I’ll admit it. I’m guilty of having ignored the Porsche Boxster. I’m not one to usually to do this sort of thing, but I let the somewhat questionable image the car had developed get the better of me. I was always aware of the fact it was a revered driver’s car, but its somewhat unmasculine associations, to be kind to it (I promise I won’t mention “hairdresser” anywhere in this story), kind of led me to never really develop any particular interest to it. The car came in that period where Porsche seemed to have lost focus design-wide, going for those horrible new style of headlight on the 996, a shape that sort of trickled down to the first-gen Boxster. But then, sometime last year, something really cool happened…
…Porsche decided to reinvent the Boxster and came up with the car you see here. Now this is more like it! There’s no denying this is a superbly styled car, it’s extremely modern, functional and undeniably very Porsche-like. No matter what angle you observe it from, it just works so well and begs you to jump in and have a go. So, that is precisely what I did. I picked up the car from the Porsche HQ in Tokyo and ever since engaging first gear on the manual transmission “it” began. It’s an extremely rare occurrence, but the moment I released the clutch the Boxster just captivated me. It’s not every day that you sit in a foreign car and you instantly feel at home. In a matter of minutes I was acclimatized to its driving position, the pedal layout, the perfect location of the shifter and the way each of these things worked so well together as I smoothly shifted through the six gears. I knew this was going to be an exciting few days.
I left the stress of city traffic behind and headed south, down to a road that – thanks to all my road test you must be very familiar with – the Hakone Turnpike. Call me repetitive, but there is no finer way to judge a car than on a piece of road you are confident on, a road that you have driven countless times before in a variety of different rides. I let the Boxster slowly get up to pace, showing me what it could do as I climbed to the very top for a first batch of pictures. I’ll get to the driving side of things in a bit, but first I think the usual detailed look at some of the car’s features is in order. I’ll start with the wheels, probably the thing that impressed me the least on the car, nothing to do with their design or construction but more their size. 20-inches seems to be the norm these days but against the new-gen Boxster’s lines…
…they looked way too big, and made the brake set-up look smaller than it really was. These are actually options so there is a choice for buyers “spec-ing” up their cars. And the brakes, nothing to comment on there, the usual very up to standards set up that you find in any car from Stuttgart, meaty up front…
…and rear, a great example that paying an equal amount of attention to the stoppers as you do to handling and power is very much something to do and maybe a detail some manufacturers out there should take notice of.
The car does seem to sit quite high on its suspension but that’s probably more due to the 20-inch wheels than anything else.
Where Porsche really cleaned up the design compared to the first generation of the car has to be the rear. Those taillights which merge into the little lip spoiler are one of the best details of the car, giving it an almost supercar-like look.
Just like on the 911 there is a little retractable spoiler that pops out at speed to avoid lift that always occurs on cars having such a rounded rear end. The spoiler can also be lifted by pressing a button on the center console.
Fortunately Porsche provided me with the S version of the car, which has the more powerful 315 HP 3.4L version of the engine (the base models comes with the 265 HP 2.7L)…
…a very good thing because it led me to have one of the most memorable driving experiences I’ve ever had on these roads. While the 991 I drove months earlier probably had marginally more pace due to the extra power, what it didn’t have was the Boxster’s amazing ability to feel so natural and adjustable through the corners due to both its mid-engine layout and of course its lighter weight.
The steering is perfectly weighted and communicative allowing you to place the car precisely as you set up for corners. The 315 horses the flat-six develops feel far more explosive than what the number may suggest on paper, due in part to its responsiveness at any rpm as well as impressive reserves of torque.
Then there is the gearbox. Awesome. Simply perfect. I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure to rifle-bolt through such a nice feeling transmission, the gear ratios may have seemed a tad too long on some of the tighter stuff, but aside from that it was sublime as was the perfectly weighted clutch. Add to this the aforementioned pedal positioning and you are on a constant hunt for the perfect heel and toe downshift as you make the car dance underneath you on that smooth Japanese tarmac. I drove the car with the stability and traction controls completely off, there is so much mechanical grip and optimal weight distribution that it moves around so predictively, you begin to anticipate its yaw and pitch right before you thrown into a corner or get hard on the brakes. With the car on the Sport + setting the suspension too shined as yet another integral part of this cohesive package, allowing you to go about your business of carving through corners, providing excellent damping, enough to maximize the grip of the Pirelli rubber but supple enough to glide over imperfections.
While the Boxster S was fast and satisfying to drive through the faster turns of the Turnpike, it was on a tight little touge where it felt really at home. After going up and down the mountain countless times I had to pull over and grab some time to take in what my senses had just been subjected to.
It was a good time to take a closer look at the interior too…
…which on the test car was upholstered in blood red. I’ll admit it may not be for everyone out there, but color aside the Boxster’s cabin is a rather pleasant place to do your driving from.
Porsche caters to drives like no other manufacturer and the equipment and layout of its interiors is testament to this. There is an underlying sense of simplicity about pretty much everthing, from the clean no-fuss instrumentation…
…to the design and shape of the steering wheel (yes, yes, I know, it’s very red).
It’s much the same on the center console, all the commands are cleanly laid out on the raked transmission tunnel…
…the same place you find the shifter to the 6-speed gearbox. PDK? No thank you! Shift speed isn’t everything!
I found the seats to be a good compromise between comfort and supportiveness, sufficiently bolstered to hug you through the twisty roads I was on.
