Motoring: Road Test - What the doctor ordered

The new Porsche Boxster is the stuff of dreams. With added oomph.

Road Test

Specifications

Porsche Boxster 2.7, pounds 34,232. Engine: mid-mounted 2687cc flat- six with 24 valves. 220bhp at 6400rpm. Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear- wheel drive. Performance: top speed 150mph, 0-60mph in 6.5seconds. Consumption: 25-30mpg.

RIVALS

Alfa Romeo GTV V6 6-speed, pounds 30,000. Great looks, wonderfully strong and vocal engine, sharp handling. Cheaper with 2.0 four-cylinder engine and 5-speed gearbox. Open Spider suffers from the shakes, only available with 2.0 engine.

Audi TT quattro, pounds 29,650. Adventurous four-wheel drive coupe with powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Very quick, striking cabin, great handling - but high-speed stability, subject to recall, questionable.

Honda S2000, pounds 27,995. Inflexible four-cylinder 2.0 engine needs screaming to unleash formidable 237 horsepower. Relax the revs and performance languishes. Has tidy handling and lots of grip; undramatic styling.

Mercedes-Benz SLK, pounds 31,640. Auto-only supercharged coupe with party- trick folding steel roof. Desirable head-turner of great quality, but look elsewhere for serious entertainment. Coming V6 more in keeping with car's character.

Peugeot 406 Coupe V6, pounds 25,995. Able, stunningly elegant four-seater coupe undercuts Boxster by pounds 8,000. Much more room but less entertaining to drive. Cabin too mainstream in design and decor.

DESPITE ITS steep pounds 35,000 price, Porsche's Boxster is surprisingly cheap to run. Unlike most expensive cars, this blue-chip sportster does not plummet in value the moment it leaves the dealer's showroom.Were you to sell up after, say, two years restrained, warranty-covered use, the bottom line would bring tears to the eyes of fleet managers accustomed to the crippling depreciation of ordinary cars.

The good news for would-be owners seeking a "cheap" used Boxster is that there is a brace of new models that just might bring down prices of the less desirable original. But do not bank on it. Boxster residuals are still loaded in the vendor's favour.

Originally, there was just one Boxster: the 204bhp 2.5. That's now gone to the used-car lots, hopefully carrying a "reduced" sticker, to be displaced by a 220bhp 2.7, costing at pounds 34,232 only fractionally more. Backing the new 2.7 is the more highly specified pounds 42,161 S, powered by a 252bhp 3.2- litre engine. Don't be misled by these prices. Although the S includes air conditioning and part-leather seats, there's a long list of wallet- bashing extras to tempt buyers into more outlay.

Both these newcomers - Porsche's answer to intensifying competition from BMW, Honda and Audi, among others - address the only serious criticism levelled at the original 2.5: it wasn't powerful enough. Never mind that it would reach the legal limit in under nine seconds and run to 140mph on unrestricted autobahns: for a Porsche, it lacked oomph.

The new 2.7 is decisively pokier than the outgoing 2.5. It feels more muscular and gutsier, particularly at low revs where the old car languished. Just what the doctor ordered, especially as the Boxster's wonderful poise, balance and grip are unaffected. Chassis, suspension and brakes are all brilliant and can cope with a lot more power yet.

Despite being faster and safer (side airbags are now standard) the 2.7's price is only pounds 237 up on the supplanted 2.5 which, in the heady ranks of the junior supercar league, makes the base Boxster something of a benchmark bargain. I love it. It's one of my favourite cars, a beguiling blend of raw entertainment and comforting civility. Classy funsters come no better than this.

Great though it is, the 162mph S is less convincing. For a start, its extra 32 horsepower is partly offset by an increase in weight, making the premium of more than pounds 8,000 seem steep, even allowing for fettled suspension, bigger rear tyres and a lovely six-speed manual gearbox (five- speed Tiptronic is an option on bothcars). While the hike in performance looks significant on paper, it is evident on the road only when screaming the engine. Water cooling has not unduly muted Porshe's lovely flat-six engine, thank goodness.

Throwing the Boxsters around ex-F1 driver Jonathan Palmer's circuit complex in Bedfordshire revealed sublime active safety that bordered on the preposterous. Both cars, regular and S, displayed outstanding grip, user-friendliness and tireless brakes. Invoke the law of diminishing returns, however, and the 2.7 comes across as the better buy. By the same token, the Boxster S threatens Porsche's rear-engined 911 Carrera Cabriolet with redundancy. Why pay pounds 30,000 more for a car that's only slightly faster and less capable on the corners?

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