2008 Porsche Boxster S
2008 Porsche Boxster S. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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2008 Porsche Boxster

Ottawa, Ontario – Time flies when you write about cars for a living. Has it been 10 years since my son and I drove from Ottawa to Victoria and back in an Arctic Silver Porsche Boxster? What a trip that was, but it just doesn’t feel like an entire decade has passed since Boxsters were brand new and I was behind the wheel of one for the first time.

Yes, I got a speeding ticket on that trip, and certainly there were times that I deserved one; just not when I was actually pulled over. Manitoba was the location, west of Winnipeg on the Trans-Canada Highway. Cruising between a minivan and a family sedan, I was part of an ad hoc convoy that formed for the long prairie drive. But did the minivan get stopped? Did the family sedan? Did anybody else? No, it was the Porsche that got the honours. “Two minutes for looking good,” I thought, as I stuffed the 116 km/h ticket into the map pocket.

Fast forward to summer, 2008, and fittingly I’m driving a current-model, Atlas Grey, Boxster S. It’s an anniversary, I belatedly realize, as I begin a round-trip to Niagara Falls that will put 1,200 kilometers on the car. Unlike me, the Boxster looks much the same as it did a decade ago (well, we’ve both put on a few pounds, but it doesn’t show on the Porsche), so this was a great way to reflect on the car 10-years on, and to check out the automotive scenery en route. The makings of a perfect weekend, I reckon.

2008 Porsche Boxster S
2008 Porsche Boxster S. Click image to enlarge

The early Boxsters’ 201 horsepower (defensively described at the time as “adequate” by most automotive reviewers) has bulked up to a healthy 295 hp in the ’08 Boxster S. It’s got a six-speed gearbox, 18-inch wheels, higher performance suspension and brakes, and is altogether a sharper driving experience than the ’98 car (and the current “non-S” Boxster, for that matter).

As well it should be with a base price of $70,200, although our car included the optional Sports Exhaust System at $2,940, Bose high end sound for $1,330, Bi-Xenon headlamps for $1,530 and several other goodies for a total price of $84,005 plus tax (Porsches aren’t cheap; even “entry-level” ones).

My three-day excursion mostly took me along Highway 401, which at 815 km is Ontario’s longest multi-lane highway, traversing the province from Cornwall in the east to Windsor in the west. It’s a busy road, it goes right through Toronto, and is nothing but trucks and cars and people in a hurry. It’s not what you’d call a scenic route, but there you go.

In a pointless but defiant gesture to the Manitoba Provincial Police, I set the cruise control to 116 km/h, a moderate pace on this highway, believe me, as traffic on the 401 typically moves along well beyond the official 100 km/h limit. I figured I’d be okay, ticket-wise, certainly not blasting by everyone like the proverbial prick in a Porsche.

Little did I expect that when I merged onto the highway I’d be passed by just about everything on two, four or multiple wheels. Maybe it was the fine weather, the time of year, the alignment of the planets, but everyone was driving like stink. I’d estimate the general traffic flow at 130 km/h (which is the reasonable highway speed limit in countries like Spain, come to think of it).

But on this trip the passenger seat was empty, so lacking conversation I amused myself with a game of, “Name That Car,” as automotive journalists typically do. I’d see a vehicle approaching in the rearview mirror and try to identify it before I was passed.

Here comes a “cab forward” Chrysler, I guessed. Yes, I was right, confirming the Concorde’s identity as it floated by. Okay: one-for-one.

Approaching fast was a mid-nineties Mercedes of some type; silver, as you’d expect, with the traditional meshed grille and hood ornament. This one was tough to call because even though writing about cars is my full-time job, I still have trouble identifying Mercedes models at a glance.

Turned out it was an E320 Cabriolet with its convertible top down, likely quite a rare car, and occupied by an elderly couple on the move. In the driver’s seat, he was obviously loving his Benz and living for the moment as he flew down the 401 at something over 140 with his black baseball cap pulled down tight; she was apparently not so thrilled, busy trying to at least control her hair. They passed me in a blur.

2008 Porsche Boxster S
2008 Porsche Boxster S. Click image to enlarge

It went on like this: a guy in an ’09 Maxima (easy to identify with its new front end); a recent Mustang GT (has a different fascia compared with the V6); a Mazda 626 (a later one, with the chrome moustache over its grille); an early Chevy Cobalt (with ABS, it said on the trunk); a current generation Honda Civic (looking very “cab forward,” I thought); a Camry Hybrid at warp speed; a first generation Mazda Miata with a suspicious V8 rumble; a procession of vintage men on their Harley-Davidsons.

Enough. I pulled into a Tim Hortons for some carbohydrates and caffeine, parked and wondered if after 10 years a Boxster would still attract attention.

Well, yes it would. I remember those glances from a decade ago: the look over the shoulder, the eyes following the p-car’s lithe contours, the appreciative nod. How about that? It’s still got it.

The Boxster even held its own against a jet black Ferrari that was parked right up front. And it was a real Testarossa, too, not one of those Fiero kits you see at cruise nights.

