by Haney Louka
photos by Laurance Yap
Serious Performance for a Fair Price
While the 2002 Porsche Boxster may be the “cheapest” of the products from Zuffenhausen, it’s evident after just a few minutes behind the wheel that this is one serious performer.
Above all else, Porsche’s designers’ highest priority is performance, whether it’s the top dog 911 GT2 or the entry level Boxster.
Case in point: my Boxster test vehicle. Most passengers noted how spartan the interior of the Boxster is compared to other vehicles in its class (the Audi TT and Mercedes-Benz SLK spring to mind) and how it isn’t what they expected given the classy exterior styling and Porsche’s reputation as a premier sports car producer.
But when the g-forces entered the scene, all else faded from their minds as they enjoyed open-air performance at its finest (I’m of course referring to the car and not my driving).
My tester was equipped with metallic paint ($1,140), Sport Package ($2,970), heated front seats ($550), 17-inch wheels ($1,690), and Porsche Stability Management (PSM, $1,690) for a total as-tested price of $68,540.
The Boxster, introduced for the 1997 model year, was instantly accepted by the public and critics alike as a genuine Porsche at a bargain price. Starting with the styling, this Boxster has been penned in such a way that it will look fresh and distinctive far into the future. That’s part of its appeal, and something that was missing in entry-level Porsches of the past.
Inside, the look is best described as spartan but functional. The mood is black with very few accents to set it off. The door handles are silver, but that pretty much sums it up for flashy features. Instead, the driver is treated to a thoroughly intuitive driving environment that eschews gimmicks in favour of functionality.
The instrument panel, for example, presents the driver with a large round tachometer (complete with 7,250 rpm redline) front-and-centre, forming what looks like the pupil of a huge eye staring back at you. To its left, and set back a bit, is a speedometer that has markings labeled at 50-km/h intervals. Never fear: if you need to know what speed you are going to greater accuracy than the nearest 50, just take a quick glance at the digital speed display nested near the bottom of the speedo.
Click image to enlarge
Flanking the tach on the right is a pod that contains fuel and coolant temperature gauges to complete the basic instrumentation provided on the IP. All gauges are of the clearly marked, white-on-black with red needle variety.
The centre stack is home to the automatic climate control, which proved to be a very simple setup to operate. Above the small storage bin resides an adequate (nothing special) CD stereo, the sound of which paled in comparison to the music emanating from the flat-six between me and the rear axle (more on that later). Also of note, two cupholders that spring out of the centre stack mean that this is a truly domesticated roadster.
It’s hard to deny that form has followed function in the Boxster’s interior. The “partial leather” seats in the Boxster also proved to be supremely functional. And while it felt like the seats were custom-tailored to my backside and torso, passengers of all shapes and sizes commented on how form-fitting the Boxster’s seats felt. High praise indeed.
Few people expect a car like the Boxster to provide even a modicum of practicality for its owners. But since the Boxster’s engine sits where most cars have a back seat, there’s plenty of room for two people to make a weekend getaway. There are trunks both behind the engine and in front of the windshield that can hide a combined 9.1 cubic feet of cargo, or about as much as a Kia Rio sedan’s trunk (not that anybody asked). And since there’s no way to access the Boxster’s engine short of putting it up on a hoist, various reservoirs and dipsticks are located in the front and rear trunks.
Cargo capacity inside the passenger compartment is a different story. Since a glove box is nowhere to be found, stowage is limited to map pockets in either door and small compartments behind the driver and passenger seats.
But enough about the practical nonsense.
The Driving Experience
The 1997 Boxster was equipped with a 201-hp flat-6 engine, and took a certain degree of flak from critics due to its less than thrilling acceleration. An increase in engine size from 2.5 to 2.7 litres and a corresponding boost in output addressed that criticism in 2000.
Power output now measures 217 hp at 6,400 rpm and 192 lb-ft of torque at 4,750. What those numbers don’t tell you is how broad that torque curve is, no doubt thanks to Porsche’s “VarioCam” variable valve timing that adjusts valve overlap between 1,250 and 5,120 rpm.
