The mid-engine Porsche Boxster roadster, known to aficionados as the 981, is in the fourth year of its second generation. A third-generation Boxster called the 718 has been scheduled by Porsche to be introduced June 2016 for the 2017 model year. Until the 2017 model arrives, the 2016 Boxster will be available.
The Boxster was a hit right out of the box that was first opened nearly 20 years ago, not only for its mechanical virtues but for its value. Other Porsche models might be more spectacular, but their price tags are too. The Boxster has all the right Porsche stuff, in fact some would say the best Porsche stuff, because it’s so solid, handsome, simple, and trouble-free. There are no downsides to the Boxster. It’s powerful yet easy to drive, and has a comfortable ride while delivering track-worthy handling. It succeeds by not trying to be spectacular.
For 2016, there are two basic Boxsters, plus the variants. The standard Boxster engine is a 2.7-liter flat six-cylinder making 265 horsepower and sending the car to 60 miles per hour in 5.2 seconds, up to a top speed of 164 mph. The Boxster S pokes that engine out to 3.4 liters and pumps it up to 315 horsepower, cuts the 0-60 time to 4.8 seconds, and raises the speed to 178 mph.
Then come the variants. The Boxster GTS adds 15 horsepower, along with some equipment that’s optional on the Boxster S, plus its own front and rear fascia and interior.
For 2016, the Spyder is brought back by popular demand from super enthusiasts who hang out at track days. It’s given a 3.8-liter engine making 375 horsepower, lowered one inch, and, to shed 66 pounds, stripped of all creature comforts such as air conditioning, insulation and a sound system, while using more lightweight materials like aluminum, magnesium, and polymer plastics. Total weight is 2899 pounds. More power and less weight drops the 0-60 time to 4.3 seconds and raises the top speed to 180 mph. It has a manual top, and when it’s down, the Spyder is easily identifiable by its aerodynamic fairing-like head supports that so wonderfully recall the Spyder of the 1950s and ’60s.
The standard transmission in the Boxster is a 6-speed manual gearbox, but a twin-clutch 7-speed paddle-shifting automatic/manual is available. It’s called PDK, or Porsche Doppelkupplung, and was developed for racing.
The PDK is an efficient transmission, enabling two more miles per gallon than the 6-speed manual. With the 2.7-liter engine and the PDK, the Boxster is EPA-rated at 22/32 mpg City/Highway, while the Boxster S with the 3.4-liter version brings 21/30 mpg. Even though the Spyder is the lightest, because it has the biggest engine, it gets the worst mileage at 18/24 mpg. But who cares? At the track you just fill it up when it runs dry, hand over the cash for high octane, and strap on your helmet.
Porsche Boxster ($52,100) comes with the 2.7-liter engine; Boxster S ($63,900) features a more powerful 3.4-liter engine. Boxster GTS ($74,600) has a more powerful version of the 3.4-liter engine plus Alcantara leather, adaptive suspension, the Sport Chrono Package, bigger alloy wheels and tires, black window trim and more, plus the extra horsepower.
The list of options is long, including Bose surround sound audio, 7-inch touchscreen navigation system with infotainment, and a number of interior packages.
This second-generation Boxster looks more muscular and angular today than it did in the first generation, when it appeared more feminine, flowing and delicate.
Big and bold front air scoops do the most to give this muscular impression, along with sharper sheetmetal in the front and at the sides. In the rear, there’s an integrated spoiler with brake light.
(A third generation Boxster called the 718 will be introduced for the 2017 model year.)
The materials inside the cabin are excellent, with a lot of leather-wrapped surfaces. The layout is straightforward and switchgear high quality, except it will take a while to figure out what all the buttons do, besides suffer from ambiguity. But the Bluetooth phone integration works well.
Not surprisingly, the seats are supportive; Porsche didn’t get where it is by building flawed sport seats. Also, the power convertible top is snug and insulated well.
There’s a small trunk in the front and a small trunk in the rear, and a small space of about 10 cubic feet in between, so the Boxster will work for road trips, as long as you pack modular, in small bags. It adds up to a bit more cargo space than the small front-engine roadsters.
The Boxster is a miracle of balance and one of the world’s most thrilling roadsters at speed. That’s even true for the base Boxster with its 2.7 liters and 265 horsepower. The 3.8-liter Spyder with its 375 horsepower is merely most-thrilling magnified.
When we say balance, we’re not just talking about the mid-engine layout with its ideal weight distribution, and horizontally opposed H-shaped engine with its low center of gravity. Not just mechanical balance, but spiritual balance as well, between high performance and comfort. That’s balance, not compromise. Superb driving dynamics on the open road in curves, and superb manners around town. Its chassis is tuned to do both.
It has electric power steering, a system that’s almost universal nowadays but inherently burdened by less feel and feedback than the old hydraulic way, but Porsche engineers solve it in the Boxster. The steering is almost perfectly weighted, while being consistent and precise. It feels intuitive, as if it can read your mind.
The Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system is designed to virtually do that. It’s available on the base Boxster and Boxster S, standard on the GTS. It broadens the car’s range, adjustable from Normal to Sport and Sport Plus modes.
The 6-speed manual shifts as slick as you could ask. On the other hand, and the twin-clutch PDK nicely balances Sport when you’re feeling aggressive and Comfort when you’re cruising.
For wind-in-your-hair exhilaration, the Boxster is hard to match. The extra power of the Boxster S, GTS or stripped-down Spyder is fun but not necessary, nor is the twin-clutch transmission.
We can’t think of a sports car that delivers more essence of high-octane pleasure than the Boxster. We don’t mean to slight the Mazda MX-5 in the bang-for-buck department, but if you’ve got the extra bucks, the Boxster is the next step. Look for possible deals on the 2016 models as dealers sell them down to make way for the new 2017 versions.