Porsche's redoubtable roadster remains a benchmark in its segment. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Porsche Boxster has long been the benchmark in the sports roadster sector: it still is. As ever, rival manufacturers find themselves playing catch up.
Today, Porsche is a significant world automotive player. But the reasons why have less to do with the car everybody knows it for - the iconic 911 - and more to do with this one, the Boxster. This was the car that brought Porsche ownership within reach of the man in the street, offering the marque's classic design, technology and handling prowess at relatively affordable prices. Whilst the original version, launched in 1996, was no ball of fire, progressive incarnations have just got faster and faster. This higher quality third generation '981' series design is, we're told, the ultimate Boxster, slightly bigger and a lot lighter, slightly faster and a lot more efficient. In other words, the car it always should have been. Let's put it to the test.
The Porsche Boxster's reputation as a driver's car has been burnished with each successive generation and this third generation version appears the biggest step forward to date. The entry level engine has been downsized to a 2.7-litre unit, but the good news is that it generates 10bhp more than the old 2.9-litre lump, managing a hearty 265bhp, which is more than the original Boxster S. The Boxster S retains a 3.4-litre capacity but the powerplant is now good for 315bhp. There's also a pokier Boxster GTS variant with 330bhp. And a rare Spyder version with a 3.8-litre engine from the 911 and 375bhp. As before, all variants feature direct injection for improved efficiency. A six-speed manual is fitted as standard, although the optional seven-speed PDK double clutch gearbox is sure to be popular. This gets revised software for quicker and smoother shifts. With the optional PDK gearbox, this improved Boxster will hit 62mph in a claimed 5.7s with the Boxster S managing to knock over the benchmark sprint in just 5.0s. The longer wheelbase of the Boxster promises better ride quality while the wider front track offers improved grip. Like the latest 911, this generation Boxster switches from Porsche's traditional hydraulic power steering to a more efficient electro mechanical setup developed by ZF. Most cars will come out of dealers weighing around 100kg less than their immediate predecessors which has direct benefits on handling, acceleration and efficiency.
Design and Build
At a superficial glance, the Boxster looks like a subtle evolution of its predecessor. Pay a little closer attention and you'll appreciate that it's a tauter looking thing. The original car's well-worn 'bar of soap' look has morphed into something edgier and more athletic. The long overhangs at the front and rear have gone and the air intakes on the flanks are now of more strident design. The rear wheelarches are more pronounced, lending a definite haunch to the rear of the car. Much of the weight saving comes via additional use of aluminium in the body structures. Meanwhile, the suspension is a familiar architecture with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. This time round, it supports wheels of up to 20 inches which in turn house bigger diameter brake discs. Build quality looks better than ever from this car, now built entirely in-house at Zuffenhausen rather than being contracted out to Valmet in Finland as many early Boxsters were. The key interior styling feature is a gently angled centre stack that houses many of the minor controls and the gear shifter, reminiscent in design to that found on the iconic Carrera GT supercar. The lightweight fully electric hood now dispenses with a compartment lid for the convertible top when stowed.
Market and Model
We've seen how the prices of typically specified Porsche 911s have marched upmarket, so it would have been entirely logical for Porsche to bump up the Boxster's price by some margin, especially given the rumours surrounding a smaller, cheaper roadster model to slot in beneath the Boxster that, for the time being at least, appears to have been shelved. Despite these indicators, the Boxster hasn't become significantly dearer. The 2.7-litre Boxster is priced significantly under the £40,000 mark, but you'll need at £45,000-£50,000 budget if you're after a 315bhp Boxster S and around £53,000 for the 330bhp GTS variant. The Spyder is just over £60,000. The basic Boxster features an alcantara interior, 18" alloy wheels, auto stop/start and sports mode, remote control hood operation, audio CD with 7-inch colour touch-screen control, a universal audio interface offering MP3 connectivity and a three year warranty. Choose the Boxster S and you'll find 19-inch alloy wheels, partial leather interior and bi-xenon headlights in addition to the power advantage of the larger 3.4-litre engine. All new Boxster customers also get the opportunity to explore the potential of their car by participating in a complimentary course at the Porsche Experience Centre, Silverstone. It's hard to imagine a more enjoyable day you could spend with your new toy.
Cost of Ownership
Porsche has carved an enviable reputation when it comes to the efficiency of its sports models and the Boxster continues to show other manufacturers the way forward. Any vehicle that weighs less than its predecessor should be applauded and the Boxster's light weight and clever technology help it achieve exemplary economy figures. Fuel consumption for the Porsche Boxster with PDK is 36.7mpg, and 35.3mpg for the Boxster S. The PDK transmission features a 'sailing' mode whereby the engine is decoupled during periods of trailing throttle or on longer downhill sections, dropping the engine revs to a mere 700rpm, further saving fuel. Prod the throttle and it will instantly resume duty. Residual values have held up reasonably well on the last Boxster and there's no reason to believe that this model won't follow suit.
It's hard to countenance now, but the Boxster wasn't an instant hit for Porsche. Many saw the original 204bhp 2.5-litre car as being an overly watered down facsimile of what a proper Porsche should be. How times have changed. As the mainstream 911 model and its market has matured, the Boxster, and its sibling coupe model, the Cayman, have increasingly become the exemplars of the company's know how for a new generation of buyers. This latest Boxster only underscores that fact to the extent that the many buyers will question why you'd pay a big premium for an open topped 911. The marginal benefit of a vestigial pair of rear seats? Horses for courses you may rightly say, none of which detracts from the fact that Porsche has excelled itself in improving the latest Boxster. The last model bowed out while still comfortably at the top of its game with rivals scratching around for ways to get close. I have a suspicion that it'll be a similar story when this version finally gets pensioned off.