Test Driving Porsche's 2012 Boxster S
By Bill Kearney
The 2013 Boxster S has a more aggressive design than its predecessors, but still maintains a connection to the past
“Evolution, not revolution” is a phrase you’ll hear tossed around by Porsche employees. The company tends to make minimal and meticulous changes from year to year, but whenever leaps in technology or design call for it, Porsche releases a new “generation” of a specific model. Following that generational method, the visual ideas of each car are easily linked to the past, while the raw sports performance for which the brand is known stays intact. If celeb purchases are any indication, the practice seems to have worked: Steve McQueen drove a 911S in the film Le Mans and owned that very car; Bill Gates and Tom Cruise have felt their share of Porsche=induced g-forces. Soccer phenom Cristiano Ronaldo is a fan, not to mention Miami-linked boldfacers such as Dwyane Wade, Sofia Vergara, and Adriana Lima.
Stars and their cars are a long way from the company’s 1948 start when Ferdinand Porsche (who designed the Volkswagen Beetle in 1931) and his son, “Ferry,” launched the brand in Gmund, Austria. Then they debuted the 40-horsepower 356—a rear-engine harbinger to their now iconic 911. In 1950, importer Max Hoffman placed the first North American order; by 1956, 10,000 Porsches had been produced. Eight years later, Porsche introduced the 911, a symbol of raw sports car purity—a car whose silhouette has changed very little over its 48-year run.
That said, it appears as though the engineers in Germany have accelerated the concept of evolution in drawing up the 2013 Boxster S. It’s the third generation of the line—originally launched in 1997 and revamped in 2004—and is clearly the most significant overhaul to date. Traditionally the brand’s most affordable auto, Boxsters are inspired by Porsche’s first purpose-built race car, the 1953 550 Spyder, a nimble and gracefully constructed mid-engine roadster that won its class in the 1954 Le Mans. The stance and arcing lines of the 550 were obvious in the 1997 and 2004 cars, and that 550 architecture is still evident in the 2013, but with some significant changes. “The first two generations of the Boxster won ‘10 Best’ and ‘Best Handling’ type awards almost yearly, but the major criticism was that it looked a little soft,” says Porsche media relations manager Dave Engelman. “When it came time to redesign, it had to be more aggressive looking.” The visual language of the Boxsters prior to 2013 was essentially the same as the first prototypes to hit auto shows in 1993. “We had never had anything like that before, so [the design] lasted quite a long time,” adds Engelman, “but [when] you look at some of the cars that are out there [now]—everything is a lot more aggressive.” Indeed, the new car is more masculine: Headlights are angular, not oval; the side air intakes are far more pronounced; and new, more chiseled character lines carry the eye laterally down the car.
Engelman seems unconcerned about the Boxster cannibalizing business from the beefier rear-engine 911. “If you were to drive a Boxster back-to-back with the 911, you’d realize that they are two different cars, with two different driving styles. The mid-engine car is very well balanced, the center of gravity is right there in the center, so things translate through the car to your butt and hands. Whereas with the 911, you use the rear-engine weight to power yourself out of corners. Both are exciting, but both are different.”All told, the new car is bigger, stronger, lighter, and faster. The wheelbase has been upped by 2.36 inches, yet the front overhang has been reduced by 1.063 inches, with bigger 19- or 20-inch wheels set wider apart, and flush to the body, as if the car were wearing a tight shirt. The car also sits .5118 inches lower to the ground. Though the changes are measured in fractions of inches, the total effect is pronounced: A tricked-out 2013 Boxster S rounds Germany’s famously tricky Nürburgring Nordschleife track in 7:58 minutes—12 seconds faster than its comparably equipped predecessor.
The muscle behind that improvement comes from a rear-wheel-drive, 3.4-liter, horizontally opposed, six-cylinder engine putting out 315 horsepower at 6,700 rpm (a five-horsepower improvement over the 2012 model) with a maximum torque of 266 pound-feet at 4,500 to 5,800 rpm. The result is 0–60 mph in as little as 4.5 seconds. It also has more stopping power via ample front-axle brake discs adopted from the 911 Carrera. And Porsche claims it’s the lightest car in its class.
