Plenty of Porsche Magic
Imagine you're a midengine Porsche nut with money to spend. Your collection of Stuttgart's finest already includes a 550 Spyder, an RSK and a new Carrera GT. Life is good. You spend your days sipping vitamin-enriched designer water, playing lawn sports and mastering the heel-and-toe downshift. Then, without warning, tragedy strikes. You lose the use of your left foot in a freak bocce ball accident.
What do you do?
Well, besides a quick switch to a less obnoxious beverage, we suggest hopping down to your local Porsche store and plunking down the green for one of these: a 2005 Porsche Boxster S with the optional five-speed Tiptronic S automanual transmission. It's a midengine Porsche with no nasty clutch pedal. In fact, it's a midengine Porsche with no nasty anything.
Trust us, life is still good.
Redesigned for 2005
According to Porsche, nearly 55 percent of the newly redesigned 2005 Boxster and Boxster S comes directly from the newly redesigned 2005 Porsche 911 Carrera, including the steering, front structure, seats and electronics. We're not sure if that makes the 911 the world's greatest parts bin, or the Boxster the world's greatest kit car, and we don't care. The resulting ride is the greatest argument for parts interchangeability since the assembly line.
The base Boxster rides on standard 17-inch rubber and is powered by a 2.7-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder rated at 240 hp at 6,400 rpm and 199 pound-feet of torque at 4,700 rpm. Add the S and everything goes up. Tire diameter is now 18 inches, displacement is bumped to 3.2 liters, and power is a more respectable 280 hp at 6,200 rpm and 236 lb-ft at 4,700 rpm.
This may be the second generation of the Boxster, but you'd never know it from the curb. In fact, during our photo shoot we stopped at a supermarket and ended up wasting a few minutes of good light when the photographer, vitamin-enriched designer water in hand, couldn't unlock the car. Turns out he was attempting to enter a blue 2004 Boxster S, which we secretly planted nearby to confuse him.
Look closely and the new model's wider stance, larger side scoops, reshaped headlamps and more pronounced haunches are noticeable, but only if you look closely.
Nicer Office, but
Inside, the changes are more apparent. Boxster aficionados will recognize the new car's instrumentation, basic layout and pronounced rollover hoops, but the rest is new. Better, too.
There's a bit more room for taller drivers, and the quality of materials is up, although not as high as we would like. "The car feels a little downmarket," wrote one tester in the car's logbook. "It's better than it once was, but the little door covering the ashtray in the center console feels cheap, the inside door handles are noisy and the insubstantial feel of the doors themselves leaves a poor impression."
Seat comfort, on the other hand, is extraordinary, as is the seating position. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels a bit large at first, but you quickly realize it's perfectly sized.
Wind control with the top down is excellent, but wind noise above 70 mph with the top up can be enough to overpower the optional Bose sound system. On the upside, this is still the only sports car you'll find with two sizable trunks.
Ergonomics are both good and bad. Overall, everything is placed properly, and the two hideaway cupholders are pure genius, but the sound system is a sea of small, tightly packed buttons, and the gear selection readout on the gauge cluster is so small it borders on useless when you're running hard.
Plenty of Porsche Magic
The above gripes are immediately forgotten the first time you flick the Boxster S into a corner. That's when the Porsche magic takes over.
This car can be driven wickedly fast. Pace is really just a matter of skill, guts and conditions. Running out of car is rarely part of the equation. Grip seems endless, even with the Porsche Stability Management (PSM) turned off, and we mean off. Unlike before, PSM doesn't automatically reactivate when the brake pedal is depressed. Instead, the new system lies back until the brake pedal is pushed hard enough to exceed the ABS control threshold on at least one front wheel.
Fact is, if you're that deep in the ABS in this car on a public road, chances are you've entered a corner too quickly or a wolverine has appeared in your path. Either way you'll be thankful for the help.
Some will find the Boxster's around-town ride too stiff. Those people shouldn't buy Porsches. The firm ride, which is really never harsh, is a small sacrifice for the two-seater's rapid reflexes.
We also must throw praise at the Porsche's perfect balance, its tight chassis and its awesome interaction with its driver. The Boxster's steering lives and breathes, its throttle response is skin tight, and its brakes are the best binders we've ever tested. Fade-free, great pedal action and a 60-mph-to-0 stopping distance of 105 feet.
The really good news, however, is that the Tiptronic S transmission, while not perfect, and certainly not preferable over a true manual box, doesn't dilute too much of the above brilliance. Gear changes are almost quick enough, either up or down, and the gear ratios are spot on. It also gives you the option of left foot braking, just like Schumacher.
Ironically, it's around town where the Tiptronic loses our love. Of course the Tiptronic makes traffic jams more tolerable, but the tradeoff is a Porsche with a laid-back disposition. It's like the Porsche that swallowed a Xanax.
Part of the problem is that the transmission starts in second gear unless you floor the throttle off the line. This does not exactly make the most of the boxer's power band and makes the car feel sluggish. The transmission also upshifts too quickly, so you find yourself running 40 or 50 mph in fifth gear, which means the engine is too often lying limp just off idle.
You can solve both problems by driving the car hard and shifting gears manually with the steering wheel-mounted rocker switches, but it's just too easy to drop it in drive and go. And you find yourself driving the Boxster like a Camry.
Another shortcoming of the Tiptronic is slower off-the-line acceleration. Even if you womp the throttle from a stop, the automatic just makes you wait longer for the six-cylinder to find its sweet spot. It isn't slow, but in today's sports car world a 0-to-60-mph time of 6.1 seconds and quarter-mile performance of 14.3 seconds at 101 mph aren't what legends are made of.
