The Porsche Boxster is a delightful sports car 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.
The Boxster is perhaps the most practical mid-engine convertible sports car available today. The cabin has plenty of room and can accommodate tall individuals. The standard Boxster's levels of insulation, refinement and equipment match many sedans. There are two compact trunks, one up front and another in back, to carry a week's worth of groceries or luggage in soft-sided bags.
The Boxster lineup is so well-rounded it could come up on many shopping lists. Convertible luxury with a driver bias might pit the 2010 Boxster or Boxster S against a BMW Z4, Audi TT, or Mercedes-Benz SLK, while the performance shopper may also have a Lotus Elise or Exige on the list.
For the sports car purist, Porsche has introduced the performance-oriented Boxster Spyder as an early 2011 model. The Boxster Spyder features a manual soft-top, the 320-horsepower engine from the Cayman S and several changes to reduce weight by a total of 176 pounds. As a performance model, the Spyder gets a firmer suspension. We found the Spyder's top doesn't seal very well and it lacks the refinement and isolation of the others, but it makes up for that with even better handling and a more engaging driving experience than what's found in the Boxster S.
The Boxster uses a 2.9-liter flat-six with 255 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. It comes with a choice of six-speed manual transmission or seven-speed automated manual double-clutch gearbox (PDK, or Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe).
The Boxster S increases performance with a 3.4-liter flat-six rated at 310 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque with six-speed manual or seven-speed PDK. Standard wheels are 8 and 9×18 alloys with P235/40ZR and P265/40ZR tires. The S can be distinguished by its red brake calipers, dual exhaust outlets, and light gray instrument backgrounds.
Virtually no one buys a Boxster for the base price, and the many options can drive the price up considerably. Great fun, though. One option we recommend is the PASM active suspension.
Porsche does not make major changes very often, preferring to get the basics right from the start and continue fine tuning from there on. The Boxster benefitted from some heavy revisions for the 2009 model year, including new engines and a new transmission, so the 2010 model year features only minor changes. Inside, the Porsche Communications Management system gets a larger (6.5-inch) touchscreen and a simplified control layout. It is also now compatible with mp3 players and offers Bluetooth cell phone connectivity. The steering wheel is now a three-spoke unit, and the sound system is now Porsche's CDR-30 unit with a CD/mp3 player. Underneath, Porsche says the 2010 Boxster's suspension has been refined to improve ride comfort and dynamic response. As part of this change, the car uses new tires and tire pressure in the rear tires is slightly reduced. Finally, the 2010 Boxster is now offered with a heated steering wheel and a new Dark Blue Metallic color.
The Boxster was shaped by stylists with a gentle hand and a reverence for the past. The shape is guided by the laws of physics and aerodynamics. Every curve, 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 detail cues run the gamut from the 550 Spyder of the 1950s to the Carrera GT of roughly five years ago (2004-06), a span of more than 50 years.
The headlights, signals, and fog lamps are placed in ovoid housings. Laid atop the front side grilles are LED daytime running lamps, with thin white LED light pipes that serve as parking lights. Both the front and rear signals use amber bulbs and clear lenses. The small chrome turrets up front are headlight washers and these, and many other items like the air vent slats inside and out, may be painted to match. The taillights appear to add curve to the sheetmetal hips over the rear tires, and the automatic rear spoiler can be overridden to lift for cleaning.
The Boxster S is distinguished by its red brake calipers and dual exhaust outlets. The standard Boxster tailpipe is nearly rectangular, while the Boxster S dual pipes are round.
Discounting custom orders, there are more than 700 permutations among paint, top color, and wheel style. Further individualization is easy with myriad detail finishes, paints and trims so the odds of 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.
The Boxster does not come with a spare tire. There is an air compressor and tire sealant. The tire-pressure monitor may offer a warning before a situation becomes dire. Additionally, a mast radio antenna may be ordered in place of the in-windshield antenna.
