The Porsche Boxster was, once upon a time, considered the pretender's Porsche. The purists screamed from the rooftops that 'real' Porsche owners would only ever opt for the 911. All that has changed though and the Boxster is now, especially in S guise, a genuine performance option.
Converted. Consider me converted. The 2016 Porsche Boxster S has well and truly won me over. The Boxster and Cayman don’t get much love from the ‘911 Is King’ brigade, but they damn well should. After a week with the Boxster, I’m left wondering why anyone needs a 911, certainly if you’re a little less flippant with your money. Yes, the Boxster S is that good.
If you are a card-carrying member of the aforementioned 911 fanboy club, I’m sure you’re currently thinking I’m completely off my rocker, but don’t be so quick to judge, as I used to be one of you. I always thought that a Cayman or Boxster owner was only one traffic light away from being stopped next to a 911 and feeling completely inadequate. I could not have been more wrong, and I’ll try to explain why.
Smart Boxster owners know you get plenty of the 911’s DNA, but with a completely unique character. They also know that what began as the every-man’s Porsche has become an accessible and brutally efficient performance vehicle, with a potent blend of everyday driveability and handling prowess at the limit.
Let’s look at the numbers first. A quick browse of the Porsche Australia website reveals that the Boxster S, as tested here with PDK, can currently be driven away for $149,747. For that, you get a 3.4-litre flat-six mid-engine masterpiece, which generates 232kW at 6700rpm and 360Nm between 4500-5800rpm. The blast from 0-100km/h comes up in 5.0 seconds (4.8 seconds in Sport+ mode). Against an 8.2L/100km ADR claim, we saw 12.1L/100km after a week behind the wheel, but much of that driving wasn’t intended to conserve fuel.
Now to compare, a ‘base’ 911 Carrera S Cabriolet with PDK will cost $305,126, drive away. Slung behind the rear axle you’ll get a 3.0-litre engine that generates 309kW at 6500rpm and 500Nm between 1700-5000rpm. The 911 launches from 0-100km/h in 4.3 seconds (4.1 seconds with Sport Chrono) and the ADR fuel claim is 7.8L/100km.
There’s absolutely no doubt that in the Porsche world, the 911 – any 911 – makes the ultimate statement in the perforated-leather driving-gloved Porsche galaxy. The history, the pedigree, the blistering performance that comes with 911 ownership is beyond reproach. I felt that very sense of history when I recently tested the 911 Targa 4S and can confirm that it’s an intoxicating atmosphere.
The company is aware of this too, never wanting to sully the status of its halo model by overpowering the upstart Boxster or Cayman. That said, previously ignorant critics like myself can no longer sling mud at the Boxster/Cayman twins, especially in S guise, but there’s a pretty good reason Porsche won’t be fitting a turbo to either of them anytime soon…
This newfound love for the Boxster is not universal, either. Some CarAdvice testers love the Boxster S, yet there are others who don’t. There’ll be no changing the opinions of either, believe me, I’ve tried. Despite that, I started on one side of the fence, and I’m now firmly encamped on the other. The Boxster S is a bona fide performance weapon and I’d argue that it’s easier to extract its performance potential than any 911 I’ve driven. If you counteract that fact with how effortless and docile the Boxster S is to drive every day, it’s a difficult all-round package to criticise.
The Boxster is low slung, but not to the point of torture. This makes getting in and out easy enough, even if you need to do it repeatedly throughout the course of a day. The front and rear boot spaces afford proper luggage carrying ability. We even managed to fit one of our advertising gurus, Eva, in the boot. We tried to fit (the more bulky) Curt in there too, but he was a little too big. You’ll be able to carry three medium-sized hard cases plus some soft luggage with ease.
The seats themselves are works of art. Comfortable no matter how much time you spend behind the wheel, they manage to hold you in place when you find some twisties, making a spirited drive even more enjoyable. One gripe a few testers had was that the centre stack and general switchgear array didn’t feel as special as it could, but the system works well and is easy enough to understand. It doesn’t appear to drown in switchgear in the same way a Macan can, for example.
The driving position is, as expected from a Porsche, exceptional. Drivers who are taller can get far enough away from the wheel and down low enough into the cabin to not feel like their melon is out in the oncoming air. CarAdvice Boxster S-loving boss man made the amused prediction that I would sit "on" rather than "in" the Boxster S but that proved to be unfounded, much to their chagrin. Strangely, the cabin never felt tight or claustrophobic either, even with two people on board. The cupholders are a little on the fiddly side, but they cleverly save on space and there’s enough storage for wallets and phones. The Bluetooth system works well, remaining crystal clear even with the top down. The theme of usability continues.
