Karl Brauer, Editor in Chief
Let's get something straight right off the bat: I want one of these cars. Now, before you file this statement as standard moto-weenie hyperbole (like when the engineering nerds from Carriage and Rider take the incredibly unique position of wanting a Ferrari F40) let me explain. I've chosen the color. I've gone through all 98 options and even written down which ones I want. I am now ready to place my order at my local Porsche dealer. If it wasn't for that annoying mortgage/wife/toddler/impending newborn thing, I would have already scraped together any available funds and put my heretofore-shining credit record to its greatest test yet. I have regular daydreams featuring me and my Speed Yellow Boxster S with matching yellow roll hoops and seatbelts, the value-packed sport package, 18-inch Sport Design Rad Wheels, and, of course, headlight washers (Hey, don't laugh. At this price point, what's another $225 to be able to clean the headlights from the comfort of the driver's seat?)
Anyway, the point is that these road tests are supposed to be about the featured car and how that car relates to you, the Edmunds.com reader, as a vehicle worth considering. I just felt it was necessary to warn all interested parties that my relationship with the Boxster S is not purely platonic. In fact, it's most certainly crossed that delicate border which would keep the Boxster S and I from sharing office space. As such, my ability to be the voice of unbiased reason when discussing this car may be compromised. Ah, I feel much better now (See Mr. Clinton, it's not so bad if you just face the truth at the outset). Shall we begin?
The Boxster S comes on the heels of a boost in power for the standard-issue Boxster. Bumped from its anemic 201 horsepower to a slightly more entertaining 217 for the 2000 model year, the Boxster is trying to keep pace with upstarts like Honda's S2000 and Audi's TT. Even more troubling for the lowest rung Porsche is news that next year's Mercedes-Benz SLK320 and BMW Z3 Roadster will see a considerable bump in engine displacement and power, leaving the Boxster near the bottom of the horsepower race in this segment. Truth be told, for as much as I adore the Boxster S, I rather dislike this lowlier, poor man's version-primarily because even poor men still can't buy one. For this price range, the S2000 is the choice for ultimate fun and value in an easy carry-all package.
Pop the extra $9,000 for a Boxster S and you get a 0.5-liter increase in engine displacement and 33 more horsepower, for a total of 250, to adequately fling the car through your favorite set of S-turns. The horizontally opposed 3.2-liter flat six also makes 33 more foot-pounds of torque, bringing that number to 225 and endowing the German roadster with a decidedly forceful personality. The S model also gets a six-speed, short-throw manual transmission (as opposed to the Boxster's five-speed), a larger radiator, a revised suspension, 17-inch (up from 16-inch) wheels, remote keyless entry, a power trunk release, a security system, variable intermittent wipers with heated jets, a sun visor strip, a full cloth headliner, and colored front windshield moldings.
As one might guess, it's the drivetrain changes that truly separate the Boxster S from its progenitor. While the Boxster can feel lethargic in terms of power delivery and shift duty, the S model rockets away from stoplights and out of corners with authority and has a soothing engine tone that could make psychotherapy obsolete. Echoing off the canyon walls that snake away from the Pacific Ocean just north of Los Angeles, the flat six's exhaust note is one of the most inspiring sounds you'll hear for under $100,000. Those 225 foot-pounds of torque peak at a user-friendly 4,500 rpm and combine with the broad band of useable power. We found ourselves leaving the Boxster in third gear for much of our twisty work while the throttle pedal acted like a mellifluous volume knob, gently caressing those six organ pipes located just aft of the passenger cabin.
Not that shifting was in any way a chore. From the enticing placement and shape of the shifter to the positive "snick-snick" we felt with every gear swap, it was obvious that this was no standard Boxster transmission. Specifically, it's the same six-speed found in the 911, and yet another answer to the question, "Should I buy that more expensive, rear-engine Porsche?" Progressive clutch take-up further adds to the experience, taking much of the sting out of Los Angeles stop-and-go driving.
While stop-and-go driving is livable, it takes an open road with a combination of flat-out straights, high-speed sweepers, and rapid left-right transitions to fully realize what this machine is all about. Fortunately, we have a healthy collection of such roads in the SoCal area, making the real estate prices, gang shootings, occasional earthquakes, and so-called public school system almost forgivable almost. Guide the Porsche with its leather-wrapped steering wheel and it obeys every directional nuance faster than you can say "intuition." Weighting is on the heavy side, but the payoff in feedback convinces you to never question the engineers' philosophy. For Edmunds.com to rate a car's steering as "better than BMW" takes an almost otherworldly level of refinement, feel and suppleness. The Boxster S' steering is better than any BMW's.
