Inside Porsche is a conflict that’s tearing it apart. On the one hand there’s the good old rear-engined 911, the sportscar icon; a car designed with enough space to fit a set of golf clubs in; a compromise. On the other are the more purist options, the Boxster and the Cayman; both middle-of-the-road, mid-engined sportscars with their engines in the right place. Logically, it’s the 911 that should be softer and more rounded, and the mid-engined cars that should be harder and faster. But no. Legacy and some mind-bending Porsche engineering have proved that the 911 can cut it with the best, less-than-perfect rear-engined weight distribution be damned. The original Carrera RS, the first 993 Turbo and the recent GT3 RS all have that touch of pure Porsche genius, and the fact that the 911 is simply a great driver’s car is almost impossible to ignore. Question is, how much better could the 911 have been if it had its engine in the right place? Exactly the debate that must be raging inside Porsche, engineers on one side, marketeers and Porsche traditionalists on the other.
Now, understandably, Porsche doesn’t want to upset the apple cart and wants steady sales of the 911 and its 20-odd derivatives. But there’s recently been a new reality emerging. The good people at Porsche are now pretty convinced that a 911 customer is very different from a Boxster buyer, and that, God bless them, is part of the reason the new Boxster has taken giant leaps forward. This, without a shadow of doubt, is by far the best Boxster yet.
Let’s take a quick tour. For a start, there’s almost nothing that’s carried over from the earlier 987. This new Boxster, or 981, is based on the all-new 911, and that means it immediately benefits from having a much stiffer and lighter chassis. There’s masses of aluminium used, the weight of the car has been pared down to a light 1350kg, the wheelbase is much longer, the stance is much wider and the new Boxster shares the Carrera’s much-talked-about electro-mechanical steering and front suspension too. So in essence, this car is three-fourths the brilliant new 911, but with the engine in the right place. Only the rear axle is carried over from the old car, but has been updated. To improve traction, Porsche has tagged Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) onto the rear wheels and the centre of gravity is marginally lower too. So here, straight up, is a huge technical advantage.
The new Boxster also looks more grown up. It no longer possesses the soft, cuddly, puppy dog-like lines of its predecessor. Look closely and you’ll see a hardness and purposefulness not seen on earlier versions. There are hints of the Carrera GT in the design, the vertically stacked elements in the headlights remind you of the legendary
917 and the lines are tighter, crisper and more muscular. This Boxster now gets bespoke doors instead of borrowing the 911’s, the rear spoiler is uniquely integrated with the tail-lights and the car can now be bought with larger 20-inch wheels for additional stability and traction.
A big surprise, as I step into the high-quality leather-lined cabin, is that the Boxster no longer feels like it is a size down on a 911. There’s the normal smattering of high-quality Porsche bits here, the large tachometer at the centre is exactly what you need for spirited driving, and the Carrera GT-style raised central console gives the cabin a cockpit-like feel. This car also has the much nicer paddleshift-equipped steering wheel which is leagues better than the flawed push-button-to-shift system, and essential when you’re driving hard. And while the plastic quality of the buttons on the centre console is strictly average and pulls down the overall ambience somewhat, the smart-looking vents with their slatted extensions look really good.
But the Boxster has always been about how it drives, rather than how it looks and feels, and with 400-odd kilometres of fantastic driving roads ahead of me, I’m keen to get going. Immediately the Boxster puts a Howrah Bridge-wide smile on my face. There’s a delicious rasp to the flat six motor that’s straight off a ’60s Porsche GT racer and you can almost picture the exhaust shooting out of the twin pipes at the back. Pull the flat six to its high 7800rpm redline and the blat from the rear gets even harder-edged. We make our way out of the sleepy town of St Tropez, and with the sun coming up, the Boxster rips past the jetty, sending a gaggle of overweight seagulls scattering. The residents of St Tropez are not impressed.
