IT’S a year-and-a-bit short of a decade since Porsche’s twoseater Boxster first came to market. That first edition, carrying in-house type-number 986, was to play a significant role in reviving the fortunes of the company. Today, in proportion to its size, the Zuffenhausen firm is one of the most cash-rich car companies in the world. But it wasn’t always that way. In the early ’90s, there was a real danger that cashstrapped Porsche might be swallowed up by a larger group, much as has happened to other classic names. But the Boxster and the 996 (911), which shared a significant proportion of their componentry, proved to be the company’s saviours.

Actually, the mid-engined Boxster, which grew in engine size from 2,5 to 2,7 litres, and spawned a more powerful S version in 1999, inspired something of a two-seater revival, with makes such as BMW (with the Z3 and now the Z4), Mercedes-Benz (SLK), Audi (TT Roadster) and Honda (S2000) joining battle in the category. Though the 986 still held its own despite the appearance of improved second-generation models from its rivals, last year Porsche announced the 987, a new, improved Boxster.

It’s a testament to the original design that, for its second generation, there has been no need to make the kinds of radical changes undertaken by some competitors. Porsche is now doing with its two-seater exactly what it has done so successfully with the 911: pursuing perfection through evolution rather than revolution.

A wider stance, more aggressive haunches and simplified “teardrop” headlights give the new model a more purposeful look. From the outside, the more powerful S version – the subject of this first test – is distinguishable, as before, by twin round exhaust pipes exiting from the centre of the rear valance, instead of the standard car’s single oval unit. S models also now have an extra central front air intake, below the front number plate.

Indicators, park lights and foglamps, which were integrated into the old Boxster’s headlamps, have been relocated to positions above the two front outer grilles. From the rear, the most noticeable change is the dividing line between the rear panel and the body, which now runs above, rather than beneath, the rear light clusters. From the side, larger air-scoops and new, protruding door-handles distinguish the new models from the old.

Efforts to make the Boxster more comfortable for taller drivers have resulted in roll hoops, with flattened tops and integrated headrests, positioned further back in the cockpit than before. Seats are positioned lower, there’s greater fore/aft adjustment for the two buckets, and extra height adjustment on the wheel. Despite these changes, our 1,9-metre, long-legged tester still couldn’t get entirely comfortable – but he’s used to that, and loves the car, anyway!

In addition to front and side airbags (the latter in the seat backrests), the 987 features innovative head airbags installed beneath the side windowsills of the doors, a first for a sportscar. Structural safety of the body has also been improved, with reconfigured longitudinal arms, a new bulkhead crossbar, and extra reinforcements where the A-pillars meet the sills. These structures, along with the roll hoops, which are 25 mm higher than before, would have raised the centre of mass slightly, but this has been countered by using aluminium for the front and rear luggage compartment lids.

The roof has been redesigned to fit the new cockpit, but works exactly the same way as the previous model’s top. There’s a new fabric, and three layers of cloth are used to provide even better insulation. After unfastening the front clamp, the roof lowers at the touch of a button, taking just 12 seconds for the folding operation. And now, the roof can be raised or lowered while moving at speeds of up to 50 km/h.

Despite the minimal cosmetic changes, almost 80 per cent of the 987’s components are new. Of the 20 per cent or so carried over, most are under the skin. In fact, the only visible part the new car has in common with the old is the glass rear screen, which made its appearance in the latter part of the 986’s life.

On paper, the suspension uses the same configuration as before (spring struts with track control and longitudinal arms, front and rear), but wider front and rear tracks and detail changes to geometry and weight distribution have been adopted to provide improved grip and roadholding, and more efficient delivery of power to the road surface. There are also bigger wheels – 18-inchers are standard fare on the S, but the test car was fitted with optional 19-inchers, wrapped in 235/35 Michelin Pilot Sports in front, with 265/35s fitted at the rear.

Larger, thicker drilled and innervented brake discs are fitted at the back, while the front units remain as before.

