Wednesday 14th July 2004


PORSCHE BOXSTER S

Richard Fiennes goes hooning with 260bhp of mid engined German artistry

PH has carried a review of the S before but with GT3 and GT3RS reviews looming we thought it time to revisit.

To date I have never read a bad review of the Boxster S and owners will know why. It's got a healthy amount of power (260 bhp) and balance that other manufacturers can only dream of.  If you are in the mood to put the pedal to the metal this particular Boxster delivers - and oh so easily. 

Everything from gear ratios to damping and adhesion respond as one whole.  The only fly in the ointment is the slow steering.  At 3 turns lock to lock it is nothing like quick enough on even medium corners.  On a lovely hoon between Kidderminster and Shrewsbury it was only the steering which sullied the experience. I was in the groove and yet being frustrated in corner after corner.  Needless to say, the handling excelled, as did the brakes.  No discernible body roll is evident if you push into a corner – the handling is amazingly neutral thanks to the properly mid engined layout - and better than a 911 in many respects.  What’s more, if you have to lift off a smidgen, the Boxster S tightens its line beautifully, with everything being telegraphed back to you via steering and “seat of the pants” feel. 

I remember attending the original launch sometime in ’99 / 2000 where a certain J.Palmer Esq had just opened his Bedford facility.  A sinuous circuit had been laid out and the ‘S’ never came unstuck once, irrespective of how hard I pushed it through the course.

On the Road

Whilst all this is going on, this baby Porsche makes all the soul stirring 911 noises that we enthusiasts adore.  Porsche's acoustic boffins tuned the engine to introduce a throatier sounding note, so the all enveloping deep bass throb rising to spine tingling wail exists.  The long, flat torque curve offers plenty of grunt in the higher gears from around 2,000 rpm round to 4,600 rpm, equalling 229 lb ft, whereas the ‘cooking’ Boxster musters just 192 lb ft at 4,700 rpm.  Top speed is still a useful 164 mph and it remains rock steady at high speeds. 120 mph is a happy ‘dog trot’. 

Later versions have incurred a bit of ‘middle aged spread’, with 25 kg increasing the kerb weight to 1,320 kg.  You don’t notice this of course, and that academic 0 – 60 mph traffic light dash is a spritely 5.7 seconds.  That’s 0.2 of a second faster than the older version. 

Speaking of power delivery brings me to mention the two-stage transference.  The Boxster S climbs onto the cam at 4,000 rpm and then noticeably so at 5,000 rpm and above.  Handy that – you can let your mother drive it back from the airport! 

The uprated six speed gearbox is a delight to use, with good weighting and no strong spring bias toward any particular ratios.  So, with the improved shift quality, what of the clutch?  Quite sharp, late biting actually – fine in such a sportscar. 

The non ceramic, cross drilled and vented brakes are exemplary in really hauling the S down to a stop time after time without the merest hint of fade.  Porsche's race track heritage has left them with plenty of skill in the braking department.

Ride

As for the ride over our indifferent to shocking roads, America must be laughing.  Spain as well, having had lorry loads of EU money to billiard table practically every metalled road they possess.  The ride is firm of course, but not teeth fillingly loosening.  Spring and damper rates were tweaked here and there and lighter 911 style 17 inch hollow rims fitted.  The brilliant chassis balance remains, along with fantastic body control, giving you neutral handling most of the time.  The car can be driven on the throttle quite easily, with both understeer and oversteer smoothly quelled by your right foot.  The optional sports seats (£1,216.13) are well worth having if you indulge in lots of spirited driving.

Inside, the attention to detail is almost as good as the engineering. Crisp, clear instrumentation including a sat-nav/radio screen that can be turned off (reflects badley in the rear window at night).  The lights are good on dip and brilliant on main beam with good spread coverage.  I was a bit frustrated at the Sat Nav not being postcode friendly and I struggled to get it to help me to my destination on a few occasions, but the upside was I got to drive the car for longer...

The door handles look cheap but work well but everything falls well to hand, affording you what feels like a tailored position.  The short throw gearlever is perfectly placed.  If you're unsure about a certain switch then you will find a most innovative quick reference fold out card in the glovebox.  This is a brilliant idea and saves ploughing through the big owners manual.  Such a simple bit of lateral thinking that other manufacturers should take note of.  There’s one for the sat / nav as well.

The Boxster S almost has the hewn from granite feel and rivals remain few and far between with only the Z4 presenting real choice to enthusiast drivers seeking this style of car. So many sporting driving bases are covered in so spirited a car, that’s also totally harmonious.  The few demerits are forgiven and probably have been expunged in the forthcoming new 270 bhp vario – cam Boxster S due next spring.  However, until then Boxster S remains the benchmark choice if 911 territory is out of bounds financially and you require a gentle everyday, proper comfortable sportscar.  Oh, at least £38,330 is needed – nearly £41,000 if necessary options are added – to provide such reliable, regular fun.

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Richard Fiennes © 2004