ST TROPEZ, FRANCE – the venue of the Porsche Boxster (code name 981) launch and the starting point for a driving route that also included a section of road that forms part of the famous Monte Carlo Rally. A piece of road, I must add, that has so many twists and turns that you have to reset your spinning head every five minutes or so. And with a ravine on the one side and a mountain wall on the other, the margin for error is just about non-existent. It is a stern test for a driver, but also for a car, because here you need good man/machine communication, and a car that inspires confidence.
The choice of launch route also illustrates Porsche’s confidence in its new car and certainly went a long way to making the point that the “baby” in the Porsche line-up is a proper, serious sports car. In fact, it may just be the best car that it currently makes…
According to the design team, inspiration came from such influences as the original Boxster concept of 1993, the Carrera GT supercar and the recent 918 concept. In short, Porsche wanted the new Boxster to be edgier, less girly, even though the design is clearly an evolution of what was before. It’s a very pretty car in the metal, with some very good detailing. I particularly like the way the active rear spoiler is integrated into the rear lights, the stacked round lights that are reminiscent of the 917 racers of the past, and, especially, the way the wheels fill the wheelarches. Proportions and stance – the Boxster does these very well.
Of course, the 60 mm growth in wheelbase, 40 mm wider front track and 13 mm lower roofline have a big impact on the proportions and stance of the vehicle. Furthermore, the windscreen has been moved a significant 100 mm forward, and the standard wheels on the Boxster S are 19-inchers (20-inch wheels are optional).
The design of the facia follows the style set by recent cars such as the Panamera and 911. There’s the same elevated centre console with the transmission lever placed far forward. This translates into a very racy feel, because your hand almost falls off the steering wheel straight onto the gearknob. The standard seats are positioned 5 mm lower than before which, combined with the high centre console, further contributes to the racecar-like driving position. The standard seats offer manual fore/aft and height adjustment, but an electrically adjustable backrest. Fully electric seats are optional. As is usually the case with a Porsche, the Boxster’s perceived build quality is highly impressive and there’s a solidity to the controls that its rivals can’t match. If there is one thing that I would change it is the size of the steering wheel, which is a bit too big for me. But that’s a personal preference.
It’s hard to find anything else to criticise. There is 25 mm more legroom than before, further boosting already high comfort levels. The roof folds in a fast 9 seconds at speeds, Porsche says, of up to 50 km/h. However, we managed to do it at up to 70 km/h! Roof-up the cabin is a quiet place to be, though not so much that it muffles the glorious engine/exhaust sound. Roof-down, there is noticeable draft, even with the fixed rear deflector, but perhaps my criticism is unfair as I was foolish enough to brave the very chilly weather wearing only a T-shirt. The Boxster doesn’t have a Mercedes-Benz Airscarf-rivalling neck warming system, and I missed it…
The Boxster S’s mid-engined 3,4-litre flat-six engine features a number of fuel efficiency-boosting systems, including direct injection and auto start/stop, so while it is (slightly) more powerful than before (232 kW and 360 N.m), it is also more efficient. In fact, when equipped with the seven-speed PDK double-clutch transmission, the claimed combined cycle fuel consumption figure is an impressive 8,0 L/100 km, down from 9,4 L/100 km. One of the most interesting features of the new-generation powertrain is its ability to “coast”. Take your foot off the throttle slowly (down a hill, for example) and “coasting” is engaged – rolling along without power, engine idling. This can save up to 1,0 L/100 km.
Though Porsche still offers a six-speed manual transmission, the overwhelming demand is for the magnificent (and further improved) PDK double-clutch gearbox. What I particularly like, and which was very evident on our challenging test route, is the way it automatically (and intuitively) downshifts under braking. Approach a corner and touch the brakes, and it’ll drop a gear. Press down harder before diving in, and it’ll shift down once more. It was so in tune with my requirements that I hardly ever felt the need to reach for the paddles. Oh, and downshifts are accompanied by a magnificent sound, as is acceleration – the wail of that flat-six is really very addictive.
Available as an option is a new Sport Chrono Package that for the first time also includes dynamic transmission mounts. These mounts (front engine mount, and two rear transmission mounts) change their rigidity and damping characteristics using a magnetisable damper fluid, and according to the prevailing driving conditions, reducing the vibrations that potentially could come from a hard-driven car’s drivetrain. The firming of the mounts also has claimed dynamic benefits, Porsche says it improves stability and precision.
Let’s start with this important fact. The new Boxster S has lapped the Nurburgring Nordschleife in a startling 7:58, twelve seconds faster than a similarly equipped predecessor. Make no mistake then, this is a serious sportscar. Our evaluation units were packed with the optional dynamics systems, including PASM (active suspension management) with PTV (torque vectoring). PTV essentially improves steering precision by selectively braking the inside rear wheel when needed. The Boxster also gets the new electro-mechanical power steering system of the new 911, claimed to reduce fuel consumption by 0,1 L/100 km. Though the news that electro-mechanical power assistance would be used on a Porsche caused some distress among diehards, it’s a system that generally works well. There’s a slight “slowness” about the steering when tootling along, which combined with the sheer size of the steering wheel, results in a less pointy/direct feeling car than I had expected, but once you start pressing on it really works well. I think it combines well with the 40 mm wider front track to give the Boxster excellent front-end bite, turn-in and a sense of “calmness”, even when really diving into a corner hard. The 46:54 front/rear weight distribution is also part of the formula. Power hard out of a bend (in Sport mode) and the rear end will step out, but not snap and give you a fright. It feels willing to play, but always “catchable”.
At around R700 000 there is simply no other roadster that can touch the Boxster S. It is a superb sportscar, an easy car to live with on a daily basis, but one that will properly light your fire when the opportunity represents itself.
Look out for a full driving impression (including the entry-level 2,7-litre Boxster) in the May issue of CAR magazine
Model: Porsche Boxster S PDK
Engine: 3,4-litre, flat-six petrol
Power: 232 kW at 6 700 r/min
Torque: 360 N.m at 4 500-5 800 r/min
0-100 km/h: 4,8 seconds (with Sport Plus and PDK)
Fuel consumption: 8,0 L/100 km (with PDK)
CO2: 188 g/km (with PDK)
Top speed: 277 km/h (with PDK)
Price: R699 000