May President Letter

By Tom Iervolino
I just returned from the NY Auto Show and got a peek at the new 718 Boxster. Wow, what a great looking car and that lava orange (I think that is what they call it) color is very cool. I started searching around to see what has been written about the new Boxster and came upon a nice summary article that I have included here (credits to ars technical). But first, where did the “718” come from? The decision to use “718” is significant considering the name’s history, as it was first used by a 1957 race car that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1958 and 1961. This vehicle, like the 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman, was powered by a flat-four. Historically, the original 718 brought the company a lot of success in the world of motorsport. The car was based on the Porsche 550A Spyder albeit with an improved suspension setup and updated body work. The 718 featured a mid-engine layout and was powered by a 1.5-litre, Type 547/3, flat-four, 142bhp, naturally aspirated engine and its track-ready variant called 718 RSK made its racing debut at the 1957 24 Hours of Le Mans where it was unable to finish due to a crash. The car went on to win in its class and achieve an overall third place finish at the following year’s Le Mans race. Other accolades include a second place finish at the Targa Florio race in 1959 which it won in the following year, consecutive victories at the European Hill Climb Championship in 1958 and 1959, and another class win at the 1961 Le Mans race.
“Porsches have long been a living dichotomy. No sports car manufacturer wears its engineering sobriety so blatantly on its sleeve. Yet, the human result is a clear polar opposite. Porsche fans are nearly as rabid as those that feverishly wave the Ferrari flag. After all, this is the company that made the rear-engine 911 not only live, but thrive through multiple generations despite air cooling and a rearward weight bias with the flawed nature of highly polar momentousness. Overcome fundamental deficiencies, find a way to turn them into advantages, then ring the cash register. For Porsche, this has worked for decades. The latest in that thinking are the two 718 Boxsters going on sale this June in the US.
One central argument of the 718 is that less is more. The Boxster convertible (as well as the Cayman coupes) move away from six-cylinder engines to a paltry four cylinders. And though nobody can drive a specifications table and should therefore not judge equipment based solely on stats, many do. So, Porsche purists are concerned. At the most aural level, six cylinders firing every 720 degrees of crank rotation sound better than four. Or so many people think. But no one should judge a book by its cover.
There is some historical precedent for the engine choice, however. Porsche’s first cars had four cylinders. Porsche’s first racing engine—the Ernst Fuhrmann-designed four-cam boxer—had four cylinders. The latter also had a complex camshaft drive system with multiple shafts and required frequent rebuilds, but that was then and this is now.
With a new name inspired by the 718 racer built from 1957-’62, the 2017 duo of 718 Boxsters offer more standard power and better efficiency than their Boxster parents. Initially offering two models, Porsche will build the standard 718 with a 2.0-liter flat four making 300hp, good for a top speed of 170 mph. This engine also makes 280lb-ft of torque—a whopping 74lb-ft more than the outgoing standard car—and does so over a vast spread from 1,900rpm to 4,500rpm. The 718 Boxster S increases those figures to 350hp and 309lb-ft of torque, thanks to a displacement bump to 2.5 liters and a variable-geometry turbocharger. Both normal and S models will offer a traditional row-your-own six-speed manual and Porsche’s dual-clutch PDK paddle-shiftable transmission as an option. Buyers who select both the PDK transmission and the Sport Chrono option (which offers launch control), acceleration to 60mph takes just 4.5 seconds for the 300hp non-S and 4.0 seconds for the 350hp S model.
Sensitive to concerns over sound quality, Porsche logged a lot of time in creating a sound signature that the company says enthusiasts will like. They’ve created channels within the exhaust system and done some good old fashioned mechanical engineering and resonance-shaping to give the soundtrack some soul.
However, the driving factor in the move to turbocharged four-cylinder engines is not just output, but efficiency. As much of the industry moves to turbocharging and smaller displacement, so too does Porsche. Smaller-displacement engines, even when turbocharged, have a greater bandwidth of abilities. At the light-throttle, low-rpm end of the business, they can return far better fuel efficiency when that matters. Conversely, thanks to boost pressure and sophisticated data processing, they can also pump out stout power and torque at wide-open throttle. Though no official EPA figures exist yet, Porsche’s adamant that fuel efficiency is improved. Divergent masters served.
Meanwhile, nearly every body panel has been redesigned, but the total effect is extremely subtle. Amazingly, the new car retains only the front and rear trunk lids, the convertible top and windshield as carryover parts. Air intakes at the front are larger, as are the side air intakes ahead of the rear wheels. Most distinctively, a raised section between the taillights sets the 2017 car apart from earlier Boxsters.
Porsche completely re-tuned the 718’s suspension compared to the prior models and also reengineered the electric steering assist. Porsche’s Active Suspension Management remains optional, but in two versions. For the non-S model, PASM offers 10mm lower ride height and for the S model, it offers a 20mm drop. More importantly, Porsche has fettled the system to offer a wider full envelope of comfort and performance than before.
The new 718s also come at a time when Porsche is changing a long-held philosophy where they previously made optional equipment lists as long as novels. The old rationale was that customers could order every little bit and feature that they wanted and none that they didn’t. Times change, though. Especially with the new Macan SUV and now, with the 718 Boxster, we’re seeing Porsche offer a higher level of standard equipment than before. All the trending data shows that new customers—increasingly millennials and people new to Porsche—expect a higher level of equipment that traditional, long-standing customers did not. At the same time, these new millennial customers have far less patience to invest time and effort in the ordering and customizing process. Long-time Porsche buyers steeped in the ordering process revel in that level of detail.
Porsche will also have some hard decisions to make in the very near future regarding driver assistance and autonomous technology. For years, people have bought Porsches for the precise and visceral driving experience and not for automation. But as autonomous capabilities proliferate throughout the entire automotive universe, the expectation will assuredly be that Porsche must offer them, even if the notion of automated driving runs counter to the core Porsche philosophy of an intimately involved, commanding driver.”
An autonomous Porsche!?!? Yikes, are we going to see DE Students moving up from Green to Yellow, etc… all while sitting comfortably in the paddock?? I certainly hope not. But, for passenger vehicles, there is a certain amount of autonomy that is or can be considered helpful (or maybe not). I just took delivery of a 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee (diesel) that has adaptive cruise control and emergency braking features, just in case I decide to get lazy or nod off at the wheel. In the first week of ownership I gave the adaptive cruise control a workout on our lovely NJ roads with lovely NJ drivers. It is all but impossible to use this feature while driving in NJ. Let us say I try to keep 60 feet between me and the car in front of me. The Jeep will slow down and speed up to keep the distance the same while scanning for cars pulling into my lane. When that happens the Jeep starts to brake in addition to getting off the gas. You can imagine what this was like on Rt. 287…… I can see myself going back to the dealership every few months for new brake pads as it is impossible to keep a safe distance on any NJ highway and not have cars cut in front of you to take up any space you might have created. Besides, I felt like I was in the car of a triple braking DE Green student (sorry Green drivers….). The next experiment with the collision avoidance feature was backing up my Jeep to my trailer. The poor Jeep kept thinking I was too stupid to realize I was about to back into a large object and was constantly beeping loudly and putting the brakes on with each attempt at hooking up my trailer. Grrrr……. And so I quickly turned that “feature” off. Nonetheless, I am sure I will quickly figure out how to best use all of the Jeeps autonomy and in the meantime, I am enjoying 28mpg and 420 ft-lbs of trailer towing torque.
See you out and about. Tom