The key sports cars of Porsche have recently been reinvented and critics are hard to find.
The mid-engined roadster, the 2013 Boxster ($56,500 base), is the most basic of Porsches, though it’s hardly a bare-bones two-seater. Meanwhile, the 2012 911 Carrera ($93,700 base) is bigger, more powerful and more fuel efficient than its predecessor and the updates have paid off, with global sales up nearly 40 per cent.
I’ve driven both of them and it will surprise no one to read that these are two very fine automobiles. Not cheap, mind you, but certainly authentic and delightful. I’ve also recently spent time in the Panamera luxury hatchback and the Cayman R, too – the latter I’ve been told is the personal favourite of Porsche CEO Matthias Müller. He told me himself.
The Boxster is what a roadster should be, a top-down pin-back-your-ears sports car with the engine just over your shoulder. In its latest iteration, Porsche has upped the performance while improving fuel economy. The styling looks modern enough, though sharp-eyed observers can see in it classic Porsches like the 550 Spyder. The driving part is what my most committed gearhead friends call “active meditation.” You are engaged but relaxed at the same time – in the moment fully. There’s yoga and then there’s driving a Boxster.
Engines: The Boxster S has a direct-injection 3.4-litre H-6 shared with the far pricier base 911: 315 horsepower and a 0-100 km/h time of less than 5 seconds. The base engine is a 2.7-litre H-6 that produces 265 horsepower: a 5.8-second 0-100 km/h time.
The new Boxster is larger, lighter and more entertaining to drive. And you can say that about the new, seventh-generation version of the 911. It is a fine car, the smart product of a savvy car company, if not a daring one.
True, the new 911 has a top speed of 289 km/h or 179 mph, says the company, and the Carrera S with PDK accelerates to 100 km/h in 4.3 seconds, 4.1 seconds with the launch control feature of the optional Sport Chrono package. The Carrera with PDK does the same sprint in 4.6 seconds, 4.4 seconds with Sport Chrono.
At 350 hp for the base model and 400 for the Carrera S, the car is more powerful and 45 kilograms lighter than its predecessor. Lighter yes, but the 911 is bordering on something closer to the size of a Grand Touring automobile, not a sports car.
The Panamera ($86,500 base) is a Grand Touring car and it is even available in a Hybrid version ($108,700). Aside from the Hybrid, the engine choices include the S with its 400-horsepower V-8, the Turbo (the 500-hp V-8 hits 100 km/h in about four seconds) and the 300-hp V-6.
Detractors say the Panamera is a crime against the brand and I’ve heard and read that in more places than anyone could count. That is wrong. Only about half of the world likes the looks here, too. But I do and I can see Porsche’s argument about the need to create a sports car experience in a spacious four-door package. Personally, I like the long hood, wide body and distinctive Porsche silhouette.
I am less thrilled with the futuristic-looking cockpit. Too many controls and readouts for ease of use and overall comfort. The leather sport seats are splendid, though and the polished alloy and wood and other dressy bits scream “luxury.”
Most important of all, the Panamera will take you into a corner in ways that allow you to brake late yet not lose control. And the seven-speed transmission automated manual gearbox shifts flawlessly. Here is one of the best-handling sports sedans in the world.
And one of the best-handling cars, period, is the 2012 Porsche Cayman R. I once mused that this one might be a better performance car than the 911 and I am not alone in this. The Cayman R ($75,600) is a brilliant a package. Weekend warriors can only love it.
This Porsche is a lightweight (1,295-kilogram), high-performance (330-horsepower) version of the Cayman S – with 55 kg stripped from the Cayman S and 10 horsepower added. Through its six-speed manual gearbox, the Cayman R will do 0-100 km/h in 5.0 seconds. The power-to-weight ratio is a tidy 3.9 kg/hp.
I don’t often set my hair on fire, but I was tempted here. The Cayman R is responsive, fast and near-flawless as a performance car. It’s a better “driver’s car” than a 911 and thousands less expensive.
Well done, even if the R seems slightly like an anachronism in the age of “green” cars.