Porsche 911: 1963 & 2013
Porsche 911: 1963 & 2013. Photo courtesy Porsche.

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Porsche Canada

Review and photos by Brendan McAleer

Photo Gallery:
2013 Porsche Boxster S

This year marks fifty years of the Porsche 911, and you know what that means: plenty of internet arguing about which generation is best. Porsche PR roughly prodded the purists by releasing hi-res shots of two bookend models, a lithe original 911 2.0 coupe next to a somewhat-hulking current-gen 991. Frankly, it looks like Harry Potter chatting to Hagrid.

Well, you could practically feel the foaming spittle flecking the keyboards as battle was engaged. Look what a heffalump the 911 has ballooned into! Who needs all this four-wheel-drive trickery and driving aids? Why doesn’t Porsche make a proper small sports car anymore?

Um, duh and/or hello? It’s right here in front of you!

This is it, the Porsche Boxster, finally come into its own. No longer just the 911’s little brother, while the middle-aged icon blurs the line between grand tourer and sportscar, the Boxster (and its hardtop twin, the Cayman) is entering the prime of life.

You need only look at it to tell. The original Boxster was based around hand-me-down doors from the 996, everybody’s least-favourite 911. This gave the little roadster a somewhat wonky double-ended look, like Dr. Doolittle’s Pushmi-Pullyu.

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2013 Porsche Boxster. Click image to enlarge

With aggressively flared front air intakes, swollen rear haunches, and styling cues lifted from the mid-2000s Carrera GT supercar, the new car is much handsomer. There’s still a bit of symmetry to the side-profile, but it’s that of a balanced weapon – think Klingon Bat’leth.

But I digress; you, who have eyes, can surely see the improvement. Less stylistic pontification, more making with the driving.

First, a word about transmissions. While the Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) dual-clutch automatic has blazing-quick shifts, a near-telepathic connection to what the driver is trying to do, smooth operation in heavy traffic, and a unbelievably high Scrabble word score, it’s not really my favourite.

Instead, save your money and get the sweet-shifting six-speed manual transmission. It’s slick, it’s quick, and it lets you do your own rev-matching and heel-toe downshifting; a direct mechanical connection is integral to any properly thrilling sports car. It’s also a little bit lighter, and will be less of a looming Service Bill Of Damocles as your Boxster ages.

Don’t be lazy: the 315-hp 3.4L pancake-six in this Guards Red tester has such colossal gobs of low-end torque, you can happily lug it around town in stop-and-go traffic without wearing yourself out.

Like almost all Porsches, the Boxster works excellently as a daily driver. Unlike some of its more expensive stablemates, this “Poor-Man’s Porsche” (good grief! I only wish I was this poor) might reasonably be expected to see year-round use. In Vancouver, that means plenty of wet, slushy, drizzly, miserable days like Eyeore’s been left in charge of the weather machine. Mike Schlee similarly proved that a base Boxster is a perfectly serviceable winter ride for the GTA, even in inclement weather.

2013 Porsche Boxster
2013 Porsche Boxster
2013 Porsche Boxster. Click image to enlarge

While the options sheet on my tester showed the box checked for 20-inch Carrera-style alloys ($1,790, thank you very much), the fitted wheels were actually 19 inches – winter tires could not be found to fit the larger option. The snowies installed were Michelin Sport Alpins.

First day spent behind the wheel saw a light frosting of snow; rare enough to make the West Coast the envy of Canada, disastrous enough to make our all-season-tire-shod SUVs a national laughingstock.

Threading through a sea of terrified pachyderms, the Boxster’s mid-engined excellence showed why this car is so great Monday-to-Friday. It is as predictable as a Michael Bay movie without any of the pyrotechnic fuss: planted, composed, unruffled.

Sport Chrono is installed on this car (at a $2,110 premium), as is Porsche’s Active Stability Management (PASM, $2,050). Default setting has both throttle response and suspension damping set for maximum compliance; it’s surprising how big-car this little two-seater can feel on the open highway.

In both this and the 911, Porsche has made great strides forward in reducing in-cabin tire noise. A used previous-generation 911 might be an attractive purchasing alternative, given how easy it is to option up a Boxster (my tester hits the pocket-book for $88,495), but it’s worth noting that the newer car is a considerably more polished driving experience.

Navigation and general cockpit layout are also considerably more polished, with the exception of the button-placement for the temperature controls – these can be blocked when the shifter is in one of the odd-numbered gears.

The rightmost of the three gauge pods is an LCD display that can be toggled between various information screens, of varying degrees of usefulness. Among other things, the navigation system displays turning information, which works well when approaching oddly split interchanges.

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2013 Porsche Boxster. Click image to enlarge

The Bose audio system appears to be excellent. I say appears, because I can’t work out why on Earth you’d ever want to do anything other than put down the top and listen to that big flat-six burble away merrily behind you.

In fact, given that the rearward visibility is so bad with the fabric top up (tip: set your side mirrors a degree or so beyond being able to see the side of the car in them), most of the week was spent in top-down motoring. Why not? The three-level heated seats keep your buns so toasty they should be emblazoned with Quiznos logos.

On my last morning with the car, I wake up to find a thick pea-souper muffling Vancouver like damp cotton-wool. The Boxster agreeably bumbles along through the slow-moving weekday traffic, and I spot an exit for a local ski-hill.

2013 Porsche Boxster
2013 Porsche Boxster
2013 Porsche Boxster
2013 Porsche Boxster. Click image to enlarge

Packed on Sunday, the road is relatively deserted on such a miserably wet day, but as I climb slowly through the construction caused by West Vancouver development marching up the hillside, the mist begins to thin.

I reach down, hit the Sport button. The suspension stiffens up. The throttle responds more eagerly. In a long right-hander, I very gently feed in the power. The boxer engine builds to crescendo as the needle climbs the tach.

Grabbing a quick shift as the road straightens out, the little red rocket lunges forward like a hound after a hare. It’s quick this thing, quick enough to be visceral but not as lunatic tear-your-license-up as something like a GT-R. The road loops on in great coils, snail-tracked with asphalt repairs; to the right, I can see the fog-swathed city. Up here the air is crisp, clear and clean, blowing out the cobwebs.

Climbing past the snowline, the road dries out, and the Boxster’s trick torque-vectoring rear differential helps the car slice deeply into corner after corner. The steering… well, no car is perfect, and if other electric power-steering systems are Aspartame-laced, this one at least feels like it’s sweetened with Stevia.

No matter: if you can’t feel the road through your fingertips, you can feel it coming up through the chassis. The Boxster flicks through the last S-bends with a wriggle, and we’re up in the snow and ice. A brief attempt at a figure-skating medal with traction control off in an abandoned parking lot (no points from the French judge), and then it’s assists back on and down the hill to join the humdrum of everyday traffic.

You can certainly go faster for less money. You could certainly spend more money and get a modicum more prestige, or at least a little more practicality. But having driven this car not long after driving a similarly equipped 911 Cabriolet, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s the Boxster that’s the better experience, the better sports car, better suited to wear the prancing stallion of Stuttgart upon its nose.

If you dug up Ferdinand Porsche and asked him which modern Porsche he’d pick for the weekend, this’d probably be his choice. Mine, too.

Pricing: 2013 Porsche Boxster S
Base Price (S): $69,500
Options: $17,810 (Infotainment and BOSE audio – $4,410; Premium Pkg – $4,290; Porsche Torque Vectoring – $1,510; Carrera wheels – $1,790; PASM – $2,050; Sport Chrono – $2,110; Sport Design Steering wheel – $290; Excl. Options – $1,360)
Freight: $1,085
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $88,495

Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

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