Snow raining down from above, ice-covered road conditions beckoning, and eight-foot snowbanks on either side - surely the ideal conditions for testing out Porsche's new drop-top roadster, the 2013 Porsche Boxster S, right? Not exactly - but when you get the call to attend Porsche's Camp4 winter driving school and put in some sideways seat-time in one of the world's best driver's cars, you don't say no. I trekked up to the Mecaglisse rally school in Quebec, Canada to test out the 2013 Porsche Boxster S in some of the slickest conditions that the entry-level sports car is ever likely to see, and the experience was an illuminating one that illustrated several key differences between the Porsche and it's own in-house competitor: the 911 Carrera.
The Boxster S might in some ways be seen as the understudy to the brand's 911 coupe and convertible, but in truth there are a number of dynamic differences between the two vehicles that are dramatically revealed when opening up the throttle on an ice-covered road surface. In fact, in some ways the new Boxster S could be accused of stealing its more prominent cousin's thunder - at least when it comes to accessible performance.
The current-generation Porsche Boxster S makes use of a shorter version of the same platform that underpins the 911 Carrera, but instead of placing the motor behind the rear wheels it sits amidships where it creates a pivot-point that is completely absent from the 911's character. Rather than slinging the tail through a corner, the Boxster S chooses to rotate around its own axis, which dramatically changes the driving style needed to squeeze the most performance out of the automobile. The car is also lighter than the previous year's model, despite being just over an inch longer and boasting a wider wheelbase, and it also features a much more rigid chassis.
I wasn't dodging cones on asphalt or screaming down paved S-curves at Mecaglisse in the 2013 Porsche Boxster S - instead I was tearing up a series of icy tracks using 3-mm studded Nokian tires that did their best to provide traction to the rear drive wheels and front steering rubber at speeds that would have gotten me committed to an asylum had they been attempted in similar conditions on public roads. There is perhaps no better demonstrator of automotive physics in action than a surface where grip is at an absolute premium, and this afforded me with the opportunity to explore the delicate differences between sliding sideways through the snow in a Boxster S versus that of its more expensive stable mate.
Mid-Engine Makes All The Difference
The 2013 Porsche Boxster S' 3.4-liter, six-cylinder mill is largely unchanged from the previous model, adding five extra horsepower thanks to exhaust and intake tweaks (bringing the total to 315 ponies) but keeping torque flat at 266 lb-ft. The model I tested at Mecaglisse was outfitted with the optional Sport Chrono package and its seven-speed DSG automated manual transmission, which unfortunately came with terrible shift-buttons on the steering wheel rather than the 911's much more useful paddles.
Buttons or no buttons, it was immediately clear that the Boxster S would not be responsive to the same throttle-happy oversteer shenanigans that proved to be the most effective method for hot-shoeing the 911 Carrera through the same type of slippery conditions. Instead, in order to coax the Porsche to drift elegantly up and down the undulating courses that had been prepared for us at Mecaglisse it was necessary to make constant, smooth inputs via the steering wheel and the gas pedal in order to coax the roadster to maintain its forward momentum on the ice while remaining controllable with its front-end facing a wall of white. The end result of a successful drift run in the Boxster S resembled something like a combination of mechanical ballet and a ping pong match, complete with pre-planned choreography and the need for the quick response of fast-twitch muscles to save the car from being buried, nose-first, in the snow.
Needless to say, our most enjoyable and quickest runs of the day came with Porsche Stability Management switched to the 'off' position. The intervention of the vehicle's electronic nannies frowned on any tail-out action, but when out of the picture the full potential of the Boxster S' sublime chassis tuning was highlighted, indicating just how balanced the car truly is and how much joy it is capable of delivering when flogged to 10/10ths of its design spec.
PDK Is A-OK, But Give Me A Manual Any Day
No, I didn't get the chance to lower the roof on the 2013 Porsche Boxster S, despite the fact that the near-freezing temperatures of the day were relatively balmy for that time of year. More lamentable, however, was the lack of a standard manual transmission in the Boxster S models that we drove, an understandable omission at Camp4 given the propensity to burn out clutches while sliding sideways but one which I feel detracted from the overall competence of the roadster in the snow. The ability to physically select a lower gear prior to initiating a drift would have added a welcome visceral element to the experience, as well as an additional control method for pilots.
That one complaint aside, it's clear that the 2013 Porsche Boxster S is now all grown up and ready to step out of the shadow of the 911 Carrera and take on the world on its own terms. Porsche has kept the Boxster S' power output a respectable distance away from that of the base 911, but its looks are now much more mature and will definitely appeal to buyers who might have previously only considered the considerably pricier Carrera coupe. There's not much more room within the Porsche hierarchy for the Boxster S to climb, but from where it currently sits it casts a stern gaze over the gathered efforts of the Nissan 370Z NISMO, the Chevrolet Corvette, and the upcoming Alfa 4C as a legitimate high performance contender.