June 13, 2016,   5:10 AM

Porsche Spice

Darren Ryan


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How is Porsche planning to maintain its stellar momentum in the region? We turn to Deesch Papke, CEO at Porsche Middle East & Africa for some answers, and take its new 718 Boxster S for a spin.For the fifth successive year Porsche has posted record results. Last year was the most successful in Porsche’s history, in terms of revenue, operating profit and production numbers. Now the challenge is how long can you keep it up? How do you do it? You are right; Porsche’s results in 2015 are an impressive reflection of the powerful magnetism of the brand. The most important thing for the company now is to maintain today’s success for the long term and improve on it where ever possible. Strategically, operationally and organizationally, Porsche is set-up in a way that the organization can react quickly to market changes, which is the case now as Porsche is preparing its organization to meet future challenges by making investments and targeting innovations. For future products this means combining the traditional Porsche DNA with the technologies of tomorrow. By the end of the decade, Porsche will have invested €1.5 billion in the expansion and modernization of its site in Zuffenhausen; of this €700 million is dedicated for Mission E.Porsche’s SUV models, the Macan and Cayenne, were best-sellers worldwide by a large margin—150,000 of 225,000 Porsche cars sold last year were SUVs.What is the demand like in our region, in terms of specific models and numbers? Both models are doing exceptionally well. New car deliveries for Macan went up by 10% last year in our region, confirming the attractiveness of our compact SUV. The Porsche Cayenne remains very popular in the Middle East, Africa and India; every second Porsche sold is a Cayenne.

Porsche is rapidly moving towards electrification and hybridization of many of its models, with a standalone Mission E electric car coming by 2020. How will this tech be accepted in the Middle East where infrastructure doesn’t exist, at all, and where petrol is so cheap and where “V12” and “6.0-liter” is still a status thing?

The Mission E will be the first all-electric production sports car from Porsche. But, it’s so much more than that. Boasting a 500 km range, a mere 15 minutes to recharge the battery to 80%, 600 hp in performance and an acceleration time of zero to 100 km/h in just 3.5 seconds, this model will open up a new chapter in the history of sports cars. It will make an important contribution to a wider acceptance of electric vehicles. Not only in our region but across the globe, governments must face their responsibility to build a suitable and modern charging infrastructure. We are ready to support them.

$1 billion is being invested in the Mission E project and electrification—is an electric Porsche a true Porsche, particularly when the inevitable hybrid of EV 911 comes along?

One thing is certain for Porsche: even new drive technologies have to meet the outstanding power and performance figures typical for sports cars from Zuffenhausen. We have proven that the brand’s hybrid strategy works. Porsche was the first car manufacturer to offer three plug-in hybrid models and the first hybrid super sports car, the 918 Spyder. Hybrid technology plays a big part in motorsport, too. The 919 LMP1 race car secured Porsche top honors in the manufacturer and driver standings in the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship. Using motorsport as a testing bed for new technologies is a crucial element of the company’s strategy.

You’ve got a new 5,318 square meter showroom in Dubai—it’s one of the largest Porsche Centers in the world. Is the brand expanding showrooms across the region, and service centers?

We continuously monitor market demand and penetration. We are currently looking after 20 active expansion projects for new car showrooms and service centers across our region. These include new Porsche Centres in Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Algeria.

You’re introducing some ‘entry-level’ four-cylinder models in the near future, including the option of a four-cylinder engine in the volume-selling Macan. How do you expect the cars to be received in the region? And is there an image challenge to selling a four-cylinder Porsche?

We believe that for our customers, the Porsche experience revolves around performance, everyday usability and quality—feats that are not exclusive to a particular configuration of cylinders. If it sounds, drives and feels like a Porsche, it is a Porsche. The new entry-level model Macan featuring a turbocharged two-liter engine with 252 hp is no different. And as for the image, we won the Le Mans 24 hours and the WEC championship with a four-cylinder engine in the 919 Hybrid last year.

Porsche Exclusive, the company’s personalization department, how popular is it among regional customers?

Porsche’s legacy of delivering the ultimate in individual exclusivity, craftsmanship and customer service is a clear focus also in this region. Middle Eastern customers enjoy the exceptional degree of customization that is true luxury and not commonplace in the automotive industry. It is something that sets us apart from the competition. The trend is growing; last year our individualization programme grew by more than 35%.

When you have quality vehicles, is anything more important than aftersales in maintaining a relationship with the person who drives the car out of the showroom?

For our customers, owning a Porsche is about understanding the brand’s legacy and appreciating the distinctive Porsche experience, which lives within Porsche’s unique customer service offering. This begins with the first stirring visit to the Porsche showroom and develops with continuous communication and interaction throughout ownership. Whether it be service offers, events or launch presentations, our customers are part of a family driven by shared values of the highest standards. We call this ‘car for life and customer for life’.

Everyone wants to do well in Saudi Arabia—how difficult is it to run top-class aftersales in such a big and often complex market?

Saudi Arabia is indeed a vast country and an important market to us. The Kingdom is our third largest market after Dubai and South Africa. We are continuously monitoring customer feedback and are currently in the planning phase for a facility expansion in Riyadh.

