What is it?
Some will call it sacrilege, others progress. Whatever, it’s hard to downplay the significance of the all-electric Porsche Boxster E.
Officially, the new two-seater is just a prototype, created by a small team of Porsche engineers to support an electric mobility program sponsored by the city of Stuttgart in Germany.
But it’s no great secret that beyond its efforts to champion the city where it is based, Porsche’s long term goal is to produce a plug-in sports car to rival the likes of the Tesla roadster.
The silver and orange liveried prototype we’re in is one of two rear-wheel drive versions of the Boxster E in existence right now. It’s described as a packaging mule, painstakingly pieced together at Porsche’s Weissach R&D facility to test the zero emission roadster’s electric motor, battery system and all its associated wiring and ancillary systems.
So out goes the standard mid-mounted horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine and gearbox. Taking its place low down behind the cabin is a liquid cooled lithium ion battery pack. Consisting of 340 individual cells, it provides energy to an electric motor mounted within the rear axle assembly underneath the Boxster E's rear luggage compartment, which retains the same capacity as the Boxster.
Developed by Porsche parent company Volkswagen and also used in the Golf blue-e-motion, the compact electric motor delivers 121bhp at 12,000rpm. To put that in perspective, the Boxster’s 2.9-litre powerplant dishes up 248bhp at 6400rpm.
Porsche claims a range of 106 miles, with a recharging time of eight hours on standard 240 volt mains.
What’s it like?
Turn the key – yes, it’s still located on the outer edge of the dashboard - draw the familiar looking gear lever backwards to place the gearbox into drive, apply a modest amount of throttle and the Boxster E glides away with the sort of step off urgency you don’t get in the standard Boxster. With 199lb ft of torque – or just 15lb ft less than its more conventionally powered sibling develops at 4400rpm - available from the off, it scoots away from the lights with real enthusiasm.
It certainly doesn’t feel 185kg heavier than the standard Boxster. The step off urgency, gives the prototype a good turn of speed around town – an environment where it feels right at home. The new Porsche cruises smoothly on city streets, and there’s plenty of low speed pick up when required to slot you into desired spaces in the traffic.
What really gets you attention first time out is what Porsche dubs active sound management. In a move aimed at satisfying upcoming regulations slated for the US, it has fitted the Boxster E with two speakers – one low down at the rear and one within the cabin - that simulate the sound of its classic six-cylinder engine. The volume is linked to throttle load, meaning the more performance you call up, the louder it becomes. A makeshift switch allows you to turn it off, but try it once and you’re quickly convinced it should always be left on.
After the initial burst of acceleration subsides, though, the modest power output of the electric motor fails to haul the Boxster E along with the sort of vigor you might expect of a car wearing a Porsche badge as you load the - a fact that is clearly revealed in Porsche’s official 0-62mph claim of 9.8sec. The top speed of the prototype we drove as also limited to 93mph – or 19mph shy of its official figure, in a move aimed at protecting the charge of the battery. In this respect, the performance clearly is a little disappointing.
But remember, this is a packaging mule first and foremost. A four wheel drive version of the Boxster E, which is said to more closely resemble the sort of layout Porsche is considering for a future all-electric sportscar, is said to shave a considerable 4.3sec off this time, with a Boxster S equaling split of just 5.5sec. It would no doubt fulfil anticipations of performance in a more convincing manner.
So does the driving experience come anywhere near that of the standard Boxster? While the electric steering lacks the inherent tactility of the hydraulic system used by more conventionally powered sibling, the Boxster E is still great fun over winding back roads. Despite being labored with that added weight, the chassis still manages to genuinely engage the driver. It also rides remarkably well, thanks to adoption of unique spring and damper rates which provide it with a firm but controlled feel. In overall terms it’s already a more competing drive than the Tesla.
Porsche has neatly integrated the read-outs for all the various electric systems into the standard Boxster’s instrument binnacle. The usual rev counter display makes way for a so-called power meter, which not only shows what percentage of power under load but also reveals the percentage of recuperation on a trailing throttle. A separate display keeps tabs of the range.
Should I buy one?
You can’t buy an Boxster E and likely won’t be able to for some time to come, if at all. But it proves that Porsche, with help from parent company Volkswagen, is keeping well abreast of developments in the electric car scene.
It’s a uniquely appealing car with loads of promise, even if it lacks the overall excitement of the Boxster. But like all electric cars the issue of range, energy source and production cost need to be sorted before any firm decision about its future can be made.