Porsche Boxster burns through canyons

Published: Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

Porsche has a new roadster out, the 2013 Boxster S. It’s faster, more handsome and more practical than ever before, yada yada yada, they always are. But try this on for size: You can now spend around $90,000 on one.

At that price, you might be inclined to email this article to yourself or cut it out and tuck it into a drawer for two years. By then, some of these fabulously pampered cars that have never seen a lead foot or aggressive corner will be coming off leases. And you can buy one for a much more manageable sum, and everything that’s great about the car will still ring true.

Here’s what you have to look forward to.

The 2013 Boxster S is the third generation of this two-seater convertible that debuted in 1996. Cars like the Boxster, with engines directly behind the passengers, generally have better balance and weight distribution than cars with their engines hanging over the rear axle like Porsche’s larger 911. Thus, if the two had equal power, the Boxster probably would be faster around a track.

To maintain the status quo of its sports car hierarchy, Porsche has always made sure that the Boxster had less power. With the 911 recently getting a boost, the 2013 Boxster had room to modestly increase its own output.

The base model now gets 265 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque from a 2.7-liter, direct-injected flat six-cylinder engine. It’s slightly smaller than the 2.9-liter engine it replaces and loses 7 pound-feet of torque. Yet revised internals yield a 10-horsepower bump.

The more powerful Boxster S that I tested has 315 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. It wrings this out of a 3.4-liter engine (also a direct-injected flat-six) that’s largely similar to the older model, in both mechanics and also the gloriously distinct rasp of Porsche engines arranged in this configuration.

My tester also included the stock six-speed manual transmission, and when paired with the larger engine, it is rated at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway. My week with the car yielded an average of 18 mpg, a respectable figure considering that a healthy portion of that time was spent dicing the canyons of Malibu. Shedding 77 pounds through the prodigious use of aluminum helps.

At first blush, the new Boxster S is down a little on torque, and is a fairly buttoned-up roadster. The immensely stiff chassis and mid-engine placement hold the road with a politician’s grip and doesn’t want to let go.

Only when you really get on its case for excitement will it break loose and dance. If you’re taking it to the track or are confident in your piloting, consider turning the stability control completely off, because it intervenes a little early even in its most aggressive setting.

Rowing through the Boxster’s six gears was an enviable task, because this gearbox is an excellent piece of hardware. It artfully balances precision and smoothness, and the shift knob is well positioned for easy manhandling. It’s also a great way to get this flat-six to sing as few other engine configurations can.

Elsewhere on this car, the vented disc brakes felt like they could go all day at the track, while the new electro-mechanical steering system borrowed from the 911 was good, if not as intricately granular as the old hydraulic setup. The roof can be operated in nine seconds and at speeds as high as 30 mph. At speeds of any number, it seals out a great swath of outside noise, giving the cabin the solitude of a coupe.

The model I tested added to these standard features some mechanical goodies that were optional. Torque vectoring will lightly brake the inside wheel at the beginning of a corner, adding to the car’s agility. This system works in conjunction with the active suspension system (PASM) that gives drivers Normal and Sport modes to choose from.

Finally, the Sport Chrono package adds a Sport Plus mode. This adds dynamic transmission mounts and dials up the car’s stability control systems, throttle and PASM to a “shoot to kill” mode that Porsche says is designed with track driving in mind. This option also cuts the Boxster’s zero to 60 mph time to 4.8 seconds in cars with the manual transmission.

Anyone with a first-grader’s grasp of arithmetic knows that piling on options like these means a heavy sticker price is inevitable. My Boxster S tester landed at $84,120, a lengthy jump from its $60,900 base price. Keep in mind, this doesn’t include the wonderfully quick yet dreadfully named Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK), the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission many buyers will spend extra to get.

This final price is a little frustrating. Porsches haven’t always been this expensive. The company rightly makes much of its sports car heritage, yet forgets that some of its earliest models were far more affordable than they are now.

Consider that when you adjust for inflation, a fully loaded Porsche 356 in the early 1950s (the first car made by the company) would run you a bit under $40,000 in today’s dollars. A decade later the 912 debuted as an affordable alternative to the 911. How affordable? Around $33,000 to $35,000 in 2012 dollars.

Now, the cheapest 2013 Boxster will run you $50,450. I’d like to think that this leaves a pricing hole that lends credibility to the rumors of a four-cylinder Boxster or possibly an entirely different, entry-level model. Sadly, Porsche is resolutely mum on these prospects.

Also, if you’re ponying up the extra cash for the Boxster S, it’s reasonable to expect you’re getting the more sporting slice of the Boxster pie. The added power over the base Boxster is certainly appreciated, but it’s hard not to feel nickel-and-dimed when you still have to shell out for the torque vectoring, fancy suspension or $5,265 for a package of features no more exotic than heated, adaptive sport seats and dual-zone climate control, among others.

But at least the Boxster looks expensive. Taking a host of design cues from the exotic Carrera GT supercar, this Boxster is the most visually complete version yet. The wheels have been pushed farther into the car’s corners, while the air intake in front of the rear wheels is significantly larger. The doors are thus scalloped accordingly, directing air into those enlarged vents.

The taillights are more three-dimensional now, with a crease protruding out and extending horizontally across the rear of the car. It’s a more robust, mature look that matches the car’s more capable demeanor. The interior is similarly advanced, adds an inch of legroom and is now a near carbon-copy of the stout design and estimable construction of Porsche’s other products.

So the 2013 Boxster S is better in nearly every measurable way. Given a lineage that has helped define the modern sports car, this isn’t a shock. Clearly the people at Porsche know it too. And they’re going to make you pay for it.

 

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