2004 Porsche Boxster

Although the Porsche Boxster styling mirrors that of the wonderfully curvaceous 550 Spyder from the 1950s, made famous in James Dean’s demise, don’t be fooled. With its distinctive styling and smooth flowing lines, this is a completely modern sports car. The Boxster name is derived from a combination of two words — “Boxster”, for it horizontally opposed engine and “roadster”, for its body style. The Boxster convertible is available in two flavours: Boxster and the performance oriented Boxster S.

When the Boxster first debuted in1998, it was powered by a 2.5 litre, version of Porsche’s famed boxer engine, which was rated at 201 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque (it was Porsche first production water cooled engine). Back then it was a spunky little number that seemed to perform to expectations. However, a few days with the car and you soon realized that a few more ponies would not go amiss. The low-end punch was not all it could be – you had to wait until the tachometer registered approximately 2300 rpm before the engine begins to boil. The current Boxster benefits from a 2.7-litre, horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine that’s good for a more respectable 225 hp, while, the performance oriented S model gets a 3.2 litre flat six. The larger displacement delivers 258 hp and a healthy dose of torque (229 at 4500 rpm). The difference is significant to say the least.

Firstly, the engine starts to howl right from rest, pumping out a seemingly endless flow of power all the way to the point where the cam timing and exhaust note changes. At this point, the S comes into its own and blasts forth at a tremendous rate of speed. This engine is also more flexible, meaning, if you find yourself in the wrong gear, it forgives. Best of all though, the additional power comes with less than a 100 lb. (45.5 kg) penalty. Consequently, the power to weight ratio takes a healthy jump for the better without upsetting Boxster’s perfect 50/50 front to rear weight distribution.

The Boxster S is offered with either a 6-speed manual box or Porsche’s 5-speed Tiptronic. The manual box is a close ratio unit that features a slick gate and a light progressive clutch, making city driving an easy task. Get out of the urban jungle and push the S through the gears, and those gear ratios keep the engine in the sweet spot of the rev range. The Tiptronic features both automatic and manual modes and two steering wheel mounted buttons operate it.

A minor beef, is the fact that that traction control is an extra cost option ($1,185). The extra horses make it all too easy to slide the S’s rear end out in the dry. With a set of snow tires and a slushy pavement, it disappears on you with little provocation. Switch on the traction control and the instant the rear end begins to let go, power is cut to maintain both the car’s and your own composure!

The S also gets a larger set of cross-drilled disc brakes and 4-piston calipers. The system is strong, fade-free and offers exceptional modulation. Slam on the brake pedal and the Boxster is hauled to rest from 200 km/h in about the same time as it takes to accelerate to 100 km/h (6.2 seconds). The standard anti-lock also performs to perfection, staying out of the action until absolutely needed.

The suspension is true to Porsche reputation, meaning the car handles like its on rails and it does so without being at all harsh. In fact, the package offers superior ride comfort. Factor in a body that is tight and displays little cowl shake and you have a car that relishes fast cornering almost as much as the driver. Trust me, you can go into corners at break-neck speeds and emerge on the other side unscathed and wearing a big smile.

The straight-line stability is also excellent, even at highly illegal speeds. Obviously, the inherent balance engineered into the car helps enormously, but so do the large tires (205/50ZR17 front and 255/40ZR17 rear) and the precise feel afforded by the steering. It is linear, fast and about the right weight for all situations.

On the inside, the Boxster cockpit has been improved to reflect a more natural and relaxing driving environment, however, there are few minor items that detract from the overall experience. The material used on centre console looks inexpensive and out of place. As well, the steering wheel is too large for the turn signal stalk (or the stalks are too short for the wheel), meaning you must loosen your grip on the wheel to operate any one of the three levers. In addition the lack of tilt adjustment on the steering wheel and the lack of either a glovebox or cupholder does not help matters. On the up side, the seats are simply superb, offering exceptional levels of lateral and lumbar support.

The dash configuration is designed for the racer, with a very large tachometer taking centre stage. To the left, and recessed, back is the speedometer and to the right the temperature and fuel gauges. There is speed readout displayed in the lower centre of the tachometer, but it’s digital form is more annoying than it is functional. There are twin storage spaces – one in the usual place for a Porsche (under the hood) as well as a regular trunk – combined they deliver a generous 260 litres of space. The radio and climate control units serve their purpose, although the buttons are numerous and small.

At last the soft-top which is fully lined gets a glass window with heated rear window defroster. It functions flawlessly, does not intrude into the usable trunk space when dropped and the ride is remarkably free from the usual windy backwash associated with lesser designs.

While the base Boxster is no slouch, the Boxster S with its extra power, precise handling and better power to weight-ratio makes it a superb performance sports car.