Modern cars are a funny thing. So many of us get caught up in the trappings that we forget how nice it is to just get in a car and drive for the pure enjoyment of it. We're stuck fiddling with iPods, connecting our Bluetooth phones, and accepting legal boilerplate that reminds us not to input the waypoint for the nearest Taco Bell while driving. The car in which this all takes place becomes an afterthought -- a mere platform for all of the other "entertainment" sources. Listen, we're not knocking it -- we enjoy the bells and whistles as much as the next guy. The thing that's important to remember, however, is that you can still climb inside a ride in which the car itself is the attraction, and where the act of driving is the in-car entertainment. Sometimes, you just have to get back to basics, and this brings us to the Porsche Boxster.
All photos ©2007 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.
Memorable cars push emotional buttons, and the Boxster has done that since it first appeared as a stunning concept back in 1993. Largely an homage to Porsche's iconic 550 Spyder, the mid-engined show car set tongues wagging and ultimately made its debut in toned-down form as a '97 model. Since then, the car has subtly changed its appearance, gained power in both the base and "S" models, and spawned the delectable Cayman coupe. The icing on the proverbial cake is that it's attainable -- not inexpensive compared to some other cars in its class, but certainly not outlandishly priced, either. Most drivers are more likely to catch a unicorn in their backyards than park a real 550 Spyder in their garages, but thanks to Porsche, the modern equivalent can definitely be had.
Not everyone shares that sentiment, though. When told we had the car, one person responded, "Nice, but I'd probably like it more if I were a Porsche person." Another said I'd look like a guy out driving his wife's car, as if the Boxster is some sort of 21st century take on a white mid-80s VW Cabriolet. Nonsense. I have no qualms admitting I'd like to someday be Porsche Person -- you know, the kind who actually owns one. And as for the Boxster being a chick car, let's put it this way: If you handed me the keys to one finished in blazing purple with the Barbie logo on the doors, I'd take them with a smile and begin introducing myself to strangers as Ken. You see, the Boxster's that kind of fun. As luck would have it, the loaner that Porsche Cars North America sent our way was Arctic Silver Metallic, and that color obviated the need to assume the identity of a gender-neutral Mattel doll. Bully for me.
The standard Boxster is refreshing exercise in simplicity when one refrains from going ga-ga with the option sheet. A quick scan of the cockpit confirms that the car has everything you need. You've got your ignition in Porsche's traditional spot to the left of the three-spoke wheel, which happens to be devoid of redundant controls. It doesn't tune the radio, it turns the car. How novel! The center stack is home to an AM/FM/CD radio so confounding that you will want to rip it out and cast it to the roadside, anyway. Below that is the heating/air-conditioning interface, which is far more manageable. The standard leather seats adjust six ways and the tester's optional heaters help make the Boxster a usable open-air car well into Autumn. Incidentally, the only other spots adorned with animal hides are the steering wheel rim, shifter knob and boot, and parking brake handle.
The instrument binnacle presents the driver with a large center tachometer, the speedometer to its left, and temp/fuel gauges to the right. Porsche integrates a multifunction display into the lower portion of the tach, which we generally configured to display the car's speed. A slim flip-down panel on the passenger side conceals a pair of swing-out cupholders that look like appendages R2-D2 might extend from his body. They're really good, though, ratcheting shut to secure beverage containers in a Teutonic death grip. We've read complaints from other reviewers about some of the interior materials, but we really had no problems with what the Boxster offered in that regard. The soft-touch dash coverings looked and felt fine, for example. Would it look impressive awash in French-stitched leather or Alcantara? Sure, but this is a sub-$50K (base price) sports car, and Bentley accommodations are not expected.
