Porsche has spent many years fiddling with their classic 911. Gone are the snappy handling characteristics of the original models, replaced by a grippier, more hedge-friendly set of abilities that stand as testament to the work of the talented Weissach engineers. Their Newtonian law-bending achievements are even more astounding when you consider the 911’s engine is in the worst possible location – hanging out behind the rear axle.
If Porsche’s engineers can achieve that level of poise and control with the oily bits in the wrong place, imagine what they can achieve when the engine is where it should be.
But then we already know the answer: the Porsche Boxster.
The Boxster has been an important car for Porsche. Launched to drag the company out of its cash-strapped period in the late-90s, it’s widely regarded as having ensured the firm’s independence.
It’s not a brand new concept, though. It can trace its parentage back to the 550 Spyder of 1953, a mid-engined racer that achieved success in the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio, not to mention Le Mans.
The latest Boxster, known as Type 987, employs Porsche’s usual style of gradual evolution rather than the shock-tactics of inventing a new design language that renders previous iterations obsolete. While some may criticise this approach, it preserves each model’s clear lineage and maintains healthy residuals.
A wider track is among the chassis enhancements to improve handling while power for both models is up. The base 2.7-litre version sees output from its flat-six ‘boxer’ engine rise 12bhp to 240bhp, while the S model’s 3.2-litre unit benefits from a 20bhp jump to 280bhp. Torque is also improved across the rev range.
Performance increases, too, with the 0-62mph dash taking just 6.2 and 5.5 seconds for the standard and S models respectively, with top speeds pegged at 159 and 167mph.
The standard-fit five-speed transmission has been revised to offer a shorter-throw shift action, while the Boxster S gets an entirely new six-speed unit that’s also available in the Boxster as part of a Sports Pack.
Externally, it’s true, there’s little to give the game away. The standard wheels are larger, with 17-inchers on the 2.7, 18s on the 3.2, and 19s available as an option on both. The new nose mirrors the look of the latest 911 (type 997), with more rounded headlights and separate fog lights replacing the ‘fried egg’ look of the previous generation.
Larger rear air vents for improved engine breathing and re-profiled side windows for increased visibility complete the external changes. Safety kit gets a boost, too, and Porsche is particularly proud of the head airbags that deploy from the door tops; a world first for a roadster.
It’s out on the open road that these revisions need to prove themselves, however.
The needle on the tachometer has just swept past 4,500rpm and the flat-six’s soundtrack has changed; the sound filling my ears triggers an instinctive tightening of the muscles in my neck, like someone has dropped a cold key down my back. At low revs, there’s induction noise not unlike a set of finely-tuned SU carburettors sucking through the slightest of filters. Push harder into the power band, though, and the accompanying bass-line hardens. It’s a howl the phrase ‘spine-tingling’ was invented for and, with a 7,200rpm redline, it’s a sensation that can be enjoyed. All this is going on just a few inches behind you, remember.
It’s an aural treat best delivered by the Boxster S. Both Boxsters exude more than their fair share of Porsche-ness through their exhaust, but somehow a component of the performance is missing in the smaller-engined model. It’s a little more raspy, perhaps, as if constrained by its breathing apparatus, and that’s a feeling that comes across in the power delivery, too.
Where the Boxster S surprises is in its tractability. Far from being the redline-hungry racer you might expect, there’s urgency at low revs that’s undoubtedly a result of its larger cubic capacity. Rapid progress through all six speeds is easily achievable with just a few thousand rpm on the dial. The standard Boxster, however, feels constrained by comparison. With the engine off the boil in the lower half of the rev range, keen drivers will likely find themselves waiting for the party in the engine bay to begin. Granted, it’s soon remedied by snicking into a lower gear, but somehow it doesn’t feel like the full-fat Porsche experience.
The revised short-throw action of the gear lever suits the Boxster’s character perfectly and, despite it’s requirement for determined shoves across the gate, is easy to grow accustomed to. The clutch is precisely balanced, too, with a progressive action that flatters the urban driver.
This tractability and balance lends the Boxster an air of accessible performance, but with a common theme of docility that makes it an easy every-day prospect.
The new variable rate steering helps out here, too. While it’s lost a little of the sharp and pointy edge of the previous generation, it’s undeniably an agile set up but with the addition of a calmer zone around the straight-ahead position that supplies stability at motorway speeds. There’s feedback aplenty, with information about the road’s texture and the available grip transmitted directly to the driver’s fingertips, but without overloading with shockwaves over expansion joints and surface scars. It’s a level of tactility that inspires confidence, and enrols you as part of the experience. It never becomes wearing, though; a wet Monday morning commute is still something to be savoured.
