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Short Report: Porsche’s 718 Boxster GTS inches up top-down power, price and pleasure

It is largely forgotten in today’s nouveau luxury car culture that until 1965 a 4-cylinder engine powered every one of Porsche’s production cars. In a certain sense, the Porsche brand was built on 4-cylinder power. People should try to keep this in mind when considering the current 718 Boxster, because when the original Boxster launched in late 1996, it used a version of the flat 6-cylinder engine from the 911.

Until recently, 4-cylinder engines in a luxury brand car were passé. Consider that today’s entry-level Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5 Series sport 4-cylinder engines where, in prior generations, this approach would be a bit unthinkable for a luxury sedan. And talk about unthinkable: General Motors just announced a 4-cylinder engine for its full-size pickups.

But in the 718 Boxster’s case –and now, the new GTS variant –what may seem to be a downgrade is without a doubt a boost in power.

With a base of 300 horsepower from the standard Boxster’s turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, and 350 hp from the Boxster S version’s turbo 2.5-liter four, the new 2018 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS boosts power to 365 hp by using a slightly larger turbo compressor wheel and 18.1 psi maximum boost, up from 16.7. Also, a larger intake manifold uses four baffles that allow improved filling of each cylinder’s combustion chamber at higher boost.

Porsche’s own performance numbers for the GTS are quite stunning. Acceleration to 60 mph takes just 3.9 seconds with the PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission and 4.4 seconds with the 6-speed manual gearbox. Top speed is a lofty 180 mph.

Rather than compare and live inside the numbers, the demeanor of the car in the transition from a naturally aspirated flat six to a large-displacement turbo flat four is what fundamentally changes the Boxster’s character. What feels raucous, vibey, and even rude on a cold start slowly changes over time. One could argue (and certainly, Porsche does) that this is a better power plant and offers better power delivery for the small two-seat roadster than the older, larger, heavier, yet smoother flat sixes used before.

To illustrate this point, climb back inside the numbers and you’ll find that the 4-cylinder provides a broader power curve across all engine speeds. That’s an advantage while the busier flat-four churns away over your shoulder, reminding you at every point on the tach that this is, indeed, a large four. When you tickle 7,500 rpm, it tickles you.

By the way, Porsche has an even more recent history with large fours than the 1950s and early ’60s. The 924, 944, and 968 variants all used inline fours through the early 1990s, some turbocharged, some as large as 3.0 liters in displacement. Why? Large-capacity fours usually deliver excellent torque at lower revs while also being able to sing to 7,000 rpm when done well, offering a broad expanse of power over low and high engine speeds.

While engine sound is important in sports cars, it’s even more so in open sports cars, and the Boxster GTS displays some oddities.

With a manual transmission, as in my test vehicle, the exhaust emits an intermittent and off-putting metallic rattle at high rpm, traceable to an active flap in the exhaust stream, but seemingly only under certain driving circumstances (as when blipping the throttle on downshifts, for you inquiring minds).

Couple that with a fair-to-middling manual shifter (where both I and my equally expert driving partner selected fourth gear instead of second not once, but twice), and the 718 GTS engine/transmission is not quite blissful perfection in real life. Seat time would likely erase that possibility of a missed shift. But so would a more precise shift linkage.

One of the more effective controls offered by the GTS is the standard Sport Chrono Package. In addition to the Alcantara-covered smaller-diameter steering wheel, this adds a rotary dial on the wheel to select one of four drive settings: Normal, Sport, Sport Plus, and Individual. Sport and Sport Plus set the throttle and transmission to tip in and shift more aggressively, where Individual allows you to customize parameters to your own liking. Normal is, well, self-explanatory.

That eager 365-hp engine is bolted to a brilliantly agile, stiff, and willing open-top chassis that never shook or gave up any feeling of solidity due to its open-top design. Driving this car with the top down contributes positively to the experience, and you simply forget about the wind blocker mechanism, whether it’s up or down, which is really the top prize in droptops.

The GTS’ standard Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) also means the car rides 4/10ths of an inch lower than the base model. The PASM adjusts the relative compliance of the shocks, depending on the driving mode, and therefore allows some tweaking of ride firmness. But no amount of tweaking can, or should, change the fact that the Boxster and its enclosed Cayman coupe sibling are models of brilliant chassis design and suspension tuning. They’re firm without being too harsh, communicative through the steering wheel, seat, and pedals without being nervous.

The 718 Boxster GTS also features a more aggressive Sport mode for the stability control system (Porsche Stability Management), allowing a bit more slip before electronic safety nets intervene, such as when hustling around a track, for example.

On the Napa Valley roads where I drove the car, grip from the 235/35R20 front and 265/35R20 rear Michelins was stunning. However, it was also sufficient at the pace of my driving to soften the brake pedal after repeated high-speed braking on mountain twisties, making this the very first Porsche I’ve tested that exhibited any issue with lengthening brake pedal travel under duress.

Porsche prides itself on its braking – as it should – making this a small caveat related to the standard 13-inch front and 11.8-inch discs clamped by four-piston calipers all around. This wrinkle in an otherwise stellar chassis is erased, however, when the car is fitted with the optional carbon ceramic PCCB brakes with 13.8-inch discs at each corner, married to six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers, though they carry a hefty price of $7,410. For the driving enthusiast with Andretti fantasies, I’d go for the better brakes.

Even though the flat-four engine barks a guttural growl, the 718 Boxster GTS’ true nature is not so much in that engine, but in its athletic and communicative handling. It’s a leading-edge example of the best in mid-engine chassis hardware and the furthest thing from the drool-spewing dogfight you might surmise from the soundtrack.

Locking into the rhythm of a familiar switchback or desolate canyon-carving road becomes a rewarding, mind-clearing, spirit-boosting session worth more than the best psychiatrist. It’s tangible therapy and the best thing sports cars can do for us.

The fact that this Boxster can also do it alfresco should tell it, sell it, and kvell it like free schnitzel to everyone with a sports car mindset.

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