Porsche Boxster S
I’m back at Barber Motorsports Park to drive the all-new 2013 Porsche Boxster S on the 17-turn 3.8-km technical road course. This is home to the Porsche Sport Driving School USA and many international car and motorcycle races.
Named for it’s six-cylinder Boxer engine and roadster body style, the Boxster recently got its first complete overhaul since the original version (986) was released in 1996. Refreshed in 2004 and called the 987; this new version, dubbed project 981, is more bodacious and tenacious in terms of style and performance, respectively. And, as with any new Porsche model, the improvements are noticeable – in this case, even more so.
The base model’s new 2.7-litre powerplant makes 265 hp (10 more than its larger predecessor) and 206 lb.-ft. of torque while the 3.4-litre engine Boxster S is up five horsepower to 315 hp and 266 lb.-ft. The water-cooled, mid-mounted aluminum Boxer engines are paired with a standard six-speed manual or optional seven-speed Porsche double-clutch automatic transmission that’s even better and can shift faster than most humans.
The open-top two-seater boasts a brand new monocoque steel and aluminum body and totally revamped rear-wheel drive chassis. Its considerably lower curb weight (1,319 kg versus 1,355 kg), a longer wheelbase (2,474 mm versus 2,415 mm) and wider track improve the Boxster’s already-impressive dynamics.
Whereas the outgoing model is more rotund and less refined, the 981’s longer, wider silhouette is sleeker and more expressive with edges that make it more akin to the new 911 (991), Carrera GT and the jaw-smacking 918 Spyder. The new Boxster features a more aggressively raked windshield and a redesigned electronic-folding soft top that opens and closes in nine seconds (at 50 km/h!).
The tonneau/top cover has been eliminated for significant weight savings that, along with direct injection, a smart alternator, better thermal management and an automatic engine start/stop function, contributes up to a 15% improvement in fuel economy over the predecessor.
Cargo capacity remains the same at 281 litres total – the deeper front boot maxes out at 150.5 litres while the rear trunk is 130.5 – though in both cases your personal effects become part of the body’s crumple zone; and, I’m still unsure a set of golf clubs can go anywhere except the passenger seat. That said, golf is the last thing on my mind when out driving this car.
It’s superbly wonderful on the topsy-turny Alabama roads from the PSDS out to the Martin Logan Dam some 30 miles to the southeast and situated halfway between Leeds and Talladega. The 981 practically drives itself with the top down in gorgeous summer weather. The PCIM’s navigation screen built into the instrument cluster displays the posted speed limit for the road I’m driving on as well as toggles though other screens for tire pressures, fuel economy, audio system and hands-free calling info.
Polished aluminum interior trim, cooling/heated leather seats and simple but elegant controls make the cockpit welcoming and functional. The Pirelli tires are quiet and there’s practically no wind buffeting, windows up or down. But, while shorter drivers may enjoy more space behind the seats (for a large briefcase perhaps), the door pockets and centre console don’t offer a whole lot in terms of storage – the lockable glove box is decent though – and the only cup-holders are precariously placed above the passenger’s knees and buttons on the console. These are my only qualms, however.
Back at the track, pushing the Sport Plus and suspension buttons livens up the engine, PDK and shock absorber settings. Now capable of reaching 100 km/h in five seconds, the Boxster S stiffens up for flatter cornering at higher speeds – top speed is limited to 277 km/h with the PDK, two klicks faster with the six-speed manual. An optional Sport Chrono package adds dynamic transmission mounts for the first time to enhance driving dynamics even more; Porsche Torque Vectoring with mechanical rear axle differential lock is also available.
The 13-inch front and 11.7-inch vented front and rear brake discs and four-piston calipers are hardly being taxed at all, offering much-improved stopping capabilities over the 987. Composite brakes are also available, though the S is already well-endowed in this department. I leave the traction controls on and go hot into turn six to feel the system working – just as the rear begins to rotate and car starts to oversteer, it softly catches me and settles the chassis so I can put the power down. Compared to other TC systems, the Porsche one seems to provide the widest window of performance without intervention as well as intervenes the most predictably and, for certain, least noticeable.
The raspy exhaust pops and the seat gives you a love tap in the back upon up-shifting at wide open throttle on the straightaways. The electromechanical power steering is direct, linear and perfectly-weighted for any driving situation with precise turn-in and exceptionally good feedback.
All in all, the new Boxster is a big improvement over the old one in every respect. It’s looks more respectable too, from a functionally vain perspective, and; it gets the job done out on the race track. While it’s not a car for a twosome to go golfing, it is one to play hookey in. Consider leaving the clubs at home and head straight for your favourite driving roads or, even better, to your local track for some hot laps instead.