First Impressions: The New Boxster S

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Photo by Pete Stout
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We spent last Friday driving the mountain roads of southern France in the new, 981-based Boxster S (we know, we know, but you know what they say…) and wanted to get you some first thoughts and iPhone pics, but were thwarted by data transfer issues Friday night and over the weekend.

Our story on the car will appear in the June 2012 issue, but our notes from the cliffs above Nice appear below in the meantime.

Walking around the car, you notice the many changes to the Boxster’s appearance. Gone is the clean, sloping tail, which has been replaced by a sloping tail interrupted by a permanent spoiler lip that extends into the taillights. The latter seemed a bit fussy to our eyes at first, but we soon learned that the design is absolutely form following function: They helped Porsche widen the rear spoiler and improve aerodynamics and cancel lift.

Up front, the headlights feature a pair of stacked round lights under their covers, a reference to the stacked lights seen on Porsche’s mid-engined prototype racers of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Instead of flowing into the fenders behind them, the headlights stand proud of the fender line, which rises again and then falls once more on its way back to the doors.

The doors themselves are a first for a Boxster in that they are no longer shared with the 911. This allowed Porsche to create Carrera GT-like creases that lead to the side intakes, but also to extend the Boxster’s unique fender lines into its doors, which was not possible before since the mid-engined roadster had to share its doors with the rear-engined coupe.

Interior quality, as on 991, is superb, but even more of a standout given the price point. Fit and finish are superb, and the switchgear is of incredible quality, making the already good 987/997 gear seem primitive. Nowhere is this more apparent than the hazard light and central locking switches at the top of the dash, which feel extraordinarily expensive.

The three-gauge dash carries over from the 986/987, but ditches the original Boxster’s fonts in favor of Porsche’s traditional font, bringing an air of 911 to the roadster. The gauges are big and easily legible. There are two downsides to our Boxster S test car, however: 1. The white-on-light-gray tach (a cue from the Carrera GT) isn’t as legible or as good looking as the white-on-black speedometer, and 2. the right-most gauge has been ditched in favor of a multi-screen display in which the nav, a g meter, and other functions can be scrolled through—which means that the analog coolant temperature and fuel gauges have been sacrificed in the name of a screen next to the high-mounted PCM screen in the center of the dashboard. Want to watch the nav in front of you? You can, but you can’t see how much fuel you’ve got left at the same time. You do have two speedometers, though, both digital (the one you look at) and analog (the one you don’t).

The adaptive sport seats are excellent and hold us in place on all sorts of challenging roads.

The 3.4-liter, 330-hp flat six is a glorious engine, smooth and strong from idle all the way up to its high 7500-rpm redline. The car feels at least as strong as the numbers suggest and, on the tight mountain passes above St. Tropez and Nice, offers more speed than you can use. Even so, the temptation to keep your foot in it past 7000 rpm is too much to resist, and the Boxster S is capable of delivering the kind of speed between corners—and through them—that leaves you to question just how many cars would be able to leave it behind on such a road. My guess: not many, if any.

Our test car has a six-speed manual — the old Getrag unit instead of the PDK-based seven-speed manual used in the new 991-based 911 — and it shifts beautifully, nearly guiding itself from second to third on the upshifts and accurately pulling up every other gear requested. Shift throws are slightly Carrera GT-ish, meaning they’re slightly long fore and aft and pretty tight side to side.

The only criticism we can level at the powertrain is throttle pickup that’s just a bit patchy on occasion. This feels like a mapping issue and may be worked out before the car hits showrooms.

We weren’t thinking about that very often, however, because the optional sport exhaust is fantastic, burbling and popping like MFI from the 1970s when you let off the gas. This is like the 991, but the overall engine music is better in the Boxster because both holes on the sides of the car are now intakes (previously, the hole on the passenger side was a hot-air exhaust) and allow the engine’s song to escape the sides of the car and reflect back to your ears off of canyon walls, guard rails, etc. when the top and/or windows are down. It’s the best-sounding Boxster to date, and may be the best-sounding current Porsche this side of a GT3 RS 4.0. When the sport exhaust is switched off — probably approximating the standard exhaust’s noise — the Boxster S still sounds great, but the burble and pop is far less pronounced. Our advice: Swing for the sport exhaust…you won’t regret it.

As with the 991, the electrically assisted steering isn’t bad. It’s nicely weighted, if slightly light and a bit filtered. On the other hand, it’s direct, precise, and allows you to place the car perfectly.

Front end grip noticeably improved thanks to the wider track. Rear suspension has been adjusted to work with the wider front end, and the result is a chassis that is utterly confidence-inspiring on back roads. The car feels imperturbable. There’s a lot of grip with the optional 20s, yet the ride is polished. The car processes lumpy roads beautifully, and it’s easy to build a rhythm.

The optional PCCB brakes are as you expect: wonderful, with strong initial bite and utterly fade-free operation.

All up, the new Boxster S does everything right and is extremely pleasurable to drive, but our limited time in the car left us wondering if the 981 is as engaging and involving as some 986s and 987s past, notably the two high points: the early 986 with Euro M030 suspension and last year’s 987 Boxster Spyder. We’ll need more time behind the wheel before coming to any conclusions, but our initial verdict is this: The Boxster has certainly matured and is more appealing than ever within its market segment.

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