by Dan Carney
I had the fleetest Boxster for an unseasonably warm stretch of late fall weather, and thoroughly enjoyed my time in the cockpit. How to describe it but joyriding?
That is the Boxster’s nature, and the “S” is the same, only more so. The car is a delight for sensualists. Its history-evoking lines, soulful engine howl and assassin’s-dagger balance make the driver feel great. Porsche’s television commercial, with drivers of an old 550 Spyder and a new Boxster sharing mutual compliments of “holy schmole!” gets it right. The driver will probably say that to himself every time he nails the throttle at corner apex, balancing the car to the exit as the engine’s intake wail rises toward redline.
With a base price of $51,600, the “S” lists for $9,000 more than the base model. That nine grand buys 250 horsepower and a six-speed gearbox, instead of 217 horsepower and a five-speed tranny. The extra power is evident because the car pulls noticeably stronger under acceleration, due in part to the bigger 3.2-liter engine, and probably also because of lower ratios made possible by the six-speed transmission.
2002 Porsche Boxster
The shifter on the Boxster S demonstrates that very nice action and feel are possible with the car’s mid-engine layout. Even with a cable-operated mechanism like the one used on the base Boxster’s five-speed, the S’s six-speed feels entirely different. Instead of the rubbery, vague action of the standard unit, the six-speed has a precise, metallic feel. It falls a little short of the best-in-class shifters, but not significantly so. Clutchless gear changes are a possibility in the S, even if the car doesn’t quite encourage it.
Perfect throttle response and pedal placement abet such behavior, making heel-and-toe downshifts a thrill to execute. A great car makes its driver feel great by helping him do what he wants to do rather than frustrating his efforts with uncommunicative controls that interfere. The Boxster’s steering, shifter and pedals are all cooperative partners in backroad monkey business.
The gorgeous Speed Yellow paint demanded we drive the car, even as deadlines loomed. It is simply irresistible. To ensure a complete lack of willpower against the Boxster’s siren call, Porsche equipped our test model with the optional body color roll hoops behind the seats. Adding the optional 18-inch alloys could qualify for an NFL “piling on” penalty.
Porsche even made the Boxster safer for ’02, with the addition of seat belts that pre-tension in the event of a crash, and then reduce the strain with load limiters.
The almighty dollar
Driving the Boxster S will put a smile on the face of any true driving enthusiast. Buying one, on the other hand, may remove that smile. “A young man who is not a liberal has no heart,” opined Winston Churchill. “But an old man who is not a conservative has no head.”
The killjoy $57,000 price tag on the tested Boxster S evidences the same conundrum described by Churchill. To follow the heart or the head; that is the question.
While the heart swoons in love with the Boxster’s manifold virtues, the head incredulously searches for the features that should be included in a $57,000 car. A glass rear window, not to belabor a point that has been mentioned since the car’s debut, could be considered a bare minimum. Heated seats would make it easier to enjoy the Boxster al fresco in spring and fall. One could even hope for a decent stereo, for those long highway drives.
2002 Porsche Boxster
The Boxster’s stereo not only requires an Enigma decoder to operate, once the cipher is cracked the user is rewarded with a disappointing 18 watts of power. That’s not enough to overcome the wind noise when driving with the top down, or the engine’s song when driving top up. Without a CD in the stereo, the wattage doesn’t matter because the antenna embedded in the windshield reminds us of GM’s futile efforts in this area in the ‘70s. Speaking of the CD player, it is a single-disc unit, not the in-dash six-disc model that should be included for the high 50s – or the high 30s for that matter.
Likewise, a car of this stature, and sticker, should boast a pair of noonday sunlight-grade Xenon headlights. Instead, we receive an unremarkable set of halogen lights that aren’t distinguishable from those available in the latest Kia. A killer Bose stereo and Xenon lights are available optionally, but well, for this price, they should be standard. Ditto the seat heaters. Adding those options could run the price over 60 grand. For the Boxster. Yep, Porsche’s “affordable” model.
The Boxster S’s stiffer suspension also reveals the limits of the car’s torsional rigidity. The base car seems satisfactorily stiff, certainly better than the BMW Z3 or the Mazda Miata. But with the stiffer springs in the S the Boxster twists and bends a bit when driven briskly on rippled back roads.
The MacPherson strut suspension also doesn’t care for such surfaces, as the cartridges appear to bind rather than sliding smoothly when trying to soak up bumps while cornering. For $57,000 we deserve something that is at least a step closer to perfection.
BMW’s M3 convertible has a similar price tag and an even more powerful engine. That car includes many of the features that are either absent from the Boxster S, or are available optionally for even more than our test car’s bottom line. The BMW demonstrates that small, prestigious German luxury/sports car companies can deliver features along with fun for a car in this price range. Here’s hoping that Porsche soon ends the battle between our heads and our hearts, by giving us a Boxster both can love unreservedly.
2002 Porsche Boxster S
Base Price: $51,800; as tested, $57,000
Engine: 3.2-liter, horizontally opposed flat six-cylinder engine, 250 horsepower
Transmission: Six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive
Length: 171.0 inches
Wheelbase: 95.2 inches
Width: 70.1 inches
Height: 50.8 inches
Weight: 2855 lb
Fuel Economy: 18 city/ 26 highway
Major safety equipment: Anti-lock brakes, dual front airbags, side airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners and load limiters
Major standard equipment: Automatic climate control, leather shift knob, steering wheel and seat surfaces power windows with one-touch up and down, power locks with remote entry, AM/FM/Cassette stereo
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles