Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
Convertibles have always occupied a special place in the hearts of those who love to drive. Whether it's the feeling of spaciousness afforded by the peeled back roof or simply the warm glare of the sun that makes drop tops so special, it really doesn't matter they just feel good.
A similar description is often attached to cars bearing the Porsche nameplate. With ultraprecise steering, rock-solid suspensions and exhaust notes that render stereos almost unnecessary, driving a Porsche has always been an experience to remember. Although the 911 has been the staple of Porsche's lineup for over three decades, the debut of the Boxster in 1997 ushered in a new era of the slightly more affordable Porsche convertible.
With its compact, midengine layout and formidable handling prowess, the Boxster quickly became one of the best-selling cars in the ultracompetitive luxury roadster segment. Although many of its competitors had equally prestigious names, the Boxster's thrilling driving experience was often enough to keep buyers from looking any further.
But as the competition improves so must the Boxster. For 2003, both the standard model and the high-powered "S" version received minor upgrades to keep them relevant in the face of faster, more refined rivals.
The Boxster was already a handsome two-seater by most standards, so this year's exterior enhancements are subtle at most, refining the car's overall look much more so than drastically changing it. The front and rear turn signal lenses have been changed from yellow to gray, while the front air dam features larger, more sculpted intakes. The functional side air intakes are now body-colored and the rear spoiler has been altered ever so slightly. Unless you're a true Boxster enthusiast, you're not likely to notice the differences, but when viewed side by side against the old model, the enhancements are a noticeable upgrade.
The interior changes are equally inconspicuous. There's now a proper glovebox in the dash, an improved cupholder and more easily accessible climate controls. A Bose digital audio system is a new option, as well, finally giving the Boxster an audio system worth paying for. Numerous complaints from journalists and consumers alike also forced the change from a plastic rear window to a glass one.
The rest of the cabin is still comfortable and well suited to spirited driving. The seats feel as firm and supportive as ever despite their rather meager looks. A roughly five-hour-long test drive revealed no shortcomings when it came to comfort, but the seats' pairing of manual and electric controls still seems odd, especially for a car in this price range. The view is excellent no matter how you position the seat, and the automatic top still opens and closes in just 12 seconds.
Although style plays an important part in Porsche's success, performance is always the number-one priority. A revised version of Porsche's VarioCam valve timing system results in a moderate horsepower increase over last year's numbers. This brings the standard model's horsepower total to 228 while the Boxster S gets bumped to a healthy 258 hp. The new system is also credited with spreading the available torque across a wider power band. Porsche claims that these changes shave two-tenths of a second off both model's 0-to-60 mph times.
The suspension also received a few minor performance tweaks. The standard Boxster now sports the same spring and damper settings as last year's S model, while the '03 S gets a slight upgrade to its rear antiroll bar. Redesigned wheels not only look different, they weigh less than their predecessors as well.
Our day-long test drive revealed little difference between old and new, but considering how good the car was already, it wasn't much of a disappointment. The standard Boxster takes some attention to maintain a good speed, but it rarely feels underpowered. The S is still the one to own, however, as it pulls strong from nearly any rpm.
Shifter throws are short but a bit notchy on engagement, while the steering remains a near perfect connection between your hands and the road. If there was any one change that seemed more apparent than the others, it would be the reworked exhaust system. Although certainly not as loud and throaty as we would like it to be, the Boxster's distinctive burble sounds a bit more prominent at idle than before, and all the more satisfying at full song.
We doubt these negligible changes will be enough to attract significant numbers of new buyers to the Porsche fraternity, but for those who may have already been considering a Boxster, the upgrades make it all the more enticing. The biggest problem facing the Boxster now is the fact that while it only received a minor freshening, its main competition is readying fully redesigned models to attract new customers. BMW is gearing up for the release of its all-new Z4 later this fall while Mercedes and Audi are deep into the development of new versions of their SLK and TT roadsters. There will also be a Nissan 350Z Roadster available in 2003.
As it stands now, however, the Boxster is still a sports car to be reckoned with. Other roadsters may boast more power under the hood but few display the near perfect balance that makes the Boxster such a thoroughly enjoyable partner when the road turns twisty. The addition of practical items like a glovebox and a better cupholder might seem a bit out of place on such an athletic automobile, but if you think of them as all the more reason to make it your daily driver, the domestic add-ons don't seem so trivial. Whether they'll be enough to hold the competition at bay for another few years is doubtful, but for now the Boxster still possesses just enough performance and style to keep it in the hunt.
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