Get the Stick
A base Boxster costs $43,800. A Boxster S will run ya $53,100. Our Lapis Blue Boxster S test car also wore options that spiked its MSRP to over $61 grand. The two most expensive were the 19-inch wheels and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport tires, which come from the Carrera S and cost $1,550, and the Tiptronic S transmission, which costs a whopping $3,210. Automatics usually cost about a grand.
The car is worth the coin, but if you don't play bocce ball, stick with the standard six-speed manual.
Manager of Vehicle Testing Kelly Toepke says:
Call me crazy, but the fewer days I spend behind the wheel of a manual-shift car, the better. That, in a nutshell, is why I've become a fan of minivans and wagons. They're nearly always equipped with a user-friendly automatic transmission.
Every now and then along comes a sports car that the boys in the office poo-poo for its auto shifter, and I get the opportunity to infuse my automatic lifestyle with a big dose of fun. For me, the Porsche Boxster was just such an occasion. There's nothing dismissed so quickly as a woman piloting a minivan, and the Boxster gave me back an afternoon of attractive youth.
Did I care that its Tiptronic transmission prevented it from making the hard-core sports car group? Not in the least. The Boxster still has a look that turns heads, top up or down, nimble steering to provide plenty of excitement on the twisty roads, and extra grip that convinces you that you're the best driver on the road.
All that fun and still no sore clutch leg. For me, that's a winning combination.
Senior Editor Ed Hellwig says:
The workers in Zuffenhausen must wince in disgust every time they're asked to fit a Tiptronic automatic transmission into a new Boxster. They sit there helpless as years of engineering and testing go out the window so some stockbroker can have a free hand to work his Blackberry. It's like a tailor being asked to put gold buttons on an Armani suit.
And this isn't simply an out-of-hand dismissal based purely on the Tiptronic's existence in our test car. I went in with an open mind, but drove it and loathed it after a single city block. It creeps away from a stop in second gear, lurches with every downshift and otherwise erases the intimate connection between car and driver that makes a Porsche a Porsche.
I eventually got past the slushbox and found some redeeming qualities of this all-new Boxster. The interior no longer reminds you of its "entry-level" status as there are fewer hard plastics and better attention to detail. And with 280 horsepower you no longer have to worry about getting smoked by every joker in an M3 who thinks he's Michael Schumacher. Then there's the quick steering, the bigger and stickier tires and, of course, that sound. It was almost enough to make me forget that I couldn't heel-and-toe downshift or smoke the tires from a stop, but I never did.
System Score: 9.0
Components: Our test car was upgraded with the optional Bose surround sound system that will set you back an extra $950. For that sizable chunk of change you get an 11-speaker setup and all the latest sound processing technology in the Bose arsenal. It's a surprising number of speakers considering the size of the cabin, but they all fit nicely without taking up valuable space. The subs are buried behind the seats in a custom 11-liter enclosure with a pair of mid/tweeters mounted just behind the headrests. The doors house 3-inch mids and 8-inch woofers while the dash gets 1-inch tweeters at each corner and a 2.5-inch midrange center channel to fill things out.
Despite the fact that the entire cabin was redesigned for 2005, Porsche stuck with its less-than-accommodating head unit that features a long row of soft control buttons that never become intuitive no matter what they're controlling. It also has a frustrating manual tuning knob that jumps between presets instead of individual frequencies. The fact that it's only a single-disc CD player is also disappointing. A trunk-mounted six-disc changer is optional.
Performance: Design issues aside, this is certainly one of the better systems we've heard in a Porsche sports car. Some of its previous setups struggled to produce rich, full-range sound from too few speakers. With 11 speakers we expected it to be good and we weren't disappointed.
First off, there's power to spare with this system. The Bose digital amplifier delivers plenty of clean power so you can crank it up to seriously loud levels even with the top down. There's no clipping at the top no matter how high you care to go, and the low end stays distortion-free even when the rearview mirror is blurring from the bass.
Advanced features include Audio Pilot noise compensation technology and both Surrround Stage and Centerpoint signal processing. The Audio Pilot system is designed to "listen" to the interior environment and compensate for outside influences by altering the output to individual speakers. In other words, it's a complicated means of adjusting for rolled-down windows, and although we noticed a difference with it on we wouldn't necessarily call it a must-have feature.
The Surround Stage system is similar in nature in that it optimizes the sound stage to compensate for the fact that you're not sitting dead center between the speakers. It works in conjunction with the Centerpoint circuitry that splits two channels into five to create a multidirectional surround sound experience.
Even without the surround circuitry on, you still get full-range sound, but instead of enveloping you it sounds like it's coming from the dashboard area. Switch on the surround processor and the difference is obvious as the cabin fills with rich, full sound that doesn't give the impression that it's coming from any one specific speaker.
Engage all the circuitry at once and the results are impressive. One of the shortcomings of previous Porsche systems was relatively shallow bass that never quite had enough thump. Between the sizable enclosure and dual subs, this system delivers the kind of tight, accurate and deep-seated bass you would expect in a high-end system.
Same goes for the highs, as the combination of reflecting dashboard tweeters and rear-mounted tweeters reproduces voice clarity that never cracks. Add in plenty of midrange from the door-mounted mids and woofers and you've got yourself a flexible system that can play just about anything with striking detail.
Best Feature: Enough power to make it sound good even with the top down on the highway.
Worst Feature: Faceplate layout leaves you wondering which buttons do what.
Conclusion: If you love to crank it up loud, top up or down, this system delivers on all points. Other than the lack of an in-dash CD changer, you're not going to be left wishing for anything more from this high-tech system. — Ed Hellwig