The 2.7-litre Boxster is the least powerful Porsche you can buy. But it's also one of the very best. Jonathan Crouch explains why
Ten Second Review
Designing Porsche's third generation Boxster can't have been easy. It needed to be better to drive than any of its key rivals, yet also affordable enough to slot comfortably below the Stuttgart brand's seventh generation 911 model. It would need to appeal to the German intent on thrashing it around the N??rburgring, the Floridian retiree with a golf bag in the boot and those inching through the Beijing rush hour. And, as with any new generation model, it would need to pull off the trick of being better built but lighter, quicker yet more economical and offering more equipment while issuing fewer tailpipe emissions. That's one heck of a balancing trick. Thing is, Porsche looks as if it has pulled it off, especially in entry-level 2.7-litre form.
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. The MK2 model was continually updated, but all these tweaks were really just aimed at keeping this car ahead of lesser German rivals like BMW's Z4 and Mercedes SLK. A Porsche should be on a different plane entirely, a different proposition to match its very different price tag. With the introduction of this MK3 model in early 2012, that goal seemed in sight for the Stuttgart brand. 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 in entry-level 2.7-litre form.
Welcome to a performance masterclass. The rear-engined 911 approach might sometimes feel more fun but it can never quite achieve the mid-engined Boxster's perfect balance and unflappable poise that remains undaunted, even if you play with the wonderfully-weighted and now more agile steering when you shouldn't, power on in the middle of a slippery corner say. The car will just shrug its shoulders and work with you. Engines next. The 2.7 flat six variant I tried generates 10bhp more than the old 2.9-litre unit, managing a hearty 265bhp which, if you cast your mind back, is a few brake horsepower more than the original Boxster S. And transmissions? Well, a sweet-shifting six-speed manual is fitted as standard but the optional seven-speed PDK double clutch gearbox is a big hit with Boxster buyers, especially now it features revised software for quicker and smoother shifts in normal and 'Sport' modes. Opt, as I would, for the extra-cost 'Sport Chrono' package (which includes a launch control function to fire you away from rest) and you can go a step further with this system, thanks to an extra 'Sport Plus' setting, specifically designed for circuit use and able to slash a further 0.3s from the 0-62mph sprint times. That'll see this 2.7-litre model reach sixty in just 5.5s.
Design and Build
The big news from a design perspective is the way that this latest car asserts itself more stridently. Boxsters always used to borrow body panels like the doors from the 911 but this doesn't - which is why it has more of a look and feel of its own. These deeply indented flanks, the massive side intakes and the wheel-at-each-corner stance ensure that the third generation Boxster could never be mistaken for a 911 drop top. When designing this model, Porsche aimed to keep a firm cap on weight. Extensive use of aluminium in the chassis is coupled with magnesium and steel where it's needed. The net result is that the chassis is 40% stiffer then before but weight is anything from 35kg to almost 100kg lighter, depending on which model and options you choose. The cabin feels relatively spacious, helped by the fact that an extra 60mm has been grafted into the Boxster's wheelbase. As before, there are no rear seats but despite the car being 13mm lower than its predecessor, there's actually a little more headroom, thanks to a lower mounting position for these surprisingly broad seats. But what you really notice here is the greater feeling of quality, enough at last to lift this Porsche clear of its Mercedes and BMW rivals.
Market and Model
You might expect this pricing to pitch this car well clear of its German rivals. Surprisingly, it doesn't. Take this Boxster 2.7 which, at around £38,000, is around £8,000 less than a 3.4-litre Boxster S. The same kind of money would buy you a slower Mercedes SLK 250 or a less rewarding Audi TTS. Only BMW's Z4 sDrive 2.8i offers any kind of significant saving, but it's a much older design. For me, this 2.7-litre entry level car offers the sweet spot in the Boxster range, with virtually all of the qualities of the S bar its straight line speed - and it's still got enough of that. Yet it costs around £8,000 less and comes very well equipped, with features like 18-inch alloy wheels, a lovely Alcantara-trimmed interior, a CD stereo with 7-inch colour touch-screen control and a universal audio interface offering MP3 connectivity. Some of the safety kit on the Boxster is quite remarkable. The two stage PSM stability control system is one of the very best in the business. The brakes are mighty, and there are also dual roll-over protection hoops and a comprehensive array of airbags that account for the severity and angle of impacts when they inflate.
Cost of Ownership
Day to day running costs are kept well in check thanks to a 35kg weight saving brought about by the aluminium construction and the inclusion of a start/stop system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. There's also a 'coasting' with the optional PDK auto gearbox that disconnects drive from the rear wheels when you lift off the throttle when cruising, enabling the engine to idle and reducing fuel consumption. It all explains why this 2.7-litre Boxster can returning a very creditable combined cycle 36.7mpg fuel economy figure when fitted with the PDK transmission. That's up nearly 6mpg on its predecessor. Emissions too are vastly improved, slashed from 214 to 180g/km. For the manual model I'm driving here, the figures are 34.4mpg and 192g/km of CO2. It doesn't seem too long ago when you'd have been happy with that from your family hatch, let alone a 165mph Porsche. Anything else? Insurance is group 43 and all new Boxsters come with a three year/ unlimited mileage warranty, enjoy 20,000 mile service intervals, and come with two years of Porsche Assistance recovery. A Porsche-manufactured tracking device can also be fitted retrospectively, since the necessary pre-preparation is present on the car as standard.
The Porsche Boxster has evolved - and done so rather beautifully. It's no longer the slightly awkward looking thing you bought because you couldn't afford a 911. In fact, it's now a car that many drivers would prefer to a base 911 if given the choice. Why? Because of its fabulous mid-engined balance, its light weight and.... well, you only have to look at the thing. The seventh generation 911's a stylish piece of design, but get the spec right on a Boxster in terms of paint and wheels and it can look fantastic. What's more, as long as you don't go overboard with the options, there's no reason why running a Porsche like this 2.7-litre model should cost you any more than choosing, say, a high end hot hatch. Are you really going to be that person who reaches old age knowing that you could have afforded an open-top Porsche but never went for it, never looked forward to the day it arrived and twitched the curtain all night in disbelief as you looked at it on your driveway. Bottom line? This remains the best roadster you can buy. Is it the best car Porsche makes? You might say so. Is it head and shoulders above its rivals? Undoubtedly.