Our route today takes us through some of the best driving roads in Europe. We are headed up from the south of France in the direction of the fabled Route Napoleon, where you have corner upon corner of fast and wide tarmac. And if that isn’t quite enough, we’re also going to hook past Castellane, a famous special stage of the Monte Carlo rally. Driving nirvana awaits.
The road out of St Tropez has some light traffic and that allows the Boxster to display just how well it can cope with everyday city roads. The chassis is so stiff it feels like a proper coupé – scuttle shake is totally absent and the Porsche can be driven as easily as a Honda Civic on small throttle openings. The ride on these 20-inch rims though is stiff, especially at low speeds. And although compliance and comfort improve as you go faster, the massive rims on this car are a definite no-no for our roads; unless you want to change tyres every month, that is.
Further up, small-town clutter gives way to rolling countryside, and we power the roof down. It flips in a Porsche-quick nine seconds, allowing the Boxster to deliver an open-top experience and a louder soundtrack. There’s no one to complain out here in the wilds, so I let it rip, and it’s then that the new Boxster’s real character comes charging through. For a start, this updated direct-injection flat six is just a peach. Now using a higher compression, a cleaner dual intake, more aggressive valve timing and a higher overall engine speed, it feels like an engine that’s been tuned for the track. It’s nice, progressive and very responsive in the beginning, and it’s fun even when you clip progress with a quick pull on the right paddle. But it’s in the midrange, past 4000rpm, that the Boxster S really begins to come alive. There’s much more torque, there’s huge enthusiasm to spin, and you can almost feel the variable valve timing change step as you cross 4500rpm. Keep your foot in and the snarling flat six sitting on the floor behind you explodes to the redline with startling enthusiasm as you power up and down the fantastic updated PDK twin-clutch gearbox. And it feels really quick too.
The Boxster S is light and so its 311bhp goes a long way. It has a power-to-weight ratio of 230bhp per tonne as compared to a stock 911’s 246bhp per tonne, and the really enthusiastic top end lends a raw edge to performance. The Boxster S has more than enough pace for even the really quick sections we encounter and Porsche’s claims of 0-100 in 5.0sec and 0-200 in 17sec feel totally believable. Explosive bursts of power and excursions to the redline, motor snarling like a hard-edged chainsaw, soon become a regular feature. The Boxster seems to shine on the really fast rollercoaster-like sections and that allows me to give the motor one hell of a workout. And it’s all down to the fantastic stability. Unlike the earlier car, which developed twitchy hips every time you went hard on the throttle when exiting a corner, this one just seems plated to the tarmac. And that makes carrying speed through a really fast section of corners massively enjoyable. It’s not easy to get the tail out, and this new car has lost some of its playfulness, but the amount of grip available here is so high it often feels as fast if not faster than a 911. The rear seems rooted to the tarmac unless you provoke it, the Boxster feels as balanced as a gymnast, and it absolutely loves to change direction as you flick it from one corner to the next. Even the brakes are spot on; they have plenty of bite and are nice and progressive. This makes it much easier to shave off that last ounce of speed as you gently allow the nose to scramble towards the apex of a corner.
Wish it could have had a more feelsome steering though. The new electric system gets the job done, and it’s well weighted too, but it filters out plenty of information and the Boxster lacks that steered-from-the-hip cohesiveness the Audi R8 seems to have in buckets.
Still, as an overall package, there’s nothing to touch the Boxster, a car so far ahead, the existing competition is plain out of sight. Genetically linked to Porsche’s light but fast race cars of yesteryear, like the 550 and the 910/6, the new Boxster is a car that can punch well above its weight. Massive fun to drive, superbly built and reasonably practical, here is a car that will still be hugely enjoyable even half a decade after your boring luxury saloon is sitting forlornly in a second-hand stockyard somewhere, gathering dust. Porsche wants appoximately Rs 70 lakh for this car, and though that seems like quite a packet, the Boxster is well worth it. What a giant-killer it’s going to be.