Porsche says it changed 80 percent of the Boxster for 2005, taking more than half of the car from the 2005 911 Carrera, including the steering, front structure, seats and electronics. And it's all good.
The Boxster is a comfortable sports car, with ergonomically superior seating contours and a steering wheel that can be adjusted for both reach and rake. The taller driver, not always welcome in the two-seater world, is thoughtfully accommodated in the Boxster by a relatively low seat mounting point and placement of the drilled aluminum pedals closer to the firewall.
Driver control is improved over the pre-2005 models with new steering and the latest generation of Porsche Stability Management, which comes standard on all Boxsters. Drivers wanting the ultimate in ride control and electronic handling assist should get the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management, or PASM, ($1,990). This system allows the driver to select Normal and Sport suspension calibrations. In either mode, the active suspension system is a wonder, fulfilling its task of enhancing the driving experience by maintaining chassis equilibrium in all conditions.
With so many upgrades and updates with the '05 model, it's not surprising that the Boxster receives mostly tweaks for the 2006 model year. Safety improvements and upgrades to the navigation system polish a brilliant vehicle.
Porsche Boxster ($45,000); Boxster S ($53,100)
The headlamp treatment was greatly improved when the Boxster was redesigned for 2005. The revised layout separates the main driving lamp from the foglamp and turn signal cluster, which not only gives the Boxster nose a more traditional Porsche look, it also allows the foglamps to be placed further toward the car's corners for a better spread of light.
The frontal area and grille openings are larger, the track is wider, and the enlarged running gear is covered by wider wheel arches, but the wind tunnel guys went to work on a solution. Their aero-science helped fashion the body panels, A-pillars, the rear spoiler and door handles, and a fully covered undertray to create a more slippery profile with less lift and increased downforce, all good things when speed needs to fight the air. The inlets up front that feed air to the pair of front radiators (and a third cooler in the S) are bigger than those on pre-2005 models, and the large ducts in the rear fenders are bigger to direct more cooling air to the bigger brake discs.
Even where the eye can't see, the attention to crucial detail contributes to the durability and sportiness of the Boxster. To cite just two examples: small spoilers on the front longitudinal suspension arms that direct airflow to the front brakes to help keep them cool; and small, flexible blades attached to the undertray that steer airflow toward the transmission for the same effect.
To save weight, the Boxster does not come with a spare tire; instead, an air compressor and tire sealant will have to do. We understand the advantages of this approach (it saves 22 pounds, some luggage room and a bit of cost), but we wonder about that poor driver crossing the Nevada desert whose tire sustains the kind of damage sealant can't help (sidewall punctures, for instance).
The tail clearly separates the current Boxster from pre-2005 models. The seam between body and tail panels now runs above the taillight cluster, which itself has been broken into three elements with more contrast between the red and white areas. And the center high-mounted stop light is now composed of 18 LEDs for a brighter warning.
Boxster S models are distinguished from 2.7-liter Boxsters by their twin oval exhaust tips.
That's all changed. The genuine leather is complemented by very nice fake leather and authentic-looking fake aluminum trim, the plastic looks expensive, and the layout is as pleasing to look as it is a rational display of various data.
Despite being larger, the seats are stronger and lighter than those in pre-2005 models, and Porsche developed a patented vibration dampening system to reduce road buzz.
The tachometer takes center stage in the three-gauge instrument cluster. The instruments are black-faced in the Boxster and a light gray in the Boxster S. Data from the Sports Chrono system are displayed in the lower third of the tachometer's dial.
A spiffy console integrates audio and climate controls. Music lovers can upgrade to the Porsche Sound Package Plus, which somehow manages to fit seven speakers, an external analog amplifier, two tweeters, a subwoofer in the instrument panel, and door-mounted woofers and subwoofers on each side. If that isn't enough to pound your eardrums into submission, consider the 11-speaker Bose surround sound system, which includes a seven-channel amplifier. Top-down enjoyment of your tunes isn't too badly compromised.
