2003 Porsche Boxster Review

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Bill Sharfman Bill Sharfman Editor
September 8, 2002
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Earlier this year Porsche completed the updating of its storied 911, with the introduction of a long list of changes and updates in the Targa, Carrera 4S, Turbo, Coupe and Cabriolets, as well as introducing the 911 GT2. Despite an economy that has been trashed, the 911 series is having a best-ever year.

Meantime, the roadster segment in which the Boxster and Boxster S motor, with its cluttered lower price point, is having tougher sledding this summer. Porsche hopes that changes in the Boxster and Boxster S for 2003 may perk things up.

After spending time with the updated Boxsters on both road and track, it is clear that if they do not, the reasons will be competitive or economic or simply exogenous. Unless it’s maybe the high cost of optional extras.

Review continues below

New and newer

The Boxster began as a concept in 1993 at the Detroit Auto Show, meant to extend the brand’s franchise without – such was the claim — compromising its values, an interesting exercise to be repeated in spades early next year with the introduction of the Cayenne, “the Porsche of sport-utility vehicles.” (Say what?) The Boxster was introduced for real in 1997 as a 1998, with Porsche’s first liquid-cooled flat six, and joined, in 2000, by the Boxster S. As good as the Boxster originally was, the S seemed to me as much better when it was introduced. (By the way, road-huggers, “Boxster” is a combination of “boxer” — its flat, horizontally-opposed engine type — and “roadster.”). One thing the Boxsters have done for Porsche is to increase the application or use of 911 componentry considerably, while extending the franchise. In fact, one trick has been to keep them separate enough over time, but both Porsches, which has worked reasonably well so far. This might be an issue as they promote additions as 911 features, such as instrument panel, cupholders, light-and-lock gloveboxes, Bose digital audio systems, bigger, lighter wheels, and so on. Obviously design engineers and marketing types have decided these forms of parts-bin raiding and sharing do not speak to the fundamental personality and value-for-money of the cars themselves — or their targets.

What’s new

What’s new in the 2003 Boxster and S? First, you can tell an S by the bright red monobloc brake calipers from the 911, and the twin tailpipes instead of the single large oval pipe of the Boxster. Interiors now allow for lighter colors and a match between seat leather and wheel and shift knob and panels. The steel gray Boxster we drove had light gray seats and trim elements, while the S was a dark blue with a distinctly purple cast, and interior elements were a matching empurpled dark blue. Its gauges were faced in white, vastly better than the black ones in our Boxster.

Boxster gets optional 17 and 18” wheels, while the S has standard 17s and optional 18s. Both now have a heated glass rear window in a top that has a neat 12-second cycle time. Remote-unlocking front and rear trunks have been added. Design-wise, the mods to front and rear fascias and rear spoiler are minor in the great scheme, but these contribute to a slightly sharper, more sculpted body appearance.

The Boxster engines, with VarioCam technology, both more powerful, now give the Boxster 224 bhp, and the S 258 bhp and a 0-60 time of at worst 5.7 seconds. The Boxster has a five-speed manual, the S a six-speed, and both offer Tiptronic S options.

Porsche boasts redesigned exhausts for “modified acoustic presence.” I suppose that’s a German engineer’s way of stuffily saying sounds tubular — but anyone who doesn’t groove on the music of these exhaust notes while motoring might be better off driving an elevator and listening to Kenny G play his garden hose.

The Boxster now gets the same shocks as the S, while the S gets a beefed-up rear stabilizer bar, and the benefits are dynamically noteworthy. Which brings us to the driving.

Tracking info

The order of testing both on road and on track was to drive the Boxster before the Boxster S; past experience told me this was a good idea, and I was right. Both engines (and transmissions) are probably everything you could ask, including forgiving, except that the S comes on noticeably bigger, quicker, faster, stronger. So anything you want to drive out of, or anytime you could use the torque to add to speed in an odd situation (like a miscalculation or a sudden chance to pass) it’s right there, ready. To get you into things, too. It’s simply more car; it’s a more serious car.

