Bill McKinnon road tests and reviews the 2016 Porsche 718 Boxster S with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Porsche punts on turbo fours and the Boxster, on paper, is a good thing made better.

The Boxster has been around for 20 years — and 2016's new from the wheels up 718 model ushers in the greatest changes in Porsche's history.

The maker is nervous about the latest Boxster and its Cayman coupe sibling getting a less than glowing reception due to the change from the much-loved naturally aspirated six-cylinder engines to turbo four-cylinder power.

To emphasise that the Boxster and Cayman fours are pukka performance, pedigreed Porsches, it has resurrected the 718 badge, which adorned its four-pot racers of the late 1950s-early 1960s.

But are they? We're driving the Boxster S to find out.

Design

Porsche probably would have preferred not to make the move to four-cylinder turbos. Ever more restrictive EU emissions regulations forced its hand, as with the 911 Carrera's change last year from 3.4 and 3.8-litre atmo sixes to a 3.0 turbo six.

The Boxster S, at $143,100, runs a 257kW 2.5-litre engine. That's 26kW more than the previous model's 3.4-litre. A six-speed manual is standard; seven-speed PDK, as fitted to our car, adds $4990.

The 718 is low, wide, mean and quite beautiful, even with the roof up.

The original 1996 Boxster was a strange, blob-like object with front and rear styling that, in both cases, looked as though it had been applied to the wrong end. The soft-top, when raised, made it look like something out of Bananas in Pyjamas.

With each subsequent model, Porsche has infused more masculinity, elegance and pleasing proportion into the Boxster. The 718 is low, wide, mean and quite beautiful, even with the roof up.

Gaping front and side ducts hoover the air for induction, intercooler and cooling into the relevant plumbing.

The cockpit has Porsche's familiar snug style, with a compact centre stack/console festooned with buttons. You're positioned low and recumbent, in a firm, well-bolstered seat with everything close at hand. Even when driving the 718 with a bit of stick, it's relaxing, comfortable and effortless.

Inherited from the 911 is a wheel-mounted switch for drivetrain/suspension adjustment, with a button that primes the engine with revs for 20 seconds in anticipation of your need to overtake. Useful-sized storage compartments are provided at both ends and the cabin has plenty of bins and pockets too.

Around town

Annoying vibration intrudes at low revs and, around town, the PDK transmission is less refined and more hesitant than it used to be, probably because turbocharging, especially at low boost, is a less spontaneous and more difficult segue with the shift mapping than natural aspiration.

This is particularly noticeable in traffic, where throttle response and gear selection are less smooth and seamless than previously. On a light throttle, it wants to shift up at 1800rpm, which is too early for the engine to pull the next gear properly.

The 718 S is a much more relaxing, pleasant touring car.

Porsche has calibrated it this way to limbo under emissions regulations — fair enough but it's a backward step as far as the way the Boxster drives in town.

Drivetrain refinement and shift timing improve if you use Sport mode, where PDK isn't fixated on getting to seventh gear as quickly as possible to minimise emissions. In traffic, we used 9.5L-11.5L/100km.

On the road

As a performance engine, the 2.5-litre engine in the Boxster S has its pros and cons compared with the superseded 3.4.

It's much more tractable, producing a massive 420Nm of torque from just 1900rpm. It pulls hard from 2000rpm-7200rpm, with extra kick from 5000rpm, so you're typically running a gear, or two, higher.

It's also a lot quieter in cruise mode, so the 718 S is a much more relaxing, pleasant touring car. On the highway, the test car returned 6L-7L/100km.

On a tight, winding road it's untouchable, with a tighter body, sharper steering, sportier dynamics and cornering ability that will astound you.

At the top end it flies, claiming 4.2 seconds for the 0-100km/h trip in the Sports Chrono version tested, 0.6 secs quicker than the previous model and 0.2 secs quicker than the current 911 Carrera.

Downsides? Porsche has tried to make its force-fed four sound like a big motor, with a deep, angry, growly note at low revs, but it just sounds fake and overdone. It changes at high revs to a VERY LOUD pneumatic hissing that's pretty awful compared with the howling, mechanical hymn of the six.

And it lacks the immediate response to the pedal of a naturally aspirated Porsche performance engine.

In other respects, the 718 is a good thing made better. On a tight, winding road it's untouchable, with a tighter body, sharper steering, sportier dynamics and cornering ability that will astound you.

Four-piston front brakes (from the 911) provide immense stopping power and optional adaptive suspension ($2710) permits a reasonably compliant, comfortable ride.