Note: I owned this car for 12 months back in 2013–14.
We live in a world that celebrates, and yearns for, that which is perfect. Take a look at the feed of one of those dime-a-dozen Instagram ‘influencers’ – it’s all blue skies, white bikinis, beautifully lit rooms with Scandinavian furniture and #blessed hashtags. Everything is curated, arranged, manicured, cropped and portrayed in an interplay of studied perfection.
But real human beings – people like you and I – are of course riddled with imperfections. My personal demon is procrastination. I procrastinate so much that my procrastinations have procrastinations. For instance – take this review. I initially started writing it to avoid doing the household chores. Then I left it sitting by the wayside to do other things that popped up. For six months.
On top of the procrastination, I don’t exercise as much as I should. I can be a little bit too frivolous with money. I can sometimes be a bit too judgmental when it comes to people.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is this: one of the contemporary paradoxes of the human experience is that that we’re a bunch of imperfect beings often reaching for an asymptote of perfection that we will never ever reach.
No, you haven’t accidentally stumbled onto some pop psychology website – this is still CarAdvice, so I'd better start talking about cars.
The LV Ford Focus XR5 that I was driving back in 2013 was a charming car that was also flawed. Yes, the engine note from the 2.5-litre five-pot was glorious, but boy it was thirsty. The steering was a meaty delight, but driven at above eight-tenths it rolled a tad too much in tight corners and tended to push wide. And while the Focus was a handsome-enough car, it certainly wasn’t what you’d call visually exciting.
I had owned the XR5 for more than three years and I felt ready for something different. Something better. Something perfect. Something… Porsche.
While I couldn’t afford a brand-new 981 Boxster, a second-hand 987 at $40–$50K was in my price range. So I started scouring the classifieds. After a couple of months, I found exactly what I was looking for.
It was a standard (non-S) model, which I thought was plenty fast for day-to-day driving. It was optioned with a factory sports exhaust that beautifully amplified the flat-six’s aural symphony while giving it a raspier, more masculine-sounding edge. While the paintwork was a ubiquitous shade of silver, the convertible top and leather interior were finished in a gorgeous navy blue, which gave the car a subtle but distinctive bit of flourish.
A test-drive with the roof down on a sunny day through some coastal roads on the Mornington Peninsula sealed the deal, and I was suddenly the owner of a seven-year-old Porsche with 35,000km on the clock.
The first couple of months of Boxster ownership were truly glorious. Living with a convertible means you have constant access to what is essentially a sensory-intensifying machine. With the top town, almost every pleasurable element of driving was dialled up a notch. With the wind rushing through my hair, every gear shift felt smoother, every blip of the throttle sounded sweeter, and even the burning of the clutch as I clumsily made my way up a steep driveway one afternoon smelt better. Given that it was designed to be a convertible from the ground up (and not simply a conventional car with its roof chopped off), the body felt strong and flex-free.
The steering on the 987 is the best I’ve ever experienced in my life. Quick, but slightly on the heavy side, it unambiguously told me the only two things I wanted a steering system to tell me: the precise angle of the front wheels and the precise texture of the road surface underneath those wheels. Nothing more, nothing less. I’ve heard that the modern (fully electronic) Porsche steering systems, while still excellent, just aren’t in the same league as these older hydraulic systems. If that is truly the case, the world has truly lost something special.
Being naturally aspirated, the response from the flexible and rev-happy 2.7-litre boxer engine was immediate and oh-so-satisfying. The six-speed rifle-bolt manual gearshift was the perfect dance partner to that engine. I put that pairing on par with a duck breast and pinot noir, a fireplace and winter, and Roy and HG.
One of the most pleasant surprises of Boxster ownership was the practicality. Of course, carrying more than two passengers was out of the question, but because the engine was mid-mounted, the car featured two ‘boots’ – one at the front and one in the rear. The latter was quite small, but the one at the front could swallow a full-sized suitcase, and I never got tired of seeing the amused looks I received from people while they watched me load groceries into the ‘engine bay’.
The ride quality on the Boxster put many so called ‘luxury’ cars to shame. While it was never soft, the way that it handled anything the road threw at it without getting its feathers ruffled was exceptional. Speed humps, corrugations, potholes, camber changes – the Porsche simply shrugged its shoulders with contempt and asked “Is that all you’ve got?”. Because of this, I had no issues at all with using the Porsche as my daily driver.
Maintenance costs weren’t too bad either. My car had had its IMS issue (the Achilles heel of Boxsters and 911s of this era) rectified so I never got to experience a catastrophic engine failure. As expected, the insurance premium was a little bit on the expensive side, but nothing too crazy for a 31-year-old. To keep servicing costs down, I had my car looked after by a renowned independent Porsche mechanic, and his charges certainly weren’t exorbitant.
So I know what you must be thinking – here was a car that rode and drove beautifully, looked good, was in great condition, was more practical than it had any right to be and didn’t cost an arm and a leg to maintain – why on earth did I sell it after only 12 months?
The answer is that I sold it because it was a car that drove beautifully, looked good, was in great condition, was more practical than it had any right to be and didn’t cost an arm and a leg to maintain.
In other words, the 987 Porsche Boxster was perfect – too perfect for me.
I’ll try and elaborate on this. I see my history of car ownership as a journey. All the important milestones of my life are punctuated with the cars I’ve owned at that time. Seeing it in this light has helped me to contemplate what I like, and as a result, what I don’t like. And in coming to understand this, I’ve learnt about myself just as much as I’ve learnt about the cars I’ve owned.
The Porsche made me realise that while I appreciate perfection, I fall in love with foibles, faults and quirks. In my eyes, these are the very things that enable cars to transcend from being mere machines to being something… Almost human.
This realisation came to me as I was driving over the Bolte Bridge one late autumn night – with the top down, of course. A Peugeot 205 GTi in great condition drove past me on the right, and as it did, the driver gave me a thumbs-up. As I waved back in appreciation, a single thought flashed through my mind: I wish I was driving your car instead.
I felt confused. Here I was driving this superlative Porsche Boxster, but for some reason, I felt empty.
This got me thinking about other cars that I had owned and loved up until that point. The Series III RX-7 I owned as a P-plater that attempted to kill me many, many times. The RenaultSport Clio 182 Cup with its wonky ergonomics and bargain-basement hatchback origins that was as enthusiastic as a puppy. The Citroen DS that gently hissed and sighed as its alien-green LHM fluid made its way around the car like blood running through a circulatory system. All great cars. All wonderfully alive and… Flawed.
That late-night rendezvous with the 205 ultimately killed the Boxster for me. It was still a great car – objectively the best I had ever owned – but it just wasn’t for me. So I sold it, and bought myself a joyous little 74kW Fiat 500 S that had comical styling, a slightly bouncy ride and no real performance credentials to speak of. But what it had instead was a bucket-load of character.
After the Boxster had been driven away by its happy new owner, I didn’t miss it much at all.
Despite this, however, I’m extremely grateful for the time that I spent with it. Because it allowed me to learn something very important about myself – that the constant reach for perfection was someone else’s game to play. But it wasn’t mine.