There are a few niggles with this revamped version of the sports car, but you can't help but like it
Sunday 08 February 2009
Porsche. You know, the hedge fund that also makes sports cars which used to be bought by other hedge fund managers until Porsche had the nerve to be cleverer than they are. A few weeks ago, Porsche caused shares of Volkswagen, the company in which it now has a controlling interest, to rocket in value such that VW became, briefly, the world's most valuable car company. The short-sellers were spooked and Porsche is now on track to own three-quarters of its giant cousin.
A senior Porsche spokesman told me that this corralling of shares was not intended to make Porsche fabulously wealthy. Rather, it was done to protect the supply and technology collaborations between the two companies, at risk if outside investors were to break up the Volkswagen group.
Porsche has returned to its primary purpose and launched a new car. Or a revised one, at least: it's a makeover for the 12-year-old Boxster. Something similar has happened to the Porsche Cayman, and it involves new engines, revised suspension settings, some subtle styling changes, and the option of a Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, or double-clutch gearbox. We, like Porsche, shall abbreviate it to PDK.
The Boxster, from £40,388, is unusual in being an open car cheaper than its closed relative. It's all about market positioning, which presumably makes the Cayman a very profitable car because it must cost less to make than the Boxster, lacking the latter's folding hood mechanism. Mechanically they are almost identical, except that both of the new engines produce 10bhp less in the Boxster than they do in the Cayman in a token effort towards creating a power hierarchy.
These engines are lighter, simpler, bigger in capacity, more powerful and more frugal than before. The base-model version makes 255bhp from its 2.9 litres, while the Boxster S has 310bhp from 3.4 litres, the better to justify its £6,684 price premium. As with the Cayman S, the Boxster S also gains direct fuel injection.
So we're talking about a Cayman with the advantage of an openable roof? Not quite. The Boxster is a tamer car although still a very quick one. The flat-six engine is quieter, still with its distinctive hum and remarkable smoothness but lacking the aural edge that makes you want to take a Cayman and just drive. The mid-engined design configuration gives impeccable balance and great agility, but the Boxster's steering is duller and more aloof.
Softer suspension and a less rigid structure are why. That's understandable in an open car, and in isolation the Boxster is one of the more engaging roadsters you'll find. Driven hood up, though, it is compromised. At speed there's a low-frequency roar, quiet but insistent, at ear level which drowns out the engine's tuneful but muted note, although its vocals are roused if you work the engine hard. And, with no rear shelf or meaningful space behind the seats, the Boxster is sorely short of stowage places.
You lower the hood by releasing a handle above the interior mirror, then pressing a button for electrically powered stowage. Now the Boxster is in its element; you hear the world outside and the engine's aural subtleties. Wind rush still drowns it, but you stay snug with a potent heater and heated seats and imagine you're driving a glamorous Porsche sports racer from the 1950s. That's what Porsche would like you to think, anyway.
There is, however, no point to the firmed-up suspension settings in the Sport and Sport Plus modes that come with the optional Sport Chrono pack. Those modes sharpen the throttle response and sequential PDK gearshifts pleasingly, but you had better separately switch the suspension back to normal unless a) you're on a racetrack or b) you know a good chiropractor.
Likeable car, the Boxster. Always was. Unfortunately, Boxsters with manual transmission, normal suspension or the smaller engine weren't available on the test drive. And I'm fairly sure I would like the purity of that combination more.
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