260bhp Boxster S
is as sublime to drive
as it is ridiculously
easy to live with
LONG ACKNOWLEDGED to be the benchmark in its class, Porsche's Boxster seems as fresh today as it did the day it was first on sale. Since its launch, Porsche has subtly refined and polished what many erroneously see as a 'junior' 911 we say erroneously because the Boxster is, unquestionably, a real Porsche sports car in its own right. Especially the ferociously entertaining S with the creamy 260bhp 3.2-litre flat six engine,
as reviewed here.
Discreet design changes to the Boxster are so subtle that it is difficult to spot them. At the front are two newly designed air vents on either side of the front bumper, which is now curved further to the outside for an even more elegant and dynamic look. This gives the entire nose of the Boxster a more pronounced and distinctive arrow shape.
The changes also serve a practical purpose: to increase ram pressure at speed and, together with the redesigned body colour air intake scoops, improve the flow of cooling air. As before, a third air intake scoop in the middle of the front bumper remains a striking feature of the Boxster S.
Greyish-white direction indicators in the rear light clusters, newly- styled twin exhaust tailpipes and two distinctive crossbars give the rear end a more athletic look full of power and muscle. The crossbars are not just there to look good: they also ensure better air flow
around the exhaust silencer.
As before, the rear spoiler which was also redesigned for the 2003 model moves up automatically once the car reaches 75mph, significantly reducing rear lift in the process. The roof has also been slightly restyled and now slopes down more sharply to the boot lid, improving the flow of air to the spoiler.
As Porsche clearly intended, these minor cosmetic 'evolutions' only further enhance the good looks of the original. Under the Boxster's attractive skin it gets more interesting, with an increase in power and performance: bhp up 8 to 260 and the 0-62mph time down by a fifth
of a second to 5.7. Along with better acceleration, a more muscular torque curve now provides stronger pulling power, particularly at low engine speeds. All of this, as well as improved fuel economy (26.9mpg on the combined cycle) and lower emissions, is down to Porsche's VarioCam technology.
Sure, the Boxster's new classmates may be just a little more attention-grabbing in the showroom, but in addition to being lithe of line there's something inherently 'right' about the Boxster's sensuous shape
a pared-down simplicity of line that, like the 911, gives it an air of 'always been here, always will'.
Most sports cars feel assembled. Porsches feel engineered. Get behind the small leather steering wheel and you'll know what we mean. Sit in the low-slung driving position and even before you twist the key in the ignition, you feel at one with the car. The cabin is intimate as a proper sports car should be but clearly designed for business.
Cabin ergonomics are absolutely spot-on. The rev-counter takes centre stage amongst the three elegantly siamesed dials all with great graphics, red needles and all superbly easy to take in on the move. The smaller speedometer is marked in 25mph increments which works surprisingly well and the precise current speed is helpfully displayed digitally in the lower section of the speedo. Likewise all controls, including the pedals, are perfectly placed and operate smoothly. Vision forward is unhindered; rearward vision through the door mirrors is also notably good.
Supportive and comfortable 8-way electric seats ensure setting the perfect driving position takes but moments and although the steering wheel only adjusts for reach there's enough seat height adjustment to ensure comfort is not hampered. Once set, a 2-memory function that includes door mirrors ensures it's not forgotten. Other nice touches are the curved rear view mirror housing that echoes the top edge of the clear plastic windblocker, the sculpted switches for easy fingertip operation and the ignition slot on the dash a Porsche trademark keeping sharp keys well away from your right knee.
Standard features include the electric roof, electric one-shot up/down windows, thermal insulation glazing, electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors, central locking, electronic immobiliser and an alarm system with full interior surveillance, a cupholder and remote opening not only the car itself, but also the front and rear bootlids. The glove compartment is lockable and linked to the car's alarm system, plus there's also a CD player, automatic air conditioning and smart five-spoke light-alloy wheels. Not that you need them often, but the horns have a strident note that commands instant attention. Also welcome
is central locking that kicks in as you move off but there is also a master button on the dash.
As an option, the Boxster S is available with Porsche's sport-orientated five-speed Tiptronic S transmission, with its notable feature of a manual over-ride function. With the selector lever remaining in auto, the driver is able to shift gears manually via paddles on the steering wheel.
The display for the on-board computer is integrated into the lower sector of the rev-counter. In addition to the usual information, there
is a driver-set speed limit warning and the odometer read-out has a dual function allowing the engine oil to be checked from the driver's seat before starting the engine. The optional SatNav is foolproof with lots of immediately accessible shortcut menu buttons. Below it is a neat holder for up to 4 CDs or navigation DVDs.
The 3.2-litre Boxster delivers plenty of performance for the money, with a top speed of 164mph and 0-62mph acceleration in 5.7 seconds. And, in keeping with its zero to 100mph time of 13.2 seconds, it has
an appetite for rocketing up to three-figure speeds. Few engines sound as good as a Porsche flat six on song, the intoxicating wail the perfect companion when you're basking in the vivid, grin-inducing acceleration. Better still is the engine's tractability, courtesy of 228lb ft of torque at 4,600rpm. Not that fuel consumption will be a big issue with most owners, but the official figures are 18.5mpg Urban, 26.9mpg Combined and 36.2mpg Extra-urban. Over 500 hard-driven test miles we averaged 25mpg overall, and on motorway trips saw close to 36mpg.
