2003 Porsche Boxster S Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

My last review of a Porsche was more of a love letter than a critique. For that, I make no apologies. The warp speed 911 Turbo is the best thing to come out of Germany since apple strudel. However, in the interests of perceived objectivity, I will resist the urge to shower the 'new' Boxster S with praise. Suffice it to say, the Boxster S is one of the finest driver's cars in the world, at any price.

Damn! This isn't going to be easy, is it? OK, let's start with the Boxster's looks…

It doesn't have any. From the seats forwards, the Boxster is a 911 – a shape no more captivating than a suppository. From the seats backwards, it's the back end of a suppository. The Boxster's push-me, pull-you symmetry is so insipid the Oxford English Dictionary's uses it to illustrate the word 'bland'. The S' newly revised nose treatment, enlarged air intakes and funky twin exhausts do nothing to rectify the visual pabulum. The Stuttgart bean counters that substituted this dull design for the sublime Boxster concept have their place reserved in the Automotive Hall of Shame.

Ah, but you can't see the exterior from the driver's seat, can you? Once you get to grips with a Boxster S – stirring its silken 6-speed, aiming its laser-guided steering, leaning on its unflappable brakes – you won't want to let go. Each mechanical aspect integrates into a cohesive, symphonic whole. The lightweight Boxster's mid-engined layout lets it change direction as willingly as a well-trained hunting dog. At the same time, the slightly tweaked chassis provides an endless stream of confidence-inspiring feedback. The Boxster S is so sure-footed and chuckable an impolite driver could thread it through city traffic as easily as a large motorcycle.

Oh dear. I did it again, didn't I? Right, let's focus on the interior.

If God is in the details, this Boxster is headed straight for Hell. The switchgear is cheap and nasty; a Dualit toaster provides more satisfying tactility. The standard seats are unsuitable for spirited driving, and uncomfortable for the long haul. The stereo is underpowered and under-speakered. Garish red backlighting mars the instrument cluster's eye appeal. Instead of modifying a VW off-roader for doublewide Americans, Porsche should have hired one of VAG's interior designers. A base Polo offers more class, comfort and pizzazz than a specced-up Boxster S.

Of course, the Boxster S' real excitement is produced by its 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine. Take her up to 3500rpms and you can sense the barely suppressed muscularity lurking underfoot. The sprint from there to 5500rpms is short, seamless and exhilarating. Then, at the precise moment when most cars start to run out of puff, the S' welcomes you to Variocamland. That's the mysterious place that provides the extra grunt needed for a final, super-smooth dash to the 7000rpm redline, and whatever lies ahead. The S' engine, up 8 horses on last year's model to 260bhp, may sound like an air raid siren mixed with an industrial juicer, but it transforms a reasonably quick car into a serious player.

Serious? C'mon, it's a hairdresser's car! Perhaps it's the Boxster's curiously asexual shape. Or maybe it's the type of person who bought the roadster when it was new; back when its anaemic 2.5 litre engine precluded it from being a 'proper Porsche'. The car was a big hit with early adopters, who bought a Boxster because it was 'adorable'. They didn't know or cherish the Porsche's illustrious racing history or technological creativity. No matter how quick or agile the machine has since become, the Boxster can't seem to shake its image as a limp-wristed pose-mobile.

Sure, but it's wrong to fault the Boxster S for being both a lifestyle statement for performance challenged posers and a fast, fine handling sports car for straight-up G-force jockeys. The S should be hailed as a meeting point for the two camps. Top down cubbyhole lovers can learn how to negotiate tight corners at speed. Hardcore petrol heads can discover the joys of luggage space and unused breakdown cover. We should all learn to love the Boxster for what it can do, rather than what it represents.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm in two minds about the Boxster S. On one hand, it's a brutally efficient tool for high-speed roadwork. Anyone who loves driving fast can't fail to enjoy the car's strength, honesty and integrity. On the other hand, the Boxster S lacks soul. The eye fails to linger on the shape. The hand resists touching the switches. The ear is not delighted by the sound. Still, I'd quite happily recommend the less than charismatic Boxster S over a standard 911. It's more fun to drive. At the risk of appearing inappropriately smitten, I can't think of any higher praise than that.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

More by Robert Farago

Join the conversation
  • MKizzy The top executives of many of the Fortune 500 companies support GOP candidates with their votes and donations while happily filling their corporate coffers with Progressive dollars. Unlike Musk however, they're smart enough to at least try to keep it to themselves. Perhaps Musk's political openness combined with his seemingly declining interest in Tesla is a sign he'll abandon Tesla by the end of the decade.
  • Jpolicke I don't know of any gas stations with a single pump.
  • ToolGuy It was good to interact with you in the comments section over the weekend (as promised).
  • Gary BullitThe first muscle car chase scene in movies. Steve McQueen in a muscled up Mustang chased by baddies in a Dodge Charger.
  • ToolGuy I have a gasoline-powered generator (not a super nice one) but I'm not happy about it. My tools and devices also aren't happy when they see the crappy modified sine wave power. The generator itself isn't happy as it sits there deteriorating and waiting to start a fire (the junky fuel line/shutoff valve failed on me). ¶ Current preference is to use battery-powered tools when working away from utility company power. ¶ On my wish list is a nice pure sine wave inverter. ¶ Better than that would be a hybrid or EV vehicle with pure sine wave power.