These days, the starter pack to Porsche motoring lies with the R515 000 Boxster – but is the company merely cashing-in, or does it actually qualify as a junior supercar?
Over the years, the famed 911 model has moved upmarket, and the front-engined 924/944 series of cars never did entirely capture the public’s imagination in their role as affordable Porsches: people saw the evolution from 356 to 911 as what Porsches were really all about.
At the 1993 Detroit motor show, the Stuttgarters unveiled a concept roadster that carried those distinct styling cues, and such were the accolades that production was inevitable. When the Boxster first appeared in 1996, many were dismayed that it lacked the beauty of the show car, but the shape has endured and won over the sceptics, so much so that the facelift carried out in late-2002 was mild indeed. Why spoil something that is now in greater demand than can be supplied?
The exterior changes consist of slightly different bumpers, enlarged and re-shaped air intakes on the rear flanks, a redesigned rear spoiler (which pops up automatically at 120 km/h, but can also be raised at the touch of a button in the driver’s footwell), some fashionable clear light lenses, a reprofiled ovoid dual exhaust, and – most significantly – a different hood with a more upright rear window that is now made from glass, and has demister elements. Remote key-activated central locking is standard, with separate buttons for opening the doors, ‘bonnet’ and ‘boot’.
Inside, the few changes will be obvious to aficionados only. The lockable facia cubby is larger and illuminated, and there is a pop-out dual drink-holder that is a contender for the ‘most elaborate drink-holder action of the year award’… Seriously, the changes are subtle but functional.
The classic flat-six engine has been given a notable tweak. Porsche’s VarioCam cam timing system has been employed, which provides infinite control of the cams up to 40 deg. Maximum power has risen to 168 kW at 6 300 r/min (up from 162 at 6 400), and peak torque remains at 260 N.m but at 50 revs lower – ie 4 700. Bosch Motronic ME 7.8 (first used on the latest 911 Turbo) controls the various engine management systems.
There is a plus and minus to the Boxster being a mid-engined convertible. The plus is that it can provide wind-in-the-hair or snug-as-a-bug motoring to choice. (Opening or closing the hood takes a mere 12 seconds after popping the catch.) The minus is that, with the hood down, you lose out on some of the quad-cam boxer motor’s exhaust note as the wind blows that oh-so-distinctive blare into the path of anyone fortunate enough to be behind.
With the quality-padded soft-top erect, though, the cockpit becomes a tiny amphitheatre in which to appreciate the music of one of the world’s great mechanical orchestras. Nothing coarse, but a muted sonorous bellow until the rev-counter’s needle hits 5 000. From there it howls gloriously with ever-increasing intensity until the limiter cuts in at 7 200 r/min.
Anyone who has ever heard a road-race Porsche in full cry on a race track will appreciate the typical boxer engine note. And, even in this base 2,7-litre road legal configuration, it is a sound that leaves an indelible impression. The chassis does the rest. Thanks, in part, to its mid-engined configuration, the Boxster’s 1 314 kg weight is optimally split 50:50. Drive is taken via a five-speed ‘box to the rear wheels, and such is Porsche’s confidence in the
chassis’ overall ability that there is no traction control safeguard.
Designed as a roadster from the outset, the monocoque is incredibly stiff, which significantly contributes towards safe and predictable handling. The Boxster corners flat with oh-so-benign manners. Clearly, it would take many more kilowatts to upset this set-up’s composure. Ride, too, is surprisingly compliant on all but the worst of broken surfaces, when things can get a bit jiggly. But, importantly, it never becomes uncomfortable, and there is no sign of body flex or shake. The power-assisted steering contributes to the wellbeing by offering plenty of solid feedback without being heavy when manoeuvring in tight spaces.
Complementing the wider rear track, bigger wheels and tyres are used at the back than the front. We had the opportunity to drive the car with the standard 16-inch alloy wheels as well as with optional 17-inchers – we tested with the latter fitted – but there was little obvious difference in the quality of ride or handling, although with fractionally more rubber on the road the big boots obviously increased the level of grip. The bigger rims – 7J at the front with 205/50 rubber, 8,5J with 255/40 at the back – fill out the wheelarches more convincingly, too.
Power along your favourite stretch of road, use the chunky gearshift to keep that engine delivering its seductive soundtrack, turn the superb-to-grip wheel into the twisty sections, relish the viceless handling, and you know that you are piloting something special. Rock solid, dependable and with limits of ability that will hardly ever be challenged: this Porsche in no way intimidates. A number of hot saloons will beat its 0-100 km/h time of 6,79 seconds, but they will not match the overall A to B experience.
If something should get in the way, the all-disc brakes react in a notably controlled manner, even by ABS standards. Should the worst happen, the reinforced A-pillars and dual roll hoops are supplemented by full front and side airbag protection. Included in the package are some of motoring life’s niceties such as climate control air-con, electric mirrors, powered windows with one-touch up and down option, electric seat height and backrest angle adjustment, steering wheel reach adjustment, left-foot rest, trip computer, and remote releases for the two boot areas.
Surprisingly, though, a sound system is not standard. And the quality of a couple of trim items is not to the high standard of the rest of the car. A plexiglass screen sits behind the seats’ tombstone backrests to (fairly effectively) limit buffeting when travelling al fresco, but it can be removed
if preferred. The centre armrest doubles-up as a lockable cubby, there are narrow compartments in the bulkhead behind the seats, and useful bins in the doors have shaped lids that act as armrests. Up front, there is 104 dm3 of boot space, and 88 dm3 at the back where the engine’s oil and water fillers are located. You do not actually see the engine from above ground…
Instruments are shielded by a cowl with no back – a neat piece of design – and feature white markings on a black background with red pointers. The three-dial instrument pack has the rev-counter at centre stage, with the speedo to the left. Not so neat is a supplementary digital speed readout located at the bottom of the speedo. It would be far more useful housed in the tacho.