Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
"It's the new 2009 Porsche Boxster. It's got two transmissions in one! Be one of the first 100 callers and we'll include this key chain absolutely free! Make just 60 easy payments of just $899! Call now!"
If Porsche did late-night infomercials on television, they'd probably sound much like that. But here's the thing — if we were watching, we'd be scrambling to the phone to sign up, our economy-frazzled credit cards be damned. The 2009 Porsche Boxster and 2009 Porsche Boxster S are that good.
"Two in one? That's unbelievable, Dieter!"
Looks the Same on the Outside We're driving the 2009 Porsche Boxster at Willow Springs International Raceway, about 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles on the fringe of the Mojave Desert. A line of shiny new 2009 Boxsters awaits us, and from a distance, they look like multicolored M&Ms.
Get close and you might shrug and think the new car looks the same as any other second-generation Boxster. And, well, it pretty much does. Model-year 2009 is more of an update for the second-gen Boxster (it debuted for 2005 and had some changes for 2007), and almost all of the updates are mechanical ones hidden from view. No flashy vinyl graphics or new wheel covers here.
The most significant update for 2009 is the addition of the Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, or PDK. If you've read our coverage of the 2009 Porsche 911, then you know the deal with PDK, which supplements the standard six-speed manual transmission. This is Porsche's new seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, which is meant to replace the Boxster's former five-speed automatic. The Boxster's PDK transmission is different in detail from the 911's PDK, but it utilizes the same dual-clutch technology.
Similar in concept to Volkswagen's DSG, the PDK is meant to combine the fuel-efficiency and quick drivetrain response delivered by a manual transmission with the ease of operation of an automatic. Fully automated, the PDK does its own little Sudoku puzzle-solving with two gearsets and two wet-type clutches to provide exceptionally quick gearchanges.
All Without a Clutch Pedal? That's Unbelievable! Like other automated manual transmissions, you can either leave the PDK in Drive for automatic shifting or select manual mode, the latter accomplished by moving the shift lever on the center console into the manual gate or by using the buttons on the steering wheel. On the high-speed track at Willow Springs, we found ourselves leaving the PDK in Drive. Partially, this is because Porsche has chosen the Bizarro-world orientation for the gearlever, because you push forward for upshifts and pull back for downshifts. But we'll also admit that Drive mode meant there would be less of a chance that we'd make an ass of ourselves in front of professional racers Derek Bell and Hurley Haywood, who were Porsche's driving instructors for the day.
If we had been driving a car with a manual transmission, for sure we would have blown a heel-and-toe downshift in front of Hurley. With PDK, however, you are Hurley. Every upshift clicks off with the crispness of a rifle shot, and every downshift is rev-matched with expert precision. There are three modes for shift action in Drive — Normal, Sport and Sport Plus. Porsche has programmed Sport Plus to deliver max-attack shifts at redline, the perfect strategy for track duty.
Meanwhile, since PDK is doing the shifting, you'll be free to concentrate on the Boxster's exceptional balance in the corners. No question, this has been the most compelling attribute on the midengine Boxster's resumé since the car was first introduced in 1997. The 911's rear-engine layout will always have a special place in a car enthusiast's heart because of the exceptional traction and braking it offers, but the Boxster's handling through corners is as sharp as a knife from J.A. Henckels — and it's so free of vices that you won't mess up and cut off your thumb, either.
A few suspension changes make the Boxster even better in the corners for 2009. The base-model Boxster gets a slightly wider front track and the same uprated brakes as the S model, and both the base car and S have revised suspension tuning and grippier tires. As before, the Boxster can be specified with the PASM option with its adjustable dampers and a slightly lower ride height.
But Wait, There's More! Just as with the 2009 Porsche 911, the Boxster also incorporates some magic in the engine compartment that might be even more significant than the addition of PDK.
The base-model Boxster now has a 2.9-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine that delivers 255 horsepower at 7,200 rpm, 10 hp more than the former 2.7-liter six. (Remember when only the Boxster S had 255 hp?) It also produces 214 pound-feet of torque, 14 lb-ft more than before.
Meanwhile, the 2009 Porsche Boxster S still features a 3.4-liter flat-6, but the addition of direct fuel injection works magic, permitting a combination of features that produces more output without compromising fuel-efficiency. The S model's engine is rated at 310 hp at 7,200 rpm and 265 lb-ft of torque at 4,750 rpm. The S model accelerates to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 5.3 seconds when you're rowing the six-speed manual transmission. This isn't much quicker than before, but the benefits of direct injection are tangible in the real world, as there's more midrange torque for better tractability, and there's less of a drop-off in power as the engine nears redline.
Are you reaching for the phone yet?
Boxster — Now With Launch-Control Crystals Any time you have more than 300 hp in a package that weighs less than 3,000 pounds, you're going to get some pretty stellar acceleration. Nail the throttle and the Boxster S blasts forward while its flat-6 delivers a glorious soundtrack. Porsche says a Boxster with PDK actually accelerates quicker than one with a traditional manual transmission because there's less time lost while changing between gears.
Once you opt for the Sports Chrono package, PDK also comes with launch control — brake-torque the transmission like you would a regular automatic, release the brake and you're off. We tried it, and it worked pretty well — we noticed some minor axle hop and flashing traction control lights, but overall it's a much harder launch than you'd get with a Tiptronic automatic and a far more consistent one than you'd get with a manual. PDK provides superior fuel economy, too, thanks to the super-overdrive 7th gear.
Aside from the awkward operation of the buttons on the steering wheel, the PDK's only downside is that it doesn't provide the same enjoyable mechanical interface you get from working a clutch pedal and rowing the gears. As dual-clutch transmissions evolve, it's become clear to us that this technology is a substitute for an automatic transmission, not a manual one.
Operators Are Standing by There are a few other minor changes to the overall Boxster package this year as well. Outside, there's subtly revised front and rear styling and new wheel designs. Inside, Porsche has fitted the latest version of PCM (Porsche Control Management), which includes a larger display screen and a less cluttered interface that's easier to use. New options include a mechanical limited-slip rear differential, ventilated seats, an iPod adapter and a heated steering wheel.
"That's right, Klaus. You get all this, plus the two-in-one transmission and more power, all for one low, low price!"
Actually, pricing for the 2009 Porsche Boxster hasn't yet been announced. We don't expect the starting point to rise much compared to 2008, but dipping heavily into the car's extensive list of options will no doubt raise the car's price to uncomfortable levels. The 2009 Boxster hits dealerships in March 2009.
All other car infomercials, we think, are going to have some catching up to do.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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