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Story and photos by Laurance Yap
Porsche’s not a company particularly interested in revolution. Look back through its history and instead what you see is a desire for continuous improvement, of incremental changes made here and there that, after the course of a number of years, add up to totally new cars. The 911 is the same car that it was over forty years ago, but is also entirely different.
But because it is an increasingly market-driven company, Porsche has had to adapt its development cycle a bit in order to look like it’s keeping up with the competition. The 997-version 911 was launched less than a decade after the 996, which was the first real revolutionary design in the car’s history. Should we have been surprised, then, that it wasn’t so much a new car as a package of very carefully chosen tweaks that retained the essence of the old model while simultaneously giving us something almost (save for the roof panel) almost completely changed?
With Boxster sales having taken a serious hit in the last couple of years – after all, the roadster market is the most fickle and fashion-conscious of all, with the latest models almost inevitably being the biggest sellers – Porsche had to respond. But it did so in its own evolutionary way. The basic design and engineering principles behind the previous (986) generation Boxster are all there, as is its overall look and feel, but the car, like the new 911, is almost completely different.
In Porsche’s fashion, only the very attentive will notice that this is a new car, but take a close look and it is a much more cohesive design than before. The triangular headlights are reminiscent of the Carrera GT’s, while the front bumper, with its big air intakes and integrated turn signals, is much more aggressive (I’d love to see it on the 911, but part of Porsche’s plan is to further distinguish the two models visually). At the front and back, the shutlines have been moved away from inset pieces like lights and hood openings, not only for a cleaner look but to show off the improved build quality. Tolerances for fit and finish are significantly improved.
Like the new 911, the most visible changes are inside, where the interior is now a lot better built and of a much cleaner design. So clean, in fact, that it looks almost spartan – check out a picture of a Chevy Optra5 if you don’t believe me. Though the look is less distinctive, the interior is more roomy and more practical, with increased oddments storage and a re-profiled convertible top that imparts more headroom. The side glass is bigger, the rear screen is heated and easier to see out of, and the mirrors provide a better view out.
Slotted into the same basic architecture that defines the 911 dashboard are some distinctively Boxster features: a quartet of round air vents with tapered trim panels; a three-rings instrument cluster that is housed under a cowling that allows daylight to play around its edges; and a different console that houses simpler controls than the 911’s standard Porsche Communication Management system (though it’s available as an option).
As ever, there’s a broad range of options available, as well, including four different kinds of seats – one of them adjusts its bolsters automatically as you corner – and a number of interior trim packages, from full leather to carbon-fibre. Most interesting is the Sport Chrono package, which includes a dash-top lap timer linked to the ability to analyze your performance on a screen in the dashboard. It also includes a button to sharpen up the throttle response and elevate the threshold for the stability control system’s intervention.
The lightly-revised exterior and revamped interior cloak a thoroughly revised platform that drives even better than it did, which is saying something. More power and torque are a given, but more impressive is the availability of a number of options that bring the smoother-riding, and objectively, better-handling Boxster, even closer to the 911 in terms of speed and technology. For the first time, there’s a six-speed available on the base 2.7, and both the Boxster and the S are now available with 19-inch tires, revised stability management, variable-ratio steering, and ceramic composite brakes.
What emerges is a car that’s even better to drive than before – and the first-generation Boxster was already one of the sweetest cars on the road. Thanks to improvements to the electronics and exhaust systems, the base ($62,400) 2.7-litre engine now produces 240 horsepower (up from 227), and the 3.2-litre Boxster S ($75,600) produces 280 (up from 260). To be honest, the new cars don’t feel that much more powerful than their predecessors, which were already mightily fast. What impresses instead is the improved throttle response, especially with the Sport Chrono pack fitted, as well as the even more vocal engine note, which has always been the Boxster’s signature. It builds from a delicious low-rev woofle to a hard-edged wail as it rips up to its redline. With the (enlarged) left-side air intake feeding the engine just behind the driver’s shoulder, you’re never far away from the tingly aural sensations of the new engines.
Thanks to bigger standard tires – 17s on the base Boxster and 18s on the S – the new car has even more grip than before, and its smooth ride doesn’t seem to have suffered as a consequence. Stability in corners is simply amazing, and you can take liberties with the car that you couldn’t, say, in a 911 – the Boxster’s chassis communicates like few others, and you always feel in total control. One new item that does take getting used to is the new, and optional, variable-ratio steering, which gets increasingly fast and direct the further you turn it. This means that it’s very stable when cruising at high speed, and very responsive in tight corners, but the first five minutes with the system are a little disconcerting, particularly since the old Boxster’s conventional steering was pretty much perfect already. What the new steering rack hasn’t done is dull the level of communication and sensitivity you get from the new, three-spoke steering wheel.
Whether all of these detail changes are enough to shoot the Boxster back to the top of the class which it once used to dominate does remain to be seen. From a technical standpoint, it’s a thoroughly new car, and one that in every way is better than its predecessor. But, though it does look better and more modern than the car it replaces – save for the oversize side air intakes, which aren’t nearly as elegant – is it different enough to get noticed?
Because it certainly deserves to be.