TTAC Car of the Year
I'm a bit of a fix-it freak. Don't get me wrong: I'm no great fan of home improvement. I just love tools. I can quite happily while away an hour or so down at the Depot, cruising the aisles, checking out the hammers, screwdrivers, drills, planes, work benches, etc. Needless to say, I can spot a perfect implement at twenty paces. The second it falls to hand, I'm suffused with delight. A well-designed tool's intrinsic excellence rescues me from the foul compromises of daily strife. It soothes and thrills me with its minimalist mix of precision and possibility. It fills me with admiration for the craftsman who made it. It's the same feeling I get from the new Porsche Boxster S.
I freely admit that the new Boxster S doesn't look particularly special. Although Porsche's open-top roadster shares no major sheetmetal with its immediate predecessor, it continues to forfeit sexy to its continental and Japanese competitors. Truth be told, the Boxster has yet to recover from its divergence from the sublime, Speedster-inspired prototype. The latest iteration pins its hopes for aesthetic redemption on newly pumped haunches and a slightly more aggressive stance. It's better, certainly, but the Boxster's overall form continues to reside in push-me/pull-you no-man's land. It still looks like a hairdresser's car.
In the same sense that a hammer's true beauty is its use, the Boxster S saves its siren song for its driver. The seduction begins when the door slots back into the bodywork like a rifle bolt sliding home. The allure intensifies when your fingers curl around the perfectly-sized, blissfully button-free steering wheel. And then the 3.2-liter flat-six spins into life. The mechanical melody filling the cabin combines the steadfast solidity of an office building's cooling tower fan with a rasp that sounds like a sharpened blade scything a slab of meat. Blip the Boxster S' throttle, sense the immediate response, and the amorphous exterior fades from mental view.
Engage the Boxster S' engine to its wheels and that's it: you're hooked. Don't be misled by all those car hacks who've described the new Boxster S' driving experience with clinical admiration, who would have you believe that yes, it's a great steer, but nothing to go into debt about. I can't explain their blasé commentary any more than I can tell you why someone would build a piece of furniture out of pine. These writers somehow missed the Boxster S' ability to engender overwhelming joy. THIS is the machine that reconnects you with all the pleasures you experienced when you mastered your first bike: confidence, power, freedom, exhilaration.
I remember careening down a long off-ramp in third gear, amping-up the Boxster S' engine under the highway I'd just abandoned. Two possible exits lay at the end of this left-hand sweeper. To go left, I had to tighten my line. As I was already traveling at the outer edges of available grip, I considered taking the easier option. Then I tugged gently on the wheel and felt the Boxster S' back end drift. Without any undue drama, the rear rubber eventually dug in and got 'er done. Respect!
It's all about balance; sheltering in the security of the Boxster S' prodigious grip and progressive understeer or pushing its chassis beyond its limits– just because you can. Well, that and silky smooth shove; mucking about with the go pedal in Variocamland or mercilessly thrashing the sweet-spinning six from basement to penthouse– just because you can. OK, and brakes; relying on the Boxster S' awesome anchors to indulge in a bit of entirely unnecessary exuberance or leaning on them to haul your ass out of impending disaster– just because you have to. Put it together and what have you got? Bippity-boppity-ZOOM!
There are, of course, more accelerative machines. But few of these alternative weapons surrender their thrills at reasonable speeds. Cashing-in their kicks requires real skill, constant concentration and no small amount of courage. The Boxster S' true genius lies in its ability to reward drivers of all talents and abilities, at all speeds. Sure, driving a Boxster S at nine or ten tenths is not a challenge to be taken lightly. But the car is never anything less than fun, and just about as safe as such things get. In fact, the Boxster S' flawless dynamics provide a learning curve that pistonheads can ascend at their own pace, in their own style.
Is the more powerful and rigid Cayman S a better sports car than the new Boxster S? I certainly hope so. But I haven't driven the Cayman S, and the whole point of this exercise is to choose the best car I had the pleasure of driving in '05. That car was the Porsche Boxster S.
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