On the subject of the top being down, you can drop the roof while leaving the windows up. With the wind deflector in place, it barely even felt like I was in a convertible, and I mean that in a good way. The roof mechanism is fast and quiet, and there’s no buffeting or wind noise either (even at 110km/h on the freeway), which is something you’ll appreciate if you’ve ever owned an old convertible. Switch the heated seats on, and you can cruise topless even in cooler weather.
A convenient heavy rainstorm allowed us to test the Boxster’s ability to plough through rubbish weather with the roof up. Aside from the patter of rain on the material hood, you’d struggle to realise you’re even in a convertible. It’s quiet, insulated and doesn’t leak, even in heavy downpours. The roof also insulates heat well if it’s too hot outside to have the top down and you’d prefer to be using the AC system.
Around town, at very low speed (crawling in traffic for example) you can notice a very slight shunt or hesitation from the gearbox as it works to find the right ratio. I didn't particularly care about that, as the payoff is razor sharp shifting at any other speed. Crisp downshifts on corner entry can make even the most unskilled driver feel like they’re behind the wheel of a race car. The PDK is a truly brilliant gearbox and when you wind the Boxster S up, you’ll find yourself shifting gears simply for the sake of it. It’s so rapid and smooth it will put a silly grin on your dial every time you stretch the Boxster’s legs.
I loved the light, balanced steering at city speeds, and the way in which the Boxster managed to feel nimble and incredibly easy to manoeuvre. Its chassis is taut, which explains the brilliant handling at the limit, but it’s hard to believe how comfortable the Boxster S can be over poor surfaces. A sportscar that handles as beautifully as the Boxster S has no right to be so comfortable and cossetting. Regardless of how bumpy the road, there was no banging or crashing, nor even the slightest rattle or squeak. It wasn’t so long ago that any convertible used to flop and flex at the merest hint of a pothole, but not so with the Boxster S.
So, its city chops deserve praise, but the open road is the Boxster’s domain, and you’d be mad if you didn’t head for them at every opportunity to sample the chassis’ incredible versatility. The sensational brakes come into their own at speed and the steering, so airy around town, tightens up and delivers the kind of precision you always dreamed you’d feel behind the wheel of a Porsche. Select Sport mode and everything is amplified, to the point that you feel you’d need a track day to truly sample the capabilities of the Boxster S.
On the open road, I found myself slicing through corners, linking sweepers together and hammering out of them with brazen confidence. The balance is immense, and the feedback and communication between chassis and driver is like a go-kart. You need to be a mightily skilled driver to extract the best a 911 can offer, but not so with the Boxster S. It’s so much more approachable, accessible and safe, inspiring confidence the more you drive it. Minute steering adjustments translate to immediate tightening or widening of corner arcs and the grip from the front tyres are tremendous. You’ll need to be travelling quickly to get to the point you’re outdriving the chassis’ ability, that’s for sure.
There’s a glorious bark that accompanies the rising revs, becoming more and more urgent the closer you get to the redline. The soundtrack is amplified with the top down, obviously, but the engine’s note cannons off rock walls, even with the roof up. It’s an intoxicating sound that harks back to 911s of old, a raspy, angry howl that warns of the performance potential you’re accessing.
The question is not whether a Porsche Boxster S is better or worse than a 911. That’s a case of different tastes for different buyers with different wallet capacities. The question that remains after a week with the Boxster S is whether the Boxster/Cayman siblings are truer to the original 911 ethos than (shock, horror) the current 911.
Where the 911 is weighed down by the heft of the technological expectations of the modern buyer, the Boxster and Cayman possess a sense of freedom, lightness and balance. Sure, the engine is in the wrong place if you’re a 911 purist, but the mid-engine layout makes for a razor sharp precision instrument.
There’s no doubt that the sportscar you drive says a lot about the kind of person you are. If you’re a 911 owner, you’re almost certainly enamoured by the history and the legend. The Boxster S however is on its way to becoming a modern icon and buyers will know they’ve made a smart choice every time they get a chance to flatten the accelerator pedal. You’ll never once feel like you’re missing out on anything. The Boxster S is a truly brilliant sportscar in every sense of the word.
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