When it comes to heritage in sports cars, Porsche has few rivals. By most metrics it's the most successful brand in motorsports, with a total of more than 28,000 victories over the last 75 years including a record 18 wins at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. And it’s not just all in the history books. The marque is currently the world's largest race car manufacturer, fielding hundreds of competition cars at races, spearheaded by the unstoppable Le Mans-winning 919.
Racing DNA is injected into every car Porsche builds, though it's more obviously apparent in its sports models—the iconic 911, the newly relaunched 718 Cayman and in particular, the 2017 718 Boxster. The once-maligned junior model has even come into its own as a viable, accessible alternative to the larger and pricier 911 Cabriolet. The 718 takes its nomenclature, fittingly, from the 718 RSK, a race car built by Porsche between 1957 and 1962—an evolution of the famous and gorgeous 550 Spyder made famous by James Dean (which finished first in class at Le Mans in 1958).
However, if it were merely a matter of catchy names, the 718 could hardly go the distance. Porsche stakes its reputation on having the mettle to back up the metal, and the 718 Boxster is no exception. We got to put this to the test when we were invited to drive it from Santa Barbara to Monterey along the legendary Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). With 911 blood in our veins, we were prepared to politely turn our noses up at the 718. “Set your expectations low and you will seldom be disappointed,” as the saying goes. But Porsche has pulled out all the stops on this car and it’s obvious from the moment you slide into the driver’s seat.
There are very few sports and luxury models in its class delivering value for money to the tune of the 718 Boxster’s $56,000 (base) sticker. Four-cylinder turbocharged boxer engine options range from 300 to 350 hp, which at the 718’s size, pushes it along at quite a good clip. There are retro touches befitting its heritage affiliation, but they don’t overpower the car. They’re set off with options like a new sport steering wheel derived from the 918 Spyder, Porsche’s hybrid supercar, also found in the new 911.
As with any new sports car, half the measure of its success are the reactions from the man on the street. Driving through Carmel during Pebble Beach, the legendary car show and concours, you might think the 718 would be nearly invisible alongside all the Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and, of course, 911s. Not so. The snazzy little roadster has real presence as evidenced by all the compliments. It even elicited a “you look good in it,” from a man in a Maserati.
Except for a few straightways our drive along the legendary PCH was fairly leisurely, and we got to experience the full appeal of mid-engined, open-topped motoring on a sunny day on California’s Central Coast. Not so on our return to San Francisco, which necessitated top-up, foot to the floor-ing in order to make the flight home. That’s when we really heard the 718 roar and felt the RSK DNA assert itself as the needle climbed higher and higher. The man in the Maserati knew what he was talking about.