Road test

Roadtest: Porsche 718 Boxster GTS

A few days ago a friend sent me a message with a single photo of a 718 Boxster GTS and a proposal to test drive it. We agreed to meet after work. 5 minutes before the agreed time I was eagerly waiting on the street for his arrival. Some sort of a Subaru sound was approaching while downshifting, it had to be the Boxster. There it was at the end of the street with its top down.

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The GTS is the most powerful version within Porsches mid-engine sports car range, with 366cv and 430Nm provided by a turbocharged 4-pot boxer engine. Our test machine uses a 7-speed PDK gearbox to deliver the power to the rear wheels. It does 0 to 100Km/h in 4.1s and may reach (if you have the guts and find a long enough stretch of asphalt) a top speed of 290km/h. With a declared weight of 1480kg, it’s neither a fat-assed modern car, nor a flyweight.

The latest generation Porsches are extremely well engineered cars and this is the instant impression you get when you first sit in one of them.

As we drive around the city in our way to a nearby mountain pass, we spend a few minutes checking and discussing all the gadgets equipped in this car, a bit too much for my taste, may I say. Full-led headlights, keyless access, Bose sound system, navigation system, parking sensors all-round, leather and alcantara upholstery, carbon interior, Sport Chrono, PDK, PASM, torque vectoring, sports exhaust, loads of exterior trim goodies… The car was equipped with almost everything that could be specced for it.

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I am still amazed by the superb quality of the Sport Plus seats trimmed in leather and Alcantara, that are a standard feature on the GTS. They are perhaps the best seats I have ever sat on, with great lateral support and loads of comfort. On the other hand, the sport exhaust is for me one of the less interesting options. The excessive artificial pop and bangs are greatly exaggerated with it.

While waiting in a traffic light, we used the time to check the roof operation. Fast, very fast, I would say it needn’t longer than 5 seconds to retract or raise, also being able to do it while driving at speeds below 50km/h.

When I first started the car after taking the drivers seat I was able to check the solution used by Porsche to keep their traditional start-up method (you know, the key on the left-hand side of the steering wheel) when equipped with the keyless access system. A fake plastic key is in the usual (to Porsche) place and is activated in the same fashion as a traditional key. Not a bad solution to preserve part of the tradition, but I’d rather use a real key. At the end of the day, this is a car with fun as its only purpose and every bit counts.

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At the wheel I feel immediately comfortable. I had this same sensation back in 2006 when I first drove a Cayman S 987. After 13 years, this is the first time I feel this instantaneous connection. It may be the steering wheel position, high, which falls perfectly in the hands; the pedals, which are just in the right place; the seat adjustment; I do not know, but it happens. It’s the same feeling you have when talking to a good old friend that you have not seen for a long time but, as soon as you start talking, everything flows with surprising ease.

The instrument panel provides perfectly legible and complete information, as Porsche has us used to. Although, and this is a personal opinion, I prefer the classic analog dials to the multifunction screens.

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Surprisingly, being PDK and Volkswagen DSG almost twin gearboxes, there is a huge difference both in speed and smoothness. I did not find any of the problems that I used to complain about. It delivers silk-smooth transitions, instantaneous gear changes, both up and down , and its operation with the wonderful oversized aluminium flappy paddles is almost unbeatable. As a single hit, it’s operation is a tad difficult when driving through a bend because the paddles are not that easy to reach.

There is just one thing that left me utterly unimpressed; the electric steering is perhaps one of the weak points in all the Porsches since the magnificent hydraulic steering gave its way to it. Soft and not very communicative, I do not think it is up to the rest of the package.

The 2.5 liter 4-cylinder boxer engine propels the car with heavyweight punch from the very low-end of the tachometer, while also doing it in a very linear manner, hardly noticing the turbocharged nature of this engine. Actually it has such a quick response that I could think that it is a normally aspirated car if such a huge amount of torque wasn’t there in the whole rev range. Whereas I was expecting the engine to rev much higher than the 7000rpm redline, torque highly compensates the lack of revs.

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I only drove quite fast in a short stretch of road, while the asphalt was starting to get damp. These conditions allow you to quickly perceive any weak points out of the chassis, but even under these circumstances, its good manners do not loose any bit of composure. Finding weak spots to this chassis is, at least for me and on an open road, nearly impossible. Neutral behaviour, scalpel precise turn-in, punchy corner exit with loads of traction; I can do no more than praise the superb work done by the engineers who designed and tuned this chassis.

In the magazines I usually read, when any Porsche sportscar is compared with its rivals, the first usually wins the effectiveness and lap time battle, while being almost always the second contender (whichever it is) the more emotional. So far, based on my experience and letting myself be led by those journalists, I absolutely agreed with that statement. But what do we consider when we say that a car is or is not emotional? Isn’t a car that raises your adrenaline levels far above what you’re used to an emotional car?

This 718 has a very aggressive driving position, considering that it is a mid-engine car and the driver is placed very close to the front axle, it provides huge turn-in confidence, which encourages you to push it with more and more decision. The electrical steering and engine noise are far from perfect, but all in all these are not that awful to destroy the whole experience and make it a less emotional car than any other sportscar I have driven. It’s a different experience, certainly; focused on the chassis behaviour and not so much on driver involvement, but it’s equally demanding and intoxicating.

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This Boxster has made me rethink many of my dogmas. I can even accept that sometimes a manual gearbox can be replaced by something else. But that thing can just be a PDK box.

Bad news is, price tag starts from around CHF 106,000 here in Switzerland for a base GTS (Almost CHF 130,000 the one I drove). A high price tag for an entry level Porsche, may I say. But who can determine how much is perfection worth?

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