Porsche's fully redesigned 2013 Boxster S is a little like agave nectar.
Agave nectar, to some ever-optimistic and relentlessly healthy people, is a substitute for sugar. A substitute. A gap filler. An imitation. But a viable alternative? Maybe. Maybe not.
The problem for Porsche and its Boxster is similar.
Placing the Boxster's engine between its wheels makes a statement. To those who consider such things carefully, it's the proper placement for leveraging physics for maximum performance. The Boxster's power output and position in the Porsche lineup, however, say something altogether different. More like, entry-level.
That the entry-level Porsche offers the most physically effective packaging seems at first like a mildly disguised blessing for enthusiasts. Problem is, Boxsters with even a few options are still far from cheap. Case in point: our test car and its $84,120 price tag. Nothing entry-level about that.
In fact, that sum will get you a freshly redesigned 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera. And even a stripper Carrera comes with 35 more horses and the status of being Porsche's premier sports car.
In fairness, this six-speed, 315-horsepower Boxster S is wildly over-optioned. Base price for the 2013 Porsche Boxster S is $61,850 including destination. Ours adds the $5,265 Premium package with adaptive sport seats, the $3,860 Infotainment package with Bose surround sound, plus 13 other wallet-hammering add-ons. Conspicuously absent, however, are the two most potent performance-enhancing options: the $7,400 Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brake package and the $3,200 dual-clutch PDK transmission.
Let that sink in. Meanwhile, let's talk about how it drives, shall we?
Drive It Hard
Release the Boxster's clutch for the first time and you'll immediately notice that its tall gearing demands deliberate inputs. Stop on a hill and — even with the hill-hold feature — you'll need a pedal full of revs to pull away confidently. This isn't a problem so much as it is a characteristic that defines the way this car — and all Porsches, for that matter — rewards a confident driver.
And reward it does. Once under way, there are few driving experiences as fully engrossing as the Boxster's. Even the new 911 struggles to provide this level of confidence, and we're not the first to observe that a Boxster or Cayman with equal power might prove to be a better overall package.
Drive the Boxster deep into a corner, release its brake at the last second and it ruthlessly follows steering inputs. Part of this is Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) selectively activating the brake on the inside rear to make the car's rotation precisely follow steering inputs. It's a little piece of magic that Porsche has tuned brilliantly to work with the mechanical limited-slip differential included in the PTV package.
But the simple confidence of mass centralization also does a large part of the work. Midengine cars, we're convinced, are a love-it-or-hate-it affair. You can either tolerate their immediate responses or you can't. You either like the microscopic adjustments they're capable of or you don't. Your hands are either fast enough or they're not.
If your hands happen to be fast enough, your confidence high enough and your foot heavy enough, the Boxster will eat up a technical road quicker than any car sold today. The steering response is mind-warpingly rapid, even though the electric assist robs some of the feel. Power, while not fear-producing, is substantial enough to land a novice in trouble. And even the standard steel brakes don't fade.
This, in other words, is very much a tool for serious drivers.
Striking the Right Balance
Here are two things you also might want to know about the new 2013 Porsche Boxster S. First, its lateral acceleration, at a nice even 1.0g, is better than the lightweight, wholly uncompromised, utterly focused, bikini-top-wearing 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder.
Second, its 72.8-mph slalom speed happens to be better than the last all-new 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S we tested. Clearly, this car is far from entry-level.
It also stops in 103 feet from 60 mph — within 1 foot of both the above-mentioned cars. That's not only a short stop, but the standard steel brakes hold up well even after repeated runs. Hard to imagine that the optional carbon brakes would be much better.
It might be down 35 hp to the base 911 Carrera, but the Boxster is also marginally lighter than the 911. At 3,066 pounds, this test car was also 34 pounds lighter than the last Boxster S we tested — a sure sign of progress in the right direction.
Another positive sign is this car's 4.9-second 0-60-mph time (4.7 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip). The quarter-mile passes in 13.0 seconds at 108.7 mph — 0.4 second quicker than the last Boxster S we tested and only 0.3 second slower than the all-new seven-speed 2012 911 Carrera S, which has 400 hp.
In other words, there's not only dynamic progress in the Boxster line, there's also 911-threatening performance. But the beauty, in fact the true worth of this new Boxster, is its ability to be both potent performer and a legitimate daily driver.
A large part of the new Boxster's appeal is its folding top which, using a console-mounted button, disappears behind the cockpit in less than 10 seconds even when the car is going as fast as 31 mph. It takes even less time to go back up which, by comparison, makes the old Boxster Spyder's do-it-yourself top look utterly laughable.
Porsche's Active Suspension Management (PASM) also goes a long way in yielding a more comfortable and more capable roadster. Freeway cruising and around-town driving are the realm of the default setting, while punching the dampers up to the Sport setting produces a car with truly world-class handling.
Also, there's more storage room in the Boxster than you'd expect. No, you won't stuff a golf bag in its trunk, but you also won't have any trouble loading it for a weekend trip and bringing home some additional goods. There's enough room in the front cargo area for a portly garden gnome and a bag of groceries, while the rear will easily accommodate one carry-on-size hard bag or multiple soft bags.
Also, the new start/stop feature works seamlessly, but in our hands it didn't produce impressive fuel economy. Over 791 miles of mixed driving we saw only 18.5 mpg.
Calling the Boxster a roadster is true in the sense that its top can be lowered, but there's a distinct sense of enclosure when driving. Those with short torsos will find the top of the door sill above their shoulder level. This high waistline combined with a tall rear deck and roll bars surround both driver and passenger, unlike many drop tops.
BMW's Z4 allows a purer convertible experience, but isn't in the same league when it comes to rewarding the driver. The Boxster's rear-quarter visibility is poor with the top down and miserable with it up. The upshot of this design is that it's easy to enjoy open-top motoring when it's cold or, surprisingly, when it's miserably hot. We drove the Boxster with its top down, windows up and air-conditioning on in 100-degree heat. We were reasonably comfortable and positively dorky.
Fully appreciating the Boxster can't be done without a careful look around its cockpit. Porsche, to put it simply, does interiors right. All switchgear operates with the same degree of precision that's present in this car's steering and brake pedals. The center console and center stack follow the design of the 911, which follows the layout created for the 2013 Porsche Panamera. There are a large number of buttons, but they're grouped logically and most controls are intuitive.
The tachometer is centrally mounted in the instrument panel and flanked by the speedometer on the left and a configurable driver information center on the right, which can display the navigation map as well as vital fluid temperatures, a g-meter or shift indicator. The seats, while reasonably supportive, are very firm. We found ourselves squirming after only an hour behind the wheel, but given the variegated firmness and size of human backsides, we suspect your experience will vary.
The Final Tally
Porsche will have you believe that $84,120 is a perfectly acceptable price for a Boxster S, that its customers are willing and able to shovel out that much cash for this car. And perhaps they are, but that's a lot of money for an "entry-level" anything — even a Porsche.
What's more, you can option a Boxster up to $100,000 should you go absolutely insane with the option selection, but Porsche's à la carte approach does give buyers the rare opportunity to get only the features they want without adding those they don't.
Despite its cost and its nuances, we'll be the first to acknowledge that the new 2013 Porsche Boxster is a stunning automobile — both for the back-road banker and the average accountant. Its dynamic abilities are as remarkable as they should be, given its packaging. And despite being the starter Porsche, it's got enough grunt to satisfy all but the most demanding power brokers.
Agave nectar the Boxster is not. It's the real deal. Just be prepared to pay for it.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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