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The 718 Back Roads of Mein Mind

The autonomous future is upon us, so take the wheel while you can

Jamie KitmanwriterTim Marrsillustrator The Manufacturerphotographer

In light of the crossover mania that's overtaken the land, it's easy to see how General Motors came to devalue the contribution of its German Opel division, the corporation's finest repository of chassis and light-car engineering smarts and keeper of what little remained of its European flair. Remember, today we are hyped—or are being hyped, your pick—about self-driving cars for the future. And once your car drives itself, who is going to care if it shares its chassis and driving dynamics with a Chevy Colorado?

Well, I do. Which is why I'm not happy about consigning so many key, traditional touch points of automotive virtue to absentia. Things like handling, road holding, ride quality, and the response and feel of a car's steering and the pedals that make it go and stop. These are what keep me from marching blindly into that dark and enveloping night of crossover America. This is why I might be unable to follow along happily when it's time for self-driven cars.

As of today I like cars that need to be driven more than I like self-driving ones. I don't suppose one can stop the race to full autonomy, but for now I do counsel militant rejection of our era's crossover paradigm. Because I am pretentious and an East Coast liberal to boot, I also have to at least imply this is a higher state of automotive consciousness to which others ought to aspire. So consider it implied.

Enough about me. What I have in mind truly is an all-around better ideal on which to fixate the public's car-buying psyche, environmentally and aesthetically speaking. A way for many more to partake in and enjoy the not yet lost but soon to be obscure art of driving. And I mean driving. I mean sports cars, back roads, and maximum-attention demands placed upon drivers. Those who can arrange to savor this moment in automotive history ought to—while they still can.

I know so after spending a few extraordinary summer days driving a Miami Blue Porsche 718 Boxster S on a 2,000-mile odyssey of back roads. My route was a ragged loop connecting New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Ontario, and New York again, with stops at ballparks in Pittsburgh and Detroit. This would've been just after the Tigers' and just before the Pirates' annual August swoon began in earnest, and it was what motoring, if not baseball, is meant to be.

On the secondary routes, the roads wend their way up, down, and around gentle hills and through towns that might be small but any one of whose number has more character than all of the rest areas on the Pennsylvania and Ohio turnpikes combined. In both states I was surprised to see corn rising not just from great fields but from every unused patch and parcel of land, no matter its shape.

No less impressive was the prodigious grip of the Boxster's chassis and the unexpected muscle power of its turbocharged flat-four. That's what 350 hp and 309 lb-ft of torque will do with a smidgen more than 3,000 pounds of mid-engine roadster to propel. In optional PDK paddle-shift form, it accelerates to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds. With the top down, conversation in the cabin remains plausible, even at high speeds consistent with one's abhorrent views on life, well-being, and the rule of law.

If the 718 S has a problem, it is an as-tested price of $93,245 optioned up from a $69,450 base, which certainly makes my nose bleed. Extra performance costs extra, and the $3,200 PDK, the $3,560 20-inch 911 Turbo wheels, and more than $2,500 apiece for the sport suspension, sport exhaust, Sport Chrono package, and undeniably arresting paint job all add up. Porsche Torque Vectoring and Lane Change Assist—two options you might expect to see standard in a cutting-edge automobile—also cost extra. So the 718 is wonderful, but it costs more and feels bigger than an old Boxster. Speaking of which, for those operating on a tighter budget, not terrible older used examples sell for less than $10,000. You could do far worse than one of the six-cylinder Boxsters the 718 replaced.

Because what the world needs now are cars that are fun to drive. What we need now urgently are great, affordable sports cars. Not faster SUVs. As the redesigned Boxster vividly reminds us, we need to experience the road at its most sensual and vibrant and internal combustion at its most efficiently powerful. While we still can.