The Boxster Spyder is a new variant released as an early 2011 model. It features several changes from other Boxsters, including the use of aluminum for the doors and the unique rear deck, which features 1950s sports car-style dual fairings. Instead of a power top, the Spyder uses a lightweight two-piece manual top that stretches over the car like a bikini top. The Boxster Spyder also has shorter side windows and the windshield is tilted at a sharper angle.
Instead of an active rear spoiler, the Boxster Spyder has a smaller fixed rear spoiler. It also features center-exiting twin tailpipes painted black, Boxster Spyder script at the rear, and Porsche stripes in contrasting black, white or silver along the sides. Shorter springs give the car a slighter lower stance (about 20 millimeters), and they combine with the weight savings to lower the car's center of gravity 25 millimeters. Finally, the Spyder has its own lightweight 19-inch wheels that save another 11 pounds versus the Boxster S's 18s.
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 of the two. The 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 and memory (though you will not want anyone else to drive it). Heating and cooling for the seats broaden the top-down weather window. 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.
To save weight, about 26 pounds, the Boxster Spyder comes with a pair of manual sport bucket seats with carbon fiber frames. These seats, which are available on other Boxsters, are supportive, but they will be too skinny for some larger drivers. The power sport seats are a no-cost option for anyone who doesn't want the enclosed, racecar-like feel of the manual buckets.
As with all Porsches, the tachometer is located dead center. The analog instruments are easy to read day or night thanks to neutral backgrounds and crisp red needles. Boxster S uses light gray instrument backgrounds. A speedometer to the left covers 0-190 mph in the space of an iPod display and numbers are marked every 25 mph, so judging your exact speed can be difficult. However, speed can be shown digitally for those regions that enforce in 1 mph increments. This same screen calls up all manner of trip computer, sport chronometer and other data, parts of it fading to red for immediate awareness. Coolant temperature and fuel gauges are placed to the right, and on cars with PDK, the engaged gear is displayed adjacent to the tachometer.
The Spyder's interior has a few changes versus other Boxsters. The hood is gone from above the instrument cluster, but the gauges themselves are hooded enough to prevent sun glare. In keeping with the minimalistic theme, the door handles are replaced by fabric pulls (a la the 911 GT3); air conditioning, radio and cupholders are omitted. You can order A/C if you want the comfort, but that adds 29 pounds. Like the seats, the cupholders are a no-cost option.
In any model, both the shifter and handbrake are well-placed, and the floor-hinged gas pedal eases heel-and-toe shifting. The steering wheel features manual tilt and telescope adjustments. A pair of steering wheel shift buttons come standard with the PDK transmission. 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 (Mazda, older BMWs, Formula Barber) you will acclimate though it may take a little time. In this case, you should choose the newly optional steering wheel shift paddles. The left paddle is for downshifts and the right is for upshifts, and we find this system easier to use. The paddles are large, so it is easier to shift with the steering wheel turned.
The key goes in left of the steering column. This placement recalls the days of LeMans starts where drivers had to run across the track, get in, and fire their cars to get underway (though some wags claim it was originally placed there to reduce wire).
The Sport Chrono package puts a big stopwatch atop the dash, controlled through the display menu on the tachometer. Below the vents are all the secondary controls not found on steering column stalks: climate, audio, chassis systems, etc. Available 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.
The navigation/infotainment center is known as Porsche Communication Management. It comes with a SIM card that allows drivers to save an electronic logbook of trip data. PCM is a DVD-based system that has a larger screen for 2010 and fewer control buttons. We like these changes as they make the system easier to see and control. Climate controls, which are located below the PCM, are also simple to use.
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. The Boxster Spyder eliminates the door pockets and center console bin, so the glovebox is the only place to put your little trinkets.
Larger items go in his-and-hers trunks, one at each end of the Boxster. Up front is a deep well that can 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 of space, 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 ambient temperature. As small sports cars go, the Boxster offers good cargo space.
