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Old June 27th, 2002, 08:37 AM   #1
Magic Mtn Dan
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One man's preview of the 2003 Porsche Boxster

Preview: '03 Porsche Boxster

Porsche polishes the Boxster.
by Ian Norris 6/24/2002

Capranica Prenestina is a tiny town perched on top of a hill in the hinterland due east of Rome. Porsche had taken us to the area to try the 2003 Boxster, which will go on sale in August. Parked under the tree that gave the only patch of shade in the town square, I was resetting the navigation system that was guiding me through the route. As I punched in the final details of my next destination, a bright-eyed young lad of ten or so came over to the car and looked down on me (a Boxster sits pretty low, you know): “Fare vroom-vroom!” he smiled and said. I massaged the throttle pedal gently. “Piu forte!” he insisted. Well, he’d asked, so I slotted the Porsche into gear and made it noisier, shooting off round the piazza. As I reached my exit and turned off, his young voice came across and sent me on my way: “Vai, vai!” he yelled – and go, go I did, heading down the twisting hill road. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and the air was heavy with the scent of flowers – it doesn’t get much better than this.

A drop-top Porsche, clear roads and good weather. It’s been a recipe for fun for years now, and the new version of the company’s entry-level model is going to keep that recipe on the boil. The Boxster was introduced in 1996 and has remained unchanged since, although the more powerful ‘S’ version was added to the range in 1999. An eight-year model run is fairly lengthy these days, even for a firm like Porsche, but it has to be remembered that back in 1996 the Stuttgart firm, now the most profitable carmaker in the world, was struggling back to solvency. In 1992/93 it was in dire financial straits and there were questions about whether it would survive as an independent entity. However, going for a second, more affordable, model turned out to be the lifeline it needed. Together with the 996 version of the 911, launched in 1997, the Boxster turned Porsche round. Initially, the company thought it could sell 15,000 Boxsters annually – in the last financial year that production figure was over 28,000.

Transatlantic phenomenon

The format of a rear-mid-mounted flat-six engine, giving close to the ideal of 50/50 weight distribution, sporting handling, attractive lines and creature comforts that include a smooth-operating, electrically activated top has been a hit across the world. It’s not surprising, however, that the U.S. is its biggest market. Priced at an affordable (for a Porsche) sub-$50,000 for a basic model with the trimmings and just over $50K for an S, it’s a very attractive proposition. And it looks as though it will stay that way, because Porsche has taken a policy decision that is pretty near unique – it’s not going to use the launch of the upgraded model as a peg to hang a price hike on.

So what will new Boxster buyers (it goes on sale in August) be getting for the same money? Well, the major improvement is a new version of the 2.7-liter boxer six-cylinder engine (3.2 liters in the S). It’s fitted with Porsche’s Variocam variable timing system, which gives an extra eight horsepower (228 and 260 respectively) while at the same time improving gas mileage and lowering emissions. The engine has a new management system from Bosch, which improves torque at low speeds and gives the Boxster a 0-62 mph time of 6.4 seconds, while the S covers the same sprint in 5.7 seconds. Top speeds with the standard manual gearbox are 157 and 164 mph respectively.

In terms of styling the changes are subtle, being restricted to a new front end with prominent air intakes in its lower portion and almost imperceptible changes in the side air scoops. At the rear there are newly shaped central exhausts – two for the S and one, which will bring back memories of the 356, for the standard Boxster. There’s a new top, with a heated glass rear window – an improvement over the existing model that to many manufacturers would fully justify a hefty price increase.

Road ruler

On the road, you realize why Porsche hasn’t made any modifications to the Boxster’s chassis apart from new, lighter, wheels. The little car is nimble and accelerative, and on the hairpin turns heading up to Capranica Prenestina the five-speed gearbox was slick and easy to change, delivering the torque readily and smoothly for quick progress. The S comes with a six-speed manual as standard, but both cars are available with Porsche’s superb Tiptronic selectable auto – which might be an advantage if, like me, you are in the region of 6’4”. The cockpit isn’t cramped, but while tap-dancing on the pedals is possible, thumbing buttons on the steering wheel would be easier.

On the way back down the hillside, with the kid’s “Vai, vai!” echoing in my ears, I found the brakes were certain and reliable, even if they did have that hard-worked smell at the bottom. They may have smelled, but they still stopped reassuringly well.

On the freeway, the car was perfect, with acceleration that made blending in with fast-flowing traffic no problem. Pulling off the entry ramp and accelerating hard up to 100 mph was a pleasant experience, made more pleasant by the fact that the engineers have tuned the engine to sound good. They have also created a screen behind the seats that really does cut down on the buffeting that can be so tiring in a convertible at freeway speeds.

As noon approached and the temperature rose, it was time to take shelter from the sun. Stop, apply the handbrake, press a button and lock an easily-operated over-center catch on the top’s front rail and you’re ready to relax in a frosty blast from the air-conditioning, draft-proof and insulated from outside noise. The driving experience is still great with the top up, but the Boxster is one of those cars that will make you want to get up early, before the sun’s too hot, and set off, top down, to do nothing more than drive for pleasure.

Does it have any faults? Well, to make the suspension sure-footed at speed it has to be taut, and you’ll feel every bump in the road. You might want to think twice about buying one to drive on the kind of roads you find in New York City or post-winter Detroit, but you’d probably still enjoy it.

source: The Car Connection

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