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Porsche serves up a faster, larger Boxster

April 01, 2005|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

Porsche has managed to serve up a stronger, faster and trendier second-generation two-seat Boxster at a price that stands a good chance of getting along with your wallet.

The arrival of the original Boxster in 1997 was a stroke of genius mixed with some common sense that continues to pay big dividends for this producer of prestigious German sporting gear. Making a reasonably priced mid-engine (behind the cockpit) roadster that recalls the 1950s-era 550 Spyder race car has given the Boxster an instant pedigree and exposed the Porsche brand to an enlarged fan base. Even more versatility will be added to the lineup when the 2006 Cayman S, positioned between the Boxster and the 911 Carrera models, finds its way to dealers.

Creating the Boxster has also provided Porsche with the ammunition to successfully compete against a couple of other German roadster entries, chiefly the Mercedes-Benz SLK and the ultra-hip Z4 two-seater from BMW.

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In true Porsche tradition, the changes to the Boxster appear evolutionary, which means the reshaped version still looks like a Boxster. According to Porsche, however, 80 percent of the components that go into producing the new model are, well, new to that model. Equally remarkable is that 55 percent of the Boxster's content - including the front structure, steering, seats, wheels, tires and electrical components - is shared with the more expensive and more powerful 911.

Perhaps the most noticeable visual changes from the previous model are the 911-like oval headlight pods and a noticeably classier interior.

But with 80 percent new content, most of the changes are bound to be more than skin deep. The new Boxster shows up with a stiffer platform, a wider stance, better brakes, bigger wheels, added leg room and a bit more luggage space. In addition, the side window area has been enlarged and the convertible soft top has been redesigned for better rear visibility.

Hidden from view behind the passenger compartment is a choice of two horizontally opposed "Boxer" powerplants that hold the line in terms of displacement, but pump out more performance than they did last year. The Boxster's base 2.7-liter six-cylinder now makes 240 horsepower, a gain of 12, while the more sporting 3.2-liter Boxster S is good for 280 horsepower, a 22-horse bump.

For 2005, Porsche has done away with the traditional engine dipstick, instead providing an electronic monitor that alerts the driver when the oil reservoir requires topping up.

A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the Boxster, while a six-speed gearbox accompanies the Boxster S. Either motor can be optioned with a five-speed shift-for-yourself) Tiptronic automatic.

Among the Boxster's available options is Porsche's active suspension that comes straight out of the 911. It's a driver-controlled system that can be used to dial in a firmer setting for more agile handling, especially when cornering at high speeds. The active suspension works in conjunction with stability control, which is standard equipment on all Boxster models.

Another interesting found-only-here extra-cost feature is what Porsche calls its Sport Chrono Package, primarily developed for racing enthusiasts. It adds a stopwatch and lap counter to the instrument panel, adjusts the gas pedal for more direct "feel" and changes the Tiptronic transmission to its manual setting. Likewise, the stability-control program is altered to allow for more wheel spin and faster cornering.

On the safety front, the new Boxster is equipped with head air bags in addition to both front and seat-mounted side-impact air bags.

Surprisingly, all of the Boxster's technological, mechanical and performance upgrades have resulted in only a minimal increase in the car's base price. Even at the 280-horsepower Boxster S's $53,100 base price, it's an attractive alternative to the 320-horse 911 Cabriolet's $79,100 entry fee, especially when you consider that both use roughly half the same components.

When the Boxster was first launched, it put Porsche prestige in the hands of the masses. The 2005 cranks it up a notch while remaining uniquely Porsche.

Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications

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