It’s been a long time since I’ve had a good cry in my beer over a powertrain that failed to make the Wards 10 Best Engines list.
This year, Porsche’s first turbocharged 4-cyl. boxer in the all-new 718 Cayman coupe was eligible for the competition, sailing easily under the $62,000 base price cap (with $53,900 MSRP).
Porsche’s willingness to stick out its neck – and risk alienating a generation of customers who associate the Stuttgart automaker with 6-cyl. boxers and nothing else – speaks volumes about the brilliant technologies and ingenious engineering intended to keep German sports cars relevant in the age of increasingly onerous fuel-economy regulations.
Non-compliance can be very expensive, and automakers not traditionally known for fuel-sippers (such as Porsche) deserve recognition when they figure out ways to boost efficiency without neutering brand identity.
Let’s cover some history.
The last Porsche engine to win a Wards 10 Best Engines trophy was the 2.7L naturally aspirated 6-cyl. boxer in the previous-generation Cayman, in 2014. Rated at 275 hp and 213 lb.-ft. (289 Nm) of torque, its output comes up well short of the new turbo-4, which makes an extra 25 hp and 67 lb.-ft. (91 Nm) of torque. Plus, the smaller engine enables a faster car, capable of a sprint to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.7 seconds with a 7-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission. These are monumental gains.
The 2.0L delivers high specific output (151 hp/L) and features compelling technologies, such as a fully variable oil pump that regulates pressure depending on driving style, as well as a switchable water pump, which can turn off the cooling system under certain conditions, allowing the engine to heat up more quickly.
And this boxer is an example of smart engineering, having been designed alongside the larger 2.5L boxer turbo in the “S” variants of the 718 Cayman and Boxster, as well as the 370-hp 3.0L twin-turbo flat-6 in the 911.
The 2.0L and 3.0L share the same connecting rods, iron-coated cylinder liners, accessory drive, timing belt, seals, bearings, vacuum pump, camshaft adjusters, valvetrain components and fuel injectors. The aluminum blocks and heads are made on one assembly line by one supplier.
I say to my fellow judges: Is this not the kind of engineering excellence celebrated by the Wards 10 Best Engines competition for 23 years? Did you miss the part about this engine sharing extensive DNA with the freakin’ 911?
Pressed for justification, these misguided judges say the engine lacks punch off the line and sounds a bit too coarse at idle. Seriously? Can’t we revel in the unmistakable, charming sound of horizontally opposed pistons firing in sequence?
Then there was blather about limiting the number of expensive, limited-purpose sports cars on the list. Yeah, I’m on board with a diverse list, so long as it includes Porsche’s gem.
I commiserated with Dan Neil, the tech-savvy Wall Street Journal auto critic who won a Pulitzer Prize for his entertaining and thoughtful vehicle reviews. “What’s not to love about the Porsche 4-cyl.?” he asked. “Putting that one on the list was an easy chip shot.”
The best argument against the 2.0L boxer turbo is horsepower per dollar. The $35,900 Ford Focus RS (making 350 hp) and $51,000 Infiniti Q50 (making 400 hp) have the upper hand on the Porsche.
Yes, I bonded with Porsche’s welterweight fighter, and my emotional attachment became stronger as I realized my coaching from the corner was falling on deaf ears.
Like Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront,” Porsche’s 2.0L turbo-4 shoulda been a contender.