The Porsche Boxster is a delightful sports car that is equally at ease being pushed to its limits or sauntering through traffic jams. The engine note is invigorating, the handling crisp, the ride elastic, the brakes sublime and the interior ideal for driving, but it is how all this works in harmony that makes the Boxster such an entertaining car.
Porsche does not make major changes very often, preferring to get the basics right from the start and continue fine tuning from there on. So the 2009 Boxster that is heavily revised is still instantly recognizable as a Boxster. Length and track have changed by fractions of an inch and the basic shape and size remain.
The major upgrade for 2009 is completely revised powertrains, with new engines giving the Boxster and Boxster S their biggest power increases yet and improved efficiency. A six-speed manual replaces a five-speed as standard on the Boxster, and both plain and S versions may be offered with a new seven-speed double-clutch gearbox (PDK) that is Porsche's most advanced transmission.
Boxster is perhaps the most practical mid-engine convertible sports car available. The cabin has plenty of room and can accommodate tall individuals, and insulation, refinement and equipment match many sedans. There are two compact trunks to carry a week's worth of groceries or luggage in soft-sided bags, and they won't get singed on a sporting road.
The Boxster is so well-rounded it could come up on many shopping lists. Convertible luxury with a driver bias might pit it against a BMW Z4, Audi TTS, or Mercedes-Benz SLK, while the performance shopper may also have a Lotus Elise or Exige, Honda S2000, or maybe even a Mazda RX8 on the list.
Virtually no one buys a Boxster for base price, and the many options can drive the price up, but we'd certainly recommend the PASM active suspension.
The Boxster, one-half-inch longer for 2009, is shaped by stylists with a gentle hand, reverence for the past, guided by the laws of physics and aerodynamics. Every shape, aperture, appendage and piece of hardware is there for a reason, and the profile is designed more around airflow management than absolute minimum drag. Adapted etail cues run the gamut from the 550 Spyder of 50 years ago to the Carrera GT of roughly five years ago.
New light elements place the headlights, signals, and fog lamps in an ovoid housing. Laid atop the front side grilles are LED daytime running lamps, with thin white LED light pipes that serve as parking lights. Both front and rear signals now use an amber bulb and clear lens. The small chrome turrets up front are headlight washers and these, and many other items like air vent slats inside and out, may be painted to match.
Boxster S retains the dual round tailpipe setup while the standard Boxster pipe is nearly rectangular. New tail lights appear to add more curve to the sheetmetal hips over the rear tires, and the automatic rear spoiler can be overridden to lift for cleaning.
Discounting custom orders there are still more than 700 permutations among paint, top color, and wheel style. Further individualization is easy with myriad detail finishes, paints and trims so the coincidence rate seeing two Boxsters exactly alike is very low.
As elegant as the shape is your enthusiast friends will be just as intrigued by the aerodynamics and component artistry underneath, with air directed for cooling and stability.
To save weight, the Boxster uses aluminum hoods and does not come with a spare tire. There is an air compressor and tire sealant; if you destroy a tire and can borrow another one, your tire-less wheel will fit in the front trunk. Standard tire-pressure monitors should help warn drivers before a situation becomes dire. Additionally a mast radio antenna may be ordered in place of the in-windshield antenna.
As on the outside, the cabin has been updated for 2009 but did not get wholesale changes. It's all about the drive and driver here, that's why both cupholders are ahead of the passenger.
Seats and major controls are upholstered in leather, Alcantara, or a combination. Vinyl and plastic surfaces don't feel or appear cheap, the carpeting runs usefully up the sides of the console and doors, and everything is put together indicative of the car's solidity. If you choose carbon fiber, aluminum, or wood trim, that's what it is.
The seats are supportive and comfortable, with power adjustments, memory (you will not want anyone else to drive), heating and cooling available, broadening the top-down weather window considerably. Taller drivers may appreciate the extra cushion adjustments afforded with power seats. The backrests fold forward for access to coat hooks and everything that dropped out of your pockets. Your driving style, central body dimensions and available roads will determine any sport seat upgrade, but between the door and console you aren't going far even on roller-coaster roads.
