Matt Hubbard reviews the 2014 Porsche Boxster S 981
The current Porsche Boxster was launched in 2012 and was given the designation 981. It was an all new car with similar dimensions to the outgoing 987 but with a longer wheelbase. The test car was a 981 Boxster S with a 3.4 litre flat-6 engine and PDK dual clutch gearbox. It was painted in Amaranth Red, has a red hood and Platinum Grey interior.
The Boxster has been around since 1996 and always looked like a little too much like a 911 at the front, and its rear looked like its front. The 911 comparisons were valid as it shared a lot of components with its sibling, including the doors and, in the S, the engine.
The 981 is more its own car, although the 3.4 litre engine in the S is still the same as in the 911, albeit with slightly less power.
Visually it's a subtle but definite step away from the 911. The front has the classic Porsche low nose but the rear now sits higher and the rear lights and spoiler (retractable) form a line across the rump. It's not pretty in the way an F-Type is but it is a good looking car.
The interior is typical modern Porsche; functional, ergonomically superb, comfortable but definitively sports car. When a buyer chooses a colour that colour covers 90% of the cabin, so choose wisely.
Elsewhere aluminium highlights abound on the wheel, door handles, centre console, around the vents and a strip crosses the dash. The part of that strip above the glovebox hides two folding cupholders.
Other spaces and practicalities include two pockets in each door, a tiny coin storage binnacle and a small space under the armrest.
The materials used and the way the interior is bolted together are top spec. The carpets are thick, the leather feels great and the plastics are hard, and you know will last forever.
The Boxster has two boots. The engine sits aft of a bulkhead behind the passengers and behind that is a decent sized boot. Up front is another which is deep and quite wide.
The hood folds away quickly and tidily, and at up to 30mph, without the driver needing to clip it into place.
All in all, to walk around it, sit in it and poke about with this and that the Boxster appears to be a brilliantly designed and engineered sports car.
The engine is started with a plastic stump of a key which looks much better than I've described it. As the test car was a PDK it is started with a foot on the brake pedal. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and sit low in the car. The top of the Boxster's door was level with my shoulders.
The driving position is fantastic - legs out, steering wheel electrically adjustable, column mounted paddles to hand and auto lever in the perfect place.
The Boxster has fewer buttons and dials than many cars, and those that there are are concentrated on the centre console.
At the top is the screen which incorporates satnav (Porsche's system is one of the best), sounds (DAB, Bluetooth, FM, iPod - basically everything), some elements of car control and tuning and a glorified trip computer which you can use to record lap times as well as mpg and the like. Elements of this are linked to the right hand screen in the instrument binnacle.
The climate buttons are wilfully different to any other manufacturer's and look and work fine. Aft of the gear lever are buttons to activate the sports exhaust (press it, it gets louder), traction control, auto stop/start on/off, rear spoiler up or down, roof up or down and the all important Sport and Sport Plus.
So we've started the engine. Select drive and pull away. It is immediately apparent that the engine is behind you, and sounds fantastic. You get a decent volume and quality of note from the exhaust but can also hear the engine itself. This is a good thing.
The gears in the PDK gearbox are very long (2nd goes well over 70mph) and the engine has more power than torque. The main chunk of the engine's power comes at up to 6,700rpm but it revs all the way to 7,500rpm. In other words it likes to rev.
If you haven't yet selected Sport or Sport Plus the gears will change early and the engine will stop in traffic. Gearchanges are super-fast (courtesy of the dual-clutch gearbox). Press your foot to the floor to induce kick-down and it'll change down however many gears are needed to access maximum acceleration.
Talking of which the Boxster S, with 315bhp and 265lb ft of torque in a car that weighs 1,350kg, is very fast. In a straight line it will accelerate to 60mph in 5 seconds and go on to a top speed of 172mph. It might not be a 911 but a few years ago those figures would have beaten most 911s and pretty much all super cars.
It's smooth and refined whilst going fast. Corners are taken with beautiful precision and feel from the steering and through the seat. The central dial is a rev-counter but has a handy digital speed readout too.
The body is stiff but the suspension has typical Porsche fluidity and fluency. It's not too stiff, not too soft but the body doesn't roll and neither does it crash over pot holes and speed bumps. Yet it holds the road like nothing else.
Grip is epic, it hardly needs traction control. With the engine sitting over the rear axle it hardly ever loses purchase - unless you try hard to do so.
Similarly the front end is razor sharp and grips well. The Boxster S is pretty much the best handling car I've driven, which is odd because I wasn't as impressed with a standard engined Cayman I drove. That gripped well but felt less fluid and slightly harsher. The Boxster S, on the other hand, has Lotus-like levels of handling and feel.
Press the Sport button and the gears change sooner. This provides the best balance of revs, economy and accessibility to power. Over the course of a week I drove the car in Sport mode 80% of the time.
Press Sport Plus and it refuses to change gear until the 7,500rpm redfline. This makes for epic fun, epic noise and sensation and accesses all the power instantly. The downside is low teens mpg and you feel a bit daft cruising through a village at 30mph with the car in 1st gear, howling away.
Sport Plus also sharpens the way the changes happen. Through the first few gears the cogs are swapped with a wham and a shotgun-like recoil that's awesome, intoxicating and totally impractical on the road. Fun though.
The Boxster S is a fine cruiser on the motorway. With the hood down noise isn't too intrusive and it'll only buffet the top of your head, it is cold though even on a crisp, spring day. With the hood up you don't get much more wind and road noise over you would in the coupé Cayman.
With its two boots, great interior, good sound system, smooth and powerful engine and slick gearbox the Boxster S could be a great grand tourer. The only let down is a lack of cruise control - I'd spec cruise if buying new.
In all the Porsche Boxster S is pretty much the best all round sports car on the market, but if you haven't driven one before you will find it is immensely fast. The manual gearbox is one of the best but the PDK pips it for use on a daily basis.
Price - £48,034
Engine - 3.4 litre flat-6
Transmission - 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
0-60mph - 5 seconds
Top Speed - 172mph
Power - 315bhp
Torque - 265lb ft
Economy - 35.3mpg
CO2 - 188g/km
Kerb Weight - 1,350kg
By Matt Hubbard