A stick shift would be an obvious choice, and you can do that, but Porsche seems most eager to brag about its PDK transmission (Porsche Doppelkupplung), a seven-speed unit that you can use as an automatic or manually with wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The technology is akin to having two gearboxes, each with its own clutch. As you work through one gear, the drive switches to the second clutch, which already has the next gear ready to go, resulting in ultra-quick gear changes. Its Standard mode is gauged for fuel economy, shifting before rpms get too high (even shutting the engine off when idling at a stoplight). The Sport mode lets rpms get to gear sweet spots, shooting the car forward, as well as downshifting sooner when braking, keeping the car in an aggressive gear for the impending acceleration.
Miami is undeniably a prime target for the independent German carmaker. “We’re having our most successful year with Porsche ever,” says Ken Gorin, president and CEO of The Collection, a dealer of posh cars in Coral Gables. “In May, we sold 125 [Porsches] in one month—the most ever sold by any dealer in North America.” There are some compelling reasons behind the surge. Sports cars and balmy weather are muy sympatico (ask any Porsche owner in Manhattan), and our economy is buttressed by wealth from all over the world. “We’re the gateway to South America, and we see a lot of Europeans who like to visit. We have a 12-month car economy,” says Gorin. The southern hemisphere, in particular, plays a role. “Our South American clients are thrilled, because a sports car is freedom. You put the top down and take off and have a good time. In some countries, you have concerns for security. That’s why people want to drive their wonderful cars here.” With the words “balmy” and “wonderful car” in mind, we asked three Miami Porsche mavens to put the top down, give the 2013 Boxster S a spin, and discuss.
Steve Sawitz, age 55, the owner of Joe’s Stone Crab, has purchased five Porsche 911s, ranging from a 1994 Carrera Coupe to his current 2011 Turbo S convertible.
D Scott Katsaras, a 40-year-old model and entrepreneur, has been collecting modern classic cars for more than 20 years and has owned numerous Porsches, including an all-original 1974 911S 2.7.
Ira Rosner is a 53-year-old securities and M&A lawyer at Greenberg Traurig in Miami. He club races a Porsche 944 Turbo modified for the track and has owned Porsches continuously since 1992, including four 911s and a 2004 Boxster. He currently drives a 2005 911 coupe.
IR: Short of mounting a phallus on the nose, Porsche has done a fabulous job of a gender makeover: Deep side vents contribute a much stronger character; vertical headlights define the north-south attitude of the car.
SS: Yeah, I thought the exterior lines were slightly more aggressive looking. It’s a little more definitive and masculine. I like the 20-inch wheels, too.
DSK: Agreed. I didn’t feel as if I were driving my girlfriend’s or hairdresser’s car—much more serious and aggressive than the previous model. I admire how the rear turn signals converged into the rear wing spoiler.
Visibility and Sight Lines
SS: Phenomenal, with one exception. The problem is that the mirrors didn’t have lane assist, which is an important safety issue to me.
DSK: The forward visibility is excellent, but getting a rear view to change lanes or back up took some extra effort on my part. A few times I had to actually raise up off of my seat just to see over the roll bars.
IR: I agree; forward sightlines are excellent. The backward sightlines are nearly nonexistent other than through the mirrors.
DSK: I think it’s a perfect size for a roadster. It no longer looks to be in the same “cute” category as the Mercedes-Benz SLK, BMW Z4, or Audi TT. Although it isn’t much larger than the older models, it certainly looks and performs larger.
IR: Yes, visually, the car seems bigger but not excessively. Probably because the overhangs are short, the car doesn’t lose its “this one is just right” appearance. The interior is very comfortable and doesn’t feel at all cramped.
SS: I like the size, but I’m 6-foot-2. With the convertible up, my head might graze the bottom of the roof. I’d like the roof a little bit higher.
