First Glance: The Boxster comes into its own
When writing a review of a new Porsche model, there are two ways you can go: You can say it's the best car in the world, because to those of us who review Accords and Altimas for a living, it probably is, or you can say it's the worst car in the world, just to prove to your readers that you drive fancy, hyper-expensive metal all the time. I tend to fall into the first camp, mostly because I spend the bulk of my time reviewing Accords and Altimas. That said, I really do think the new 2013 Porsche Boxster is a pretty amazing car; I'll endeavor to tell you why, and hopefully you'll see past all my fawning and make your own judgment.
I'll spare you the de rigueur rehash of what Porsche has done to the dimensions (short version: longer, stiffer, a bit lighter) and jump right to the styling, which really is significant. Past Boxsters have always had a somewhat, er, effeminate look -- a doe-eyed innocence around the headlights and extra padding at the hips. This new Boxster finally gets the chiselled lines it deserves, with muscular haunches and a steely-eyed gaze. It looks like a proper sports car, and that's no easy trick -- sticking the engine in the middle wreaks havoc with a car's proportions, so the fact that the Boxster looks so good is a notable accomplishment.
In the Driver's Seat: Short on storage, but the top is tops
I can think of few things about the Boxster things less interesting to discuss than its interior; frankly, if I were reading this review, I'd probably skip straight down to the "On the Road" section, and I'll totally understand if you do the same. Nevertheless, there are a few things about the Boxster's interior worth noting. First is that it looks a lot like the old one, with the addition of a swoopy center console that alleviates some of the center-stack clutter. In keeping with Porsche tradition, the ignition key is on the left and the gauge cluster features a big center-mounted tachometer, with the speedo on one side and a nifty LCD screen on the other that serves as a gauge pack, trip computer readout, or a full-color navigation display.
The seats -- there are just two -- are roomy and comfortable, though there isn't much space around them for storing odds and ends, and the tiny fold-out cupholders are a clear indicator of Porsche's disdain for drinking and driving. Putting the engine in the middle leaves room for two trunks, a smallish one out back and slightly bigger but notably more useful one in front (which carries an added bonus: Watching people's expression when they think you're piling your grocery bags on top of the engine).
My favorite feature is the convertible top. Take note, other automakers, because this is how it should be done: A single switch (no latches to fuss with), quick operation (about ten seconds up or down), and you don't have to stop the car -- the Boxster's fabric top goes up or down at speeds up to 31 MPH.
On the Road: We're all superheros
The Boxster's direct-injected flat-six engine comes in two flavors: Base cars get a 265 hp 2.7 liter unit, while the S model I drove has a 315 hp 3.4. Porsche says the S will do 172 MPH, but I spent most of my time enjoying the 4.8 second 0-60 time. My car had a 6-speed manual trans; the 7-speed twin-clutch automatic (PDK in Porsche parlance) shaves off another tenth of a second and improves fuel economy -- which, if anyone cares, is 20 MPG city/28 MPG highway for the manual and 21/30 with PDK. (I averaged 19.1 MPG.)
The Boxster has a fuel-saving auto-stop feature that shuts down the engine at stoplights and restarts it automatically when you shift into gear. It's a good idea, except that it makes you look like a douchebag who bought a stick-shift Porsche and can't drive it -- not the image one necessarily wants to portray. I put dignity ahead of ecology and disabled it.
Having the engine in the middle gives the Boxster inherently good handling balance, and my test car upped the ante with Porsche Active Suspension Management ("PASM" -- Porsche's term for electronically-variable shocks), a Porsche Torque Vectoring rear axle ("PTV"), 20" wheels (which, amazingly, do not have their own acronym), and the Sport Chrono Package, which includes a Sport Plus button that tightens up throttle and suspension response, plus active transmission mounts that keep the powertrain from kicking around during hard driving.
How does it all add up? This photo of the G-Meter should give you some idea of the incredible grip this car can muster. (Up 'till now, the best I've done on public roads was 1.2g in a Cadillac CTS-V.) Driving the Boxster is a transcendental experience: With sharp responses and seemingly infinite grip, it transforms even the most timid driver into God's own wheelman. Few cars have allowed me to run the About.com Top Secret Curvy Test Road so quickly, so precisely, and with so little drama. (All the more amazing for a convertible; chassis flex simply does not exist in the Boxster.) Best yet, at the end of the day, I could pop the Boxster out of Sport Plus mode and enjoy a comfortable, serene ride home.
Journey's End: There's nothing quite like it
With prices starting at $50,450 for the base model and $61,850 for the S, the Boxster appears to be relatively affordable -- but you're more likely to be abducted by aliens than to find a Boxster that cheap. Porsche offers a dizzying array of high-priced options: Automatic transmission, $3,200; carbon-fiber interior trim, $1,500; navigation system, $3,860 (as much as thirty-two Garmins). Pile on the extras and you can just just about double the Boxster's price. Even my tester, a relatively restrained car with a plain black interior, listed for $84k.
Then there's the issue of service. Want to see the Boxster's engine? Here it is -- or at least, that's all most owners will see of it. There is no hood; the engine can only be accessed from underneath. Besides killing the ages-old car-geek tradition of opening the hood and staring at the engine, that makes repairing the Boxster awkward and/or expensive.
And it's not as if there aren't less-expensive alternatives. First is the Lotus Evora. No, it's not a convertible, and yes, it feels like it was built in someone's basement, but it's even better to drive -- and for the price of my Boxster S tester, you could buy a supercharged Evora S and still have enough change to pay someone to follow you around to retrieve the parts that fall off. The Corvette Grand Sport, with its removable roof, is a favorite of mine, although it's a completely different brand of fun. And then there's the MINI Cooper S Roadster -- half the price of the Boxster and nearly as much fun on the Top Secret Curvy Test Road, but positively miserable everywhere else.
Truth is, the 2013 Porsche Boxster is pretty much in a class of its own: It looks great, it goes fast, and it makes you feel special. It truly is one of the best sports cars I've ever tested -- and it sure beats the daylights out of the Altimas and Accords I usually drive. --Aaron Gold
What I liked about the Porsche Boxster:
- Outstanding to drive
- Fast, easy-to-use top
- Looks like a proper sports car
What I didn't like about the Porsche Boxster
- Reasonable price is tempered by expensive options
- Not much cabin storage space
- Porsche's entry-level convertible is all new for 2013
- Price range: $50,540 - $110,000+
- Price as tested: $84,120
- Powertrain: 2.7 liter flat 6/265 hp or 3.4 liter/315 hp, 6-speed manual or 7-speed twin-clutch automatic
- EPA fuel economy estimates: 20 MPG city/28 MPG highway (manual), 21/30 (automatic)
- Observed fuel economy: 19.1 MPG
- Where built: Germany
- Best rivals: BMW Z4, Lotus Evora, MINI Cooper Roadster