And another thing I haven’t touched on yet is the soft top. Much like the rest of the Boxster it’s a no-fuss detail, it’s there, it’s simple, it opens and closes very quickly and does its job. I left it down and forgot about it during most of the time I had the car.
Positioning the engine in the middle of a chassis does have other benefits on top of beautifully neutral handling of course, one of them being storage. The Boxster has a nice capable trunk up front (frunk?)…
…and a decent one at the back too. The engine is somewhere behind all that carpeting.
Biggest surprise of the day for me however was this black R35 GT-R. I went up to Hakone with a friend of mine, who joined me with his project car, a then 600 HP (it has a lot more now) beast he has been refining over the years. We all know how fast the san-go is in pretty much any road or condition, but the Boxster S was right up its tail most of the time. Sure the 600 HP meant that he left me for dead on the straights, but when those corners came up I reeled him in. A seasoned and experienced driver himself, he was also blown at the car’s unshakeable pace.
Everything works with such beautiful harmony on the Boxster S – it might be spoiled by adding more power, or by a more aggressively tuned suspension. As it stands it’s all so perfectly balanced it really forces you to ask the question, “do I need more than a car like this?”
The answer is no, of course you don’t. Why would you? Here is a car that rewards its driver in a way that very few modern cars can, a car that you can use every day – rain or shine, a car that on the right sort of roads can keep up with supercars boasting twice its power and to top it all off…
…it has definitely shaken off the stigma that plagued the first-gen model.
As I sat there watching the sunset over Mt. Fuji, after an amazing day of driving it became very obvious that Porsche are on to a real winner here. If you don’t like convertibles, there is always the Cayman of course…which kind of gives me another idea now…
-Dino Dalle Carbonare
Wait... is it really surprising that the new Boxster S is faster than a GT-R around corners? Mid-engined and much lighter, the only advantage the AWD has is in corner exit.
There's a reason Porsche as long been a benchmark to reach for with Nissan over the years with their Z cars. The Cayman S and the 370Z being the most recent...
Hideous red interior but I'd totally have one w/ a black interior! I almost rented a 13 Boxster out in Socal and now I wish I had.
You do realise they made a second generation car in between the tear drop 986 (996 look-a-like) and this current 981 car?
@speedhunters_dino @Tom Mather 987 Boxster is hardly a "facelift" from 986?!? With similar logic 991 is facelift from 997. And this is 3rd gen Boxster so it's lonh shot to compare 1st gen tail to this.
Very nice car. It sure as $#!t isn't a poor man's anything; the Boxster S's I saw at the dealer were all around the $80k+ mark, and that was without many options other than PDK.
Have Porsche made this boxter feel like its still at the bottom of the Porsche list ? Poor mans Porsche if you know what I mean?
Curlytop Well it might always be viewed like that by snobs, I'll admit to having generalized it into that category at times (the older car), but if they do it's just because they haven't driven it because it felt just as much fun, if not a little bit more, than the base Carrera I drove...
Regarding the brakes - it's not how many pistons a caliper has, it's how much pad surface area makes contact with the disc.
Boxster S 60-0mph = 103 feet
BMW M6 60-0mph = 108 feet
Not that much difference considering the M6 weighs so much more and brakes that don't look as good. Maybe it's partly an optical illusion due to the M6 discs being so massive compared to the calipers, whereas the Boxster has tiny discs in comparison.
It's also the cooling, but yes. The problem is not one-off stopping distance, but repeatability. The Boxster sounds like it will stop with much more consistency than the M6. All M cars of recent years have stopped OK once or twice. It's repeated stops where they have failed. And frankly, if you can't be confident a car will stop before each corner, what's the point of owning something sporty?
P1 Race Photography Most of the M series brake overheating problems seem to have been down to the fluid they used from the factory and not the calipers/discs. Logically the Boxster will have far more chance of overheating the calipers and discs as the rotor is so much smaller than that of the BMW's, it would have nowhere near the same heat capacity or surface cooling.
Sticking more to the topic of the article - is it just me or does Porsche have some of the worst possible interior options? That interior is hideous! Red, blue, yellow - just do the sensible thing and stick with black!
P1 Race Photography You will find that any modern day performance car will pull 100-110 ft in the 60-0 mph time. But it's repeatability I was questioning on the M6 feature, or fade. I know very well that pad surface is a big factor in bake performance& fade resistance, as is the dot rating of fluid, but obviously not as important as weight. If I would have driven the M6 at the same pace as the Boxster that day I would have wrapped its pretty body around a tree while the Boxster kept on going for the rest of the day. The Boxster's brakes did fade a little at the very bottom of the tight stretch of road but I'll give it that because of the abuse I put it through before hand and the fact that it safely got me down the mountain, to the end of the road without the need to slow my pace.
i like the new boxster a lot, but nothing porsche does will make me forgive them for not living up to the original concept. god that car was perfect
also i like the 996. except for the CTR yellowbird, the 996 gave me my most favourite 911. i like how people either mock porsche for never changing (clarkson) or they complain about what they do change (people who hate 996)
Dino, you mention suspension feel - is this the car with the trick suspension or just the standard issue?
TOUUUGE! (old japanese man deep voice).
Glad the Boxster is no longer a car for ladies and lady boys! And only 2910 lbs! Might actually be fun to chase this Boxster in the S2000 :D
Is the shifter throw actually nicer than the S2000?