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Porsche refreshed the front, rear and interior of its two Boxster models for 2003.

2003 Porsche Boxster/Boxster S Road Tests

Friction Fighters
It's not that difficult to justify owning Porsche's updated 2003 Boxster or Boxster S.

By Bill Roebuck

It's hard to avoid family friction when you're trying to justify getting a new sports car. Are sports cars impractical? Yes. Unnecessary? Probably. Uneconomical? A bit. A source of spousal friction? Likely.

Despite these negatives, hundreds of sports cars move out of dealerships across the country every month. It's a dream car for many drivers. And the dreams of the deepest REM sleep are often of a Porsche, which many see as today's ultimate, affordable sports car marque. Highlights
2003 Porsche Boxster & Boxster S
Category: Sports Convertible
Seats: 2
Engines: 2.7-litre, 225-hp H6; 3.2-litre, 258 hp H6 (Boxster S)
Fuel Econ.-Cdn L/100 km (mpg), city/hwy: 11.7/7.4 (20/29); Boxster S 12.8/8.2  (18/26)
Price (Cdn): Boxster $60,500. Boxster S $73,300
Pros: Very easy-to-drive sports car with superb handling and cornering.
Cons: Disappointing exhaust note, limited interior storage space.
Affordable? The definition of affordability varies widely among drivers, and even Porsche knows that. Its 911 Carrera Coupe, Cabriolet convertible, glass-roofed Targa and GT2 models range in price from a tad over $100,000 to more than $250,000.

But dreams of a new Porsche need not mean financial nightmares. Back in 1997, the company launched its "economy" model, the Boxster. It's not the first time it's made a poor-man's Porsche, but it is the first time an entry-level model looked as good as a 911, and was just about as quick. The Boxster's price ranges from $60,500 to $73,300.

The slightly redesigned 2003 Boxster comes in standard and "S" models, the first sporting a 2.7-litre horizontal six engine producing 225 hp (up eight from 2002). The S, with its 3.2-litre engine, also was tweaked this year to deliver an extra eight for 258 hp. The top speed of the S is 264 km/h.

Power is delivered to the rear wheels through a slick five-speed manual transmission (a six-speed version is standard in the S model). Shifting is like moving a knife through butter that's been sitting on the dinner table since lunchtime. Although the six-speed Boxster S puts third and fifth uncomfortably close together, the right slots come to hand easily after a few days of driving.

Both models can be equipped with optional five-speed Tiptronic automatics, but an automatic kind of defeats the purpose of owning a Porsche in the first place, in my view. The goal is driving pleasure and fun, and an automatic takes away from the fun factor.

You might think you'd have the most fun comes with the more powerful S version, but the plain Boxster delivers very adequately in the smiles per gallon department. Drive it hard, and it's just about as sporty as an S. The S just takes the power and thrill to an extra degree. Yet both are comfortable enough to satisfy as a daily driver.

Zero to 100 km/h can be reached in just over six seconds, or a couple of tenths quicker in the S. Stopping is phenomenal in both models. You have to try hard braking in a Porsche -- any Porsche -- to truly sense what great braking feels like.

Both models feature a new-for-2003 convertible top with a heated glass back window (the previous model's was plastic, with no defroster). It's one of the easiest convertible tops you'll ever use. Pull back a single roof clamp, push a button on the dash, and humming motors retract the roof in about 12 seconds. A hard tonneau cover lifts up and magically folds back down to cover part of the folded top, maintaining the clean lines and smooth aerodynamics of the design. A push of the button reverses everything, and when you click the roof clamp down, both side windows automatically close. With the roof lowered, there's very little wind buffeting, even at highway speeds. The lined roof keeps out the winter chill, as we found in our winter test a few months back, and serves to deaden outside noise. A hardtop roof is available as an option.

In our summer test, driving around Toronto, especially along the busy 401 highway, usually meant keeping the top raised, because the noise and odours from adjacent heavy trucks spoiled the top-down experience. The Boxster's really excel on open, winding country roads, where you can appreciate the fresh air and the truly outstanding grip of the tires on the tarmac.

In winter or summer, Porsche's standard Stability Control System helps keep the Boxster pointed where you want it to go. The engine placement provides an almost equal balance of weight on the front and rear wheels, aiding handling and responsiveness in cornering. The suspension in both models is the same, though the Boxster setup is slightly softer than in the S.

Balance comes from a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive setup. The engine is behind the seats, by the way, leaving room for two practical trunks, a small one in the back, and a deep one up front under the hood. Good thing, too, because inside storage space is limited, although Porsche designers did a pretty good job in a tight space. There's storage under the door armrests, in a shallow console bin, in a pair of slots under the stereo system, and in narrow compartments behind the seats. There's also a decent-size glovebox (the previous model didn't have one at all), although the leather-clad driver's manual takes up most of the space in it.

There are cupholders too. A nifty unit slides out from the dash and extends to hold two cups. It's surprisingly sturdy -- and, of course, a necessity here in the land of Tim Hortons. That's another improvement over the previous model, whose cupholders seemed to be a flimsy afterthought.

One design quirk for North Americans is that the starter keyhole is on the left of the steering wheel, but you get used to the position quickly.

The Boxster is quite similar in appearance at the front end to a Porsche 911. You'd really need to look at a Boxster and a 911 side-by-side to distinguish the differences, which must be an annoyance for those who can afford the Carrera. The similarity arrived with the 2003 Boxster, which took on some minor design tweaks at the front and rear. Also, the small rear spoiler was redesigned. It still rises vertically from the back of the car like a pop tart from a toaster when your speed exceeds 125 km/h.

Of course, driving around the city won't give you much opportunity to get that spoiler to pop up. You might do it on long highway ramps, but there's not much point since you can't see it in your rearview mirror. If you want to show off, though, there's a secret switch to raise the spoiler manually.

The only thing that disappointed me about the Boxster, in both standard and the S versions, was the way it sounded. The exhaust note's a bit tinny, not with the deep and throaty rumble of a powerful sports car.

Coddled in the leather seats, with a significant other's elbow nudging yours, you're sure to find any friction you sense is from the tires on the road, and not between you and your mate. That's because the Boxster is easy to drive, easy to like and -- once you're sitting in the cockpit -- easy to justify for both the driver and the passenger.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2003.

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