The brakes aren't bad, either, but this was the one area that we felt the M Roadster might have the upper hand. We were fortunate enough to have BMW's direct competitor on loan for an afternoon of back-to-back comparisons with our Boxster S. In terms of pure sensory stimulation, the Porsche wins with its lower seating position, superior steering feel, dynamic suspension, lighter, more proficient transmission, and, of course, symphonious exhaust note. The brakes, however, brought about some debate as to which vehicle stopped better. Performance testing backed this up when the Boxster S used 122 feet of tarmac to haul itself down from 60 mph. Certainly not a deplorable number, but M Roadsters often accomplish this task in less than 115 feet. We found the Porsche to have a bit of brake pedal movement before the binders bit down and the pedal stiffened up. Once past this small "dead zone" the Boxster S stopped straight and hard, but pedal feel was never as progressive as in the BMW.
Braking debate aside, the Boxster S is simply a more capable vehicle than the M Roadsterat least in terms of pure performance. The four-wheel independent suspension, utilizing coil springs and backed up by anti-roll bars, is perfectly matched to the vehicle's mid-engine layout, keeping the car planted and unflappable under all but the most extremeor bone-headedcircumstances. The M Roadster, by comparison, was quicker to step out of line because of its wandering rear end that undulated excessively during rapid transitions. This, combined with the balkier five-speed transmission (remember, the S has six speeds) and higher seating position, conspire to make the BMW feel more like a formerly friendly convertible with a tarted-up drivetrain rather than a purpose-built sports carlike the S.
The Boxster S is not without its faults, however. When placed in direct comparison to cars like the M Roadster, items like interior switchgear and center stack layout go in the Bimmer's win column. Porsche has chosen a highly organic theme for the Boxster and Boxster S. Oval dash vents and glossy climate control/stereo buttons, with confusing pictograms, are the order of the day. We did like the brushed aluminum levers for fuel, trunk, and front hatch release, with this same material covering the interior door handles and shifter. Leather seat and dash covers, a large, centrally located tachometer, plus a big, fat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, further add to the Boxster's pleasant and purposeful ambiance.
Perhaps the Porsche's biggest advantage over just about any sports car sold in America is the multitude of options one can choose from to personalize their Boxster S. You want an interior trimmed in dark maple wood? No problem. But not the entire interiorno, that would be downright pretentiousjust the lower part of the dash and around the central air vents. The upper part you want in leather, with just a hint of carbon fiber thrown in on the shifter and emergency brake handle; just to, you know, keep things colorful. You can have all this, along with a park assist system, traction control, and auto dimming mirrors for a price. That base price of $50,000 can easily turn into $60,000 with two or three carefully chosen option packages. And if you want the $6,225 Aero Kit, plus you want the whole car painted Cobalt Blue Metallic, you've just crossed the $70,000 mark. And you haven't even checked off the headlight washers yet.
But anyone considering a Boxster S knows that price isn't the focus of this car. If it is, you're shopping in the wrong vehicle category. Here's a car that relays exotic car levels of passion while exhibiting solid German engineering and possessing not one, but two, fully functional storage areas. At just over nine cubic feet of luggage capacity, the Boxster S can carry almost as many belongings for a weekend getaway as a BMW 3 Series sedan, even with the top down.
That top drops in a scant 12 seconds once you release the single latch at the center of the windshield cowl. Wind buffeting at high speeds was actually less than when the car dropped below 40 mph. With the side windows up and the windblocker ($365) in place, we, uh have heard that speeds up to 100 mph are not unpleasant in terms of hair mussing.
Our particular test model had an alignment problem with its top that required some slight guidance in order to line up the latching mechanism properly when closing it. We also noticed a loose ignition switch that jiggled in the dash and a rubber fender guard in the driver's side rear wheel well that was coming apart. Other nitpicks include an overly stiff headlight switch and a multitude of tiny stereo buttons that took some effort to understand and were never easy to use while driving. But the real problem with this $50,000-plus roadster is the foggy plastic rear window that was already hard to see through at 10,200 miles. Come on, Porsche, the $22,000 Toyota MR2 has a glass rear window, with defroster! We should note that the M Roadster suffers from this same type of inexcusable and blatant cost cutting, so it made up no points on the Boxster S in this category.
Most people looking to buy a Boxster S probably aren't going to consider another vehicle seriously, with the possible exception of a 911. When loaded with goodies, the Boxster S creeps into the 911's price range without offering those 300 horsepower or legendary image (though from the front it can be hard to tell the two cars apart). Those wanting the balance of a mid-engine design have few choices in the current automotive pantheon. For less than half the price you can get Toyota's MR2 and for close to double there's Acura's NSX. Neither car is likely to appeal to Porschephiles, leaving the Boxster and Boxster S pretty much in a class by themselves.
If you're like most sports car fans, a final purchase decision can't be made on cost, value, or practicality (but if those were the criteria, a strong argument for the Boxster S could still be made). The vehicle that wins your dollar must also win your heart, and move you in ways that can't be charted on a spreadsheet, or even on twisting pavement. If you're like me, that car is the Boxster S.
Now it's time for more happy thoughts. I think in this one I'll be in Sequoia National Park as the sun sets, creating orange-colored clouds that reflect off the Boxster S' gently sloping Speed Yellow hood
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