I busied myself with ashing a half-Lucky Strike when the phone rang. On the other end was a dame called 'opportunity'. She was a hard one to turn down, always looking to get into trouble, but with her it was always a good time. "Get on a plane, get yourself to Austin, Texas", she said, "I've got a job for you". I paint myself a skeptic, and the stakes are higher than I'm comfortable with, but the payoff is worth it.
Trying to keep my calm I say, "Oh yeah? What's the job?". As it happens some German miscreant has absconded with two of the new 718s pistons and with them have gone perhaps some of its verve. She wants me to question some folk, to get the whos and whys of the situation. In return I'm promised a day with what could be the best sports cars Germany can churn out, and a day poking around one of the most impressive autbile racing facilities in the world, let alone America. When Porsche beckons, you don't keep her waiting.
I arrive but three days hence, under prepared, in a perpetual state of ready-as-I'll-ever-be for the job that lies ahead. The outgoing Boxster and Cayman were as near to powertrain perfection as a manufacturer can get, how can anyone improve upon perfection? Porsche tried to tweak the formula and to be frank, it'll take some persuading to get me to admit they've changed things for the better. I'm tasked with finding out if the good outweighs the bad, or if flaws have rendered the diamond industry grade.
Not Everything Is Bigger In Texas
They say everything's bigger in Texas, but not when it comes to Porsche's mid-mounted method of propulsion. By the numbers, the new turbocharged flat-four engines are an improvement on the outgoing flat-six engines. The S models are up 34 horsepower and 44 lb-ft of torque, the base cars have increased that same 34 horsepower and a whopping 73 lb-ft of torque. Those damn Germans, strict as they are, are excited by measurable improvement with percentage points and charts, graphs and statistics. By their metrics, the car is an improvement, with quicker 0-60 times and Yes, it is faster, but is faster better?
The New 718 Competes With Its Former Self
The new Boxster and Cayman don't have to compete with the rest of the market, they run rings around a Merc SLK or a BMW Z4. Don't even think about comparing them to a Corvette or an Audi TT, nobody in their healthy sane mind would. For the money, the 718 may be the best sports car currently on the market. It's a gem in an otherwise dark and gloomy world. No, the new 718 must compete with the 981 chassis version of itself. The car it is replacing may be the one Porsche should fear the most.
It's the sound, that blasted booming blat emanating from the tail end of this car, that is mostly tolerable, occasionally decent, frequently insufferable. For decades, Porsche has been synonymous with sonorous, their exhausts some of the best in the business. I've driven many of their cars, especially their mid-engine cars and wondered how anyone could improve upon that. With every new iteration, they would take a step closer toward the face of God. That is, until I made the acquaintance of the 982 generation. With this thundering baritone flatulence, I can't help but feel they've stepped a few hundred paces in the wrong direction.
Excepting that the car sounds as if it's auditioning for last-chair tuba in the Marshall Middle School Marching Band, everything else seems familiar. I'm dancing with an old friend. The mid-engine weight balance is familiar, the interior remains nearly identical. Even the steering, cribbed from the 911 Turbo and the Boxster Spyder/Cayman GT4 twins is reminiscent of my favorites. There is some excellent among the bad. Even with a new heart and a change of personality, the 718 remains the best dancing partner Porsche can offer.
First Date With The New 718 Boxster
In the morning, I've got a date with a beautiful Boxster S, loaded with all the goodies. It's a stunning black number with the most gorgeous Bordeaux/Black leather interior I've ever seen. It's outfitted to the gills with options, including every acronym in the Porsche book, and comes with a hefty as-tested price tag of $93,535. At the base price, a paltry $68,400, I can easily see the value. With a startling $25 thousand in options tacked on, I can't imagine not moving up to a base 991.2 Carrera Cabriolet. In any case, we dance for a few hours as the sun starts to rise overhead and bake us both near-to-death. With a simple raise of the convertible top, I'm comfortable again with cooled seats and maximum air conditioning. It's hot and humid this time of year in Texas, anything but top-down weather.
This beauty and I find a rhythm and with the sport-exhaust turned off and top raised I don't so much mind the exhaust as I can't hear it anymore. We set our sights on a nearby lake with some nice flowing roads, and as we exit the city the familiar experience with the mid-engine chassis comes flowing back. Though some of the passsion is missing from the exquisite engine note of the prior car, everything else is improved. The steering, the response, the chassis, the power, everything feels similar, if not slightly better.
New Turbo Technology is Impressive
Some might imagine that with the new smaller turbocharged engines (Porsche calls it "rightsizing") the car would be plagued with boost threshold issues, causing an elastic power-delivery as boost pressure builds. The truth is, you have none of that. Porsche has developed an electrically controlled quasi-anti-lag system that keeps the turbo spooling even when you're off throttle. As soon as you get into the gas again, all of the power is there, you don't have to wait for it to provide you the shove as did the turbos of old. Both engines still rev to the low 7000s, which is impressive, and they have the throttle-response feel of a naturally aspirated engine. Objectively, this is a forward move for Porsche, as exhaust emissions are improved, as is fuel economy. More power, better for the environment, and similar redline and throttle response? Why should I even be complaining?
