THAT THE BOXSTER HAS BECOME BOTH MORE SOPHISTICATED and more serious is clear the moment you walk up to the new one. Its chiseled surfaces reference the 918 Spyder Hybrid, and the older Boxsters’ nearly apologetic side openings — which merely hinted at an engine amidships — have given way to pronounced openings that recall the V10 Carrera GT.
Sexier air management is one benefit of no longer having to share doorskins with the 911, as are longer fenderlines that subtly feed into the doors. Another becomes obvious on the way to the 7800-rpm redline: The engine’s aural signature has been enhanced. Unlike 986- and 987-based Boxsters, where one opening vented hot air, the 981 gets intakes on both sides — allowing more air in and more noise out. The latter is reflected off rock walls and guardrails along our test route in southern France. Scintillating sounds from the flat six are only made better by the optional sport exhaust. On throttle, it brings a stronger, deeper voice. Off throttle, none-too-subtle burbles and pops make the system worth every penny of its $2,950 added cost.
Given limited driving time, we chose a Boxster S with a manual transaxle. The 981 doesn’t get the new, PDK-based Aisin seven-speed manual used in the 991 because Porsche was able to meet its performance, emissions, and consumption targets with the older, lighter Getrag six-speed. Throws are fairly long fore and aft but tight side to side, with an action that is light but slightly vague. It finds the right gear every time, but could use a more positive engagement.
Regardless of transmission choice, the 3.4-liter 9A1 flat six — which debuted in the 2009 Boxster S — gains auto start-stop technology that works unobtrusively. The engine also shuts down in certain coasting situations, while fuel consumption and emissions are further reduced by recuperation of electrical-system losses.
On the performance front, the previous hot-film mass air flow sensor has been replaced by a less-restrictive pressure-sensing setup and VarioCam Plus gets a 10° larger adjustment range. A twin-inlet intake with a variable resonance flap improves low-end torque. These seem like big changes for just five more horses, for a total of 315, but we suspect the revisions help the also-3.4-liter 991 Carrera make its 350 hp.
Out on the road, the car seems stronger than its specs suggest. It feels not merely quick but fast. Part of that is down to weight savings. At 2,910 pounds, the basic Boxster S is 77 pounds lighter than its predecessor. Forty-six percent of its body is rendered in aluminum, including the decklids, doors, floors, and body structures at both ends. Magnesium is used elsewhere, steel only when necessary. As in the past, the Boxster shares at least half of its inner structure — from the seats forward — with the 911. Against the already impressive 987, “the complete body has more stiffness,” says Joachim Meyer, head of 981 chassis and suspension. “The trimmed body’s dynamic torsion is 24 Hz, (yielding) around 25 percent more stiffness in the chassis.”
Over challenging, reasonably bumpy French roads, the 981 is stable, secure, and seemingly viceless. A 2.4-inch wheelbase stretch, track widths that are 1.6- and 0.5-inch wider front and rear, and tires with a four-percent larger overall diameter yield greater stability and more grip. Even without the $1,320 PTV torque-vectoring system, turn-in is sharp and utterly accurate.
Sitting 0.4-inch lower on $1,790 PASM suspension with adjustable dampers and four more vertical motion sensors than before, our test car offers a supple ride and superb body control. Armed with a limited-slip diff (no price yet), it devours winding roads at a pace that has us wondering if a true supercar would be any faster. There may be a catch, though: If this first drive is indicative, we’re not sure the 981S feels as pure or involving as a 987S.