Driving dynamics are a real triumph in these cars. Balance seems near perfect, and the handling is the equal of anyone’s. In the segment, neither the Audi TT nor the Honda S2000 has anything on the Boxsters — they’re all really good. Particularly on the fairly rough roads we drove, sometimes quite briskly, the suspension turned out to be a marvel of performance. It held to a remarkable combination of compliance that soaked up the shocks and bumps, without unpleasantness or harshness: and of stiffness that allowed A+ handling and cornering with no bump steer whatever at all speeds. On a wonderfully smooth road racecourse, both cars remained poised and confident, no matter what bad habits you propose to them. If you get it right, they’re better still at sticking where you point them.

The optional PSM (Porsche Stability Management) system’s program waits a sportingly long time before it will decide, like a tolerant parent, okay that’s enough now, before you hurt yourself, let’s intervene.

With the top down, conversation was reasonable over the wind noise for the most part. However, at speed, there was, to my way of thinking, both a bit of disruptive wind noise and buffeting back on the shoulders, not impossible, but noticeable. At 80, you might defer conversation. This effect is, I believe, less pronounced in the Audi TT. The turn signal you wouldn’t hear at all, though it barely ticks anyway.

The base price of the 2003 Boxster is $42,600, and of the Boxster S it’s $51,600. My guess is that Porsche has very, very carefully calculated the price gap so that if an enthusiastic or committed driver demos both cars, he or she will feel compelled to get the S, because that extra cost somehow seems less than the difference you experience driving them — gotta have it. Depends how seriously you take your driving, and this is a case where you would experience the difference almost all of the time. Of course, either way, you are going to run up a surprising bill impulse-buying “must-have” options. Good way to keep the base price down, eh?

2003 Porsche Boxster/Boxster S
Base prices: Boxster: $42,600; Boxster S: $51,600
Engines: Boxster: 2,687cc, six cylinders, horizontally opposed, liquid-cooled mid-engine; 228 SAE hp @ 6,300 rpm/192 lb.-ft. @ 4,750 rpm
Boxster S: 3,179cc, six cylinders, horizontally opposed, liquid-cooled mid-engine, 258 SAE hp @ 6,250 rpm/229 lb.-ft. @ 4,500 rpm
Drivetrains: Boxster: rear-wheel drive, standard 5-speed manual or optional five-speed Tiptronic® S automatic transmission
Boxster S: rear-wheel drive, standard six-speed manual or optional five-speed Tiptronic® S automatic transmission.
Length x width x height (both, in inches): 170.1 x 70.1 x 50.8
Wheelbase: (both, in inches) 95.1
Curb weight: Boxster, 5-speed manual, 2,811 lbs., Tiptronic S, 2,936 lbs.
Boxster S, 6-speed manual, 2,911 lbs., Tiptronic S, 2,999 lbs.
EPA City/Hwy: Boxster, 5-speed manual, 20/29 mpg; Boxster, Tiptronic S, 18/26 mpg
Boxster S, 6-speed manual, 18/26 mpg; Boxster S, Tiptronic S, 17/26 mpg
Safety equipment: Driver and passenger front and door-mounted side airbags; boron steel reinforcements around windshield and built-in safety bar behind seats; ABS 5.3 anti-lock brake system; Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system (optional)
Major standard equipment: VarioCam® variable valve timing technology plus Motronic ME 7.8 engine management software; power convertible top with heated glass rear window; automatic climate control; remote unlocking front and rear trunks; locking center bin and lighted glovebox; heated power side-view mirrors; 911-style cupholder that pops out of the dashboard; one-touch up/down windows; power-assisted dual circuit four wheel disc brakes with monoblock calipers; AM/FM cassette stereo.
Warranty:  Four years/50,000 miles; 10-year limited anti-corrosion warranty; Porsche Roadside Assistance

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