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Porsche Boxster


Entry level model: three words that temper expectations and deliver the message that there's more to be had for those prepared to spend (often a lot) more.

But even the most exotic brands must have an entry point. In the case of Porsche and the New Zealand market it's the Boxster and $119,000.

Having had minimal first-hand experience of the Porsche brand, I approached testing the Boxster with a slice of skepticism.

Would the entry model 2.7-litre Boxster meet my high expectations of the Porsche driving experience or would it turn out to be a pretender that attempts to trade on reputation?

But any concern about being underwhelmed by the Boxster swiftly disappeared.

A couple of shifts up and down the gearbox, a few turns on the crisp steering and some exploration of the seamlessly flexible flat-six engine and I'd taken my first steps on the path from cynic to confirmed Porsche fan.

There are faster Porsches than the Boxster and obviously rarer and more expensive ones as well.

However, it's arguable if there are more beautiful ones - at least in the current line-up. The Boxster's sleek roadster lines have an elegant balance and contain just a hint of Speedster and Spyder inspiration without being overtly retro.

The 2000 model year brought an expansion of the Boxster line-up. The original 2.5-litre Boxster - launched in 1996 - has evolved rapidly into the 2.7-litre model with additional power and torque. The new 3.2-litre Boxster S knocks on the door of 911 performance.

In terms of platform and design the Boxster shares more than you'd think with the 996 (New 911) series. It's not just frontal styling or dashboard architecture either.

Even though the Boxster is a mid-engined layout and the New 911 remains rear-engined the more powerful car borrows its MacPherson strut suspension layout from the Boxster.

In fact the launch of the Boxster in 1996 provided a curtain-raiser for several aspects of the New 911 which followed in 1997. The front end styling is the most obvious, and a technology example is Lokasil diecast alloy cylinder blocks with high silicon aluminium alloy cylinder bores which is carried over from the Boxster to New 911.

So how does the cheapest Porsche drive? The performance is effortlessly swift rather than startling - Porsche quotes 0-100 kph in 6.6 seconds and a 250km/h terminal velocity - while the flexibility of the mid-mounted flat-six conveys the impression of more than 2.7-litres worth of urge.

It's no surprise. The 2687cc quad cam flat-six with Variocam valve timing develops a strong 162kW at 6400rpm. That's up from 150kW which the 2.5-litre original developed, and more power than most of the modern 3.0-litre V6 motors on the road.

The engine is red-lined at a singing 7200rpm and the peak torque of 260Nm is produced at 4750rpm. Around the city it'll happily pull away without protest from around 50km/h in fourth gear and has the potential to top 200km/h without need for a gearchange. The Boxster can be deceptively rapid without need to stir it along with the gearbox.

With the soft-top down and the tail squating slightly under acceleration the flat-six music growls away behind you as distinctively as always - a civilised dialect of the throaty snarl heard at race tracks around the world.

It's a little sad that you can't get a look at the source of the Boxster's urge and sound. Access to the engine bay is complicated and involves putting the soft-top in a special service position and then removing several interior panels. You'd leave it for the service technician.

The only easy to service mechanical items are the yellow coded dipstick, oil filler and washer fluid bottle which are accessed from the rear luggage compartment.

Though five speeds mightn't be as fashionable as the six cogs provided by the Honda S2000 or Audi TT Roadster, with the flexibility of the Porsche flat-six, the five-speed gearbox is no penalty.

The shift action is short and precise and the clutch works smoothly and progressively to instill plenty of tactile feedback into the driving experience. The gearing sees 100km/h achieved at a relaxed 2400rpm in fifth gear or a more eager 3200rpm using fourth.

Around the city and suburbs on uneven surfaces in the 40-70km/h range the Boxster rides with a slightly abrupt character. It's not harsh but it's obvious the car isn't really in its favoured environment either.

The ride quality smoothes out with some speed and once the car has settled with a little momentum it has a pleasing combination of firm body control and supple suspension travel at legal highway speeds.

More than anything, the Boxster loves to go around corners. The steering is informative with a delicate precision and the car responds quickly and faithfully goes where its pointed.