Back on the highway I accelerated almost instantly to my self-imposed 116 km/h ceiling and proceeded to get my clock cleaned yet again by the average motoring public. It’s not really a big deal, believe me. I’m in a Boxster S, for crying out loud; I can squeeze the gas pedal whenever I want, and I’m gone! But I did pick up speed occasionally, for passing purposes…

Around Napanee something loomed in the mirror that had me stumped. An R-Class Benz, was it? A Cadillac, maybe? But it seemed strangely tall for a Cadillac, I thought. Yes, it was a… oh, you’ve got to be kidding… it was a Cadillac DeVille hearse! I was being passed by a hearse! Now that’s not right.

Aside from hot-rod hearses, Napanee’s claim to fame is Canadian punk-chanteuse Avril Lavigne. She doesn’t have much nice to say about Napanee and its inhabitants, if I recall, eagerly leaving small-town life on the shores of Lake Ontario for the lure of California and the Pacific Ocean (a no brainer, I suppose). Wonder if she’s ever done a concert here… I’ll bet the locals would be thrilled. Probably not.

A few kilometers on, I encountered something even more unusual than the hearsemobile — it was a vehicle going more slowly than me (okay, there were others, but this was extreme).

Green, metallic, square, it was clearly a newer Honda Element (no grey plastic cladding) and I had to hit the brakes to avoid shunting it into the next county. Unbelievable, I thought, impeding traffic like this. Where are the police when you need them?

2008 Porsche Boxster S
2008 Porsche Boxster S. Click image to enlarge

Curious, I matched speed with the Element to see how slowly it was going, and determined it was travelling at 100 km/h. Not one over; not one less. The woman driving it, apparently a septuagenarian with a stubborn streak (and you can bet not the demographic Honda intended for this vehicle), had set the cruise to precisely match the speed limit, thus obeying the law of the land and setting an example for others to (literally) follow.

Man, that’s slow. A hundred is like, crawling, on the 401. People were swerving into the passing lane, trucks were hitting their Jake brakes; it was an accident waiting to happen. I got the hell out of there, but had to reflect on the 100 km/h speed limit, its inconsistent enforcement, and the real-world driving experience on the 401. None of it seemed to make much sense.

Down the road, traffic was slowing again. An accident? No, something else; something difficult to immediately figure out. The silver Mercedes I’d seen earlier was on the shoulder with its emergency lights flashing. The driver had actually left the car, survived crossing the highway, and was between the east-west lanes rooting maniacally thorough the bulrushes and tall grass. I drove by as he emerged triumphant, dragging a large chunk of his Mercedes that had apparently flown off. This was close to surreal. Was it the boot for the convertible top? Could be. It must have been worth a lot to him, because crossing the 401 on foot is a great way to hitch a ride in a Napanee Cadillac.

Between Belleville and Port Hope, people were again driving like Spaniards, and it was there that the Porsche radio acquired an identity crisis. First I was listening to 91X out of Belleville, but then MY FM rudely butted it right off the dial. I mean, Arcade Fire becomes Barry Manilow; it was a nightmare. After that, the radio capriciously switched between MY FM and THE FOX (newer radios display station names, if you didn’t know). Then STAR joined the rotation, and I was listening to three songs at once, as every few seconds the station would change.

This is very odd, you know, for a couple of reasons. First, my clever digital sound system was outsmarting itself by grabbing the strongest signals and serving them up in sequence. Having not read the manual, I didn’t know how to stop this, and at 116 km/h you don’t want to be staring at the centre stack. And the Boxster steering wheel doesn’t have remote radio controls.

2008 Porsche Boxster S
2008 Porsche Boxster S. Click image to enlarge

Second, and here’s the thing, why do all these stations have names? You’ve got, MY FM, YOUR FM, MORE FM, THE FOX, THE HAWK, THE BEAR, THE MOOSE, and I know THE WOLF is howling somewhere around Peterborough. It’s a zoo out there in FM-radioland, but I’m darned if I know what frequency any of these stations use. Where is THE WOLF if you actually want to find it? Beats me.

Well, that’s my radio rant. Approaching Toronto, everyone picks up even more speed. Why? My brother the psychologist tells me that when humans interact in close proximity, they get more competitive. Therefore, when traffic gets dense, people get moving.

In my experience, this seems to be true. I know 140 km/h when I see it, and as the highway widened to three then four and five lanes, some vehicles were clearly travelling at that pace, at least in short bursts. And I’m not talking performance machinery like a Porsche or street racing youths in supercharged Civics; I’m talking minivans with “Baby on Board” signs in the back window, pickup trucks with trailers, family sedans, an old Accord running on a space-saver spare, a rusty Geo Tracker, Outbacks, Explorers, a monster Jeep on giant wheels. I even saw one of those repair trucks with numerous panes of glass attached to each side just blasting down the middle of the highway. Coming through!

Personally, I try to keep lots of space between me and everything else in situations like these (a good rule of thumb whenever you’re driving), but there is a kind of “Yee-Ha!” mentality that can take over when you’re all doing the same thing at the same time in the same place. It’s the herd mentality, I suppose, stampeding in this case.

