Is the all-new Boxster actually the best car Porsche make? The Wheel Deal jetted off to Saint Tropez to find out
What is it?
Ladies and Gentlemen, say hello to the latest Porsche Boxster. Codenamed the 981 and recently launched to the world’s motoring press in Saint Tropez, this third-generation model is new from the ground up and comes loaded with a host of styling, engineering and drivetrain enhancements. From that aggressively revamped exterior right through a choice of two, extra-efficient six-cylinder boxer engines (2.7 or 3.4-litre derivatives), this evolution has catapulted Porsche’s two-seater sports car right back to the top of the roadster food chain. Better to drive than any of its rivals, the 981 is also competitively priced – undercutting the equivalent offerings from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
How does it look?
A lot better than it used to! While the previous batch of Boxster models were always a bit soft and gloopy, the 981 hits back with an edgier, more macho shape reminiscent of past Porsche masters like the Carrera GT, 908 and 718 RS60. And getting the party started is a wider, extra-menacing front end that’s home to a set of vertically stacked headlights and no less than three gaping cooling vents.
Cut your eyes across the car’s profile and you’ll also spot a pronounced shoulder line that feeds into deeper engine air intakes placed just in front of the aft wheel arches. The most defining feature of the new Boxster must surely be its chiselled rear where the spoiler and lights merge into a lovely blade-like edge that spans the entire width of the vehicle.
Some 12 kilograms lighter, the new convertible top operates in just nine seconds and at speeds of up to 50km/h. Benefitting from advanced sound deadening technology, it’s more silent too – cutting the decibels produced at 100km/h from 75 down to 71.
Interior wise the 981 mimics the rest of the Porsche range with a steeply sloped centre console rising up between the two front seats. Not only does this bring the gear lever closer to the steering wheel (advantageous during bouts of hardcore black-top hooliganism), it also culminates in a much more focussed driving position. Yep, buckle-up behind that three-spoke steering wheel and the new Boxster feels like a proper little street racer.
Equipped with sports seats the 981 also boasts more legroom (+25mm), which helps lessen the feeling of claustrophobia you might have experienced in the outgoing car. These top-notch ergonomics are complemented by a goodly amount of standard kit. Indeed, even the entry-level 2.7 Boxster gets things like a CDR sound system (linked to a seven-inch touch-screen), air-conditioning and an auxiliary-in port for your iPod.
Gripes? Well if I’m honest I still think the switchgear on the centre console is too small and finicky. It’s not the easiest, or most intuitive, to use – especially at speed.
What’s it like to drive?
Incredibly well packaged, Boxster Version 3.0 is even better to pilot in anger. Blessed with an all-new chassis design hewn from lots of gravity-cheating aluminium-steel, the 981 has both a wider track (40mm front/18mm rear) and longer wheelbase (60mm) – figures that contribute towards to what is surely the best handling roadster money can buy at the moment.
On launch I got to pilot this Porsche through a stage of the Monte Carlo Rally and was simply blown away by just how sharp and communicative it was. For unlike the comparatively muted Audi TT-RS and Mercedes-Benz SLK, the 981 is brimming with the sort of driver feedback that flows up from the asphalt and into your body and fingertips. Consequently this gives you the confidence to give 110% – no matter how gnarly the geography may become.
I was similarly impressed by the new electro-mechanical power steering. Debuted in the 991, this system reduces overall fuel economy yet retains most of the legendary ‘feel’ that Porsche vehicles have long been renowned for having. Loaded with grip and sporting 46:54 front-rear weight split, all of this made the Boxster a thoroughly intoxicating thing to drive through the many sweeping S-bends of the Cote d’Azur.
In terms of engine choice you can currently choose between the 2.7-litre found in the entry-level Boxster and a slightly ballsier 3.4-litre bolted inside the range-topping Boxster S. Both high-revving units provide a significant amount of straight-line poke and a wonderful flat-six soundtrack that’s interjected with lots of exhaust poppage when you come off the throttle.
Personally I preferred the less powerful 2.7 because you have to work it a little bit harder than its bigger brother – something that immerses one even deeper into the driving experience. Cog-swapping duties are handled by either a six-speed manual or seven-speed PDK transmission. While I’d probably take the stick shift (heel ‘n toe till I die) the auto is a no-cost option and seriously good.
But perhaps more noteworthy, even when fitted with the optional 20-inch alloy wheels, is just how well the 981 rides. Like I mentioned earlier, the extended wheelbase helps the new Boxster soak up surface imperfections better than its predecessor ever did. It’ll probably be more flustered on our South African roads but overseas on European tarmac this Porsche was hard to fault. It’s a proper all-rounder.
Any special features?
The new Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) system that – in conjunction with the rear differential lock – helps the 981 slice through corners with devastating efficiency. The first time this technology has ever been featured inside the Boxster, PTV basically improves the car’s steering behaviour by selectively braking the inside wheel upon turn in. It sounds unnecessarily gimmicky but out in the wheel world it works a treat.
Then there’s the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), which allows you to ‘tune’ your Boxster to suit real-time conditions. Select Normal Mode when you feel like taking it easy or are travelling over rougher surfaces. But press Sport and the whole car becomes instantly more aggressive, firmer and eager to race.
Should you buy one?
Yes. Pound for pound the new 2012 Porsche Boxster is the best roadster on the block. It looks fantastic, offers up a truly epic driving experience and, in standard specification, is surprisingly well priced. Factor in Porsche’s esteemed aftersales service and it becomes even more of a no-brainer. Capable of trouncing the current BMW Z4, Audi TT, Nissan 370Z and Mercedes-Benz in terms of overall driving dynamics, it now also rivals its bigger (and more expensive) stable mate – the 911.
The Facts: Porsche Boxster
Engine: 2706cc flat-six / 3436cc flat-six (Boxster S)*
Power: 195kW @ 6700rpm / 232kW @ 6700rpm*
Torque: 280Nm @ 4500rpm / 360Nm @ 4500rpm*
0-100km/h: 5.7-seconds / 4.8-seconds * (claimed)
Top speed: 262km/h / 277km/h* (claimed)
Fuel Consumption: 7.7l/100km / 8.0l/100km* (claimed combined)
CO2: 180g/km / 188g/km* (claimed combined)
Price: From R588 000 / R699 000* (available May 2012)
Dramatic new styling
Seriously good to drive
Interior switchgear still finicky