On the face of it, the introduction of the Porsche 718 Boxster appears to present a facelifted model and an equally subtle name change. However, bar a few body panels and the roof, the new car is just that: totally new. In places it borrows heavily from the new 911 Carrera, but thanks to the sensational new flat-four engine it has a unique personality and is more desirable than any junior Porsche before it.
In the metal
Go on, do your best to say what's new about the Boxster without comparing it side-by-side with the old car. You'll guess (correctly) that there are new colours and wheel designs to choose from and you can't miss the restyled rear end with the opinion dividing 'PORSCHE' script between the redesigned lights. But in fact, only the windscreen frame, folding roof and luggage compartment lids are carried over. Up front there's a deeper bumper with larger vents to feed the radiators and bi-Xenon headlights are standard across the range, with LED daytime running lights, but if you want the distinctive four-point DRLs you need to fork out for the all-LED headlamps.
Down the side, the sills and wheelarches differ from model to model, but both the regular 718 Boxster and the Boxster S share enlarged air intakes ahead of the rear wheels, while at the back, either side of that prominent new accent strip, are LED lights with a four-point brake light signature. A new bumper houses central-exiting exhaust outlets - of different styles depending on the model.
Inside, the Boxster remains a 'cosy' two-seat car, but the 718 brings with it some useful upgrades, most notably to the infotainment. The latest touchscreen-equipped Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system is standard and it works well. Also new is the wonderfully tactile steering wheel introduced in the Porsche 911 and inspired by the 918 Spyder. It's a shame that there are distinctly plastic panels employed as inserts in the spokes, but thankfully it's a good size and great to hold. Below the right-hand spoke is a new mode switch that the driver twists to choose between Normal, Sport and Sport Plus modes. Specify the optional Sport Chrono Package and an Individual setting is added, while owners of the PDK-equipped automatic transmission additionally gain a 'Sport Response' button in the middle to give 20 seconds of maximum responsiveness.
We really should start with the engine, seeing as it's completely new. As before, it's mid-mounted, behind the occupants, but while the previous Boxster used a naturally aspirated flat-six unit, the 718 marks the debut of an all-new range of flat-four engines, with turbocharging. The regular 718 Boxster features a 2.0-litre unit and a single turbo, making 300hp. The Boxster S's engine shares the stroke, but has a bigger bore, increasing swept capacity to 2.5 litres. Its turbocharger also features a variable geometry turbine to give it more flexibility across the rev range.
Peak power is 350hp, while 420Nm of torque is available across a wide band, from 1,900- to 4,500rpm, and as ever with turbocharged engines, it's the torque that makes itself felt in everyday driving. The new 718 feels considerably quicker at all times than its predecessor, with not a hint of turbo lag. There's meaningful acceleration a mere flex of your right foot away at all times and yet it still has a meaty top end, fiercely revving from 4,500rpm or so to 6,500rpm where peak power is produced. And while some will bemoan the loss of the melodic six-cylinder wail of old, the new flat-four is no less thrilling. It sounds a little odd and unrefined at idle and can be relatively quiet at a cruise if needs be, but once you're driving a little faster it clears its throat in a unique manner, sounding unlike any other four-cylinder engine we can think of - Subaru's Boxer included. Fitted with the optional sports exhaust it's downright loud and it gives the Boxster a unique personality, helping it move out of the shadow of its big brother, the 911.
The mid-engined Boxster/Cayman chassis was rarely found lacking, but Porsche has made sweeping changes to it for the 718 and it's simply remarkable. There are bigger brakes as standard, while more direct power steering sets the scene from the off, making the Boxster feel agile and willing whether you're nipping around town or tackling a favourite back road. Yet it's not what we'd call nervous; this is a highly polished chassis that balances the needs of everyday driving and refinement with the ability to thrill its driver when the conditions allow. Saying that, in the specification we tested, with a brilliant six-speed manual gearbox, the Boxster S's demeanour was clearly tipped towards driving dynamics and driven back-to-back with the latest turbocharged 911 Carrera it felt more alive, more biddable and, in essence, more fun.
What you get for your money
The regular 718 Boxster costs from €67,963, while the Boxster S is €86,057 and both are at their most efficient when fitted with the optional PDK seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission, emitting 158- and 167g/km respectively. That means all bar the manual Boxster S we tested here sits in Band D for tax and VRT, costing a respectable €570 a year to tax.
In terms of standard equipment, the 718 Boxster has 18-inch alloy wheels while the Boxster S features 19-inch rims, both come with Porsche Tracking System Plus and all buyers get to drive at the Porsche Experience Centre in Silverstone in the UK.
Although our initial drive in the first of a new range of Porsche 718 models was brief, it was enough to reveal that the turbocharged flat-four engine gives the Boxster S a completely new feel, distancing it from the Porsche 911 and creating one of the most exciting roadsters sensible money can buy. While we're even more excited about the prospect of the 718 Cayman coupe, the Boxster S is, by any measure, an exhilarating sports car.