Refined Boxster rewrites the script

Wed, Jun 6, 2012, 01:00

FIRST DRIVE Porsche Boxster 2.7:THE ORIGINAL 1996 Boxster was the car that saved Porsche. It seems almost odd to say that now, given the financial colossus Porsche has become, but the Weissach company was in dire straits back then.

The affordable Boxster, built from the same basic components’ set as the larger 911, buoyed sales sufficiently to allow Porsche to breathe, recover and begin to expand. Being better than the iconic 911 was not in the script.

The script, then, has just been re-written. This is the all-new Boxster – the 981 Series – and, while it still has much in common with the 911, it stands apart from its predecessors.

That’s most obvious in the styling, where the look of the older Boxster has given way to a more defined, more muscular look, with pleasing details such as the carefully integrated rear wing.

It retains a compact stance but it’s actually 100mm longer than before, with 60mm of that in increased cabin space, making this easily the comfiest Boxster yet.

And that comfort is a telling point; this is a Boxster with the hard edges rounded off. It’s more refined than before, thanks to a thicker, more insulted convertible top (which rather wonderfully retracts in exactly 9.81 seconds) and at a cruise, only a constant barrage of tyre roar on less than perfect surfaces dulls the refined edge.

The cabin, aping the new 911, has a tall, sloping centre console leading to a pleasingly simple dashboard, all of which feels of a heftier, better quality than before.

But the true magic of the Boxster is in its engine. The new 2.7-litre unit loses 200cc compared to its predecessor, but gains power, bringing it to a very healthy 265bhp; good enough for a 0-100kmh sprint in 5.8 seconds.

It’s the noise that gets you though, travelling from a basso woofle overlaid with a sewing machine clatter at low rpm, rising to a sharp, metallic howl at higher engine speeds – as if someone had thrown an angry werewolf into an aluminium pot factory.

Upgrade to the 3.4-litre Boxster S and you have a serious performance weapon. With 315bhp and lower suspension, it’s as quick as a 1990s 911 GT3, a car that was a thinly disguised racing car. But the upgrade is pretty pointless; the standard car is more than quick enough for anyone, and its slightly softer chassis allows it to breathe a little better with the road surface. Any Boxster is firmly sprung, but the standard car just has that crucial bit more give.

In steering terms, though, it’s a backward step. Porsche’s new electrically assisted system is doubtless cutting-edge in the nature of such things, but it fails to satisfy as much as the old hydraulic system.

It’s well weighted, accurate and you can still plant the inside front tyre on the apex of any corner you choose, but the peerless feel and feedback of old is, not gone, but a bit dulled. It’s the difference between cooking a recipe from a Nigella Lawson cookery book, and having Nigella cook it for you herself.

Both gearboxes must come in for some reproach, too. The standard six-speed manual feels mostly good, but can get notchy through third and fourth and it’s easy to miss a shift if you’re hurrying.

The twin-clutch PDK gearbox is a better companion on fast roads, picking the right gear for the right moment with unerring accuracy and timing, but it feels lumpy and ill-at-ease around town. Given that the PDK model is actually cheaper both to buy and tax, thanks to lower emissions (189g/km vs 192g/km) we’d take the PDK and live with some in-town lumpiness.

But better than the mighty 911? Really? Well, it does depend a bit on what you want. The 911 will clearly always carry more prestige (and for nearly twice the price of a basic Boxster, so it should) but the Boxster is a much more rounded product.

It’s accessible and easy to drive in a way the 911 could never be, yet has reserves of grip, balance and poise for when the going gets fast or tricky. Or both. And for the first time, it now has the kind of cabin quality and comfort – and in the case of the Boxster S, the sheer performance – to seriously call into question the wisdom of buying the larger car.

OUR RATING 7/10

Peerless chassis and glorious engine but the raw, exhilarating edge of the old one has been refined away

Engine

2,706cc flat-six petrol putting out 26;bhp @ 6,700rpm and 280Nm of torque @ 4,500rpm

Performance

0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds (5.7 with PDK) (top speed 164k/h)

Economy

8.2l/100km (34.4mpg) (7.6l/100km (36.7mpg) with PDK)

Emissions

192g/km (Band F – €1,129 motor tax) (180g/km (Band E – €677 motor tax) with PDK

Features include Sport mode, 18-inch alloy wheels, stop-start, 7-inch touchscreen, part-leather seats, electric folding roof. Options include Xenon lights (€1,828); cruise control (€460); Porsche Communications Management (€3,693); Sport Chrono Pack (€1,879)

Price

€64,829

(€64,489 with PDK, €78,273 for Boxster S)

RIVALS

BMW Z4 3.0 sDrive – €68,590 (tax €1,129).

Mercedes SLK250 Blueefficiency – €56,950 (tax €330).

Audi TTS 2.0 TFSI Roadster – €72,450 (tax €677).

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