It's a familiar sight on the road by now (the current body style has been on sale since 2005), but spending time with a Boxster nestled a few feet away in the garage grants a newfound appreciation for its styling. As was mentioned before, parts of the car clearly harken back to the 550. At no time is this more evident than when you view it from behind and realize that the shape of those sculpted rear haunches had its genesis over 50 years earlier. Don't call it retro, though -- it isn't. While Porsche obviously maintains ties to the past in its cars, the Boxster doesn't wallow in nostalgia. Heritage elements aside, this is a dashing, modern sports car that comes across as a well-thought-out whole. Its rakish windshield conveys a sense of speed even when the car's parked. The subtle upturned front lip isn't tacked on; rather, it's part of the single-piece front bumper cover. There's no spoiler hanging off the bodywork; the Boxster just keeps it hidden until its needed. The wide, oval, central exhaust outlet communicates the car's sporting nature while helping maintain its overriding visual sense of balance and symmetry. Finally, the tester's optional 15-spoke 19" wheels sit in their cutouts like four exclamation points. They're modern-looking in every sense, yet there's still a throwback cue hidden in their design. If the spokes are looked at in groups of three, the familiar shape of the classic Fuchs wheel becomes evident. Discovering little easter eggs like this is fun and all, but then you get behind the wheel and it's as if you've just stepped into your own private carnival.
The love affair begins the moment your posterior hits the driver's seat, which feels just about perfect. Quickly set your driving position (the backrest angle's the only element that's powered on the standard seats) and you're ready to go. Clutch in, turn key, and the 2.7L flat six nestled behind you blats to life. The unique exhaust note is like a siren's call to your right foot, so no one'll hold it against you if you blip the throttle a couple of times for good measure. That sound can't truly be appreciated until you're properly underway, however. For 2007, the Boxster range adopted the very same engines found in its hard-topped Cayman stablemate. On the spec sheet, the base motor's peak horsepower increases by 5 to 245 @ 6500 rpm, while torque rises to 201 lb-ft from 199. "That's all?" was a question posed to us a few times over the week. "It's enough," became the standard reply. Porsche states that the 2.7 propels the Boxster from zero to sixty in just 5.8 seconds, and while we can't scientifically verify that, it sure feels that way. Top speed is said to be 160, and for that we'll just have to take them at their word. Truth is, we've driven cars with twice the power that aren't half as fun as this.
Light clutch effort and a slick shifter for the 5-speed gearbox make the Boxster feel very accessible from the get-go, and before long, you'll find yourself looking for open space in which to wind out the gears. While the techno-opera of the engine reaching its crescendo is deeply satisfying, it's the car's dynamics that will ruin you forever and have you checking the "P" section in the "For Sale" listings every week. The steering, suspension, and brakes are nothing short of excellent, and the Boxster, with its superb balance and communicative nature, literally becomes an extension of yourself. What you think, it does, and it does so in a way that is absolutely confidence-inspiring. Seriously, if the Boxster is this entertaining, the S must be mind-numbingly so. On the highway, around town -- it doesn't matter. You begin looking for excuses to go out and drive. I ordered Chinese take out one night from a joint ten miles away, just because getting there and back required a blast on the parkway and some back-roads driving after that. Cars like this are the reason you got your license as a kid; you just didn't know it at the time. And lest anyone forget, all this goodness comes in an open-air package. The power top is a snap to use -- unhook a single latch and hit a button -- plus it can be raised and lowered at speeds up to 40 mph or so. It's as if Porsche knows you don't want to voluntarily stop driving unless absolutely necessary. Rain? Ease off, top up. Sunny again? Repeat. Top down. Go!
If all that's not enough, the Boxster also shows itself to be both efficient and highly practical (especially for a 2-seat roadster). It sports an EPA rating of 23 city/32 highway, and during our time with it, we averaged over 23 mpg, even though we would unabashedly dip into the loud pedal whenever the opportunity presented itself. And if you're wondering how one can describe the Boxster as being practical, it's the car's dual trunks. Between the deep front boot and the second one in back, you can easily carry a weekend getaway's worth of luggage for two people. (We can also report that the rear boot happens to hold two bags of Home Depot mulch perfectly.) One of the only disappointments is that you can't see the engine. It's stashed out of sight, with only the fillers for engine oil and coolant visible and accessible from the aft trunk. If you try to show off the motor, you'll soon find yourself doing an impromptu re-enactment of that old Dustin Hoffman commercial for the VW Type 3. Oh well. It's there, and that's what counts.
The good times came to an end after seven wonderfully engaging days. They don't let you keep these things forever, unfortunately. Over that time, however, I learned that $50,995 can buy happiness in the form of the Porsche Boxster, a rolling epiphany capable of turning the casual driver into an enthusiast, and an enthusiast into a true believer. Don't take them for granted just because you see 'em around; go out and drive one if you can. The Boxster surpassed every expectation I held, and today, I believe.
All photos ©2007 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.