Over the last 14 years, people have asked me, "What is your favorite car?" My answer has always been, "Porsche Boxster." I tested it in August of 1997.
The Boxster was new back then, and it wasn't until 2005 that the car was completely redone. I wondered how I would feel about the second generation with so many other road tests behind me. The Porsche fleet manager sent me a Speed Yellow example so I could find out.
Much has changed. The body styling is thicker through the middle, the headlamp units are now ovals, and the taillamps are completely resliced. The side vents are larger. Despite these changes, nobody would confuse this sports roadster for anything else.
Inside, the soft, organic look of the 1990's is gone, replaced by a more buttoned down, straight-lined motif, with metallic accents and a generally more luxurious feel. Some design details take their cues from the Cayenne SUV, a model that was unimaginable back in 1993, when the Boxster concept car made its debut at the Detroit Auto show.
There's plenty of storage, but it's in small bits-a little behind the seat, a modest glovebox, and even armrest bins on the doors. There are two trunks, one at each end, each of which holds about five cubic feet. The two cupholders, shunned by Europeans and adored by Americans, are tucked neatly behind a trim strip.
But it's the driving experience that sells Porsches. The engine sings with a deliciously tuned melody. My car had the Bose Surround Sound system ($1,865), but the music emanating from the engine compartment made it pale in comparison. The exquisitely precise manual shifter lets you control the pitch of that powerplant. The steering is specially designed to provide less assistance after 15 degrees from center, so as you roar into the turns on your favorite road you get to work a little harder for greater rewards. The steering wheel itself sports a very handsome red, gold, and black Porsche logo, which I admired frequently as I motored along.
That sonorous 2.7-liter horizontally opposed six displaces 240 horsepower, up from 201 in the original car. That's good for a zero-to-sixty time of 5.9 seconds. Stepping up to the Boxster S, you get an extra half liter of displacement, good for 40 additional horsepower and about 20 percent more torque, so you can hit 5.2 seconds in the zero-to-sixty dash. Both models will break 150 mph on the test track. My test car earned 21.0 miles per gallon-a remarkable achievement for a sporting vehicle.
If you want to look at the Boxster's engine, forget it. It's hidden. You can add oil from a remote filler in the rear trunk, but you don't need a dipstick. It's nice that when the top is down it doesn't take up any room in the rear trunk.
In 1997 I invented trips to the store so I could go out and drive my Boxster. This time, it was January, not August, but dropping that top let in the same world of wonderful sights, sounds, and smells as before, only a little more briskly. The new models have glass rear windows-a significant improvement. One owner of an older Boxster complained of his cracking plastic one.
To go topless, you simply open a single central lever and press a button on the console. A message on the dash tells you when it's done. A clear plastic windblocker mounted between the integrated roll bars helps keep the cabin still at surprisingly high speeds.
The Boxster is Porsche's entry level model. That's not a joke-my standard Boxster lacked a few things normally present in any uplevel Honda Accord at two thirds of the price. My test unit did not have automatic climate control, for example, although it is available as an option. The seats adjusted manually, although the seatback angle was electrically variable. The CD player was a single disc only. But I didn't care.
Part of what elevates the Boxster to superstardom is the wealth of design and engineering that goes on beneath its handsome skin. Some parts, such as the front and rear lids, top braces, and suspension pieces, are made of aluminum and other lightweight alloys. The high-tech Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system uses computers with multiple sensors to keep the car going where the driver points it.
Lots of careful tweaks have reduced the coefficient of drag, even with a larger frontal area. Airflow around the car is carefully handled to enhance performance and keep the Boxster stuck to the road. The body structure is stiffer and stronger, and structural elements have been carefully redesigned for more passenger safety in a collision. Boxsters are the first roadsters to offer head airbags.
Life with a Boxster is sublime. Utterly useless for families with children, worthless at carrying a string bass, the Boxster was created purely to amuse and inspire its driver. And that it does fantastically. I can overlook the tiny radio buttons and minimal utility.
The message center at the center of the instrument panel relayed numerous bulletins, but my favorite message was the low fuel warning. It said, "Consider Remaining Range."
Boxsters begin at $43,800, which is substantially less than the iconic 911 Carrera. My tester had the optional heated front seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, wind deflector, and Bose Surround Sound system, so, with freight, it came to $47,740. There are many ways to spend more money for less enjoyment.
So, what would I say was my favorite car now, in 2006? The same thing-the Porsche Boxster. The love remains.