PORSCHE FANBOYS are a sensitive bunch, prone to fits of fluster when the brand’s sacred cows are slaughtered in the name of progress. The latest threat to their sanity is the 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster, a disruptive newcomer whose subtly tweaked bodywork cloaks an engine that subtracts two cylinders and adds a turbocharger. Purists are likely to dismiss the new Boxster’s 2.0- and 2.5-liter powerplants, the first four-bangers from Zuffenhausen in more than two decades. (See one of the original 718’s in the black-and-white photo below.) Their concerns are entirely comprehensible; after all, when was the last time a $69,450 German sports car shared its engine layout and displacement with a Subaru? Sidestep the small-engine stigma and the Boxster’s creds are compelling: 35 units more horsepower (for up to 350), gobs more torque, and a 4.4-second sprint to 60 mph.
Coupled with its featherlike weight, these factors enable a fully loaded 2.5-liter-engined S model to reach 60 as quickly as the mighty V-12-powered Mercedes-AMG S65 coupe. It not only attains an autobahn-worthy 177 mph but also enables you to go farther between fill-ups courtesy of a bump in fuel economy.
There’s more to an exceptional sports car than numbers, and the old, naturally aspirated Boxster endeared itself to enthusiasts with its free-flowing exhaust note, a mellifluous wail so gloriously singsongy it induced goose bumps. The new soundtrack is neither shy nor retiring (especially when spec’d with the optional Sport Exhaust package, which cranks up the bass-heavy thrum at the touch of a button). But the voluptuous song of its predecessor is gone, which will undoubtedly trigger wailing among diehards.
On the flip side, the retuned suspension enables the 718 to glide over twisting tarmac like a sidewinder, absorbing bumps while pivoting around its center axis. That sense of delightful maneuverability is aided by crisp steering that broadcasts a clear indication of where the tires meet the road.
You can love to hate the idea of a spendy open-air sled with a downsized engine, but the new Boxster shines where it really counts: on jagged mountain passes where man and machine commune.
The third-gen 718 has transmogrified from an innocuously cute convertible into a seriously potent yet—given its tiny engine—oddly paradoxical performance weapon. Porsche is on a mission to advance the Boxster lineup into the 21st century while meeting tightening emissions standards, and this particular solution may irk the ears of its most ardent critics. But the 718 satisfies where it matters the most: the seat of the pants.