Car reviews - Porsche - Boxster - range
Value, engine, gearbox, handling, ride, steering, PDK ‘auto’ option
Room for improvement
Cabin noise, tight footwell, tricky cruise control
17 Mar 2009
PORSCHE fans may not regard the Boxster as a ‘real’ Porsche, but, at the risk of causing offence, that is a somewhat elitist stance that not only ignores history but the fact that the company’s entry-level sportscar is a wholly satisfying car that would garner universal rave reviews if it carried any other badge.
These days it is very much a junior model in terms of Australian sales, trailing well behind the rear-engined 911 sportscar and front-engined Cayenne SUV ranges, but it remains a significant model that holds the distinction of helping to rescue Porsche in the early 1990s.
The mid-engined Boxster also harks back to an age when Porsches were less powerful and relied on light weight, willing engines and lithe handling to satisfy the driver.
With a substantial – in terms of the mechanical package if not the styling – mid-life revamp, Porsche has pushed the Boxster even further up in the desirability stakes while keeping the price down to a relatively affordable level.
At $113,000, the Boxster is just $3100 or 2.8 per cent more than when the first generation was launched here 12 years ago, yet it comes with a huge amount more equipment, performance and economy.
A tour of some of Victoria’s finest driving roads, including the Great Ocean Road, was a great way to get our first taste of updated Boxster, but the weather gods intervened to prevent us from experiencing much top-down driving, which seemed a little mean in the middle of such a drought.
Nevertheless, we were able to ascertain that, thanks to the glass wind deflector behind the seats, you can comfortably cruise in top-down mode without being heavily buffeted so long as you keep the side windows up. And, should the weather turn nasty, the roof automatically raises in a matter of seconds.
Noise inside the cabin with the roof up is noticeably greater than in the Cayman coupe version, and is quite intrusive. We quite like the bark of the flat-six engine, but could do with less road and wind noise (let alone the pounding of torrential rain).
The new 188kW/290Nm 2.9-litre engine, which replaces the previous 180kW/273kW 2.7-litre, is strong and flexible, delivering a consistent urge right through the rev range before barking as you change gear at the redline.
With such a relatively modest increase, and no need yet for direct-injection on this variant as it still meets EU5 emissions levels, there remains plenty of performance to extract from this engine – as Porsche will obviously do progressively over the coming years.
Of course, if you need more grunt right now, look no further than the Boxster S, which cranks out some 228kW and 360Nm from its equally new 3.4-litre unit with the aid of direct injection.
As it is, the standard Boxster races from rest to 100km/h in a brisk 5.9 seconds with the manual while the Boxster S shaves that to 5.3 seconds.
Porsche’s six-speed manual gearbox is a good match for the Boxster, along with a light clutch that makes urban living bearable, allowing light and precise changes, but with enthusiastic driving we sometimes overshot the gate going from fourth or fifth directly into second and found ourselves going nowhere in the reverse gear gate. No doubt familiarity would assist.
Having three pedals and a footrest in the tight Boxster footwell also resulted in catching the throttle under emergency braking, which could be a problem if you forget to engage the clutch.
Frankly, we would elect to have the new seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission, which is pricey at $5500 but still much cheaper than similar rival units, and only $600 more expensive that the vastly inferior Tiptronic S transmission that was previously the auto option.
Although we did not drive the Boxster with the PDK, it proved itself in every way in the mechanically similar Cayman, with intuitive and quick changes and acceleration times to 100km/h that are 0.1s faster. However, we were less impressed with the Cayman’s steering wheel shift buttons, which we expect would apply equally to the Boxster.
Handling was superb, offering far more grip than you would reasonably expect to break on public roads before the well-matched stability control system kicks in to help and ably aided by well-weighted steering that makes you feel constantly connected to the front wheels.
There is nothing flash about the Boxster interior, but its Germanic efficiency is unquestioned, and the seats provide an excellent balance between support and comfort, although the surprisingly wide centre tunnel could be a little more pliable if our occasionally numb left knee has anything to do with it.
Our only other criticism would be the cruise control, which was hard to fine-tune (important in low-tolerance Victoria) and did not have a digital read-out.
But Porsche’s new touchscreen audio and navigation system, combined with iPod connectivity, proved to be a valuable travelling companion.
Luggage capacity is, of course, not the Boxster’s strong suit but proved to be surprisingly willing for a weekend away plus some unexpected shopping. The downside is that there is no spare wheel, just an emergency repair kit that spells the end of the tyre and a slow drive home.
Overall, though, we loved our first taste of the 2009 Boxster and commend Porsche on making it not only better in every respect but also excellent value in the face of heavy currency pressure.
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