Then, for about the next two hours as you go through Toronto, everything stops. Just like that. Pace is trumped by sheer volume. Too many cars; not enough lanes, frustrated drivers trying this lane then that (this is apparently pointless), and we all crawl miserably to our destinations.

2008 Porsche Boxster S
2008 Porsche Boxster S. Click image to enlarge

This is where the interior of a vehicle becomes so important. Exterior styling, power, handling, none of it matters when you’re stuck in traffic gridlock. You just want to be comfortable, and the only thing that was preventing that was the clutch of the Boxster S, which seemed to be getting progressively stiffer. The word “Tiptronic” fleetingly came to mind, but the word “wimp” came right after, so let’s just not go there.

I spent a pleasant day in Niagara sampling some of the area wines, and lunching at a so-called Tea Room in Fenwick, There I was served ridiculous sandwiches made from pink and yellow bread with the crusts cut off (the server apparently thinking I was five and wearing a dress).

The Boxster S just ate up the area’s die-straight roads and really came alive on the few curves that tie them together. Of course, it fit right into swank Niagara-on-the-Lake (Porsche drivers always get good treatment at swank places), and was an unusual but I think welcome sight at the famous Avondale dairy, where locals congregate on summer evenings for sundaes and shakes.

Because of the bugs and dust, a “touchless” car wash was in order before photographing the car and surprisingly, I found that the top leaked! Drops of water entered from both corners of the windshield, and in proper journalistic fashion, we at Autos have to mention this. I would expect, however, that an adjustment would solve the problem.

Heading up the Queen Elizabeth Way to Toronto on the return journey, I considered the power available in the Boxster and Boxster S. When you think about it, the standard Boxster has less horsepower than a V6 Honda Accord, and you can get 300 hp from a BMW 135i at half the price. The Boxster is iconic, of course, and moves like a gymnast, but there is an argument that the base car, at least, could use a bit more punch and an extra gear.

Furthermore, the 911 Carrera, which is really the Porsche flagship, makes 325 hp, and you can get into one of those for $93,200 (not much more than our as-tested Boxster S). This is where the cost/power numbers get a bit problematic, in my view. Basically, I think Porsche would like to put more power in the Boxster and Boxster S but they can’t because it would exceed the 911. If they bumped up the 911, it would crowd the GT3. Horses aren’t everything, but when Nissan puts 480 of them into a GT-R for the same money as an optioned Boxster S, well, you notice.

But as I say, it’s not the same driving experience, and we have to be clear about that. The Boxster S positively glides along the surface of the road, and with the sports exhaust it satisfyingly growls to life when you turn the key and wails when you hit the gas. And it’s a convertible, let’s not forget, which to me defines the sports car experience. Oh, and this is important, women notice Boxsters…

2008 Porsche Boxster S
2008 Porsche Boxster S. Click image to enlarge

Back on the 401, this time heading east through Toronto, traffic was unusually light for a Sunday morning. The pace was exhilarating, as if everyone had been given permission to let it rip. I gave up on the 116 km/h business.

The usual suspects were hurtling along, but I spied a true exotic in the fast lane ahead. Low, very low indeed, with obvious Italian flair, it was a Lamborghini Diablo barely breaking a sweat at 130 km/h. To give you an idea of how low this car is, it’s about half the height of a Dodge Avenger, and I know this because a Dodge Avenger was following the Diablo exactly one car length behind.

Observing the Diablo as it tried to shake the Avenger, it occurred to me that Lamborghinis are actually ungainly at this speed. Bumps in the pavement push this car around, making it jump inelegantly this way and that. Diablos do not possess what you’d call a compliant suspension. They look great standing still, and I suspect they’d be an awesome sight at 300 km/h, but these cars don’t look good doing a slow dance.

Eventually the Lambo’ tired of this game, downshifted and disappeared, leaving the Avenger looking lost and confused until it decided to fall back and bond with my Boxster S. We picked up an older Hyundai Accent with tinted windows and a wing, and proceeded to pass a Maserati Quattroporte, an M-Roadster making like the above-mentioned green Element (recently ticketed?), a new Malibu, a battle-scarred Crown Vic, and of all things, a black, tricked-out, Ford Capri (yes, the sexy European!). That’s Toronto for you: multiculturalism, automobile-style.

After a while, everyone peeled away as if on cue, and I was for a brief, extraordinary time left alone on the highway, cruising in the middle of its five empty lanes to the purposeful hum of the Boxster S engine behind the seat, and the surprising fidelity of its Bose audio system, cranked up. The sky was deep blue, with fat, white Ontario clouds casting shadows here and there, and the sun flashed golden off the glass-clad buildings lining the road. Driving with the top down, the air was fresh and my view panoramic.

On the radio, Gregory Charles selected Radiohead’s Dollars and Cents, a dreamy, percussive, pulsating, piece that synchronized itself into my experience of the car, the pace, the time and the place.

It was 11:40 a.m., Sunday August 24, 2008. Yes, a decade had passed, but the driver’s seat of a Porsche Boxster was still a fine place to be.

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