The navigation system, called Porsche Communication Management ($2,640), is a useful feature. New for 2006 is an electronic logbook that automatically records mileage, journey length, time and date, and other factors for every trip made. In addition, an extended navigation option that can help you find your way back to your starting point, even on roads that don't appear on the navigation system's map, is available for 2006. The system is DVD based via a separate module in the front trunk, which frees up the dash-mounted CD drive for music discs.
Notice we said front trunk. One of the Boxster's delights is stowage both fore and aft, with no compromise to the rear trunk's 4.6 cubic feet even when the top is stowed away. Unlike many two-seat sports cars, the Boxster can haul enough luggage for an extended road trip for two.
Top-down motoring is comfortable. Wind noise becomes detrimental to the experience only above extra-legal speeds. The air deflector does a good job of redirecting the air blasts, but our sense of style often precludes us from using, as it mars the svelte profile of this handsome roadster. The soft top can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 31 mph. Much better than the top on pre-2005 models, the top uses a light synthetic fleece fiber to better insulate against rain, cold and noise, and it includes an electrically heated rear glass window. The optional hardtop is made of aluminum and adds 51 pounds.
Turn the key and the Boxster's flat six burbles to life. There's no mistaking it for anything but a sports car engine. Both engines are more powerful than those on pre-2005 models. Porsche claims the Boxster can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, while the Boxster S can perform this feat in 5.2 seconds. Top speeds are 159 mph for Boxster, 167 mph for Boxster S. Porsche's factory performance numbers are generally on the conservative side. Both models qualify as Low Emissions Vehicles. Both cars are quite fast enough to satisfy any delinquent desires. If anyone needs to get to 100 mph in less than 14.5 seconds (S: 12.3 seconds), then check into the next Skip Barber driving school for therapy.
Proper sports cars, it has long been contended, have three pedals on the floor, and so it is with the Boxster. At their very best, sports car drivers are one-person jazz combos, juggling the interplay of shifter, steering wheel and pedals in a polyrhythmic balance of manual dexterity. Remove the clutch and it just ain't the same. Porsche does manual shifting as well as anyone, and there's no reason to fear the clutch. In short, we recommend going for the manual.
However, the latest Tiptronic is so good that electronic de-clutching should no longer be considered shameful. There's certainly no shame driving a Boxster with Tiptronic S, which is pretty good for an automatic and would be the logical choice if your Boxster is condemned to a life of urban crawl. The Tiptronic was revised for 2005 with differential gearing and retuned software to reduce hunting among gears when going uphill or downhill. If a Boxster fell out of the sky and it was equipped with Tiptronic S instead of our preferred manual, we would no doubt find a way to be content with our good fortune.
At the heart of all good sports cars is a good, balanced chassis. The Boxster has from inception been the epitome of balance. The redesign for 2005 kicked it up a notch, however. Though the basic suspension layout remains as before, almost every element was re-engineered, from its retuned springs and shocks to larger wheel bearings, from its wider front track to the stiffer but lighter rear suspension.
The result is a bigger helping of sports car goodness, a more savory blend of power and control. Even with a curb weight of some 3,000 pounds, the Boxster is like a dancer that seems able to accept or reject gravity's rule as it suits its own, artful progress down the road. Of the 44 pounds of weight added to the Boxster for 2005, 40 of them were invested in making the car's structure stiffer and stronger. Torsional stiffness was increased by 9 percent and resistance to flex enhanced by 14 percent. Stiffer is better when it comes to building sports car chassis.
The Porsche Boxster is big enough to keep its place in the daily dogfights and is just the right size for an escape from the maelstrom. Top up, it's quiet and comfy; top down, the world wraps itself around you and you can't help but blip back a jolly response with your right foot. The Boxster is pure Porsche. Our only cautionary note against impulsively rushing down and snapping one up is to check off options carefully as they can escalate the price considerably.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Greg N. Brown filed this report.