We fell in love when we first drove Porsche's Boxster a few years ago. We called it a sweetheart. Well, now we've found another lover: the Boxster S.
It isn't just the powerful new engine, though it sounds great and leaves the standard Boxster in the dust. And it isn't just the S model's bright red brake calipers, easily seen through the elegant spokes of its specially designed wheels. We love the Boxster S because it does everything better than the Boxster while maintaining what made the original model wonderful. Like the original, the Boxster S presents a classic sports car visage that reminds us of post-war Porsche Speedsters. Yet it rides better, sounds better, handles better and is substantially faster than the Boxster. We're talking night and day here. More important, it is arguably the most enjoyable sports car in this category.
Fortunately, there's good news for those who cannot justify the extra $8,500 for the Boxster S. Porsche has revised the interior of the standard Boxster for 2000 - a source of disappointment in the 1998-99 Boxsters. Gone are the cheap plastic bits, replaced by high-quality trim. A new headliner presents a more attractive appearance and reduces noise when the top is up. We think everyone should have a Boxster in the driveway.
Our Boxster S splashed through near hurricane conditions, but felt safe and secure as we pushed slowly through dense fog along the ridgeline of Virginia's Skyline Drive. With visibility reduced to 50 feet, we plodded comfortably along at 30-35 mph. On the far side of the mountains, we picked our way through traffic and flew west toward Summit Point Raceway near Charles Town, West Virginia.
This exercise highlighted the Boxster's impressive grip in the wet. At first, I was tentative on West Virginia's narrow roads, braking, then accelerating gently out of the tight corners to avoid wheel spin and a possible spin. Gradually I grew confident of the excellent brakes and surprisingly good grip. Then I became aware of how well the traction control worked and discovered it's difficult to make a mistake in this car. You can apply the throttle aggressively in a slippery turn and the traction control will prevent a spin. (Of course, you can still push off the end of the turn, but common sense should prevent this.) Picking our way through traffic in the rain, we seemed to be in another class altogether. More than a machine, this car became an extension of my being. A few laps on a flooded racetrack confirmed that the Boxster is one sure-footed sports car.
As much as we liked the original Boxster, the S offers a significantly better driving experience in every area. First of all, it's got a lot more power, but it also revs much more freely. Where the Boxster feels strained, the S feels robust. The Boxster's belt whine at low rpm does not seem present in the Boxster S. Both engines sound wonderful at high rpm, generating a classic Porsche sound similar to that of the 911 and Porsche race cars. The Boxster S develops 85 percent of its peak torque at just 2000 rpm, providing outstanding throttle response. While Porsche claims the Boxster will dash from 0 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, the Boxster S performs this same feat in just 5.7 seconds. Top speed is estimated to 155 mph in the Boxster.
But the real fun here is this car's precise response to driver commands. Mid-engine balance, an excellent chassis, and firm suspension tuning add up to a level of agility and stability that seems a cut above the Boxster's key competitors. There's not a hint of wrestling to guide this agile newcomer down to the apex of a fast turn. It seems to anticipate the driver's intentions without a hint of hesitation or uncertainty. The ride quality is firm, but that adds to its appeal.
There's no question the Boxsters have plenty of competition: Mercedes-Benz SLK, BMW Z3, Honda S2000, Chevrolet Corvette, Audi's upcoming TT roadster, but the Porsche is arguably the best of these in pure sports car terms.
The Porsche Boxster is an almost flawless sports car. It looks great and it sounds great. It provides a wonderful driving experience. And it has its own persona.
The price differential is large, but with its superior dynamic capabilities and general improved feel, the Boxster S is a big step up from the standard version. In short, the Porsche Boxster S is just a fantastic sports car by every measure.