In praise of the Boxster
Monday, June 02, 2014
I spent Sunday nights a few Februarys ago watching "Californication," which stars a dysfunctional writer wandering Hollywood in an older Carrera Cabrio. Porsche lust struck.
A dealer said he could find me one, but maybe I'd like to drive this black Boxster convertible right over here. Left-handed ignition! Wow, that throaty exhaust note. The clutch forced my foot right up off the floor, and I overdrove the first curve because it steers that tightly. Mine.
While one of Porsche's six models garners most of the attention, there are compelling reasons to spread some love across the lineup. I choose to praise the Boxster.
Respect that mid-engine
The Boxster handles the road as well as a department store Santa manages your kids two days before Christmas. The predecessor of the Cayman, it's a lot of power in a light, agile body.
It wants to be pushed. It won't fishtail if you take your foot off the accelerator in a turn, but when you punch it, it punches back. The mid-engine, 48/52 weight distribution allows it to hold the road like a toy car pinned to a track, moving quickly and precisely where you direct it.
My teenage son James says, "I remember you warning me about its power, how this car actually goes right where you point it — fast, faster than any car that I have ever driven— before you let me drive it for five minutes on that abandoned road. You were right."
Some people think the engine's a bit loud, and it holds too much road noise. Drop the top and turn up the music.
That's the entry-level car?
Compared to the 911, the only other model when it was introduced, the Boxster is refined in another direction.
The Boxster would be the top two-seat convertible for any company not Italian nor named McLaren. Over its 17 years, from the base model to the new GTS, the engine has boomed from 2.5L to 3.4L, with 125 more horsepower, up to 330. It’s now 209 pounds heavier but still weighs less than a Mustang, a Corvette or even a Chevy Cruze.
It's a snug racer, but comfortable. The dash is spare and properly equipped for driving, which is still the point of a car. It provides a different and equally-powerful driving experience from the other Porsches.
When an auto manufacturer offers this machine as its entry point, one may aspire toward an embarrassment of riches. That's great for Porsche's long-term prospects and one reason why ...
It helped save the company
Porsche was driving through a financial hailstorm in the mid-1990s. It sold 30,471 units in North America in 1986; 10 years later, 7,524.
The 911 was the whole line until the Boxster arrived in 1997, and sales nearly doubled. In 2001, with just two models, Porsche North America moved 24,143 vehicles. More capital helped develop Cayenne and Cayman. Solvency arrived.
Then came profitability. The Boxster and the 911 are nearly the same car from the front bumper to the passenger compartment, with other commonalities (IMS, anyone?). Henry Ford would giggle at this economy of scale in production costs, because sharing so many parts in two cars also provides an embarrassment of riches.
A successful water cooler, the Boxster hit the market with the 996. No matter what we prefer for cooling, that's the way the world — and finally Porsche — went.
Regarding image and branding, the same lovely face drives toward you. You only know which twin you're enjoying after it passes you.
Look at those curves
If the Boxster were an actress, it would be Christina Hendricks of "Mad Men" fame or Marilyn Monroe. Those rear panels curve out and over the wheels in a warm, enticing way, unlike the chillier angles of Ferrari and Lamborghini.
The Boxster less voluptuous than the 993, its initial companion, which works like crazy in proportion to the rest of the body. It doesn't self-consciously announce itself but instead sits contentedly, ready when you look over and notice.
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