The primary impression is one of balance, responding with immediacy to small steering inputs to scythe through the twists and turns with sure-footed grip and accomplished body control.

Unlike many modern performance cars, the Boxster's cornering ability isn't just a function of its tyres and sheer grip.

For sure the Michelin Pilot SX rubber is highly adhesive, but the feedback the car communicates back through steering and via he seat of your pants is that it's the balance of the chassis which is the main contributor rather than outright grip.

The tyres have a significant size variation front to rear. The standard wheel and tyre combination for the Boxster is 16-inch diameter rims with 205/55 ZR16 front and 255/50 ZR16 rear tyres.

The test car had 205/50 ZR17 steerers with the power going to the road via larger 255/40 ZR17 size rubber. They're the standard choice for Boxster S and optional for the 2.7 and it would be interesting to drive a 16-inch shod car to see if the low speed ride quality is any different. The five-spoke alloy wheels are a traditional open spoke Porsche design.

Revealed behind those spokes are one of the best aspects of any Porsche. The brakes are powerful with four-piston Monobloc calipers, internally vented discs front and rear with the latest Bosch 5.3 ABS system including electronic brake force distribution.

The stopping power is superb - whether it's a pedal squashing full-on stop or a light confidence dab to scrub off speed and settle the car into a corner.

As half of its name denotes the Boxster is roadster and is designed to be driven topless. Assisting this is a power-operated soft-top which is simple to operate with a single central latch, and can be stowed or raised in about 12 seconds.

A great deal of refinement is retained in the open air driving experience by the Wind Blocker which slides between the roll over hoops. It combines with raised side windows to dramatically reduce wind buffeting.

The Wind Blocker makes open air driving feasible on cooler days and takes the edge off wind noise to the point of being almost able to carry on normal conversation at highway speeds.

The Boxster's cabin is snugly comfortable rather than cramped. The perforated leather-trimmed seats are well bolstered and supportive on a long journey.

The backrest angle is electrically adjustable and the cushion height and tilt can be manually adjusted. There's good legroom and headroom and with the soft-top raised the Boxster still manages to avoid feeling cramped.

The leather trimmed steering wheel has a small amount of telescopic adjustment, but taller drivers might like to be able to lift the wheel a little higher.

With two speedometers - an analogue one on the left of the triple instrument cluster and a digital readout at the base of the central tachometer - there are probably fewer excuses than ever that can be made during any roadside conversations with the authorities.

The Boxster is a little more practical than is usual for roadsters when it comes to accommodating a weekend's luggage. It's no golf-club carrier but that combination of a shallow boot area and deep front front trunk (each of 130 litres volume) leaves the Audi TT Roadster, Honda S2000 or Mazda MX5 behind when it comes to carrying capacity.

The unlikely event of a flat tyre could be a challenge, however. Fit the space saver spare and you'll find stowing the full size deflated tyre will steal most of the front load capacity.

Alongside the finely-tuned chassis, unstressed performance and the open air driving experience the Boxter has another appeal: the high quality of finish and appointment. The dash and cabin architecture is a blend of stylish sculpture, sensibly considered ergonomics and materials with texture and integrity which convey quality when you look at and touch them.

The leather upholstery is classically elegant and the fit and finish of the trim is superb. Polished alloy door handles are a nice touch and add a feeling of substance.

In terms of standard equipment the Boxster delivers climate control air-conditioning, frontal and side impact airbags, fog lamps, remote central door-locking with alarm and immobiliser, power windows, power and heated mirrors and a Compact Disc audio system with four-slot CD storage in the dash. Other than performance related items there are few differences between the 2.7 and S models.

The Boxster might be the cheapest member of the Porsche family but it doesn't sell the brand short in any aspect.

Perhaps the real measure of its success is that it has widened the appeal and accessibility of the Porsche brand without sacrificing any of its reputation and exclusivity. The Boxster has been marketed and positioned just as cleverly as it was engineered and manufactured.

Road test by C.M.

Auto Trader New Zealand