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First Oz drive: Boxster powers on

Boxing on: The Porsche Boxster facleift includes fresh exterior styling, revised engines with more power, design improvements and new interior features.

A mid-life facelift has given the Boxster range a fresh look as well as more engine power

16 Sep 2002

ONCE upon a time just going for a drive was, according to Porsche, a well-practised art. With the mild facelift afforded its Boxster range for the 2003 Model Year, the Zuffenhausen car-maker is trying to encourage buyers to rediscover the joy of driving.

The Boxster has brought Porsche's automotive philosophy to an entirely new cross-section of people since it was introduced in 1997, mostly due to its more affordable pricing compared to the company's mainstay 911 models.

That (relative) affordability has also seen the Boxster crowned Porsche Cars Australia's top selling model in three of the five years it has been on sale here.

As the first major upgrade to Porsche's second model line since the Boxster S was added to the range in late 1999, the MY03 facelift brings with it fresh exterior styling and revised engines with more power, as well as various design improvements and new interior features.

The new front bumper/airdam takes its styling cues from the recent 911 upgrade and is designed to improve airflow and downforce, while the new rear bumper - with cut-outs either side of the exhaust outlets - is also designed to improve airflow and heat extraction from the exhaust system.

Redesigned side intake scoops are now larger, as well as finished in body colour, and are said to provide more effective engine (left-hand side) and cabin (right-hand side) cooling.

For a more contemporary look, smoked lenses cover the front, side and rear indicators, replacing the traditional orange indicator lenses fitted previously.

Other exterior changes include a revised roof design that gives the soft top a similar profile to the optional aluminium hardtop, while the plastic rear window in the previous models has been replaced by an electrically-heated glass item - although the size of the window aperture has been reduced.

The Boxster continues to come standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, although PCA concedes very few customer cars actually leave the showroom in that condition.

New design 17-inch alloys - optional on the Boxster and standard on the S - are 2kg lighter than the previous wheels, while the S's optional 18-inch 911 Carrera wheels offer a significant 10.8kg weight reduction.

Porsche aficionados will also notice that the rear badge on the Boxster is finished in black, while the Boxster S brags of its higher performance with a silver badge.

The addition of Porsche's VarioCam variable valve timing system - which provides infinite adjustment of the camshaft up to an angle of 40 degrees - to both Boxster engines has produced a slight boost to power and torque figures, and a subsequent lowering of 0-100km/h acceleration times.

The Boxster's 2.7-litre powerplant now develops a maximum power output of 168kW at 6300rpm (up from 162kW at 6400rpm previously), although peak torque remains at 260Nm.

The 3.2-litre engine of the Boxster S now develops 191kW of power at 6200rpm (up from 185kW at 6250rpm), while torque has risen to 310Nm at 4700rpm (up from 305Nm at 4500rpm).

Acceleration times have been reduced by two-tenths of a second in both models, with the Boxster now taking 6.4 seconds to reach 100km/h, while the Boxster S reaches the same target in 5.7 seconds.

Porsche also claims both fuel consumption and exhaust emissions have been reduced by the introduction of VarioCam technology, with the former improved by about two per cent under the EU standard.

On the inside, the Boxster has benefited from some small but worthwhile changes to its list of creature comforts.

The 911 has donated its cupholder and glovebox to its junior stablemate - the pop-out dual cupholder can accommodate two cup sizes, while the five-litre capacity illuminated and lockable glovebox is also connected to the car's alarm system.

The remote central locking system has been upgraded as well, to provide opening of the front and rear boot lids as well as the doors.

PCA wisely revised its Boxster sales projections down to 300 units for this year, pre-empting the move by buyers to hold off on Boxster purchases until this facelifted model arrived. To the end of August this year, 205 Boxster models had been sold, which is in line with the 25 per cent drop foreseen by those projections.

Over the next 12 months, PCA expects sales to return to a more consistent level of about 400 units for its entry level convertible model.

Pricing:
Boxster manual $108,500
Boxster Tiptronic $115,500
Boxster S manual $133,100
Boxster S Tiptronic $140,100

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

EVERYTHING you have ever read about how good the steering, gearshift and engine note are in a Porsche is true, and the revisions made to the 2003 Model Year Boxster in no way change those core qualities.

The steering is as good as it gets - beautifully weighted, informative and loaded with feedback as to what the front wheels are doing.

A larger diameter exhaust system from engine to outlet, coupled with the slight power gains, have given the Boxster's flat six powerplants renewed bark, in much the same way as the original 2.5-litre Boxster had a louder, more purposeful sound.

Porsche Cars Australia executives made repeated protestations as to the strengths and benefits of the Boxster's Tiptronic automatic transmission, as the company believes buyers and the wider automotive community have failed to grasp (or be adequately informed of) the abilities of the system.

While it is a quicker and smarter transmission than virtually any other auto currently on the market, it is not without its flaws.

The system can actually be too quick to read into and adapt to driver input, to the point where it is constantly moving between its five shift programs when all you really want is for it to hold a lower gear for longer. This can be achieved with the manual mode, but then that's not really the point of a automatic, is it?A lock-out sport mode would no doubt help in this regard, such as is on offer with the manual shifting five-speed auto in many BMW models.

But there remains no substitute for a precise, smooth shifting manual transmission no matter how good an auto is, and luckily Porsche offers just such a transmission in all of its models.

Be it the five-speed in the Boxster or the six-speed in the S, both are the epitome of exactly how a manual gearbox should feel and behave.

The shift quality is superb - positive, easy to use and neither mind being rushed when the driving gets serious.

As far as the revised styling goes, it would have been nice if Porsche could have found its way clear to give the Boxster a more distinctive front end.

At a glance - which is often all you get of a Porsche in motion - it could easily be mistaken for a 911, especially with similar front bumper treatments. At least the rear is distinctively Boxster.

The interior upgrade, particularly the glovebox and cupholders, has made the Boxster a much more liveable proposition, as nobody wants the leather interior of their Porsche to be covered in a thickshake at the first sign of a corner and now there is somewhere to store the street directory as well.

But the best part of the Boxster facelift is that the changes and modifications come without a price penalty. The range has been improved, refined and re-specified without asking for any more of your hard-earned dollars.

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