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Review

First Drive: Porsche Boxster (981) car review

12/03/12

THE BOXSTER has always been a divisive car. Some people love it and others would prefer to see the back of it, but if you’re in the latter category, it’s probably best to look away now.

The latest version, designated 981 to the outgoing car’s 987, has been launched with the largest assortment of changes the Boxster has yet seen. Most obviously it’s much more stylish on the outside, with new light clusters and much more attractive engine air intake vents on the sides.

In a pre-launch press conference the heads of the project confessed their main aim for this generation of the Boxster was to let it grow up a little, so it’s significantly wider at the front, a little longer, a bit lower, up to 35kg lighter and, crucially, larger inside.

Alarm bells were ringing at the mention of the word ‘comfort’, in that the new car has designed to be much more so than its predecessors with more room for occupants to stretch out, a faster, neater folding soft top with better sound insulation, a larger footprint on the road and – pitchforks on standby – electro-mechanical steering.

But although the 981 is definitely more comfortable than the 987 for all the above factors and more, the car as a whole seems perhaps even more remarkable for the fact that it drives better than ever as well.

It doesn’t matter too much whether you choose the standard Boxster, with its 261bhp 2.7-litre engine now derived directly from the 311bhp 3.4 in the Boxster S, or the more powerful and pricey car. The driving experience is, in the right specification, sublime.

The same options are generally available on both models excluding the already increased spec of the S, but specification is a bit of a hot potato in the Boxster surrounding the gearbox. A beautifully precise and mechanical-feeling six-speed manual is standard, but Porsche reckons most people will tick the PDK double-clutch option box. In turn, that comes with rocker-type gear change switches that are a bit rubbish for quick driving.

The PDK ‘box is smooth, incredibly fast and offers the driver full manual control if he or she chooses it, but the additionally optional conventional paddle shift levers are the way forward. They replace the rocker switches – at a premium, which seems a tad unfair.

Other worthy options include the partly-electric sports seats, which are very low but give a top-drawer blend of comfort and support. Don’t worry too much about the ride on the optional 20-inch wheels, either. A first on the Boxster, they look great and the ride is always composed and never crashy.

Handling is the mid-engined sports car’s forté. With a 46/54% weight distribution front to rear there’s enough of a bias to make the Boxster rather lively, while being neutral enough for huge, confidence-inspiring cornering balance. It’s deliciously adjustable on the throttle mid-corner and it’s at its most rewarding with judicious throttle applied just after the apex, riding the wave of power through the tall gears right up to the 7,800rpm redline.

It’s the liveliness that’s key. Although there’s monumental grip on offer on a warm, dry tarmac road, you don’t need to try to use it all to have the time of your life in the 981. It’s always active at all four corners; moving, working and sending a constant stream of detailed information about the road surface and how your inputs are working, putting you in touch with the driving experience in a way few other cars can.

And the steering is, well, perfectly fine. After the 911 took a verbal beating over its electro-mechanical steering Porsche has done things differently for the Boxster. It needed to be different anyway because of the different weight and chassis configuration, but the upshot is that the Boxster’s steering is great. Its weighting stays consistent, and although it doesn’t offer huge outright feel it’s very precise and it never feels like an obstruction to the driver involvement. It makes it easier to park, too.

With around £8,000 between the two models it’s a tough choice. The 3.4-litre S has noticeably more grunt right through the rev range, and since it produces its full 50 horsepower advantage over the 2.7 by 4,000rpm, it also has a chunkier top end.

The 2.7, which replaces the old 2.9 but offers a gnat’s wing more power, is peakier and needs to be worked harder than the larger engine, but it’s still rapid and to be honest most people would be happy with either. Buying the entry-level Boxster gives you a cool sum spare to spend on options, too.

It’s a complete success, the new Boxster. It does everything it could reasonably be asked to do, and it’s as good for fast 6am Sunday driving as it is for motorway cruising or commuting. It’s completely uncompromised no matter what you want from it, and for that reason it’s going to be very hard to compete against.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Porsche Boxster S (981), from £45,384 on the road.

Engine: 3.4-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder producing 311bhp and 266lb.ft.

Transmission: Six-speed manual as standard; seven-speed PDK auto optional.

Performance: Top speed 173mph (PDK 172mph), 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds (PDK 5.0 seconds).

Fuel economy: 32.1mpg (PDK 35.3mpg).

CO2 rating: 206g/km (PDK 188g/km).

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power5 (high performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy3 (average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups2 (higher than average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats2

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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