The Porsche Boxster remains the cheapest way into the German car maker’s sports car range – and may well continue to do so as the company continues to dither and deliberate over a new, smaller entry-level sports car.
It’s 16 years since the original Boxster arrived in 1996 as a saviour for then financially stricken Porsche, though the latest model – the second all-new version of three generations – turns up with the brand in a very different state of health.
And in a busy period of product activity. The new Porsche Boxster follows just months after an all-new 911, with the company claiming the roadster has an even greater step up over its predecessor than the dramatically overhauled icon.
For starters there are fewer parts shared with the 911 than ever before, including unique doors for the first time. They’re made of aluminium, too, reflecting the Boxster’s switch from all-steel construction to a combination of steel and aluminium.
That contributes to a 25kg reduction in mass over the old model despite bigger dimensions, which is just one of the areas where the two-seater Boxster mimics changes made to the 911.
The Porsche Boxster’s overall length extends by 30mm, but there’s double that for the wheelbase as Porsche again stretches the gap between front and rear axles – which also widen to increase the car’s on-road footprint.
A 13mm drop in height adds to a lower and more masculine overall look for the Boxster, with more pronounced rear haunches and some marvellous design touches – the most notable of which is arguably the rear tail-lights that integrate with the (automatic) pop-up spoiler (pictured above).
Add in a 40 per cent stiffer body and a centre of gravity that, literally central to handling, is 6mm lower and the Boxster is already promising to be even better to drive than before.
And on the appropriately named snaking roads of Mount Glorious near Brisbane, finely chosen by Porsche Australia for the launch event, there’s no deflation after the hype.
As with previous Boxsters, it takes little time for the driver to bond with the car and to start exploiting its spookily brilliant abilities.
The mid-engined Boxster’s balance is supreme, with an unflappable poise that’s untouchable in the
When it comes to composure coming into corners, gripping through corners and traction out of corners, it’s condolences to rival compact premium roadsters - the Audi TT, BMW Z4 and Mercedes-Benz SLK – because the Porsche Boxster is the standard bearer.
The quicker you go, and the more challenging the curves, the faster you’ll be reaching for the superlatives.
Enthusiasts shouldn’t even mind the new electro-mechanical steering – also introduced on the new 911 – that while losing some of the heft and communication of the previous steering is still quick and precise.
We spent most of the launch in the entry model of this entry-level Porsche, the base Boxster that starts from $107,500.
Refreshingly, our test car was pretty close to a kind of Purist’s Spec - bereft of the many additional technologies, such as adaptive dampers, torque vectoring and dual-clutch auto gearbox that are available as options.
The new seven-speed manual from the 911 may not have crossed over (big brother wants to have some distinctive features), the six-speeder is a gem – with an assured, precise action working in tandem with the equally perfectly weighted clutch pedal.
However, our test car did ride on the biggest wheels to grace a Porsche Boxster yet – 20-inch ‘Carrera S’ alloys that cost an extra $6780 but do produce staggering levels of grip (we didn’t hear a squeal out of them all day).
They contribute to a firm ride and it would be interesting to see how much extra suppleness the standard 18-inch tyres (19s on the Boxster S) would provide.
Regardless, even on the 20s, the Boxster is a more comfortable ride compared with its aforementioned key rivals.
And those benchmark dynamics come whether the roof is open or closed, with the Boxster’s remarkable stiffness making body wobbles a redundant description here.
The roof is also improved in terms of speed and simplicity, slickly opening or closing – via separate buttons on the centre console - in nine rather than 12 seconds and dispensing with the manual release latch.
Cabin noise is reduced with the roof up, even if Australia’s common coarse-chip surfaces and those 20-inch wheels still serve up some tyre noise, but you buy the Boxster – rather than its coupe twin, the Cayman – because you can have open-air motoring. With minimal buffeting, too, with the standard wind deflector in place.
This also gives you better access to those glorious-sounding flat-six engines that prick up the hairs on the back of your neck as they reach a yowling fever pitch at high revs (the best aural experience in the S).
The base Boxster’s flat six-cylinder engine has incrementally increased in size over the years from 2.5 to 2.9 litres but drops back to 2.7 for the latest model.
The addition of direct fuel injection and a higher compression ratio see a slight increase in power up to 195kW, improved fuel efficiency to as low as 7.7L/100km (8.0L/100km for the S, both aided by standard stop-start systems), with slightly less torque but spread across a broader range.
The 2.7 actually has a flatter torque curve than the more powerful 3.4-litre of the Boxster S, with its peak torque – down 10Nm to 280Nm – produced from 4500rpm to 6500rpm.
As with the 2.9-litre six it replaces, there isn’t an abundance of torque down low but there’s sufficient flexibility to make the base Boxster an easy car to drive at low to medium speeds before impressing as performance swells as revs rise.
Throttle response is equally progressive, and even without pressing the Sport button that introduces a slightly more aggressive engine and gearbox mapping this is a car that allows the driver to meter out exactly the amount of momentum they want via the accelerator pedal.
The relatively short drive program meant we unfortunately only had limited experience of the Boxster S that costs from $133,800.
It was enough time, however, to appreciate two things.
Firstly, that Porsche has engineered in an appropriate amount of extra performance over the regular model for the extra money. 100km/h, for example, is reached from standstill in 5.8 seconds for the base Boxster and 5.1 for the S.
Pick the PDK dual-clutch auto – which comes with either thumb button steering wheel shifters or no-cost-option paddles we believe are superior – and the Boxsters are slightly quicker again while being more economical.
And, secondly, the S also demonstrates the Boxster’s chassis is clearly capable of coping with even more power than the S’s 234kW. So stand by for a future flagship model carrying either the Spyder name – as with the previous Boxster – or even the R badge that was applied to the Cayman twin and is released in next-generation form in early 2013.
In the meantime, Porsche Boxster buyers, as with most other Porsches, can improve standing-start acceleration times by opting for the Sports Chrono Package that costs $4790 and brings launch control.
The package also includes the dash-top clock, Sport Plus mode that brings a more aggressive shifting pattern, torque vectoring that will drag the brake on the inside rear wheel for improved cornering stability, and, for the first time on Boxster, active transmission mounts that are the convertible’s answer to the 911’s active engine mounts – capable of stiffening up for extreme driving via magnetised fluid particles, such as race track use, to reduce drivetrain inertia.
The interior of the new Porsche Boxster completes the enhanced package.
Again like the new Porsche 911, the Boxster’s cabin brings a greater element of luxury to the sports car fold yet while remaining most tasteful (at least with black trim; we're not so sure about the all-red affair pictured).
It gains the broader, rising centre console that is now a signature of Porsche interiors, while the selection and use of materials is beyond reproach.
The sports seats meld comfort and support brilliantly, and complement a perfect, low driving position befitting of an exemplary sports car. Driver and passenger don’t feel cramped together, either.
In-cabin storage remains disappointingly limited for small items such as mobiles, though the Porsche Boxster compensates with its unrivalled twin compartments – 150 litres front and 130 litres rear that are unchanged in volume.
So a relatively practical two-seater sports car it remains. It also costs less than half the price of the 911 Cabriolet (from $229,900) yet is anything but half the car.
The Porsche Boxster’s dazzling dynamics once again make it one of the world's great sports cars and untouchable among its direct rivals, while it's classier cabin, more efficient engines and more beautifully crafted shape complete the convertible as a highly desirable ownership proposition.