By Mike Daly
Unlike Ferrari, Aston Martin, and other brands that market their vehicles as exotic supercars, Porsche positions its cars as daily drivers, if expensive and exactingly engineered ones. The difference in philosophy might explain why Zuffenhausen’s most genetically pure and enjoyable car lies not at the upper reaches of its model range, like the V-12s of Maranello or Gaydon, but in its more affordable, sub-$100,000 entry, the Boxster (so named for the 180-degree horizontally opposed “boxer” engine design, in which the pistons appear to punch one another).
While the time-honored 911 undeniably bears Porsche’s signature long-running rear-engine architecture, the flagship model has now become so supremely, dare I say, overengineered that it sometimes fails to produce the visceral driving experience that made the early road cars so popular. By contrast, the Boxster, with its open bodywork and engine placement directly ahead of the rear axle, offers a more compact and direct sports-car interface.
Reworked this year to be lower, wider, and even more handsome, the 2013 Boxster is available as a 2.7-liter base model or the 315-hp 3.4-liter S variant that was the subject of my test drive. The updated roadster features a completely redesigned chassis with a longer wheelbase and shorter front overhang, dimensional tweaks that substantially improve its appearance. In combination with a more raked windshield and optional 20-inch wheels, the new look is pronouncedly more dynamic, drawing a surprising number of gawks from onlookers, despite the sheer number of Boxsters on today’s roads after 16 years of the model’s production.
When equipped with the optional Sport Chrono PDK automated manual transmission with paddle shifters, the Boxster S briskly accelerates from zero to 60 in as little as 4.5 seconds. The standard six-speed manual gearbox is expectedly a few tenths of a second slower, but the thrill of being constantly engaged with the car makes it a more rewarding transmission choice that easily offsets the negligible loss of pure acceleration. The low-slung 18-way adaptive sport seats provide a race car–like driving position from which to execute downshifts and to hug the roads with precise electromechanical steering, giving the Boxster S road tactility that makes it feel like an extension of the driver.
Of course, mere performance is no longer enough in such a competitive niche, so Porsche has added a few technological bells and whistles. An engine-off feature (that, fortunately, can be disabled) shuts the motor down when stopped in traffic to save fuel, making the sports car feel eerily similar to a Prius at times. An automatic hold function that temporarily keeps the car in place when the brake pedal is released on a hill (assisting inclined starts) is a more welcome innovation, particularly given that the Boxster does not have a standard handbrake.
More tech goodies are found in the digital readout of the right-hand instrument dial, a thinly disguised 4.6-inch VGA screen that toggles between measurements of g-force, trip info, and tire pressure, as well as an optional Sport Chrono lap timer with launch control, and a gearshift assistance indicator. The gauge also doubles for navigation, hands-free phone interfacing, and music, all of which are primarily accessible on a standard seven-inch touchscreen.
The smartly revised interior features an inclined center console, like that of the Carrera GT supercar, which raises the short-throw shifter by an inch for closer proximity to the steering wheel. An optional 445-watt, eight-channel Bose Surround Sound system with 10 speakers offers high-fidelity sounds, but turning it up risks drowning out the flat-six motor’s sweet whine and whir, a midrange growl of indubitable authenticity that takes on magical overtones in the performance-oriented Sport modes.
The new Boxster also boasts a number of high-performance components from the latest 911 Carrera, including the aforementioned power steering, front brakes, and optional 20-inch wheels. Comfort amenities, like a heated steering wheel and seats, go a long way toward making the open-top experience an all-weather proposition, bolstering the updated model’s strong bid as the best automotive fun to be had south of $100 grand. It’s little wonder that this impressive distillation of Porsche’s core values garnered Car of the Year and Design of the Year awards from two of the automotive media’s most established titles.
MSRP: Base, $60,900; as tested (315-hp 3.4-liter S variant), $84,120
Porsche Cars North America Inc., porsche.com