In the mid-1990s, if you wanted a semi-affordable sports car with a beefy engine, you’d have probably had to buy a TVR. Then, all at once, the BMW Z3, Mercedes-Benz SLK and Porsche Boxster turned up.
Then the Audi TT arrived, immature and underpowered. Thousands of people no longer needed to buy plastic-bodied British sports cars to get their open-topped, many-cylindered fix.
And what a fix. With the Boxster began Porsche’s rediscovering of what mid-engined positioning could do for a car’s handling – a gradual development, discovery and reappraising of customer expectations that has culminated in the Cayman GT4 being better to drive, in many people’s minds, than all but the most extreme – or including the most extreme – 911s.
That all began in 1996 with the 986-generation Boxster, which arrived in 2.5-litre form and stayed that way until 2000. Then it was upgraded to 2.7 litres and accompanied by a 3.2-litre S model.
As engines got bigger, power outputs rose. The 987-generation car arrived in 2005 and the 981 in 2012, and each time you could have greater swept capacity and more power – up to 3.8 litres and 370bhp in the case of the most recent Boxster Spyder.
It’s the capacity we’re focusing on, because now there’s less. Much less. The new 718 Boxster arrives displacing barely more than half the 3.8 litres of that Spyder.
Whereas once you had six cylinders of naturally aspirated, pure Porsche sound in the Boxster’s middle, now there is a 2.0-litre turbo flat four.
It would have been unthinkable in 1996. But what do we think of it today? And does it dilute the very essence of the roadster’s appeal?