Time To Switch To The Cayman
We stop for lunch, grabbing some phenomenal Texas barbecue, eating far too much. It's a surprise that I still fit in the driver's seat when lunch is over. In the afternoon, I grab the keys to a red base 718 Cayman and get ready for the traffic shuffle back to our lodging. This is the lowest-optioned car that Porsche has brought out, painting a stark dichotomy between the pricey Boxster S I'd been driving. With Torque Vectoring, Porsche Active Suspension Management, and the Sport Exhaust option among a few others, the $53,900 base price is still a too-high $68,390. It's immediately evident that the Cayman's lack of fancy whizzbang options is to its benefit. This is the car that Porsche has always excelled at building. This is a no-nonsense sports car that will have you smiling for miles.
While in the 981 generation, I actually preferred the Boxster over the Cayman, the 982 has switched that. For one, the new bumper treatments, wider side vent air inlets, and sharper fender creases work much better with the coupe's lines. The design looks much more cohesive on the Cayman than the Boxster does. The Boxster is still a pretty car, but the Cayman takes it to a new level. Additionally, the 718's new pricing structure has the Cayman positioned below the Boxster for the first time. Sure, the difference is only $2100, but the point stands.
The 718 Cayman is the car that Porsche has always excelled at building
My time with the Boxster is spent dancing, but when I step into the Cayman, my tack changes to more of an interrogation. It's been a few years since I've been in a base Porsche, having most recently spent time in the GTS and GT4 versions. It doesn't take more than a few corners to start loving it, though. Without any of the nonsense, this Cayman feels almost like a return to form for Porsche. The added power of the new engine makes the base car drive a lot like the S, or even the GTS. The added torque, though, is what you really notice. You're given a lot more flexibility in your gearing. You can generally drive a gear higher than you could in the old car, as you've got enough torque to accelerate out of a lot of situations, even at lower RPMs.
I didn't particularly like the Pirelli tires our tester was fitted with, as they felt like they lacked grip at the limit. I got the car to move around a lot on these tires, but in fairness it could have been that it was a 100+ degree day, and I was really caning it. It was nice to have a bit of sidewall on the 19s, however, versus the lower-profile tires on the Boxster S' 20 inchers. This allowed some compliance in the tire before they broke away. You could almost feel the car settling down into the corner as you turned the wheel. It made for a bit more comfortable ride, too. The car comes standard with 18" wheels, which would honestly be my preference.
A Return To Porsche's Roots
Standing in the hot sticky Austin afternoon, a sinking feeling appears in the pit of my gut that this new car is as it should have been all along. Through history, Porsche's entry-level cars have had four cylinders. Think about it. Nine-twelve, Nine-fourteen, Nine-twenty-four, Nine-fourty-four, Nine-sixty-eight, they were all quad-piston powered. When the Boxster first showed up on the scene in 1997, it was fitted with a new watercooled flat-six that would work its way into the 996 just a while later. The engine was used because Porsche was broke and needed to take advantage of the cost savings of parts sharing. If they'd made a 4-cylinder for the Boxster, they'd have needed another assembly line, another new engine, another new cost.
Had the Boxster and Cayman been four-cylinder cars all along, this new iteration would likely be hailed as the best thing since the car was introduced. Add turbos, and everything gets better, right? Disregarding the soundtrack, the new 718 looks more aggressive, drives dreamier, accelerates quicker, goes farther between fuel-ups, and pollutes less. Maybe the downside of making the 981 sound so good is that the 982 had so much to live up to that it couldn't really ever hope to pass muster.
One Step Back. One Step Forward.
It's time to report my findings back to my unnamed client. With hat in hand, I return to my and relay that this car requires a change of ideology. Yes the built-in audio track is a step backward, but the car itself is a step forward. The numbers are excellent, yes, and the soul is diminished, yes, but it's still so brilliant in its execution. When we get down to the nitty-gritty, this is still a hell of a car, and it drives like a dream. If you're in the market for a new sports car, try one out. You should be able to look past the sound to the near-perfect driving experience. This is, however, the first time since the Boxster was introduced that I've preferred a base Carrera to it's smaller and cheaper mid-engine brother. The new Carrera gained turbos, but didn't lose any of its soul. The 982 cashed in some of the 981s soul for a bit more speed.
My Perfect 718
If it were me optioning out a car, I'd stay with a bare-bones Cayman, checking minimal options boxes. You can be sure I'd forego the sport exhaust option. At nearly $3000 dollars, it's a pricey option, and only serves to exacerbate my frustrations with the exhaust sounds. Get the extended range fuel tank at only $140 dollars. Get the $320 GT Sport Steering Wheel option, it's fantastic. Get the Sports Seats Plus (2-way adjustable) for an extra $800. And if you're feeling particularly fancy, tick the Leather Package in Black/Bordeaux Red box, as it's phenomenal to look at and costs just $640. Add in $1050 for delivery charges, and you've got an excellent sports car at only $56,850. They look excellent in white, which is a no-cost color. That's a bargain of a Porsche if ever there were one.
I'm hoping that an aftermarket company can produce a set of unequal-length headers or somehow elsewhile tune the exhaust note to be a bit more pleasing. If they can do that, it'll fix my qualms with the 718 and I'll probably drop by my dealer to order one myself.