Between idle and about 4,500 rpm, the flat six produces a unique sewing-machine whine that, while interesting, doesn’t hold a candle to the aural pleasure that ensues as the needle on the smile dial swings past the vertical position. When that pointer dances between the four and seven markings on the tach, driver and passenger are treated to a soundtrack that fits somewhere between a howl and a shriek; one that does not grow tiresome with repeated playback. Needless to say, the accompanying acceleration grows quite intense as that redline draws near.
Transferring power to the rear wheels is a slick 5-speed unit that is well matched to the slightly firm clutch. Throws are short and the stick glides with ease between gates. Another gear would be welcome, though. While second gear easily produces speeds in excess of 100 km/h, a six-speed with closer ratios would produce even more thrilling acceleration.
The fully independent aluminum control arm suspension and meaty rubber (205/50-17s in front and 255/40-17s in the back) allow the Boxster to negotiate corners quickly and confidently. The stick continues when powering out of corners, where the overall balance of the Boxster’s chassis inspires confidence. The direct and communicative steering keep the driver updated on road and grip conditions at all times.
When it comes time to halt the action, the Boxster’s 11.7-inch front and 11.5-inch rear vented rotors and four-piston calipers can step up to the task at a dizzying rate.
Since I drove the car on public roads only, I didn’t get a good chance to sample the PSM system. Essentially it’s a stability control system that senses yaw (the rotation of a car around a vertical axis) and compares it to a driver’s steering inputs. If the two deviate, the system is capable of applying brakes at individual wheels and retarding throttle to help restore driver control. I only experienced the PSM system stepping in while accelerating out of a tight corner. As soon as the tires became overtaxed, PSM quietly made things right while only slowing things down for an instant.
In short: the Boxster is a well-rounded and thoroughly competent roadster that excels in all aspects of performance.
So I guess this car is perfect, right? Well, not exactly.
For one, the plastic rear window always looked like it was fogged up, even immediately after cleaning it. I imagine there’s no room above the engine to store a proper glass window with a defroster, but it just seems out of sync with the rest of the car.
And while this definitely qualifies as nit picking, I can’t help but make mention of interior fit and finish. I found that the Boxster’s interior had a few creaks and rattles that are unbecoming of a near-$70K roadster. Especially one with a mere 12,000 km on the clock. For example, the driver’s door had an annoying creak that made itself heard over every bump in the pavement. And in Winnipeg, that’s pretty much all the time. Also, the rear brakes squealed when reversing slowly or under light application of pressure. My best guess is that my test vehicle, being a press car, had been flogged relentlessly for the last 12,000 km and merely needed a little TLC at the dealership.
Summing it up
The Porsche Boxster is a thoroughbred performer that is also happy to double as the daily commuter. Minor nit picks aside, the Boxster is a joy to drive day in and day out.
Competitors for the Boxster come from all over the world, each providing a different definition of what a roadster should be:
- Audi TT quattro ($59,000)
- BMW Z3 3.0 ($56,200)
- Chevrolet Corvette Convertible ($69,665)
- Honda S2000 ($48,500)
- Mercedes-Benz SLK320 ($61,050)
|2002 Porsche Boxster|
|Price as tested||$68,540|
|Type||2-door, 2-seat roadster|
|Layout||mid engine, rear wheel drive|
|Engine||horizontally-opposed flat six, four valves per cylinder, variable timing|
|Horsepower||217 @ 6,400 rpm|
|Torque||192 lb-ft @ 4,750 rpm|
|Curb weight||1,260 kg (2,778 lb)|
|Wheelbase||2,415 mm (95.2 in.)|
|Length||4,343 mm (171.0 in.)|
|Width||1,780 mm (70.1 in.)|
|Height||1,290 mm (50.8 in.)|
|Cargo volume||258 litres (9.1 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 12.2 L/100 km (23 mpg)|
|Hwy: 7.9 L/100 km (36 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|