Porsche powers ahead

The roar of the fastest factory Porsches will be heard for the last time in the world championship round in Bahrain on 18 November. This means no more outright wins for Porsche in the Le Mans 24 Hour race '“ for the near future at least. It is putting more resources into racing the 911 RSR in GT classes around the globe and is going to enter the electric Formula E racing series. This fits with its Mission E plans for fully electric, high performance road cars for 'environmental friendliness, efficiency and sustainability'.
Switch on the ignition and the engine of the Porsche 718 Boxster settles into a throbby, off-beat, cammy exhaust burble.Switch on the ignition and the engine of the Porsche 718 Boxster settles into a throbby, off-beat, cammy exhaust burble.
Switch on the ignition and the engine of the Porsche 718 Boxster settles into a throbby, off-beat, cammy exhaust burble.

Porsche has won Le Mans more than any maker – 19 times including the past three years with its part-electric 919 hybrids in the fastest LMP1 class. In the past two events its reliability has beaten the challenge from faster Toyotas. Its abrupt withdrawal was a shock for race organisers, who had to put a brave face on things. The LMP1 class is the highlight of the races. What next year’s race will look like is conjecture. My money is on a walkover for Toyota.

Meanwhile at Porsche HQ in Stuttgart, life looks sweet. Sales, income, profit margins and workforce all increased in the first six months of the year. Porsche chairman Oliver Blume says: “The priority of Porsche is to have thrilled customers and secure, sustainable jobs. Strong financial results create a solid foundation for the future. Porsche counts on puristic and passionate sports cars – this currently includes the 911 GTS, the 911 GT3, the 911 Turbo S Exclusive and the 911 GT2 RS – as well as on future technologies such as plug-in hybrids and pure electric mobility.”

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It will be many years before Porsche ditches piston power. The engine and exhaust noises are addictive. Change does come. The two-seater Boxster and Cayman coupe models have lost their flat-six normally aspirated engines for the new 718 – the name is from Porsche’s past. Instead comes a smaller flat-four turbo engine in 2-litre and 2.5 litre capacities. Prices have altered, with the Cayman now cheaper than the Boxster.

They are more powerful, faster, cleaner and more economical than the larger flat-six engines they replace. They still sound good but the screaming wail has gone. Bah, progress. So far, so good for Porsche, whose UK sales are up 17 per cent this year.

Tested here is the 2-litre Boxster, with 296bhp. The 2.5 litre S gives 345bhp. Torque – the in-gear pulling power – rises to 280 lb ft and 309 lb ft respectively. Optimum 0-62mph times with the PDK automatic gears and Sport Chrono pack drop to 4.7 seconds and 4.2 seconds. Top speeds are 170 and 177mph. Official average fuel consumption is 40.9 and 37.7mpg – all figures are with the more efficient PDK gearbox. It’s an extra £2,000.

Body styling is revised, with most panels new for the 718. The cabin has a touchscreen information panel and standard fit includes Porsche’s latest communication system including Connect Plus and satellite navigation. Prices rise to £44,758 for the Boxster and leap to £53,714 for the better equipped Boxster S – though still with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. The deal includes a session at the company’s track and skid pans at Silverstone.

Until this model series, Porsche had charged more for the Cayman – even though makers normally charge more for a convertible. The rationale was that the Cayman looked more desirable and so we would pay more. It was skewed marketing – as if we would pay more for a 911 coupe than a cabriolet. No more: in the 718 series the Cayman now costs less than the Boxster. Cayman £42,897, Cayman S £51,853.

The 718 cars get the stronger brakes from the old S versions, while the S models get the four-piston callipers of the 911 Carrera, with 6mm thicker discs. Porsche says: “The retuned chassis of the 718 has increased dynamic responsiveness and cornering grip. Springs and anti-roll bars have been designed to be firmer and the tuning of the shock absorbers has been revised. The steering is ten per cent more direct, enhancing agility. The rear wheels, which are half an inch wider, with redeveloped tyres, result in an increased lateral force potential and hence greater cornering grip.”

I haven’t driven the S but the regular Boxster/Cayman has enough oomph for any legal driving in just about any country. Start up and the engine settles into a throbby, off-beat, cammy exhaust burble. Off you go and have fun. It’s quick. It grips. The power roof folds away in seconds. It’s wonderful. Its only peer rival is the front-engined Mercedes SLC.

It looks better, too, with a wider face and smarter rear cross-banded by the legend Porsche in blocked letters.

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It’s not perfect. My left shoulder protested every time I engaged reverse gear – a movement suited for drivers sitting on the left. Some controls are fiddly at first, and the electric parking brake selector is buried under the dashboard, so you have to lean forward and kiss the steering wheel to set it.

Leaving a junction on full lock the front wheels scrabble – but this only happens when the tyres are cold.

Verdict: Yes. Pricey but with more standard equipment.