As always the tachometer is dead center, the analog instruments easily read day or night thanks to neutral backgrounds and crisp red needles. A speedometer to the left covers 0-190 mph in the space of an iPod display but can be shown digitally for those regions that enforce in 1 mph increments. This same screen calls up all manner of trip computer, sport chrono and other data, parts of it fading to red for immediate awareness. A numbered coolant temperature and fuel gauges are to the right, and on cars with PDK, the gear engaged adjacent the tachometer.
The steering wheel is manual tilt and telescope, and unless you option up, has only a horn button (and shifters on PDK). Unlike most cars either shift button is pulled toward you for downshifts and pushed away for upshifts, the same directions the floor shifter uses. If you're used to a + right and – left system, or gear lever that uses forward for downshift (BMW, Mazda) your acclimation time will increase but you will acclimate. It is unlikely you will need to shift if the wheel's turned so far you can't use the paddles; the console shifter always works. Both shifter and handbrake are well-placed, and the floor-hinged gas pedal eases heel-and-toe shifting.
The key goes in left of the steering column, remembering the days of LeMans starts where drivers had to run across the track, get in, fire their cars and engage first gear, then roar off hoping to get buckled up before the first corner or crash.
The Sport Chrono package puts a big stopwatch atop the dash, controlled through the tach display menu. Below the vents are all the controls not found on steering column stalks: Climate, audio, chassis systems, etc. Multiple sound systems are topped by a Bose system that keeps up even with an open top, but that six-channel petroleum-powered sound system right behind you still has the last word in sonic amusement.
Porsche Communication Management is otherwise known as the navigation/infotainment center, and offers an electronic logbook for saving trip data; there is a SIM card slot on the face of it. It is a DVD-based system and though the mass of white-on-black buttons may seem initially daunting it is quick to master. Climate controls are simple and the tiny cabin volume quickly heated or cooled.
Small items and coins may be stored aft of the console-mounted handbrake; optional audio inputs are here too. A glovebox holds little more than documentation and pockets inside the door armrests handle keys, sunglasses, and portable electronics.
Larger items go in his-and-hers trunks, one each end. Up front a deep well that might just hold your carry-on roller bag or groceries stacked with bottles on the bottom. The back cargo area is a wider, shallower expanse roughly 32x18x8 inches. The two cargo areas offer 5.3 and 4.6 cubic feet, better than anything we know of in this category. Trunk space is unaffected by top position, unlike many others, and despite the proximity to coolers and the engine, internal temperatures measured only 10-15 degrees above the 90 F ambient.
Once the single release handle is twisted the electric top can be lowered or raised in about 10 seconds at speeds to about 30 mph so you can start the process slowing for a light or stop sign. The top is well-insulated, even in black does not feel like you're wearing a dark ball cap on a sunny day, and the glass rear window has electric defrost.
Conversations can be carried at 70 mph top down, though better with the side glass up in busy surroundings. A removable clear panel between the headrests (the windstop) cuts down on internal buffeting a bit; one is already well-ensconced in a Boxster. If you really don't like the wind, or get a lot of snow, there is a factory Boxster aluminum hardtop option and, of course, the factory hardtop Porsche Cayman.
The heart of a Boxster, by location and soul, is the engine placed low in between the seats and rear wheels. Keeping mass low and between the wheels rather than over one end or the other is the simplest way to build in two key sports car traits: balance and a low center of gravity.
Both engines are new for 2009, equipped with direct injection and further build on Porsche's reputation for smooth, rev-happy, flat-six engines. The Boxster now uses a 2.9-liter of 255 hp and the S model's 3.4 has been bumped to 310 hp: On the S model that equates to less than 10 pounds per horsepower.
Twist the key and the high-compression, direct-injection engines bristle to life with an eager note unlike any other engine configuration. Throttle response is immediate, the mechanical whirring so fine and light it sounds like something you could hold in your hand. Like every Porsche flat-six these engines do their best work at higher revs and deliver a haunting sound, yet they are large enough you can drive sedately and quietly maintaining pace.
Porsche quotes the 0-60 mph sprint in 5.6 seconds for the Boxster manual and 5.0 for the S and top speeds of 163 and 170 respectively; PDK transmissions are quicker by one-to-three-tenths depending on shift mode and give up 1 mph top speed. And Porsche's data are generally quite conservative.
