Car reviews - Porsche - Boxster - range
Cleaner exterior design, extra interior space and comfort, glass rear window, free-revving and smooth 2.7, brilliance of 3.2, tighter chassis, best manual transmissions in the business, superb brakes, dual-mode PASM function, lightness of controls, better value
Room for improvement
Lack of differentiation to previous model, hidden PASM switch, firm ride on 19-inch wheels, 3.2's heavier steering, orange interior option
15 Feb 2005
THE Mazda MX-5 re-invented it, the Mercedes SLK glamourised it and the BMW Z3 tarnished while Honda’s S2000 polished it. But the 986 Boxster was easily the best of the two-seater drop-tops.
Even the supernaturally improved BMW Z4 and SLK II couldn’t alter that.
Now, eight years on from its Australian debut, you’d think that there’s little really that the new 987 version can improve upon.
Particularly when the 2.7 and 3.2 S upgrade in 1999 resoundly addressed the original 2.5’s frustrating lack of low-down torque.
But Porsche has, and now the Boxster can like no other convertible can.
Visually, the car’s curvier flanks lose the 986’s slightly slabby look for a subtly more sinewy one, aided by its more resolved (or retro) round headlight treatment.
These, plus a host of smart little design details that are obvious once old and new are side by side, help bring the 987 closer to the stunning Boxster Concept car of 1993 – especially with the 19-inch wheel/tyre option (that’ll be $13,140 thanks – ouch!).
More importantly, there’s greater room and better comfort, especially for taller occupants, with greater seat and wheel adjustment to help most drivers find an ideal driving position.
Like the old model, this car ensconces you in a driver-focussed environment. It’s just that now you’re more comfortable and better propped and prepped for the action promised ahead.
And hooray! A glass rear window now means the Boxster really is a safer all-weather vehicle.
Some of the non-black cabin colour schemes are eye-searingly gauche.
The lower-console sited PASM adjustable damper switch is hidden and hard to access on the go, and there were some miscellaneous rattles near the headrest/wind deflectors, but that’s the extent of the whining.
It’s the driving that most impresses.
Perhaps the sweetest of all the 987s, the least expensive Boxster is an awesome opening act.
Porsche says the engine is now acoustically tuned for pleasure and the heavenly 2.7 unit will happily and delightfully rev right up to its limiter (maximum engine speed is 7200rpm) with giga-counter ease.
Quick off the mark and very eager to pick up speed in the mid-ranges, a silky smoothness permeates throughout the 2.7’s operation, making it feel slower than it really is. Yet it can be mighty fast.
There’s appreciably more torque on tap in the lower ranges too, fleshed out to the point where down-changes aren’t really necessary unless you really need to make a break for it.
Equipped with the 19-inch wheels and PASM package – which has a Sport setting that increases throttle response as well as the suspension’s dampers – and the 2.7 feels tauter, faster and tighter than any 986.
Porsche says there’s something like a 15 per cent improvement in ride comfort with the PASM pack, along with measurably higher dynamic limits.
The steering is so sharp and perfectly weighted you’d never differentiate it from its non-variable ratio predecessor.
The five-speed manual gearshift is slick and quick, yet heavy enough so you know it means business, and it blends in beautifully with the clutch and (awesome) brakes.
Now that’s with PASM in ‘Normal’ mode. Activate ‘Sport’ and there’s a whole higher level of cornering agility and flatness, engine response and ultimate body control.
Everything is more urgent in the way it does its thing, giving the hitherto docile Boxster an enjoyable serrated edge.
But there’s more than just a monetary price in plonking for the 19s.
Impressively supple on smoother surfaces, when things get rougher the ride becomes just too firm, jittery and vocal with road noise, and probably contributes to the test car’s persistent rattle and passenger-seat shake.
And then the ride turns just plain hard with the 19-inch package without PASM, sampled on the day in a 2.7 Tiptronic automatic.
Now it seems a shame to waste all that interactivity and control on the five-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox.
Yet fitted with steering wheel spoke toggles for up/down shifts, there’s a smooth and effortless dialogue going with driver, engine and gearbox anyway.
But it doesn’t feel as involving, or as fast, but there’s certainly enough torque in the lower rev ranges to make the self-shifting 2.7 a satisfying sports car experience.
Before I changed over to the 3.2, I was convinced that the beautiful balance and terrific tactility of the 2.7, optioned with six-speeds and PASM, would be the optimum Boxster.
But then, I hadn’t sampled the latest 3.2 S.
The S’ 3.2 really is a champion of an engine and, in six-speed manual mode, the best of the new Boxsters.
Very nearly as smooth as the Teflon-like 2.7, it belts out more of a baritone blasting its way up the rev range, and it just keeps egging you on until you run out of road or nerve.
Then you realise this is so much faster, in every gear in every situation, than the 2.7 that it puts the S in another league of performance as well as desirability.
Meanwhile, there’s all the lightness and control of the smaller motor, except there’s something like a quarter as much extra urge, especially in the lower rev ranges.
The six-speed gearbox is well weighted, thoughtfully spaced and a pleasure to punt along with, perfectly suiting the Porsche’s personality.
Perhaps a tad heavier-feeling in the front as well as in the steering, there’s a solidity and weight to the 3.2 that makes it feel rock-solid on the road – like a regular 911, except that it’s more agile.
With the 3.2’s five-speed Tiptronic automatic, initial acceleration doesn’t feel blindingly quick until you’re suddenly well into triple figures and there’s a whole lot of hard-charging still to come.
Aided by the spoke shift controls, the gearbox is smooth, fast and responsive, especially when ‘M’ (for manual) is selected.
It changes up in second, for instance, deep in the 6000rpm range, allowing you to manually exploit the performance and feel more intimate with the car than if it’s just driven in ‘D’.
Interestingly, the S 3.2 Tiptronic test car came with the 19-inch wheels but without PASM, and the real differences were felt on rougher roads, where the ride quality wavered dramatically from firm to plain hard.
In contrast, the S 3.2 manual with 19s and PASM cornered, rather than rode, harder, so it’s a win-win for the electronic dampers if you must settle on the bigger wheels.
Juergen Kapfer, head of the Boxster’s drivetrain development at Porsche in Germany, says that the 19s with PASM is the optimum dynamic combo, but admits that the standard 18s/PASM duo might be more suitable for Australian conditions.
In the end every Boxster variant is fantastic.
It’s just that some – with a capital S – are more fantastic than others. What pleases me is that I’d be absolutely content in a 2.7 six-speed manual with 18-inch wheels and PASM. But without the Bulgarian bordello orange interior option.
This 987 Porsche is damn near perfect. If you can stretch to even the most basic version from a Z4 or SLK, you’ve reached the top of the soft-top sports car tree.
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