Porsche Boxster challenges the 911’s throne

Porsche equals the 911. For half a century, ever since Ferdinand Porsche created a rear engine coupe to replace the 356, Porsche and the 911 have been synonymous. The brand and the car defined one another.

For the first several decades, this was easy, since 911 stood as the only Porsche in the lineup. Other models were added, such as the 914 to 944, but they were never able to crack the code and offered no competition for the bread-and-butter 911.

Enter the Boxster, which was initially dismissed by the purists as yet another also-ran. But with every subsequent version and generation since its 1996 debut, the Boxster has inched closer to the sports car ideal, culminating with the vehicle reviewed here, the 2013 Porsche Boxster S. At last, Porsche has given the Boxster an identity to call its own.

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To achieve this goal, Porsche moved the Boxster away from 911-inspired styling. A stronger similarity is seen between the Boxster and the forthcoming 918 supercar, which in turn was inspired by the Porsche 917 Le Mans racer.

At first glance, the new Boxster appears stout compared to the outgoing model, a notion that quickly dissolves as you familiarize yourself with this new roadster. Perhaps the most unique design cue for the Boxster is its spoiler, which continues into the tail lights. Such daring design elements are usually the province of auto show concept cars, rather than production vehicles.

The new Boxster features a retractable cloth convertible top that opens and closes in nine seconds. The task can be accomplished at speeds of up to 31 mpg. Even with the top up, there is adequate headroom for taller individuals, though sitting in the Boxster comfortably will take a little strategy. For my 6-foot-3 frame, it requires sitting rather upright, to allow for enough legroom. This is especially important in manual-equipped models, where the placement of the driver’s legs is crucial.

Once you have created your metaphorical nest, the cabin of the Boxster is quite welcoming. The center console rises to the driver’s elbow, providing a near-cockpit experience. This is warranted, as full acceleration in the Boxster S resembles taking off in a passenger jet. That swell of forward motion can be attributed to the 3.4-liter opposing-cylinder power plant, also known as a “Boxer” engine. The 315 horsepower derived from it is more than enough to propel the car’s scant 2,900 pounds from 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds, arriving at a top speed of 173 miles per hour.

Quick lesson: The name Boxster comes from combining Boxer and Roadster. Porsche could have named it “Engelbert Humperdinck,” and it would not change the fact that the car is brilliant. Power is sent to the rear wheels though either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed PDK, which is a dual-clutch, semi-automatic gearbox. The latter can be operated via the tap shifter in the center console or steering wheel-mounted paddles. While you may think that it can all be done with paddles, the tap shifter proves its value when attempting to turn and downshift, when the paddles could be 180 degrees from their neutral location. Rather than attempt to compensate, simply go to the tap shifter, and you’ll be performing professional racing maneuvers in no time.

Perhaps most impressive is the Boxster’s 40-60 acceleration. In most cases, tap the downshift paddle twice to throw the rpms way up, and hold on.The howl that accompanies the acceleration almost overwhelms all other senses. It is only matched by the rapid cough and burble of the engine as you downshift approaching a light. It will make the muscle head in the Mustang next to you think twice.

In spite of this exhilarating driving experience, the Boxster S returns respectable fuel economy numbers of 21 city and 30 highway. The listed 24 miles per gallon of combined city and highway driving is an accurate accounting of real-world fuel economy.

With any performance-oriented roadster, there will be sacrifices made in the name of the top-down driving experience. In the case of the Porsche, the cup holders are part of a strange apparatus that retracts from a bar above the glove box, and there is no tray in the cabin large enough to contain a smart phone. Pricing for the Boxster also might alarm you.While the base MSRP is $49,500 for the Boxster, and $60,900 for the Boxster S, that’s only part of the tale. With options like the “Espresso Natural Leather Interior,”adaptive sport seats, and 20-inch wheels, our Boxster S test model, with full options, topped out at over $90,000.That is a princely sum for a Porsche that does not have the numbers “9-1-1”affixed to its aft body panel. Part of that is a $3,860 infotainment package, which includes navigation system and Bose stereo but not voice control.

Yet all of these issues melt away every time you lay into the throttle or exit a tight corner. The Boxster S has proven itself to be the true enthusiast’s choice in the Porsche lineup. While many 911 purists will scoff at this idea, the new purist Porsche is most certainly the Boxster.