Porsche expects a significant number of customers for its third generation Boxster will continue to opt for the potent S model. Jonathan Crouch finds out why
Ten Second Review
By anybody's reckoning, the second generation Porsche Boxster was (and remains) an exceptional car - if one carefully tailored to play second fiddle to the 911, even in more potent 'S' form. This remains the case with the third generation car. But as the 911 has now evolved into the still faster and more accomplished '991' there's room for what has always potentially been Porsche's best car, with its technically ideal mid-engined layout, to spread its wings a little and, in the case of the Boxster S, quite a lot.
Over the years, and despite its obvious talent, the Boxster has struggled to shake free from its 'poor man's Porsche' image. That notion takes something of a hammering here as Porsche has sought to increase the commonality of components between the third generation Boxster (codenamed 981) and the latest 911 (codenamed 991). For a start, it has much more assertive styling with a more cab-forward stance, larger wheel housings (to accommodate the optional 20-inch alloys) and all-new detailing including bigger vents and a rear wing integrated into the tail lamps. But, despite being slightly larger - both wheelbase and the front and rear track have been increased - the third generation Boxster is around 25kg lighter but also more powerful than its predecessor - to the tune of 311bhp for the 'S'. Which means that it's now one seriously quick motor car. The presentation may have changed, and there's a raft of new technology we'll come to in a moment but, fundamentally, the Boxster's trump card remains its mid-engined layout and the head start it bestows when it comes to chassis dynamics. Intriguingly, if you've ever wondered what a mid-engined 911 might be like, this thoroughly re-engineered Boxster goes a long way to providing the answer as, beneath its new 40 per cent stiffer, lightweight aluminium and steel body, it shares a good deal of its front end architecture with the latest 911, including the MacPherson strut front suspension and electro-mechanical steering.
There's still a choice between two naturally aspirated flat-six engines, but they differ from those of the outgoing models. The 2.9-litre, multi-point fuel engine has been replaced by a 2.7-litre unit with direct injection. Power is up 10bhp to 261bhp at 6700rpm, torque by 7lb ft to 206lb ft between 4500rpm and 6500rpm. The Boxster S we're looking at here uses the same 3.4-litre unit as the 911 Carrera but in a lower state of tune, so it develops 311bhp at 6700rpm and 265lb from 4500 to 5800rpm. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard but Porsche reckons the majority of Boxster S customers will go for the optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with shift rocker switches on the steering wheel spokes or optional paddles that sit behind them. Both engines get stop-start, brake energy recuperation and a thermal management so that they reach optimal operating temperature more quickly. Together with a coasting feature lowers engine speeds on prolonged periods of trailing throttle, it all helps to boost efficiency by 15 per cent compared to the previous model. With a power/weight ratio of 236bhp/tone (or 230bhp/tonne with the extra weight of the PDK dual-clutch transmission), the third generation Boxster S has a claimed 0-62mph time of 4.8s (that's actually 0.1s quicker than the previous generation 911 Carrera) and 172mph maximum. Which means that regular 911s from just a decade ago really wouldn't see which way the latest Boxster S went. Or, from a purely subjective position, be able to provide such a gratifying mix of electric throttle response, broadband thrust and, with the optional sports exhaust fitted, nape-tingling soundtrack. As before, Sport mode sharpens throttle response and slackens-off the traction control but is even more exploitable thanks to the longer wheelbase and broader footprint. Exemplary precision and agility remain the defining facets of the baby Porsche's dynamic make up but they're joined by a more secure, planted feel and even higher levels of grip, further massaged by Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV), which improves traction by selectively braking individual rear wheels. Opt for the Sport Chrono Package and you also get dynamic transmission mounts to minimize weight transfer in spirited cornering.
Design and Build
The third generation Boxster is 29mm longer though no wider than its predecessor but, because it sits 11mm lower and the wheels push further out into their arches, it gives the impression that it is. Porsche says it lengthened the wheelbase by 60mm to improve driving dynamics and comfort but, in conjunction with the windscreen base being shunted 40mm towards the nose, transforms the way the car looks in profile with shorter overhangs and that cab-forward emphasis. Inside, the latest Boxster and 911 are hard to tell apart, sharing a rising centre console that places a stubby gearlever closer to the steering wheel rim and houses much of the switchgear. The more generously proportioned seats are positioned 10mm lower than before and the increase in cabin length afforded by the stretched wheelbase means there's a wider range of adjustment. The always nifty hood has been given an extra layer of insulation to improve hood-up refinement, and it's speedier, too, taking just 9 seconds to stow itself (shaving 3 seconds from the previous Boxster's time). In practice it's even swifter because it's fully automatic - you don't have to unlatch it manually from the header rail first. Moreover, you can lower and raise the hood on the move up to about 35mph. Luggage can be stowed in two compartments (one in the nosecone and the other behind the engine) and the total volume equates to 260 litres - excellent for a car of this type.
Market and Model
With only a marginal price rise over the model it replaces, the latest Boxster S targets the £45,000 price point and, given the extent to which Porsche's junior roadster has raised its game, it's hard to imagine the company being too stuck for people willing to pay it. Indeed, when you look at what Audi wants for its TT RS and what the AMG version of the Mercedes SLK is going for, the Boxster S is beginning to look conspicuously good value.
Cost of Ownership
Year-on-year Porsche reduces the environmental impact of its products and the latest Boxster is no different. Being lighter and slightly more aerodynamic is a good start but stop-start, brake energy recuperation, thermal management and the coasting feature all make a significant contribution towards achieving a combined cycle consumption of 35.3mpg for the Boxster S which represents a whopping 14.9 per cent improvement over the old model and equates to 188 g/km of CO2. Not bad for a sports car capable of a sub-5s 0-62mph time and 172mph.
Perhaps the only sense in which the Boxster could be described as an under-achiever is because Porsche makes it that way to prevent it embarrassing the iconic 911. The principle holds true but seems to have been relaxed for the third generation Boxster which leads its class by an even breezier margin than its predecessor and no longer feels like the 911's poor relation. With more assured styling, a 911-standard interior, brilliant hood, serious pace and exquisite handling, the Boxster S is more compelling and charismatic than ever and sure to win over a whole new legion of fans and admirers.