Transmission in Standard, Sport, and Paddle Shifter modes
SS: I thought the Standard mode was fairly docile, and nice for city driving. The shifting speed is deceptively quick. Occasionally, I would have to manually downshift to pass someone on the causeway.
DSK: It’s actually the smoothest transition of gears I’ve ever encountered. One thing that I’m on the fence about is the auto engine shutoff while at stoplights. Porsche says you won’t feel the cutoff, but I very easily did.
IR: To me, the PDK was spectacular—probably the strongest aspect of the Boxster. It can take on any character you like: Standard mode seamlessly short shifts to save fuel; Sport mode keeps the engine right in the gear’s power zone—feels like a huge rubber band slinging the car forward. If I were buying a Porsche today, it would have the PDK [instead of a manual].
SS: If gas were cheaper, I’d leave it in Sport mode all the time. It gave me a perpetual grin.
DSK: I usually prefer manual transmissions, so the paddles would be the closest option. Again, seamless and basically instant shifting on all accounts. Good placement and very easy to navigate.
SS: I use the paddle shifters a lot as well, but I wish they were in a fixed position on the steering column, rather than the steering wheel.
IR: I liked, or at least didn’t mind, the shift buttons [fixed] on the wheel.
Suspension and Ride in Standard and Sport Modes
SS: I didn’t expect to like the ride in Standard mode, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s very athletic yet forgiving. The car never lost its poise.
DSK: I was actually a little disappointed with the Standard mode’s suspension, especially while driving the uneven pot-holed roads of Sunset Island. Then again, the Boxster isn’t my Toyota Land Cruiser. But I thought the Sport mode was excellent, especially on the lower end of I-95 where you can really carve at higher speeds—stiff but smooth handling. I really connected with the road and loved every minute. IR: Sport is noticeably firmer under hard cornering— the car feels flatter with less body roll. For my money, they could just build the car to the Sport setting and toss the variable shocks and the added complexity/cost.
SS: The steering was absolutely appropriate with city driving. As far as high speeds, how would I know about that? Just kidding! It’s fine.
DSK: I felt as if I were completely connected to the asphalt without feeling every crack or stone in the steering wheel.
IR: Yes, good feedback through the wheel.
SK: City driving was pretty effortless, but it was extremely responsive at higher speeds. Very impressive.
IR: Agree. The car’s got a highly responsive ratio but not nervous on center. Steering is light in slow-speed driving but not over-boosted when hustling the car at high speed. I will say the Boxster’s initial turn-in is where you can feel its advantage over a 911—with the 911, you turn the wheel and wait a bit for the mass in the rear to come around and the front to bite; the Boxster feels more scalpel-like.
DSK: That makes sense. I was very impressed with how quickly I got in and out of corners and turns while not losing an ounce of grip.
Engine Noise and Road Noise
SS: Engine sound can never be loud enough for me, but it was fine.
IR: Steve and I are different. I’m not a big fan of loud exhausts, so to my ears there was a perfect balance of volume and tone—more like Pink Floyd than The Who.
DSK: I thought t he engine sounded pretty massive, especially while in Sport mode, where the downshifts have a deep Ferrari-like tone. I’d be interested to hear how it would sound with an aftermarket Borla or Tubi Style exhaust. The interior road noise was at a very low level with the top up— as quiet as most hard-top convertibles I’ve driven.
IR: I was actually surprised a bit by the top-up wind noise. Given that the top is a partial hard top and is lined and insulated, I expected a quieter car top-up.
SS: If I didn’t have the 911, I would buy one.
DSK: I was impressed—I’d rate it around an eight out of a 10 in overall appearance and performance, but I think the price is a bit steep. The car I drove, with lots of options, was just shy of $81,000.
IR: I think it’s a superb car and, for what it is, a great value. Why anyone would consider buying a 911 Cabriolet rather than this car is a mystery to me. If you liked it in 1997, you’ll love it in 2013.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF PORSCHE (opener); infphoto.com (vergara); by bill kearney (kats aras);
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.