____ Boxing Clever ____

It’s almost an unwritten law, isn’t it? A Porsche sports car should have a boxer-type six-cylinder engine, with opposing pistons, raucously punching away at each other for that sonorous, metallic Porsche soundtrack.

What happens then when you break the law, and break away from tradition? Well it’s not all bad, so long as you have a history long enough to rummage through and justify your motives… In its six-decade (plus) pursuit of sports car perfection, Porsche at least has a lot of history to fall back on.

For example, the Stuttgart carmaker could bank on that time when Porsche made a cute little mid-engined thing in partnership with Volkswagen, the 1969 914, powered by a four-cylinder engine no less.

Or there’s that other time throughout the 1980s when Porsche experimented with front-engined cars (gasp, shock, horror) and to boot, water-cooling as well. Enthusiasts cried blasphemy at the time. Today the vast majority of Porsches are front-engined.

So Stuttgart broke the rules of the game law with its latest car, but all Porsche’s marketing department needed to do, to make the populace accept a downsized Porsche sports car, is lift an old name off an old four-cylinder model. Presto, the new 718, named after the company’s 1950s racing car that competed with V-12 and V-8 engined rivals powered by its mere four-cylinder engine. The original 718 was hugely successful for its diminutive size, wining both the legendary Targa Florio race around Sicily, and its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Downsizing is all the rage, and has been for over a decade, but a four-pot Porsche was always a risky move, which is where the historical marketing squeeze and the 718 name comes in. And anyway, downsizing isn’t all bad. Even the latest 911 Carrera has a 3.0 liter engine. A911 Carrera hasn’t had that ‘small’ an engine in nearly 40 years.

The 718 is a model family comprising both the closed-top 718 Cayman and the soft-top 718 Boxster. We tried the new convertible, packing a mid-mounted 2.5 liter turbocharged four-pot producing 350 horsepower, at Yas Marina and around Abu Dhabi.

And even though the motor is smaller, if you compare that new power figure to the outgoing model, you’ll notice you get 25 hp extra even though the old car had a 3.6 liter six-cylinder naturally aspirated engine. Try the 718 and you will soon forget you ever loved that old six.

The new force-fed lump not only develops more power, but also more torque, 309 lb. ft to be exact, with help from 911 technology in the form of variable turbine geometry turbochargers. Porsche says it is the first and only manufacturer to use the clever tech, which all but gets rid of the dreaded turbo lag.

In the downsized (yet upgraded) 718 Boxster S, the moment you apply the throttle the four-cylinder engine emits its deep, gruff new note and propels the roadster forward, not only with new-found smoothness, but also alarming velocity. Remember, while horsepower is up by 25 hp, torque—a specialty of turbocharging—has shot up compared to the outgoing model by a substantial 70 lb ft.

The sound, admittedly, is not a patch on the old free-breathing, high-revving, all-singing and dancing flat-six engine, but it still thankfully sounds like a sports car, even if during our test drive in and around Abu Dhabi we couldn’t help but think at times we were driving a Subaru—the Japanese firm also uses flat-four-cylinder turbocharged engines in its sporty cars and the sound characteristics are very similar.

Down curvier roads, and during a short stint around the glorious Formula One Yas Marina circuit, the 718 Boxster S handles with a benchmark quality that still sets standards not just in this price segment, but it could easily teach cars costing two or three times as much what proper sports car dynamics and handling really are.

Even though it’s fairly unloaded, the front end grips prodigiously and there is just so much rear traction that it’s nigh on impossible to break the rear loose on public roads. Not that you should be trying anyway. The mid-engined layout of the 718 Boxster S provides the car with impeccable driving characteristic, and Porsche is also at the top of the game at the moment when it comes to string feel and precision as well.

Top speed is 285 km/h, not that you’ll have anywhere in our region available to exercise that claim besides a few race track straightaways, but 0-100 km/h in 4.2 seconds is a much more quantifiable real-world figure, particularly when you consider that the new car is a massive 0.6-seconds quicker than its predecessor. Naturally this is the case only when the 718 Boxster S is optionally fitted with equipment such as Porsche’s Sports Chrono package and the seven-speed dual-clutch PDK transmission, which features launch control and shifts gears faster than you can think.

Another must-have option is Porsche’s PASM suspension, which lowers the ride height by 20mm and even further improves handling. The rest of the time you’re safe in the knowledge that you’ve got 330-mm brake discs in the front and 299-mm discs at the rear, plus the Porsche Stability Management system nannying you every step of the way electronically in case you get a corner a bit wrong.

Out of the box the 718 Boxster S comes fitted with 19-inch wheels, but our tester wore 20-in optional wheels that detracted little from the ride quality, if at all. All these options, however, are pretty costly and quickly hike up the price of any 718 unless you’re careful. Porsche is infamous with its options list—that’s where the profit margin really comes from—and you should be careful to select the key tech you really need, and omit stuff like leather-wrapped air vent slats, and do you really need the entire cabin to be dressed up in expensive carbon fiber?

Despite, then, the fact that the Boxster model is turning an entirely new page with the 718 badge and new four-cylinder engine, spec it right and the new car is still the sporting benchmark of its class. Indeed, some things never change.

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