The test car came with “standard” steel discs, but PCCB (Porsche’s ceramic composite discs and pads) is optional. Naturally, there’s ABS, integrated into Porsche’s latest PSM8 stability control system. Steering is by the new variable ratio system (with hydraulic assist) introduced earlier on the 997-generation 911. The test car was also fitted with PASM (Porsche active suspension management), which allows the ride height to be lowered by 10 millimetres, and incorporates intelligently-controlled dampers, with settings determined by relating steering angle, road speed, brake pressure and engine torque to accelerometers located on two damper domes (left front and right rear). Normal and Sport modes activate the appropriate damper control maps. It was also fitted with the Sports Chrono package, a system aimed at owners who want to maximise the performance of their car around a track, or over a specific stretch of road. This incorporates an even “harder” active suspension set-up, as well as a steeper throttle pedal control map, a more abrupt limiter at maximum engine revolutions, and “harder” intervention by PSM at extreme limits. The kit includes an analogue/digital stopwatch, activated by a column stalk, to record time splits…

The biggest improvement to the Boxster S is to the engine, hidden amidships as always. Capacity remains the same at 3 179 cm³, but the VarioCam-equipped watercooled flat six has considerably higher outputs than before. Peak power is up from 191 kW to 206 kW at 6 200 r/min, with maximum torque (previously 310 N.m) now up to 320 N.m across the 4 700 to 6 000 r/min rev range. Revisions to the inlet and exhaust tracts have also contributed to significant increases in output from 1 500 r/min upwards.

The soundtrack of the classic boxer six-cylinder has also been further refined, the exhaust system offering a repertoire ranging from a throaty rumble in midrange, to an exciting wail at high revolutions. The manual test car came with the all-new six-speed manual gearbox, which Porsche says has cut shift travel by 15 per cent. A five-speed Tiptronic transmission is also available.

During performance testing, our Racelogic equipment measured useful gains over the 986 version of the Boxster S tested in October 2001 – but not without a little experimentation. As 97 unleaded petrol is no longer generally available, we were forced to run the test car on 95 but, once we’d sussed out the relationship between PASM and our less-than-billiard-smooth acceleration strip, the times were right in line with the manufacturer’s claims. With the Sport button depressed, the harder suspension and steeper throttle map created extra tramping on pullaway, losing precious tenths. Leaving the system in Normal mode resulted in smooth take-offs with a modicum of wheelspin, enabling the test car to sprint to 100 km/h in a best of 5,61 seconds. The standingstart kilometre was covered in 25,05 seconds, and the two-way average top speed was measured at 263 km/h.

As always, braking was topnotch, the standard steel discs slowing the car from top speed repeatedly without drama, and delivering an average stopping time of 2,63 seconds in our 10-stop 100-to-zero emergency braking test. The Boxster’s CAR fuel index worked out at 12,58 litres/100 km, which equates to a range of over 500 km on the 64-litre tank in hard driving.

But, like most Porsches, the feelings of excitement and fulfillment provided by the new Boxster S go well beyond mere performance figures. Its winning formula combines the shove of the engine with a balance of ride and handling virtually unmatched by any other car we’ve tested. This car proves that suspension can be firm as well as absorbent, taking road irregularities in its stride while offering breathtaking grip and benign adjustability. Even with the PSM system switched off, the tail will track true on all but the slipperiest of wet roads. And, when that happens, the feedback is so exact, so well-communicated through the seat of the pants and the new variable-ratio steering, that you have made the necessary adjustments almost without realising it. This car is driving satisfaction.

Test summary

A few years ago, we would have been able to point to very few aspects of the old Boxster S requiring improvement. But, with the new version, Porsche has upped the ante in ways one could not have imagined. It has the same basic character, but it’s better in all respects: styling, finish, accommodation, handling and performance have all been improved, creating a vehicle that sets new standards for two-seater sportscars. The 986 was undisputedly the best in its class. The 987 is even better.