The Boxster and Boxster S have a single release handle for the power top. Once it 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 while slowing for a light or stop sign. The top is well-insulated. Even in black it 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 on at 70 mph with the top down. 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 or the hardtop Porsche Cayman.
The Spyder's top stretches over the car like a bikini top, barely covering what it's supposed to cover. The top doesn't seal well, leaving the car subject to parking lot security issues and on-road wind noise. A two-piece top weighs only 13 pounds. It consists of the top with a carbon fiber header and a separate rear window. It takes two or three minutes to take the top off or put it on, and longer than that when you're first learning the procedure. Both pieces roll up and stow under the rear deck when the top is off. Offering little protection from wind and weather, the Boxster Spyder is ideally suited for summer use only.
The heart of a Boxster, by location and soul, is the engine placed low in between the rear wheels and the seats. Keeping mass low and in the middle of the car, rather than over one end or the other, is the best way to build in two key sports car traits: balance and a low center of gravity.
Equipped with direct injection, all three Boxster engines are smooth, rev-happy, flat-sixes. The base Boxster uses a 2.9-liter version with 255 horsepower, the S model's 3.4-liter makes 310 horsepower, and the Spyder's 3.4-liter produces 320 horses. In the S model that equates to less than 10 pounds per horsepower, and in the Boxster Spyder it equals 8.8 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. We found all of the engines to be amazingly tractable, perfectly willing to toddle along at city speeds or provide willing power all the way up the rev range.
Porsche quotes the 0-60 mph sprint in 5.6 seconds for the Boxster manual and 5.0 seconds for the Boxster S, with 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. The company says the Boxster Spyder can reach 60 in as little as 4.6 seconds with the optional launch control feature (available with the PDK), and it tops out at 124 mph with the top up and 166 mph with the top down. While that may seem backward, speed is limited with the top up because the top doesn't seal well.
The same efficiency that makes the PDK quicker also makes it more economical at 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway 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.
All Boxsters use a six-speed manual transmission as standard. 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.
While the manual is an excellent choice, many enthusiasts might prefer the optional PDK. 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; one clutch holds the current gear and the other readies the next, allowing for lightning fast shifts and none of the power loss or shift lag of early automated manual transmissions.
The PDK's shifts are so well orchestrated that there's no harshness or roughness to them, and only what seems the slightest hiccup from the tailpipe. It 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 ($3,420), an extra 64 pounds of mass, and adapting to its 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 and Boxster Spyder. This upgrade, set off by its yellow calipers, delivers superb, fade-free 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, though 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 that 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 Porsche Active Suspension Management 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.
The Boxster Spyder has shorter, stiffer springs, a lower ride height, and stiffer shocks and anti-roll bars. We found these changes make the car react quicker to fast changes of direction but they also make the ride busier. The Spyder's suspension rebounds more quickly, resulting in some bouncing motions that drivers may find annoying. Surprisingly, however, the Spyder doesn't have a tendency to bottom out and create sharp jolts. Instead, it reacts to potholes with that same type of bouncing motion.
A Boxster is nearly perfectly balanced and the stability control programmed so 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 faster than a Boxster (perhaps a BMW Z4 turbo), and fewer still that will stop and go through corner after corner as well (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 one of the most rewarding cars to drive today.
The Porsche Boxster is one of the most entertaining convertible sports cars. Top up, the Boxster is 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. The Boxster and Boxster S are immensely capable cars that can be driven in the daily grind, with nary a complaint. The Boxster Spyder is a purist's sports car that is even more engaging to drive, but its half-hearted top makes it a car for the summer only. With any Porsche, we caution buyers to be careful when selecting options, as they can escalate the price considerably; the Boxster makes more economic sense the closer you can stay to $65,000 rather than $90,000.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report, with Kirk Bell reporting on the Boxster Spyder from Monterey, California.