When the roadster revival was revving up in the late 1990s, the Porsche Boxster was leading the charge, its flat-six singing its way into the hearts of thousands of enthusiasts. Of course, we acknowledge that the perky Mazda Miata reignited (or perhaps answered a long pent-up demand for) the two-seat, convertible sports car market at the start of that decade. But those who were looking for more performance and luxury had to wait until 1997, when Porsche introduced the Boxster and BMW offered six-cylinder power in its Z3 roadster (which had debuted the year before). Inspired by the Porsche 550 Spyder of the 1950s, the Boxster offered the fine balance of a midengine chassis along with drop-top fun. The name for this little delight comes from the words boxer, a nickname for an engine that uses horizontally opposed cylinders in its design, and roadster, the car's body style.
With the advent of Audi's TT roadster, Nissan's 350Z roadster, a redesigned Mercedes-Benz SLK and the new Lotus Elise, Porsche could hardly rest on its laurels for another year. It was high time for the engineers and designers to fire up their computers as well as their imaginations.
As is Porsche's fashion, the styling changes for the new Boxster are evolutionary, not revolutionary. And that's how Porsche, and its customers, like it. Subtle changes to the body yield a more muscular physique, notably in the front fascia and rear quarters. The new nose, especially the more traditional, rounded headlights give the Porsche Boxster a close resemblance to its 911 big brother. The taillights are likewise more cohesive and, in profile, tie in with other Porsche models, including the ultraexotic Carrera GT. Those enthusiasts with a sharp eye for details will also notice the slightly larger side windows, which offer a hint to one of the improvements inside. Filling out the wheel wells are bigger wheels, 17s on standard Boxsters and 18s on the S model. If those aren't enough, 19-inchers are optional on both models.
Once you get past ogling the flowing body contours and open the door, a completely revamped cockpit awaits. As expected, the gauges are large and the tach takes center stage, but unlike the previous Boxster, the switchgear has a higher-quality look and feel to it. Window switches have been relocated to the doors, and a new navigation system option features a relatively large (for a sports car) 5.8-inch screen. In place of a floating hood over the instruments, there is now a more conventionally shaped dash. And covering that dash, as well as the doors and console, is a material that does a good job mimicking the look and feel of leather. The shiny, hard plastic buttons that would've gotten our scorn in a Chevy Malibu are thankfully gone, with upgraded switches in their place.
The radio, however, still retains its matchhead-sized preset buttons, though this ergonomic faux-pas can be remedied by an optional steering wheel that features spoke-mounted audio controls. Spicing things up is an odd couple of accents — simulated aluminum on the steering wheel and door releases and faux titanium on the center stack and across the dash.
The 2005 Porsche Boxster also offers more room and comfort in the cockpit, granted by the slightly larger roof, tilt and telescopic adjustments for the steering wheel and the relocation of the pedals closer to the firewall. Significant improvements in the area of safety have also been made. Equipped with six airbags, the Porsche Boxster is the first roadster with head airbags, which join the front bags and side-impact bags to offer maximum protection against stop sign- and red-light scofflaws. A 25mm (almost an inch) taller safety bar (being old school, we call them roll bars), higher headrests and lower seats promise more protection for noggins in the unlikely event that the Boxster is rolled. Also standard this year is Porsche's stability control system, dubbed PSM (for Porsche Stability Management), further enhancing safety for the Boxster's occupants.
Although we found the standard seats fine in terms of long-distance comfort and lateral support when pushing the car, there are three optional seats: full (12-way) power including lumbar support; sport seats that have more aggressive side bolsters; and adaptive sport seats that also have power adjustment for the side supports.
Backing up the Boxster's beefier look is a pair of more powerful engines. The 2.7-liter unit in the standard Boxster now boasts 240 horsepower (up from 225) and the 3.2-liter mill in the S has an eager 280 horses (up from 258). Peak torque is increased as well, with the base car having 199 pound-feet (versus 192 lb-ft) and the new S having 236 lb-ft (versus 229 lb-ft). A variable volume intake manifold pumps up the power curve, as does less restrictive exhaust plumbing.
Transmission choices remain a five-speed manual for the standard Porsche Boxster, six-speed manual for the S and optional five-speed Tiptronic (shiftable automatic) for both. All trannies have been revised for quicker, more precise action — the shifter throw on manuals, for example, has been reduced by 27 percent.
Our drive route was comprised chiefly of twisting, two-lane blacktop that wound its way through vast farmlands in Central California. In other words, we had a perfect environment in which to put the Porsche Boxster through its paces. Starting out in a base Boxster, we confirmed the claim the Porsche folks made for increased structural integrity — running over broken pavement brought no wiggles to the cockpit, the car just felt solid as a rock. The stronger engine also made its presence known; when running hard through the hills and curves there was always a rush of power available. The engine's eager response coupled with the sweet-shifting five-speed made us wonder if it's worth spending the extra beans for the S model — the standard Boxster powertrain is that good.
Of course, we also drove an S. And yeah, we noticed it had more muscle when blasting from corner to corner, but we imagine that the base car should satisfy most anyone's lust for speed. Porsche's stated performance numbers for 0-60 mph and top speed are 5.9 seconds and 159 mph, respectively, for the Boxster and 5.2 seconds and 167 mph for the Porsche Boxster S. Another upgrade is a howling exhaust note that's even sweeter than before, especially when you're keeping the revs up over 4 grand. Backing up the go power is a set of brakes that are larger than before and feature cross-drilled front rotors for more efficient cooling.
Getting on the binders hard time and again bolstered our confidence in the car's ability to quickly scrub off speed. With powerful and linear action controlled by a reassuringly firm pedal, the brakes are simply first-rate. Those who plan on racing their Boxster S should know that Ceramic Composite Brakes are optional. These motorsports-derived brakes, which are standard on the big-buck Carrera GT, are 50-percent lighter and offer more friction than standard discs.
One of the hallmarks and simple joys of a Porsche is its steering, in terms of action and feel as well as communication to the driver. Fitted with variable-ratio technology, the new steering setup does the company proud and allows for relaxed cruising (no twitchy response on the interstate or highway) while providing quicker response when zipping through the corners. Feedback is superb.
Of course, great steering is nothing without a great suspension. No worries there. On the firm side, the Boxster's suspension is all about handling. Aggressive driving reveals a flat, utterly composed cornering attitude and a high level of grip. Push harder and the car just seems even more locked into its groove. So well balanced is the Boxster that we always felt in supreme control; the limits of this car are considerably higher than the skill level of most drivers. In short, you don't have to be driving at 9/10s to enjoy the nimble, spirited performance of the Boxster, or Boxster S, for that matter. Still, we imagine this car would be a ball on a closed course, a great choice for club racing.
So how much is all this fun, refinement and safety going to cost ya? Actually, considering its more generous list of standard features, the 2005 Boxster is effectively priced less than the outgoing model. The hard numbers are $43,800 base price for the Boxster with a $53,100 base for the S.
After thoroughly enjoying our half-day of seat time with the two Boxsters, we think the Porsche folks deserve a round of free biers. More power is always nice, and is even better when it's usable in daily driving and not gotten at the expense of low-speed response. The athletic chassis is even better than before, safety has been increased and the Boxster's previous chief weakness, namely a mediocre cabin, has been effectively addressed.
I'm thinking that we need to add a Porsche Boxster to our long-term fleet .