As I guided the revised Boxster S onto the off-ramp at a not-inconsiderable speed, I instantly concluded that Porsche's engineers have switched from coffee to amphetamines. While the previous Boxster S would have sasheed through the ½ mile curve with sure-footed ease, the updated version wanted to chew up the tarmac and spit it out. The snarls and howls bouncing off the stone walls flanking the roadway left no doubt that the more "evolved" car likes living life on the edge. There was only one thing for it: go 'round again.
The second time through the corner, I held the Boxster S in second gear and mashed the gas. The car added speed like a boulder rolling downhill; the transition from bottom end torque shove to Variocam assisted accelerative thrust was as seamless and powerful as gravity itself. The Boxster's variable-ratio steering rack and [optional] 19" wheels responded to the smallest steering input with a fencer's speed, a surgeon's precision and a Rottweiler's tenacity. The resulting line through the ramp's radius wasn't pretty, but it was very, very quick. Oh yeah, and fun.
Truth be told, the Boxster S is more fun to drive than a 911. Shock horror! The baby Boxster is a better whip than big brother Carrera? C'mon, it's a no-brainer. With its mid-mounted engine, the Boxster can pivot on its axis like a wind vane. With its aft-of-the-axle powerplant, the 911's handling prowess is a triumph of engineering over inertia. Even so, it's more than simple weight distribution that makes the Boxster S a better steer than a 911. It's sensuality.
I've already mentioned the sound. (The noise blowing through the Boxster S' twin pipes is so violent that mothers pushing baby carriages give you the finger as you amble by.) And I've highlighted the joys of hanging out in VarioCam-land. (The Boxster S sprints to sixty in a scarcely credible 5.2 seconds, races from to the ton in 12 and tops out at an entirely respectable 167mph.) But what really separates the Boxster from the 911– or any other sports car you can name– is its handling.
When it comes to the twisty bits, the Boxster S serves up a smorgasbord of physical delights. Give it some through your favorite corner and you can literally feel the car coming alive beneath you, changing from understeer to oversteer to neutrality on command. Every surface imperfection, every change in camber or adhesion, is telegraphed through the steering wheel and chassis. With PSM on, the Boxster S is one of those rare cars that can literally teach you how to drive– and drive fast– without slamming into something solid. With PSM off, you will believe a man can slide.
Unlike the venerable 911 Carrera, the Boxster S delivers these automotive ecstasies at relatively sane speeds. In other words, you don't have to be a hero to be a hero. That said, the Boxster S recently bested the Ferrari Enzo through Road and Track's test course, becoming the world's fastest slalom-meister. No unmodified, street-legal, US passenger car corners more quickly than the new Boxster S.
Strangely enough, this accomplishment (and the German roadster's astounding real world poise) doesn't reflect a major departure from the previous car's technology. The new-for-'05 Boxster S still has McPherson struts on all four corners, with longitudinal and transverse control arms. It's still powered by a 3.2-liter flat six. True to the brand's creed, the improvements enabling the extra speed and fluency all come from adjustments to the Boxster's basic righteousness: a few more horses, a deeper breathing air intake system, longer shocks, stiffer wheel mounts, a lighter, stronger suspension, a slightly wider stance, etc.
In practice, the difference between the "old" Boxster and the latest iteration is the difference between owning a pair of prescription sunglasses and wearing them. Everything about the new car is sharper. The way it lunges down the road, digs in during a corner, wags its tail when provoked, snaps back on-line, sheds speed and changes direction all create a driving experience only slightly less visceral than a purpose-built track car. Anyone who still believes that Porsche has gone soft will highlight and delete their opinion after their first mile in this, this, animal.
Of course, Porsche would have you believe the Boxster S is also a civilized daily driver. They proudly point to the Audi-fied interior, with its higher quality materials and switchgear. Well, I'm not buying it. Sure, when the first, woefully underpowered Boxster came out, it cried out for luxury fitments to match its premium price. But what we have now is something entirely different: the finest handling sports car money can buy. To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, driving's not everything; it's the only thing.