Car reviews - Porsche - Boxster
Sheer dynamic balance and harmony, great styling, drivetrain performance and economy, manual gearbox, seat comfort, interior refinement and quality uplift, strong brakes, fast roof operation, relative value for money
Room for improvement
Steering isn’t as edgy as before, poor side vision, squeaky leather, confusing navigation, steering wheel controls for Bluetooth would be helpful
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14 Dec 2012
OH WHAT a year!
Two of 2012’s standouts, the Toyota 86 and Volkswagen Up, amazed everybody, everywhere, with their towering capabilities and incredible value.
Fact is such innovation is the upside of the crippling global financial crisis that forced stronger competition amongst the beleaguered car companies.
Since recession knows no class barriers, we’re also placing Porsche’s astounding 981 Boxster alongside 2012’s dynamic duo as the year’s finest.
Now in its third generation, the re-born mid-engined two-seater rear-wheel drive sports car from Stuttgart simply reaffirms its position at the apex of the convertible class.
Even at $107,000. Even with the preposterous luxury car tax. Even with that badge. Hard to believe? Consider this.
For close to the same money you can get an Audi TT S TFSI quattro roadster, BMW Z4 sDrive35i, and Mercedes SLK 350 … and they’re all good-to-very-good in their own ways, but only the Boxster caresses and enthrals better than some rivals costing thrice as much.
Didn’t we use a similar line to describe the 86 recently?
OK, 981. It looks pretty much the same as before, so what’s changed compared with the previous 987?
Along with a completely redesigned body, pretty much everything bar the engines and transmissions are new, since they were overhauled back in 2009 for the old Series II.
Today’s Boxster is a little larger (in footprint and wheelbase but with shorter overhangs), more than 100kg lighter (a hybrid of steel and aluminium makes the bodyshell around 46 per cent less heavy than before while new magnesium framework for the folding soft-top shaves another 35kg), and far more efficient.
The direct injected, normally aspirated, 195kW/280Nm 2.7-litre flax-six petrol engine – some 190cc smaller than the old 2.9L unit it usurps – boasts 6kW more power but 10Nm less torque, with fuel consumption savings of about 15 per cent.
Not that you would notice the torque shortfall, for at 5.8 seconds to 100km/h from standstill (on the way to a 264km/ top speed), the latest base Boxster is one-tenth of a second faster.
In the real world, with its burbling exhaust note serenading you from just over your shoulder, the 2.7-litre engine feels utterly in harmony with the rest of the car.
Off-the-mark performance is rapid, revvy and even ravenous, but not supercar slingshot fast. But who cares when that boxer engine is belting out its siren song so tunefully through the gears.
Because it makes such a joyous sound, down changing to overtake slower traffic titillates the ears as readily as it feeds the need for speed.
Yet sitting so low exacerbates the feeling. In reality a hard-charging HSV or FPV V8 will eclipse the Porsche for out-and-out thrust.
However, neither of these will approach the Boxster’s sub-10L/100km fuel consumption figures we achieved even under demanding driving conditions.
Fitted with a seamless automatic (and switch off-able) idle-stop system, and aided by brake energy recuperation for the electrical system, the Porsche’s parsimony potential is an achievement in itself.
Note that idle-stop is extinguished when the Sport button is depressed, which increases engine response as well as the rev limiter threshold.
Try the six-speed manual – as opposed to the speedier and more economical – seven-speed PDK dual-clutch trannie before you buy. It is truly one of motoring’s most glorious. Hefty yet direct, springy yet precise, it involves you in the driving experience like no auto ever can.
If the engine is a symphony orchestra of movement and sound, the gear lever allows the lucky person behind the wheel to be the conductor. Why would anybody have it any other way?
Speaking of the steering wheel, few cars at any price can touch this beautifully designed roadster for tactility, balance and poise.
Like every Boxster before it, the 2.7L has a weighty, glued-down feel that gives it an impenetrable feel as you glide along. Basically, it corners like a Scalextric slot car.
This is despite the advent of electric power steering. Yes, part of Porsche’s efficiency obsession has dictated EPS. In the 911 it feels like a sizeable step backwards in terms of on-centre feel and sharpness.
However, we feel that the Boxster – as an open grand touring sports car – is less about 10/10ths handling and more about the complete package, so we begrudgingly accept the EPS.
Only at the straight-ahead would you guess that electricity rather than hydraulics are powering the steering, and even then the sheer muscular alacrity of the chassis – combined with the 2.7L’s phenomenal poise and roadholding – is quite otherworldly.
The Germans also offer various brake upgrade packages for a small fortune, but we believe the standard items are in sync with the engine, gearbox and clutch in terms of moderation and modulation, for absolutely effective retardation. Find your favourite rural road and driver and car work as one. This is what makes the base Boxster so supernaturally brilliant.
We ought to add that our $107K “base” 2.7L included $6780 20-inch alloys in lieu of the 18-inch items they grip like your favourite novel.
Unbelievably, even with such low-profile rubber, the ride quality is incredibly pliant, traversing road irregularities with unexpected aplomb.
Only large bumps and cobblestone streets sent shudders through to the Porsche’s occupants.
Which segues us nicely to the interior.
Our example was swathed in $7890 Natural Leather – a sort of orangey red hide covering everything that wasn’t metal, glass or plastic. After initial reservations, we grew quite fond of the hue’s sheer brassiness.
Note, however, that it lifts the Boxster cabin’s ambience significantly. If you were familiar with the hard brittle curves of the kooky 986 original, you’d think Audi was set in charge of lifting quality for today’s roadster.
Solid, sober and straight forward, the dash is now-Porsche in having a mix of big clear dials (with tacho dominating proceedings), and a third round screen for all sorts of navigation/media/telephony/trip computer info.
Familiarisation is essential if you are to operate the aforementioned items without needing to stop the car and study the handbook, but once past that almost everything works at your fingertips.
Strong points include uber-comfy seats, an excellent driving and seating position, brilliantly effective air-con/ventilation, a surprisingly high number of storage solutions, an entertainingly acrobatic cupholder (located above the glovebox, and paying nice lip service to the ‘90s original), seamless Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and (and – at $1450 – optional) a sufficiently loud Bose audio system.
And we love the fast and effortless roof operation that was over in a matter of seconds, and operational up to 50km/h. It tucks away somewhere between the cabin and the surprisingly large (130 litre) rear boot. There’s a 150L front cavity too for extra dirty-weekend away practicality.
Low points? Side and rear vision is poor (a reverse camera ought to be standard) the navigation feels outdated with almost indecipherable graphics and a low-tech feel the gorgeous leather trim squeaks like a roomful of JPYs (a ‘70s Australian pop-culture reference for our older readers) the cruise control doesn’t hold the speed on inclines some poor button placement for minor controls and a multi-functional steering wheel ought to be included for $107K.
Much of the above is soon forgotten when you’re cruising along ensconced in comfort and refinement. Even at 120km/h with the side windows down conversation is possible, while your hair will barely be ruffled with them up. , Which is what the Boxster is all about – enjoying sports car performance, handling, comfort and harmony in a spacious and accommodating open two-seater package. Why buy a luxury convertible costing $300,000-plus when only a fraction of that will suffice so superbly?
Even in its base form, the Boxster has the sort of supernatural driving abilities that separates super cars from mere mortal ones.
Simply, this is one of 2012’s most impressive achievements.
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