When Porsche launched the first Boxster in 1996, it forged a radical new direction for the company and set a trend for the industry. The Boxer-engined roadster (hence the name) was such a commercial hit that it's credited with turning Porsche around, and paving the way for new models such as the Cayenne and Panamera.
A decade-and-a-half later, the Boxster is still evolving. The competitors that it helped inspire have grown plusher, more powerful, sporting elaborate folding-hardtop roofs. Porsche's redesigned 2013 Boxster retains the traditional softtop and remains true to everything that made the original so fantastic from the beginning. But now it has to balance that purity and performance with fuel efficiency goals. Let's see how it stacks up.
For a company known for its decidedly evolutionary approach to design, Porsche has given the 2013 Boxster a big visual update. It's still easily recognizable as a Boxster, but the front is sharper and more sculpted, and evokes the out-going 997 Porsche 911 Carrera. Redesigned headlights seem lifted from the design of the upcoming 918 supercar, and the deep side scoop recalls the legendary Carrera GT.
The list seems to read like a 'greatest hits' or Porsche design cues, but it works and the combination is well-resolved and stunning. It has the effect of elevating the Boxster from the cute, "baby Porsche" to something more exotic and premium. Like the model that preceded it, it's become further differentiated from the 911.
Buried deep within the middle of the Boxster lies a 265-horsepower, 2.7L flat-six with direct injection. This replaces the larger 2.9L engine that made 10 fewer horsepower. Engines with smaller displacement, greater efficiency and more horsepower is a trend we can get on board with!
The standard Boxster now makes a smidge less then 100hp-per-liter and is no slouch. It's grin-worthy quick, has torque throughout the rev range, and sounds incredible. But Porsche offers yet more: the Boxster S has a 3.4L motor which makes 315-hp.
A new electromechanical steering reduces the amount of energy consumed and eliminates the need for hydraulic steering fluid. It's hard to tell if it retains the steering feel of the old model without driving them back-to-back, but we take it with a grain of salt when Porsche claims the new system actually improves the feel. It's crisp, and perhaps since it's variable-ratio, seems more responsive towards the ends steering spectrum: It comes alive when you dive into a corner.
New LED taillights are integrated into the shape of the retractable spoiler.
Through the use of high-tensile steel and aluminum, Porsche has trimmed the weight by over 75 pounds. A PDK-equipped standard Boxster is rated at 2,954 pounds by the manufacturer.
Ride quality is on the stiffer side in the best way possible. You want it to be firm in a car like this because you want it to be solid and you don't want body roll. Over bumps it feels like it's one complete piece, with none of the chassis flex still found in lesser convertibles.
The all-new interior is beautiful. It's sculpted, stitched and feels as if it's rock solid underneath. Real metal details and excellent quality materials all look as if borrowed from the 911 and Panamera.
Keyless-fob on current Porsches is styled loosely after the shape of the Panamera sedan, because, why not?
The exhaust note from the 2.7L flat-six is throaty and emotive – it never gets old. Nestled right behind your head, it barks with each downshift blip and it soars up to redline. A fantastic sound. At freeway speeds it's subdued, and cruising in seventh gear you don't hear much in terms of droning coming through the soft-top.
The PDK dual-clutch gearbox (short for Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe) was made avilable on the Boxster is late 2009, and has been completely reworked for the new model. Like the 2012 Porsche 911, it can be driven in full automatic mode or shifted with the central gear selector or paddles on the steering wheel. As an automatic it behaves exactly the way a typical automatic transmission should with no lurches or roughness — just smooth gearshifts that you barely notice.
In manual mode, PDK is slick and satisfying, even if your left foot gets bored with nothing to do. You find yourself shifting more than you need to simply because it's so fun to snick through the gears. Upshifts are delivered with a bassy, mechanicalh "oomf" that feels like it's right underneath you, as the revs carry seamlessly from one gear to the next.
A slight buzzkill with the PDK is an issue inherent to any sequentual manual gearbox: You have no sensation of what gear you're in without referring to the digital readout telling you. Instead of knowing it's in third gear from it's H-patterned position, you're at the mercy of the red-numbered display (or having a good memory, which may be an acquired trait with more time behind the wheel). It's a small gripe, but one that can drag you out of an otherwise immersive experience.
Porsche has a knack for making a steering wheel that feels just right in your hands and the Boxster is no exception. The feeling, position and ergonomics are second to none.
For whatever reason, Porsche insists on its own paradigm for gearshifts shifts on the steering wheel: pull the "triggers" on the back of either side of the steering wheel towards you to downshift and push the silver buttons on the face of the steering wheel to shift up.
Supportive sport seats fit snug and cradled my shoulders perfectly. They can be adjusted to be incredibly low to the floor, which is great for wannabe racers and those who want to achieve the optimum center of gravity.
Two trunks – yes, two — swallowed up several large bags with room to spare, and it seems like the Boxster could accommodate a golf bag or two. Capacity is unafffected whether the softtop is up or down. The mid-mounted engine (not pictured) sits underneath the area where the convertible top folds.
Optional 20-inch Carrera Classic wheels draw attention. They come wrapped in grippy 265-series rear and 235-fronts.
Lightweight construction, direct injection, lower displacement and electric steering, combined with countless other techniques are there for one main reason — to squeeze more fuel efficiency from the classic open-top sports car. The result is a roadster that gets 22 mpg city and 32 highway if equipped with PDK — not bad at all. And it's as fun as ever.
Porsche has updated the classic roadster to a more capable package for a modern, fuel-conscious era we're moving towards. It's well finished, it does everything well, and most importantly in a car like this, it's truly engaging to drive and enjoy. The only difficult choice — whether or not to opt for the PDK transmission — is philosophical one we'll leave up to you.
The 2013 Boxster is available now from Porsche dealers including Momentum Porsche in Houston. It starts at $49,500, which seems like a value for what you get at roughly half the cost of a 911 Carrera S. Our Racing Yellow test vehicle, as eqipped with PDK, optional wheels and extras was priced at around $61,000.