REVIEW DATE: 06 Dec 2008
Making the Porsche Boxster better was never going to be easy but Porsche has risen to the challenge. Steve Walker reports.
An object lesson in the art of building a performance roadster, the Porsche Boxster continues to show its rivals the way. Porsche has upped the technology count across the board on the latest car with resulting improvements to performance and efficiency. A subtle restyle and interior upgrades complete what looks to be a thoroughly successful facelift.
In times of economic downturn, governments can either batten down the hatches or come out fighting, chequebook in hand - the risk of the later policy being that you simply store up even greater woes for the future. Porsche engineers will have a better handle on this concept than most for as they obsessed over and honed every detail of their original Boxster, edging it closer to perfection, the unspoken truth will have been all too apparent within them. In a few short years, the car would be back in for its facelift and they'd be lumbered with the unenviable task of making it better. Now that facelifted Boxster is here and the world can see how those poor Weissach spanner jockeys got on.
Lesser men and women than those employed by Porsche might feel the temptation to hold back on the original version of a new car and put to one side some fine-tuning to roll out of the inevitable future facelifted version, making their future job easier. You just know that anyone harbouring such mutinous tendencies at Porsche HQ would be immediately dragged outside and, given a very stern talking to. Cars like the 911, Cayman and Boxster simply don't emerge from a company with anything less than a complete focus on excellence. We can be certain, then, that the latest improved Boxster is the result of the formidable Porsche machine operating at full tilt.
Technology from the latest 911 has been piled into the latest Boxster, a risky strategy given the view held by many that the Boxster and its Cayman hard-top equivalent are within a whisker of surpassing the abilities of the standard 911 models. With power boosts to Boxster and Boxster S models, plus the option of the PDK double clutch gearbox and launch control, the gap to the 911 may have narrowed yet further. The mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout that gives the Boxster its stunning balance and purity is, of course, retained. The entry level engine, however, now has a 2.9-litre capacity and a 255bhp power output, an increase of 10bhp over the old 2.7-litre unit. It will get from standstill to 62mph in 5.9s. More salient is the 3.4-litre engine in the Boxster S which now has Porsche Direct Fuel Injection technology for greater efficiency and power. There's 310bhp here these days and a 0-62mph lurch of 5.3s but if that's not fast enough, the lightweight Boxster Spyder takes just 4.8s.
"Technology from the latest 911 has been piled into the latest Boxster."
The direct injection system fitted to the Boxster S engine generates faster responses to throttle inputs by directing fuel at high pressure directly into the combustion chamber. This also achieves a better fuel/air mixture within the chamber that can be adapted to maximise performance or for a cleaner, more efficient combustion. It's clever stuff but arguably not as clever as the Porsche PDK twin clutch gearbox.
An automatic Porsche was once frowned upon by the marque's aficionados in the same way as a Suzuki GSX-R1000 with stabilisers might be viewed in superbike circles. The PDK gearbox models, by contrast, encourage nothing but respect from those in the know. It's a twin-clutch 'box which shifts between ratios many times faster than you can say Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (don't worry, we'll stick to PDK from now on). The system actually shaves 0.1s from the 0-62mph time of an expertly driven six-speed manual car, such are the slickness and speed of its shifts. With the optional Launch Control function which manages traction off the line, a further 0.2s can be stripped from the performance envelope.
The Boxster now looks different but not massively so. The latest car has reshaped headlamps with indicators built in that resemble the units on the Carrera GT supercar. The air-intakes below have also been reshaped with horizontal bars for the outer ones in the front bumper that also house LED side lights. There's more of the in vogue LED lighting at the rear where the bumper has come in for some subtle tweaks. Overall, the Boxster looks as classy as ever from the outside and the interior ambience has been raised a notch or two by the inclusion of higher quality materials and a beautifully contoured steering wheel.
Porsche has tinkered with the suspension settings on the Boxster and predictably claims improvements to both handling and comfort. The power steering system has also been remapped with the aim of achieving a more agile and spontaneous feel. The Porsche Stability Management system is rightly regarded as the leading technology of its type and now features Brake Pre-Loading that primes the brakes in anticipation when the driver lifts off the throttle suddenly. An optional feature that's now available will please those who felt the Boxster was only a limited slip differential away from being a better car than the 911: it's a limited slip differential. This ensures that the car can put its power down more effectively in extreme handling scenarios and will be a must for buyers planning to take their Boxster to the track.
Boxster buyers are presented with the usual choice of Boxster or Boxster S models plus the more extreme Boxster Spyder. Then there's the six-speed manual and PDK gearboxes to choose between and a host of other options to get your teeth into. Conventional wisdom says that this car is all about handling balance and agility and you get the same amount of both no matter how much you spend on it. That's the case for the bog standard Boxster but you'll need some will power because some of the optional extras are mighty hard to resist.
The audio and communication systems have been comprehensively upgraded in the latest model. The standard car gets a plush CD radio system but the set-up to have is the optional PCM (Porsche Communication Management) version 3.0. This includes a hard disc satellite navigation server and a 6.5" touch screen monitor which houses all the controls neatly under one roof. Voice control makes the interface even more user-friendly and further options box ticking will bring iPod, USB and Bluetooth compatibility.
The further plus side to Porsche's tinkering under the Boxster's bonnet is enhanced efficiency. A roadster this quick is never going to be an environmental hero but 31mpg from the 2.9-litre engine with 221g/km emissions is a decent showing and a 10% improvement over the old car. The direct injection Boxster S makes a 15% improvement and its 3.4-litre engine is only slightly thirstier than the 2.9. Owners can expect 30mpg and 223g/km emissions and remarkably, the PDK gearbox models are fractionally cleaner than the manuals.
Building a scale model of the Empire State Building out of matchsticks, swimming the Channel wearing a Pink Panther costume, beating a grizzly bear in a fist fight.. To anyone lacking Porsche's engineering nouse, any of these undertakings might seem easier than substantially improving upon the Boxster. Porsche being Porsche, however, the iconic roadster has been enhanced across the board.
With more power, greater efficiency, the PDK twin clutch gearbox, launch control, a limited slip differential, upgraded infotainment systems and subtly refreshed styling, the Boxster may be better than ever. What will continue to give it the edge over its rivals, however, is the inherent rightness of its mid-engined, rear-wheel drive layout, its sparkling chassis and the sheer fun they serve up for the person behind the wheel.
|For BOXSTER RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.1 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|