Call it the Little Brother Syndrome.
Porsche launched the Boxster in 1997, and since then, it's spent much of its time in the shadow of its famous big brother, the 911. Bad enough that the Boxster has had to duke it out in the marketplace with the likes of the BMW Z4, Chevy Corvette and Honda S2000, the biggest challenge it faced was not from competition without, but rather from comparisons within.
Weighing the Boxster against the vaunted 911 is probably inevitable, given its lineage, but this has kept some people from seeing the car in its own light, and that's a shame. In many respects, the Boxster is Porsche's most compelling car. For one thing, the forty-something price point is more affordable to more people. More importantly, its driving dynamics are among the most user-friendly in the Porsche lineup. The Boxster's mid-engine balance and spot-on handling make everyone comfortable behind the wheel. Decades ago, the 911 demanded a good driver. Cornering the car with the rear-mounted flat six could flat out spell trouble, unless you knew the 911's nuances. That's history, of course. Generations of electronics and engineering have long ago tamed the twitchiness of the 911's tail, so anyone can drive one quickly. The Boxster, by comparison, has always been invitingly elemental, forgivingly, fundamentally balanced.
Owning a Boxster is like having a long distance relationship. While you and the engine may become close, chances are you aren't going to see each other very often. Not at all in fact, unless you plan on crawling beneath to go where it lives. Indeed, Porsche has put a bit more distance between the two of you this year. The dipstick - formerly a tool that Boxster owners could use to commune with their engines - is gone. Porsche has replaced the ubiquitous rod with an electronic monitoring system. No more oily rendezvous, no chances to eyeball the oil color and ponder its remaining usable life. The engine now keeps tabs on such matters and a dashboard light indicates when attention is needed.
By the numbers
Both Boxsters feel as athletic as ever, and driving them is sheer joy. The engines pull smoothly all the way to the redline, and it sings sweetly in the higher registers. With an absolute, glued to the pavement cornering feel, the car lives for twisty roads and when presented with them, behaves as if hardwired to your brain. Fine, flat handling, smooth power flow and quick reflexes characterize the Boxster driving experience. The four-wheel, ventilated-disc brakes are strong and fade-free, but for those who just have to have the cutting edge in binders, bring your wallet. Porsche offers a ceramic composite brake option - for $8,100. The distinction between regular and S cars is most apparent in ride quality. The Boxster S has more speed and grip than the base car, but it also rides harder, telegraphing road bumps through the cabin.
First rate describes the driving position. The seat height has been lowered this year, the pedals moved forward and the headrests slightly back. Reach and feel for the steering wheel, shifter and pedals are near ideal. Once you slide inside, you come to grips with a new, tilt and telescoping wheel. The tach is still front and center in the updated instrument cluster, but other gauges have been enlarged and spaced further apart to make them easier to read. Less easy to see are the readouts for temperature and fan settings. They're positioned at the bottom of the button-busy center stack, where top-down sunlight tends to wash out the displays. Cabin storage spots are many in number, small in size. Overhead, the Boxster's rag top is three layers thick (formerly two) with a heated, glass backlight. The trip from up to down takes about 12 seconds - just pop the header latch and push a button. When down, the top sits semi-enclosed under a hard boot. And, if a hair-trigger stoplight catches you in mid-movement, the Boxster's got your back: the top can be raised or lowered at speeds of up to 31 mph. When closed, the top is snug and weather-tight, and the cabin is relatively calm and wind-free when down - provided that you invest $375 in the windstop. Drop-top drivers should consider this surprisingly optional item a mandatory purchase.
While 80 percent of the 2005 Porsche Boxster's components are new, the visual cues are few. But, those who aren't deterred by the subtleties of Stuttgart styling changes or the near 911 nose will be rewarded with a sweet ride and a sound value. At $43,800 for the standard model, a 2005 Boxster is $2,570 less than a comparably equipped '04. With its racing reflexes, stiffer ride and near $10,000 price bump over base cars, the "S" in S models really stands for specialized. In either guise, the 2005 Porsche Boxster will satisfy all but the hardest core of drivers.
Engine Size and Type: 2.7-liter and 3.2-liter horizontally-opposed six-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 240 at 6,400 rpm; 280 at 6,200 rpm
Engine Torque: 199 lb.-ft between 4,700 and 6,000 rpm; 236 lb.-ft. Between 4,700 and 6,000 rpm
Competitors: Audi TT 3.2, BMW Z4 3.0i, Chevrolet Corvette, Chrysler Crossfire, Honda S2000, Lexus SC 430, Lotus Elise, Mercedes-Benz SLK 350, Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG, Nissan 350Z
What's pricing and when does the 2005 Porsche Boxster go on sale?
Boxsters go on sale January 15, 2005. Base Boxsters start at $43,800 and S models begin at $53,100. . Some popular options include:
Tiptronic automatic $3,210
Bi-Xenon headlamps $990
Active Suspension Management $1,990
What are the 2005 Porsche Boxster's strong points and weak points?
Strong points include an intuitive driving feel and a driver-first cabin. The Boxster possesses a beautifully balanced blend of handling and power. Everything that the driver needs is well positioned. Well, almost everything. The new center console has gotten busy and the readouts can wash out in strong sunlight. Styling is still close to past models and similar to the 911 - too similar, for some tastes. Base models are the best values. At almost ten large less out of pocket, they offer 95 percent of the Boxster S's performance, and the smoother ride will be appreciated every day that you drive it.
--Photography © Dan Lyons 2004