Of course the Boxster’s raison d’être is a perfectly balanced chassis. The engine is mounted just behind the driver but still ahead of the rear axle, unlike its 911 brother, saddled as it is with its huge pendulum of a power plant hanging out over the rear wheels. The flat-six ‘boxer’ layout of the engine keeps the centre of gravity as close to the ground as possible, as does the lack of a metal roof, while the relocation of the radiators and battery to the front of the car helps maintain the perfect front/rear weight distribution.
The Boxster, as a result, is almost unflappable. Over crests, through dips, under heavy braking, the chassis retains its chosen line. Even mid-corner ridges in the tarmac fail to disturb the Boxster’s attitude. There’s understeer in the mix, as you’d expect in this litigious age, but it’s easily dialled-out with a little throttle. Lifting off while fully committed to a corner (even the mere suggestion of such an action is enough to send 911 owners of old reaching for the insurance claim form) adds nothing more than a little extra understeer. No hedge-trimming, no soiled underwear.
But that’s the beauty of the Boxster. Regardless of your level of driving ability, the Porsche can match its style to yours. Timid drivers will find a loyal and capable friend in the Box. Likewise, enthusiasts well versed in the practice of throttle adjustability will soar to the next level of the Boxster’s talents.
Track-day fiends may want to specify the optional adaptive suspension (PASM in Porsche abbreviation speak) which, as well as lowering the car by 10mm, replaces the standard dampers with a system co-developed with Bilstein. PASM monitors various parameters regarding the car’s attitude and the driver’s inputs, and adjusts damping rates individually to ensure the wheels stay pressed against the road’s surface. The Sport mode is perhaps a little too stiff for extended use on public roads, but there is undoubtedly an improvement that shows through on the track.
With or without PASM, the Boxster rides supremely, despite the larger diameter wheels. Given the degree of body composure, it’s quite an achievement that bumps are so well absorbed and passenger comfort retained.
Interior refinement gets a boost in the 987, thanks to a new, third layer to the hood fabric to help insulate against wind noise. It’s so effective it highlights the other noises penetrating the cabin – mainly road noise from the rear tyres. The roof itself can be electrically raised or lowered at speeds up to 31mph, with the full operation taking just 12 seconds. It’s not quite a one-touch operation, with the windscreen header clamp still requiring manual operation, but at least the driver doesn’t need to hold the button while driving.
Cockpit materials are of a much higher quality in Boxster Mk II, with many components shared with the 911. It’s well assembled for the most part, although some details such as the silver painted plastic door pulls are a little disappointing. The dials in the instrument cluster look great, but aren’t that easy to read at a glance; thankfully there’s also a digital speed readout to help keep driving licence graffiti to a minimum.
The various interior leather options add further to the quality feel with gloriously alluring stitching along the door tops and down the sides of the centre console. Expensive, though. The S benefits from partial leather seats as standard, with a sports variant available as an option. Tall or broad drivers may find the additional bolstering leads to discomfort on long journeys, though, particularly across the shoulders.
That said, there’s plenty of room for drivers of all sizes, thanks to repositioning of the pedals, greater degree of movement in the seat and steering wheel adjustability for both reach and rake.
There’s a school of thought that insists the Boxster is for people who can’t afford a 911. However, anyone who’s driven a Boxster S must surely question what they receive in return for the extra twenty grand that 911 ownership demands.
Of course the 911 is a performance icon, and for many, that’s worth the price of admission alone. It’s the archetypal autobahn stormer, and a testament to man’s triumph of engineering over the laws of physics.
But with prejudices set aside, the Boxster adds something else into the mix – value for money. Starting from just £32,320, the Boxster boasts some of the strongest residual values in the business. Expect to see 70% of that thirty-two grand to arrive back in your bank account come resale time. That’s depreciation of just over £9,500 in three years – far less than a typical Ford Mondeo.
For our money, the £38,720 Boxster S is the one to choose. It feels like the real deal. Order now for delivery in around 4-5 months, but we’d recommend careful perusal of the options list; it’s easy to get carried away with hi-tech gizmos and garish colour combinations.
The Boxster is a roadster for the open-minded enthusiast. With such natural poise, characterful performance, quality, reliability and value for money, it’s difficult to think of a box the little Porsche doesn’t firmly place a big, red tick in.
While Porsche’s engineers will no doubt still manage to find areas for improvement when it comes to building the next Boxster, for now the 987 is our five-star roadster of choice.
The Boxster is what happens when Porsche engineers put the engine where it should be – in the middle. As a result, there’s perfect natural poise and a wonderful sense of balance that make this a true drivers’ car. Add in quality, reliability, value for money and the strongest residual values in the business, and it’s difficult to resist. Boxster S our choice for the full-fat experience.