What defines the Boxster's shape also defines it's fluid driveability.
The hard-hitting boxer power unit is mounted low behind the driver, with power fed directly to the rear wheels through a precise, quick-shifting six-speed manual 'box.
It's not necessary to push the Boxster S hard to reap maximum enjoyment. Few sports cars can claim such good road manners as the Boxster its poise and roadholding are a delight, enjoyable as much when you're driving at three tenths as they are at ten tenths. The Boxster S handles superbly, yet the ride remains astonishingly good supple and composed, whatever the road surface.
The steering is as much at the heart of the Boxster's enduring appeal as is its characteristic boxer engine. In the Boxster you don't so much steer though fast twisty bits as simply flow through, your palms unendingly updated with input from the tactile three-spoke steering wheel telling you exactly what's going on at the sharp end. Weighting is spot-on and turn-in endearingly eager.
Another major benefit of the Boxster's variable-valve timing is the terrific driveability from the creamy flat six. Throttle response is instantaneous, and combined with a rifle-bolt gearchange, clean and light clutch and slick drivetrain allows you to exploit to the full the tenacious grip that comes as much from the chassis as from the 'sticky' Michelin Pilot Sport rubber (225/40 front and 265/35 rear). Hugely enjoyable is the way it settles its haunches into corners and then, on a muscular wave of torque, carries the speed with it as it powers through the apex and out.
Brakes are very Porsche. In other words stopping distances are short even under extreme conditions, the brakes retaining their full power and grip without fading. Hardly unexpected given that the Boxster is fitted with Porsche's respected four-piston aluminium fixed monobloc brake callipers (painted bright red) and internally vented discs both front and rear along with the extra-large 911 Carrera brake discs (318mm/299mm diameter front/rear), cross-drilled as on the 911 to remove any water between the disc and the brake pad for improved brake response in wet weather.
The Boxster sticks with a tried and tested folding fabric hood. Unlatch the central hook and press the button and the entire hood folds away completely out of sight in 12 seconds. The concertinaed hood is automatically capped off by a rigid body-colour tonneau. The Boxster's superb torsional rigidity provides excellent levels of body stiffness roof down, it's impressively free of any vibration.
Driving topless, windows up, clear wind-blocker all but invisible between the twin roll-hoops, cruising at the legal limit is comfortable with virtually no buffeting whatsoever. Flex your right foot and, as the needle spins round to the red line, the cultured and unmistakable flat-six wail vies with the stereo for your aural entertainment. Try it at night with the heated seats on and the instrument lighting dimmed to
a barely distinguishable glow. Whoever said money can't buy you happiness clearly hasn't driven a Boxster topless on a mid-summer's night. Lights, both main and dipped, are excellent. Top up or down, road noise is not a problem at any speed.
Hood up, the cabin is refined. The roof now slopes down to the boot lid at a steeper angle, closely resembling the shape of the optional aluminium hardtop. And the glass rear window is electrically heated, improving not only rearward visibility, but also cockpit comfort in cold and wet weather. The ribbed seats proved to be especially comfortable on long journeys, holding you in place while permitting a stretch when you feel like it.
For a dedicated two-seater roadster, the Boxster is far more practical than you'd expect. Because the engine is mounted behind the driver there's a reasonable-sized, but not too deep, rear boot complemented by a fair-sized one in the nose also home to the space-saver spare, battery and 6-CD autochanger. In each boot there is 130 litres of loadspace.
Inside the cabin there's a lockable five-litre glovebox below the passenger's airbag, a lockable cubby between the front seats, deep lidded door pockets handy for storing valuables out of sight (their contoured lids double as armrests), and lidded storage areas directly behind the seats. The seat backs tilt forward easily for access.
The Boxster's predictable handling and superb brakes ensure outstanding active safety, backed up by driver, passenger and POSIP side airbags. Even with the roof open and the side windows retracted, the Porsche Side Impact Protection side airbag system is designed
to protect the head and upper body. There is also a roll-over protection system maximising occupant safety should the car ever turn over, consisting of an extra-strong tube integrated in the extremely stiff A-pillars, which gives the windscreen frame tremendous stability, and there are twin rear roll hoops directly behind the seats. Anti-lock brakes are standard but Porsche's Stability Management system is an option.
Emotionally justifying a Boxster is the easiest thing in the world. Financially it's also easy to tick the important Yes boxes: residual values remain high thanks to an ironclad image and a long queue
of keen buyers clamouring to get their hands on one. Decent fuel economy helps, although don't expect servicing to be cheap.
Yes, there are a number of other modish roadsters snapping at its heels but the Boxster's style and character remains uniquely satisfying. And Yes, that red-and-gold shield helps. However, not only does the Boxster S dish up unbridled driving pleasure but its real-world practicality makes it a superb all-year-rounder. Buy one and you'll never tire of driving it. And the reality of the dream is that it's not just for a mid-summer night...
Porsche Boxster S | £38,150
Maximum speed: 164mph | 0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Overall test MPG: 25mpg | Power: 260bhp | Torque: 228lb ft
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