The same efficiency that makes the PDK quicker also makes it more economical at 20/29 mpg for the S, making it one of very few cars that will reach 60 in less than five seconds, run almost 170 mph and push 30 mpg on the highway.
For 2009 both Boxsters use a six-speed manual transmission as standard and as you'd expect it delivers quick, crisp, error-free gear changes without heavy effort in the clutch or shifter. The marriage between throttle, clutch, and shifter in a Porsche is among the best, if not the best, in production cars, and those groomed on doing everything with opposable thumbs would do well to try using their feet as well.
However, while the manual is an excellent choice, many enthusiasts might prefer the optional automated transmission. True, the PDK has no clutch pedal and can be driven like a conventional automatic, but it isn't. The seven-speed gearbox is a double-clutch design where the transmission controls the clutch actuation based on numerous inputs; Audi, BMW, Nissan, and VW all have similar gearboxes.
PDK can execute a gear change in milliseconds, faster than a human and faster than most can push the button. Yet the changes are so well orchestrated there's no harshness or roughness to them, and only what seems the slightest hiccup from the tailpipe. PDK offers a standard mode and two sport modes, and engaging either sport mode automatically changes the adjustable suspension (if equipped) to sport as well, but that can be switched off for conditions where you'd like the quicker powertrain reaction and shifting without the firmer ride. The only PDK negatives are price (add $3420), an extra 64 pounds of mass, and adapting to the behavior at maneuvering speeds.
Regardless of how your Boxster gets going, stopping will never be an issue. Porsche's brake systems are among the best. Relatively speaking they are moderate in size because the cars aren't heavy, and they are more than capable of retarding everything the engine can motivate. There's no artificial bite when you apply the pedal and just a quick brush will smoothly erase some speed, but push hard and the car will stop flat, stable and quickly.
Porsche's composite ceramic brakes (PCCB) may be ordered on the Boxster S. This upgrade, set off by its yellow calipers, delivers superb braking and gives the added benefit of reducing unsprung mass by nearly 35 pounds and thereby bettering ride and handling. PCCB lists for $8,150, but over the long run will likely require less frequent brake service.
Steering action is precise and fluid; it telegraphs information about how the front tires are reacting with the road without kickback and vibration. Effort is just right, not the artificially heavy feel of many performance cars but rather a lighter feel delicate enough to keep the car poised and going where you want. The Boxster will reward a smooth driver, yet not punish a bad one to the extent an early 911 would.
The suspension is designed to stick the car to the road while maintaining ride comfort for journeys longer than pit stop to pit stop. Relatively light parts translate to more precise control of those parts, and the Boxster gets through the bumps well, only becoming less than comfortable on repeating expansion joints.
When equipped with the adjustable PASM suspension you can improve both extremes. Ride comfort is very compliant, even on 19-inch wheels and rubber-band tires, but the press of a button tightens up the rates such that a smooth road gets as tight as a miser's wallet and bad roads get miserable. Unless you live in a driver's haven, the standard PASM setting will often produce the best results simply because most roads aren't as good as most racetracks.
A Boxster is nearly perfectly balanced and the stability control programmed so that you can enjoy that balance without intervention; it will mitigate potential problems if you mistakenly believe you belong to a racing dynasty. You can fling it about with relative abandon and it won't bite back too hard, or you can waltz it around the bends gracefully, showing that classics never go out of style, they just go faster.
There are a few cars that might go better than a Boxster (perhaps a BMW Z4 twin-turbo), fewer yet that will stop and go through corner after corner like one (perhaps a Lotus Exige). But it's the synergy of all those elements put together, combined with the marvelous soundtrack and everyday comfort, that make the Boxster the more rewarding drive.
The Porsche Boxster is one of the most entertaining convertible sports cars. Top up, it's quiet and comfortable enough to commute in a rainstorm; top down, fresh air, open sky and the engine note all conspire to make you go a little faster. It's an immensely capable car that can be driven in the daily grind, with nary a complaint. Our only caution against impulsively ordering one is to select options carefully, as they can escalate the price considerably; the Boxster makes more sense the closer you can stay to $65,000 rather than $90,000.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report.