If you think of Porsche you inevitably think of the 911. After all, it’s an icon that’s just celebrated it’s 50th birthday and one that’s seen others come and go from the Stuttgart range.
Cast your eyes further down the range and you find the Boxster, marking the entry point into Porsche ownership. Think of it as the Popular Plus to the 911’s Ghia.
But does that mean you’re being short-changed? Is the Boxster just Porsche-lite or are there genuine thrills to be had in what is still dubbed the “poor man’s 911” (usually by people who can’t afford a Boxster, never mind a 911)?
A Genuine Delight
In a world seemingly dominated by turbocharged 4-pot engines it’s a genuine delight to find one that’s naturally aspirated and uses six cylinders. This third generation ‘981’ uses a new 2.7-litre flat-six, an engine that replaces the old 2.9 but boasts more power and almost as much torque. It’s greener too, with economy up to 33.6mpg and emissions down to 195g/km.
On paper the performance is on a par with the fastest hot hatches. 265bhp and 280Nm, 5.8 seconds to 60mph and 164mph flat out are the sort of figures you’d expect from a family hatch costing £10k less. The thing is, that fast hatch is based on a car your Mum would be happy driving to the shops. The Boxster has been crafted by a company that drip-feeds racing pedigree into all of its models.
From the moment you climb into the Boxster you know this is a serious sports car. You sit low, legs stretched out, buttocks mere inches from the road surface. The chunky wheel falls perfectly to hand, stripped of the myriad of buttons other cars feature. This is a device for controlling the car, not your multimedia devices.
The view out of the windscreen is special too. You can see the bonnet plunging away between the upright front wings, echoing the familiar shape of the 911’s nose, while a glance in the door mirror reveals the Boxster’s hips curving over the rear wheels.
Start the engine with the stubby, 911-shaped key and the flat-six bursts into life with a loud flourish. If you’re an early riser your neighbours won’t appreciate the bark but it’s one of life’s little pleasures for a keen driver.
Feels Like A Sports Car
The sports car feel is reinforced by the control weights. The steering has perfectly judged resistance, not the horrible light feel of some electrically assisted setups. People moaned at Porsche for switching to electric assistance but theirs is by far the best I’ve sampled. Yes, hydraulic systems felt more natural but they’re gone, a victim of the pursuit of lower CO2 emissions. Learn to live with it or buy an old Boxster.
At first the clutch seems heavy but once your thigh muscles adjust it’s actually fine, even in traffic, and it’s very progressive. The presence of the third pedal means this Boxster has the delightful six-speed manual gearbox instead of the optional dual-clutch PDK. There’s a real feeling of connection to the ‘box through the short lever, no slack or wobble, just well-oiled, precision engineering.
The real pleasure is in the way the Boxster covers ground. At low speeds it feels very busy but you quickly realise it’s not crashing or thumping its way across the rough tarmac. There’s some excellent damping at work that irons out the harshness of the road surface.
As the speed increases the Boxster’s abilities start to shine through. The body control is excellent, tight and stable, and you quickly realise that the slow-speed fidgeting has been replaced by unflappable poise and grip.
Near Perfect Weight Distribution
The mid-mounted engine allows for near perfect weight distribution and that translates into a neutral cornering stance, not the nose-led attitude of a front-engined hot hatch. Step on the throttle and you feel the balance shift to the rear wheels as they start to push harder.
With 265/45 tyres at the rear (235/40 at the front) the Boxster almost feels over-tyred and the Pilot Sports are more than capable of handling 265bhp on dry tarmac. You have to be really aggressive with the throttle to upset that balance and that means if you’re careful you can carry astonishing speed through corners.
