381 MILES DOWN CALIFORNIA’S PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY, our first drive in the 991 awaits us. Sure, catching a flight from San Francisco to Santa Barbara is an option, but would you take a plane if a new Boxster with six manually shifted speeds was sitting in the lot? Neither would we.
The drive also presents a chance to try the first example of the 991/981 platform back-to-back with the last, simplest version of the 997/987 chassis it replaces. This Plain Jane Boxster is a car I’ve been waiting to try for three years. When Porsche introduced its facelifted 2009 Boxster/Cayman, every car at the launch was a 3.4-liter S. No 2.9-liter base models were placed in the U.S. press fleet, and subsequent requests to test one in Germany were met with 997 Carrera 4S and Turbo loans. One had to wonder: Was Porsche hiding something?
After pinning this Boxster’s throttle up an onramp in second and third, I’d have to say no. The 2.9 may be the only 9A1 flat six without direct fuel injection and the only one making less than 300 horses, but it’s a peach. It is smooth, pulls to 7500 rpm keenly, and feels like it’s making more than its rated 255 hp. This is a lovely engine, one hard to fault but for this: Like other 9A1 engines, it’s almost too refined. Too much of its unique flat-six song has been filtered out. The optional sport exhaust would help, but it’s the intake noise that’s too muffled.
Fortunately, the revvy, eager 2.9 is well-matched to the six-speed manual transmission. The standard shift linkage is positive and pleasingly light, matching the rest of the control inputs nicely. It may not be Honda S2000 precise (what is?), but the gearbox still makes a good case for stick shifts in a world that’s going manumatic.
So what about the chassis? It offers feelsome steering, sharp responses, and predictable, confidence-inspiring grip. In town, ride characteristics on the optional 18s are surprisingly similar to those of the 20-mm lower, sport-tuned Boxster Spyder on 19s. While the chassis never fails to take the edge off imperfections, it is firm. The payoff is more than vaguely Spyder-like handling (a very good thing), but we can see why some opt for the softer PASM adjustable dampers.
Sadly, the standard seats are among Porsche’s worst. They offer just enough lateral support on back roads, but left us trying to dial back the lumbar support — only to find no lumbar adjustment! Worse, their flat seat bottoms focused our weight on a thin strip of our posteriors, and no angle adjustment meant no relief. Our advice? Get the more adjustable full-power seats.