Car reviews - Porsche - Boxster - range
Scalpel-like handling, slick transmissions, body rigidity, quick-change drop-top, compliant ride, bigger muscles, less flab
Room for improvement
Short final drive of manual variants, lack of interior storage, cost of optional extras, wayward sat-nav
14 Jun 2012
THE Porsche Boxster is sometimes derided as the Porsche you have when you can't afford a 911, yet we probably would not have Porsche at all were it not for the cash generated by the Boxster which became the company's entry model and instant best-seller when it lobbed in 1996.
And while the Boxster has lived in the shadow of its big brother – in much the same way as a predecessor, the 944 – rival motor companies have become card-carrying members of the Boxster fan club, testing them and pulling them apart behind closed doors to see what makes them tick so well.
Now, those companies will have to start all over again as Porsche has released the third generation of the mid-engined roadster, with the most significant changes yet.
Gone is the all-steel architecture that has done duty through the first two generations, replaced by a sophisticated, light-weight body made from a hybrid of steel, aluminium and – in the roof structure – magnesium.
Cloaked in a more muscular body that looks, dare we say, more Porsche, with hints of Carrera GT and the upcoming 918 supercar, the new 981 Boxster is designed to put to rest the perceived softness of previous models.
To our eyes, it does that and a little bit more, even innovating with a crafty ducktail rear spoiler that is integrated through the taillights in a way to causes one to ponder: why has no one thought of that before?
But it is the new construction and mechanicals of the fresh Boxster that grab the attention, as they deliver a sharper, even more satisfying drive, with benefits at the petrol pump too.
Slide into the deeply bucketed sports seats and you could be nowhere else but in a Porsche. The big tacho is front and centre, the legs are stretched out in front, and the adjustable steering wheel – fat and shiny – is ready for action. This is a purposeful cockpit.
Porsche has adjusted some of the ergonomics, however, with a new, more natural placement of the manual gear stick on the console just one of the small but important tweaks.
With a number of new electronic features, the Boxster could be as confusing as some of its rivals with their ‘knit one, purl one’ controllers, but the Porsche company mercifully has a one-button-per-function policy that simplifies selection of everything from the Sport suspension setting to FM radio.
Likewise, the folding soft-top roof is controlled with the press of a console button, disappearing in nine seconds flat (and on the move at up to 50km/h too).
In the interests of weight-saving, Porsche has done away with the cover for the folded roof, and while they have done their best to make it look neat, it still has a few gaps around the edges. Still, most Boxsters will be a blurr of speed when the roof is descended, so maybe only the owner will know.
The first car we tested a drive through the sunny Queensland hills northeast of Brisbane was the variant that real Boxster officiados will chose – the upper-crust 3.4-litre 232kW Boxster S with six-speed manual gearbox and optional 20-inch alloy wheels.
This gearbox might be short of one cog when compared with the ‘box in the new 911, but it changes as slickly as any self-shifter in captivity.
The ratios are knitted tightly together, propelling the extremely light (just 1330kg) two-seat roadster forward with satisfying urge. Only when we reach gear number six do we realise that part of this propulsion is generated by a rather short final-drive ratio.
With the six-cylinder boxer engine spinning noticeably fast in top gear at highway speeds, we wish the seven-speeder from the 911 had made it into Boxster too.
Arriving at some tightly twisted bits in the road, all is forgiven as we ram the gear stick up and down the ratios to a joyful boxer tune from the twin-tipped exhausts. This is Boxster home territory.
The steering might be electric assisted, but there is none of the squidgy, lifeless feel of lesser cars. Point and shoot, no problems.
The front end grips tenaciously in the corners, and the rear follows dutifully. Lateral grip is astounding, and feel through the hands and backside second to none.
The Boxster benefits in countless ways from its lightweight construction, which is the best in the business, and the result on the road is a scalpel of a car that belies its relatively modest power (in Porsche terms).
And Porsche engineers have managed to chop the chump without losing any of the renowned structural integrity for which the roofless Boxster has been the benchmark. No scuttle shake here.
The standard Boxster comes with a Sport driving mode that tightens up the suspension a tad, but we enjoyed the handling of the standard setting with its slightly more comfortable ride. That, however, will come down to personal taste.
Even with the big 20-inch wheels and their tiny tyre sidewalls, the ride was firm but pleasant on some fairly harsh country roads.
When we switched into the entry level Boxster with its 2.7-litre 195kW engine, we also got to sample the dual-clutch PDK transmission – a pricey $5300 option.
This is a seven speeder, and not only has another ratio, but a taller final drive too. To compensate, first gear has a shorter ratio than the manual equivalent, and it does the job, shooting the auto-shifting Boxster S to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds – two tenths quicker than the manual – and 5.7 seconds for the Boxster (one tenth quicker).
And it delivers a much more relaxed cruising experience, which is just one good reason to stump up the extra cash. The other is the delicious burble when the automated box reaches for another ratio, blipping the throttle like a race driver.
Cashed-up buyers with a yen for the best can fork out for a range of performance enhancement packs, including Sports Chrono ($4790) and Active Suspension Management ($3390).
Call us spoilsports, but we are not sure we would bother – the default settings feel pretty good to us.
As a mid-engined two-door roadster, the potential owner does not expect much in the way cargo space in the Boxster, and it does not disappoint. Door pockets, a small centre console and a standard glovebox pretty much see it out.
The luggage space is again split between a rather tight bin in the nose of the car and an even tighter space in the ‘boot’.
However, the front bin is deeper this time around, and if the owner selected his or her luggage to fit the shape, it should be sufficient for a decent holiday.
But when you go on holiday, beware the sat-nav – it was a case of the blind leading the blind when we had cause to rely on this system which seems a little out of date in the accuracy department.
The Boxster has always been one of our favourite cars, and never for a minute do we believe it should be seen as a poor man’s 911.
At half the price of a 911, it is more than half the car.
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