Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Porsche Boxster S 6MT

Update: See how the Boxster S performed head-to-head against the all new Jaguar F-Type V6S.

Sometimes, you get into a car and it just feels familiar. Those sensations that you first experienced when you drove the various predecessors of such a car come flooding back and it only take moments to settle into a comfortable oneness with the car. Porsches, more than any other brand I have driven, seem to be able to capture that exact emotion. Heck, if you look at them, it seems that they are engineered around that concept, with the heritage of early 911s still clearly evident in even the latest model. Even the less expensive Boxster exhibits this character. I first drove a first-generation Boxster many years ago and even back then, the car was hugely impressive and really set a new bar for performance from convertibles. When I finally got around to testing this latest version, I was pleased to discover that this Porsche absolutely lives up to expectations. However, the competition has gotten significantly better in the more than a dozen years since the Boxster was originally introduced. So is the Boxster still king of the performance heap?

First, let's get one thing out of the way - the Boxster S is a scalpel in the hands of a skilled surgeon. With the right driver, this car is probably one of the most rewarding, if not the most rewarding car to drive flat out. The steering is telepathic, the suspension is tuned to provide tremendous grip with immediate turn-in, and the throttle control is one of the best drive-by-wire arrangements I have driven in a traditional gasoline-powered car. Simply keep your eyes up, look where you want to go, and the car pretty much ends up exactly where you want. The fact that the center of gravity and polar moment of inertia sits so low and so close to the driver means that the sensation of going around corners is incredibly natural and really allows any driver to look like a superhero behind the wheel. From a driving standpoint, the power, handling, and control are sublimely balanced, allowing the Boxster to keep some seriously rare company with cars as much as 20 times its price. Simply drop the top, which finally no longer has the manual latch, sink into the bucket seats, fire up the flat-six, and enjoy!

Now, with that out of the way, the Boxster is not without fault. Probably the biggest let down is the ride. The Boxster S, with its beefed-up suspension over the standard model, is one of the stiffest rides I have driven in a little while.  While this may speak more about me getting older as opposed to anything wrong with the car, I found the ride stiff enough to be uncomfortable, especially on the broken and rutted back roads around Boston's suburbs. Considering I once drive, without complaint, from Washington, DC to western Massachusetts in a performance suspension fitted Carrera4, the fact that I found the ride of the Boxster S busy and tiring tells you a lot about just how stiff the ride is.

The other knock against the Boxster is the interior, which, while a tremendous improvement from the first generation model, is still a bit lacking next to those of some of the competitors. The design is generally not the issue, but rather the quality of the materials used. They mostly compare poorly to some of the more luxury oriented competitors at the price point. That is not to say that the materials are bad, but rather more appropriate for a car priced perhaps $10k less. Of course, compared to the first generation Boxster, the Panamera inspired interior is leaps and bounds better than Porsche interiors of old. The addition of a color LCD panel that displays vehicle information to the instrument cluster, which still places the tachometer front and center, is a great update to a classic design. One unique touch, which I had only previously seen on motorcycles, is a gear position indicator for the manual transmission. While skilled drivers of manual transmissions quickly are able to determine their gear by touch, having this rather inexpensive feature might encourage those unfamiliar with shifting-for-yourself to give it a try.

However, where the money saved on the interior was applied is evident in perfecting the handling and the engine. The flat-six motor is an exquisite gem, delivering plenty of power while remaining buttery smooth and offering that wail that can only come from the boxer engine configuration. The torque curve is set up to be so flat, and the power delivery so consistent, that it almost feels like the engine does not have the urgency of other sports cars at the top end. Of course, before I realized it, I had run out of revs, so make no mistake, it is not as if this car does not have serious thrust, it just lulls one into a sense of complacency because of its smoothness. My only complaint: I wish the exhaust noise were more prominent. It is such a wonderful sound, but, perhaps because of how far the dual pipes are from the driver's ears, the noise gets lost traversing the body work to the passenger compartment, even with the top down.

The Porsche Boxster S is still one of the best driving convertibles ever built. The fact that it offers this benchmark driving experience at a price that is more accessible to a broader audience just makes the Boxster that much more awesome. Of course, competitors have not been sitting on their hands and have been continually introducing increasingly better cars, offering a great many options for the discriminating buyer to choose from. For a pureness of driving experience, though, the Boxster S is still easily one of the best, and definitely top of the heap in this price range.