BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Improving on the Boxster has to be one of motoring's toughest assignments but that was the position Porsche's designers and product planners found themselves in at the turn of the millennium. The first generation car had massively exceeded even their most optimistic sales projections and was the car responsible fro taking Porsche from the edge of financial meltdown to a position where it could afford to buy 20 per cent of the Volkswagen Group. The second generation Boxster was a surprisingly restrained item, nudging the car in the right direction in myriad ways without significantly altering the basic proposition. A used example won't be cheap but it will definitely be enjoyable.
It shows just how far Porsche has come that the predecessor to the Boxster was the 968, itself a facelifted 944 which, in turn, was a beefed up 924, a car that first appeared in 1975. Therefore the 1996 Boxster was replacing some very creaky architecture. To understand the Mk2 Boxster, a quick primer on the Mk1 is probably in order. This model started out as a 2.5-litre car, the big change coming in 1999 when the base engine grew to 2.7-litres and a punchy 3.2-litre S model was introduced. Not a lot changed for the following five years. It didn't need to. The Boxster ruled supreme.
When the changes did come, Porsche was clearly wary of killing the goose that was laying golden eggs quicker than it could shovel them into a basket. The second generation car appeared in dealers in November 2004 and the basic recipe was much the same. The silhouette was almost identical: again there was a 2.7-litre entry-level car and a 3.2-litre S, but the detailing had cleaned up considerably. The side vents grew shaper, the headlamps rounder and interior quality was much improved.
Summer 2006 saw some more detail changes, the most substantive being a power upgrade to correspond with that of the newly-introduced Cayman coupe - effectively a Boxster coupe that Porsche somehow had the chutzpah to charge a premium for. Whereas the models once made 240bhp and 280bhp respectively, power was eased up to 245bhp for the 2.7-litre car and a 295bhp for the Boxster S, a car which also saw its capacity rise from 3.2-litres to 3.4.
In early 2009, Porsche was at it again. The 2.7-litre engine was replaced by a 2.9-lkitre unit while the 3.4-litre in the Boxster S received 310bhp and Porsche Direct Fuel Injection technology. The PDK double clutch gearbox was introduced as was a launch control function. A year later, the Boxster Spyder arrived with a 320bhp version of the 3.4-litre engine, weight saving measures and extreme styling modifications that included doing away with the electric roof.
What You Get
The Boxster is an astonishingly capable car. Traditional Porsche design cues are everywhere, belying the car's position in the range. The dashboard is now 911-style as is the breathy wheeze of the flat-six engine behind you. Whichever Boxster model you choose, it's a car that makes you feel a million dollars, especially with the hood down and the engine at full chat. The hood mechanism is almost worth the price of admission by itself. Pressing a single button will electrically raise the rear deck and unfold the hood until it tautens before it can then be latched onto the windscreen header rail. In all it takes just 12 seconds and although rivals such as the Mercedes SLK have taken this trick and refined it still further, the Boxster's hood still draws admiring glances.
The Porsche is also surprisingly practical. The front and rear boots can actually swallow a surprising amount of bags, and the Tiptronic cars make town driving painless. This sort of car, often having lived its life gently perambulating suburban high streets, makes the best used buy. Watch out however, for the example you come across every so often that has been treated far harder.
What to Look For
The Boxster's engine is a reliable and charismatic unit which has yet to show up any significant problems. Check the tyres for wear and also have the rear axle and suspension inspected as heavy acceleration from a standstill on a dry surface leads not to wheelspin, but to quite severe 'axle-tramp.' This is a condition where the rear of the car judders under the torque of the drive going to the grippy rear tyres and is a potentially damaging and uncomfortable sensation. A whining axle or drive shaft will bear testament to this. Few customers specified their cars in base trim and Porsche extras weren't cheap so watch out for those buyers looking to claw back unreasonable sums they blew on options. Just to give you an idea, carbon fibre interior door finishers were £1,200 and the sports adaptive seats cost £1,700. Go for the big wheel option as well and the new buyer would have been looking at over £5,000 worth of extras.
Check the condition of the alloy wheels for kerbing damage. Also make sure the electric motors that power the hood haven't been damaged by ignorant occupants attempting to raise or lower the roof manually. Check the bodywork, especially the bonnet and bootlids, as these can easily be damaged by owners slamming them onto protruding items from the front and rear boots. Boxsters are quite colour sensitive, and dark blue and green cars are harder to shift than ever-popular silver and red. Otherwise insist on a proper Porsche main dealer service history and buy with confidence.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2.7 Boxster) Boxster spares are predictably quite pricey, although they never cross the border into exorbitant. A clutch kit is £175, while front brake pads are around £60 with rears weighing in at about £75. The Boxster is equipped with two radiators, one on the right and one on the left, and these cost around £110 each. A new alternator is around £350, while a new headlamp is in the region of £160. A new exhaust muffler and oxygen sensor will cost around £360. Not bad at all, really.
On the Road
The entry level model has a torque figure of 273Nm and it's available from 4,600rpm. Give it the full monty off the line and 60mph will come and go in 5.9 seconds, plus you'll also be able to see a top speed of 160mph (none of this 'electronically limited to 155mph' nonsense from the Weissach company). Due to increased engine efficiency thanks to the VarioCam Plus valve control system, fuel economy is a creditable 30.4mpg on the combined cycle.
Opt instead for the Boxster S and you have a car that possesses performance that not too long ago was the preserve of fully fledged supercars. Here 60mph is a mere 5.1 seconds away and this model will nudge 170mph. Despite this crushing capability, fuel economy remains reasonable at 26.6mpg on the combined cycle. The 340Nm of torque gives this car real punch out of corners and means you'll have to use the gears a little less. Although most customers will stick with the standard six-speed manual gearbox, both cars can be specified with a Tiptronic S transmission which now features revised hydraulics and electronics as well as variable shift programs. The Sport Chrono Package was always one of the most popular Boxster options and when combined with the Tiptronic gearbox, the sporty characteristics of these cars are amplified. For instance, up and downshifts only take place above 3,000rpm, plus downshifts for engine braking are executed quicker and take place at higher engine speeds. What's more, when in manual mode, upshifts are no longer made automatically when the engine reaches the rev limiter.
The great thing about the Boxster is that despite the power boost, it's still slower in a straight line than a BMW M-Roadster or a TVR Tuscan but will batter both of them down a B-road. You'll wait for the others to catch up smug in the knowledge that you're working smarter not harder, doing more with less. The way it steers and stops leaves you in absolutely no doubt that when it comes to building sports cars, Porsche simply know more than the rest - especially at the detailed level.
Spend a few months without driving a Boxster and it's possible to forget just how good this car is. Then you put it back to back with rivals and it makes them appear clumsy and unresolved. If you can afford one, buy one. Advice doesn't get a lot simpler than that.