The acceleration is accompanied by some glorious noises from the flat-six. It’s a rich and varied tune, amplified by the proximity of the engine to your ears. Loud but not intrusive, it’s a constant reminder that you’ve got a very special engine working away behind you. Then you discover the Sports exhaust button…
The optional Sports exhaust adds a richness to the sound, more depth and character, and throws in a few pops and bangs for extra drama. Drop the Boxster’s roof (which you can do with the press of a button at up to 31mph) and you can hear the engine sounds reverberating from buildings and embankments, while tunnels and bridges give you all the excuse you need to drop down a gear and floor the throttle. It’s wickedly good fun and you soon learn to press the button at the start of every journey. At £1,473 it may seem like a bit of an indulgence but I’d say it’s a must-have option.
The flat-six is incredibly effective. Throttle response is instant and no matter what gear you’re in there’s an urgency to the acceleration. At anything up to 4,000rpm it feels quick but after that there’s a noticeable surge, the engine note hardens and it flies to the 7,800rpm limiter. It’s a heady mixture of sound and g-forces and you will want to enjoy it time and time again.
And yet the engine is as happy pottering around town as it is screaming to the red line. You can cruise around in sixth gear at 30mph and the engine never feels laboured, and this is one of the Boxster’s most surprising traits. Although economy is officially rated at 33mpg I was regularly seeing 35mpg in relaxed driving and even 37mpg at a steady 70mph on the motorway. That’s better than the EU figures and a far cry from the turbocharged engines that claim well over 40mpg but struggle to match the Boxster in the real world.
A Pretty Little Thing
The Boxster has aged incredibly well. The awkward styling of the original 1996 model is long-since gone and it now looks much less like a 911 tribute act. A longer wheelbase, wider track, shorter overhangs and flatter windscreen all combine to give the Boxster wonderful proportions. There are some delightful touches to the design, such as the pop-up spoiler that merges into the rear lights when not in use. The 19-inch Boxster ‘S’ wheels on this car do help the look but at £971 extra you might want to stick to the standard 18-inch rims.
So What’s Wrong With It?
The downside to Boxster ownership is the level of standard kit. You do get xenons, air-con, DAB radio/CD player with 7-inch touchscreen and Aux input, and a great multi-function trip computer with 4.6-inch screen built into the instrument cluster. However, luxuries such as cruise control, parking sensors, sat-nav and heated seats are all tucked away in the options list.
The plague of the modern car also makes an appearance. The Boxster now has an electric handbrake, operated by a button down by your right knee. If it was situated on the centre console it would be easier to live with but even then it would still be a nuisance compared to a conventional handbrake.
With only two seats and no hatchback you’re clearly making a compromise if you choose a Boxster over a hot hatch. The Boxster does counter with two usable luggage compartments, one wide but shallow at the rear, and another narrow but deep between the front wheels. There’s easily enough room for the weekly shop or luggage for a week away.
The Final Reckoning
After a week with the Boxster it was rather difficult to hand the keys back. It has such a great spread of abilities, from comfortable cruiser to B-road assassin, and makes most hot hatches feel like blunt, lumbering devices.
Is the Boxster Porsche-lite? No, not at all. It’s all the sports car you really need for the road but it’s such a wonderful machine it will leave you wanting more. Much more. Could you stretch to a Boxster S? Or maybe a Cayman? If a Cayman is in reach, how about a 911? These are the questions you would soon be asking yourself.
Is the Boxster worth the premium over a well-specced Golf GTI, Audi S3 or Renaultsport Megane? If you enjoy the sensations of driving a beautifully balanced car rather than just travelling quickly from A to B then yes, absolutely. Go for it. You won’t regret it.
Porsche Boxster 981 2.7 Rating
|Performance, balance, grip, noise||Electronic handbrake, above my pay grade||10/10|
Porsche Boxster 981 2.7 Specs
|Performance & Economy|
|Engine||2,706cc flat six petrol|
|Transmission||6-speed manual, mind-engined, rear-wheel drive|
|Power (PS / bhp)||269 / 265 at 6,700rpm|
|Torque (Nm / lb.ft)||280 / 206 at 4,500 - 6,500rpm|
|0 - 62 mph (seconds)||5.8|
|Top Speed (mph)||164|
|CO2 Emissions (g/km)||195|
|Combined Economy (mpg)||33.6|
|Unladen Weight (DIN kg)||1,330|