The 2013 Porsche Boxster, revamped nose to tail, doesn't quite have the "I-can-stand-in-a-bar-and-say-I-have-a-Porsche" weight of the pricier and bigger 911. It's better than that.
If you own a Boxster, you own a deliciously authentic mid-engined roadster. Not a grand touring car. Not a sports car. Not a sporty car. Not a poseur's showy ride. No, a Boxster is a real roadster – a serious open-top two-seater, a car more about sunshine-above, wind-in-your-face, engine-howling-in-your-ears, seat-of-the-pants driving than any other type of automobile.
Of course, a Porsche is a status symbol, too. The $56,500 base price speaks to that and so, too, does the brand's heritage. But there are plenty of other $50,000-plus rolling status symbols with a nice back story and grainy pictures of the founding fathers. Buy one if you're merely a show-off.
Driving and, of course, owning a Boxster, though, is all about living in the moment, in the real world. Piloted as it should be, top down, the Boxster is a bundle of comfort compromises – you're in the elements, the seats are firm, and with the engine amidships, just back of your ears, there's a cockpit limit to how much you can recline the seatback and stretch out your legs.
Sadly, there seems to be a shrinking number of people who want to cast aside their comforts, turn off their mobiles and take to the pavement for the joys and freedoms of driving. Actually driving, not networking or chatting or texting or surfing or Tweeting or Facebooking.
You might be shocked to learn how few buy into this experience: Boxster and Cayman deliveries are forecast to total 16,700 this year. That's roughly half the sales of the revamped 911, according to researcher IHS.
The 2013 Boxster may make the smallest tangible contribution to Porsche's brilliant business plan, but that in no way diminishes the car itself. Indeed, it is a great driving toy while also being an engineering and styling success. Porsche has managed to improve performance, boost fuel economy and reinvent styling that looks modern while also leaning on classic Porsches like the 550 Spyder and the 718 RS 60 Spyder from the 1950s.
The hardship for me was spending only a few hours guiding a total of two versions of the Boxster S (manual and automatic) through the narrow and endlessly twisting mountain roads behind this Mediterranean coastal city in the south of France. There's a deliciousness to this sort of total engagement of the senses, the mind and the body. This is active meditation. To drive fast on tricky roads in a powerful and responsive car requires a mind-clearing focus that is relaxing and exhausting at the same time.
The 2013 car looks the part of a Porsche sports car, of course – from its the uninterrupted slant-back design to the latest signature design feature introduced in the new 911: a subtle dual character line across the car's rear haunches. Enjoy the tail treatment. Meantime, in profile the overall shape and pronounced side vents harken back to Porsche's vaunted Carrera GT.
The cognoscenti will now and forever refer to the 2013 Boxster and Boxster S by the company's internal nomenclature, so let's get that out of the way: this one is the type 981, while the first-generation Boxster, introduced in 1996, was the 986; the second-generation version of 2005 was the 987. The regressive numbering tactic? No one at Porsche has a good answer, though we can confuse you more by noting the new 911, which followed the 997, is called the 991.
For power, the Boxster S gets the direct-injection, 3.4-litre, H-6 shared with far pricier base 911. Detuned for Boxster duty, it produces 315 horsepower, an increase of five horsepower. Porsche says the 0-100 km/h times comes in at less than 5 seconds.
The base model makes do with a 2.7-litre H-6 that produces 265 horsepower, an improvement of 10 over its predecessor. With the PDK gearbox, Porsche still expects a 5.8-second 0-100 km/h time.
The new Boxster is slightly larger but also lighter than the old. The weight loss – take note of the new aluminum body – and all sorts of other smart engineering have resulted in a welcome 15 per cent improvement in fuel economy. So the Boxster has lost weight while rivals such as the Audi TTS, Z4 and SLK have been reengineered with a weight gain. Performance? The standard Boxster is as fast as a comparable Z4 (5.9 seconds for 0-100 km/h) and is faster than the SLK 250 (6.5 seconds).
Raw numbers don't say how captivating it is to drive this Boxster. The blend of track-capable handling and everyday comfort is brilliant. The steering is perfectly weighted, the brakes are muscular yet easy to modulate, the cornering is flat and all the responses are predictable.
That said, Porsche is realistic about creature comforts. New sound-deadening material has cut noise levels dramatically with the top up. But as much as possible you'll want to drop the totally automated fabric roof, which you can do in a handful of seconds while moving at up to 50 km/h.
In the cockpit, everything has changed based on design cues taken from the 911, which of course shares many parts with the Boxster. Yes, the ignition remains to the left of the steering wheel and the three-dial instrument cluster has been retained. But the material quality is far better and so are the ergonomics.
For me, well, the standard six-speed manual is the transmission to have, rather than the optional seven-speed double-clutch PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung) gearbox. The unchanged manual gearbox is direct and buttery and thoroughly engaging. The automatic, with awkward rocker switches on the steering wheel for remote shifting, is what you want only if you do a lot of stop-and-go-driving.
Try not to. Get up early and find empty, open roads with curves and contours. Afterwards go ahead and feel free to stand in that bar and talk about driving a fast roadster, not brag about a brand label.
2013 Porsche Boxster and Boxster S
Base Price: $56,500 for Boxster and $69,500 for Boxster S (freight $1,085)
Engine: 2.7-litre six-cylinder and 3.4-litre six-cylinder (both horizontally opposed)
Horsepower/torque: 265 hp/207 lb-ft for Boxster; 315 hp/266 lb-ft for Boxster S
Transmission: Six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.4 city/6.3 highway for Boxster and 12.2 city/6.9 highway fopr Boxster S; premium gas
Alternatives: BMW Z4, Audi TT, Mercedes-Benz SLK
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Correction: An earlier online version of this story contained inaccurate figures for the speeds of the BMW Z4 and the Mercedes-Benz SLK. This has been amended