments), upgraded leather upholstery, and keyless ignition and entry. Porsche offers two upgrades for the standard stereo: a 10-speaker Bose system and a 12-speaker Burmester system. Apple CarPlay, a navigation system and a 4G LTE connection are also available. Safety options include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and mitigation, turn-adapting headlights and blind-spot monitoring. Porsche also provides seemingly endless ways to customise the 718 Boxster’s interior and exterior, from wheel style to the colour of the soft top to completely custom body paint. The interior offers multiple leather and stitching styles, and trims are available in wood, aluminium and simulated suede. The test car came largely devoid of any options, which must be quite unusual.

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I really enjoyed my day with the 718 Boxster. Based on a test of the 981-series Cayman a few years ago, a car which I also rated very highly indeed, my expectations were very high, and I was not disappointed. This is one of the very best cars to drive that money can buy. Yes, even in entry level spec. It is impeccably finished inside, built to the highest quality and is practical enough for the two people it will accommodate, so it would be a highly usable every day car. So what about the outcry over the 4 cylinder engine? Really, I think more was made of this than was merited. Yes, you do lose some of that super smoothness of a 6 pot, and yes, the sound is a bit different, but is this enough to put you off? Perhaps only if you’ve lived with a 981-series car for a while, but for someone coming to it fresh, then I really don’t think this is that big a deal. One of the other changes with the 982-series was to position the Boxster as a costlier car than the Cayman, in common with most other cars where the open-topped model costs more than the closed one. Be that as it may, given the excellence of the car, I think the entry level car is still good value. Hertz have the Cayman on fleet as well, and I look forward to being able to sample one of those on a forthcoming US trip.

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