Thank Stuttgart that the folks at Porsche remember what an honest-to-God sports car is supposed to look, feel and, most important, drive like. While the automotive world is awash with pretenders—sports coupes, sports sedans or, worse yet, sport-utility vehicles—Porsche still builds real sports cars, absolutely pure in their mission and impeccable in their lineage.
The newest of these is the redesigned-for-2005 Porsche Boxster, a car that will delight drivers who remember what it once meant to own a sports car. The Boxster, while thoroughly modern in its technology, is a clear descendant of the great European sports cars of the 1950s: a two-seat, open-top roadster with a manual transmission that intoxicates its driver by providing a visceral connection to the pavement beneath it and the world around it. It's small and light outside, fast in a straight line and even better through the turns, snug in the cockpit but wide open with the top down—a car that serves up a delicious cornucopia of tactile sensations to the driver while at the same time demanding obedience on the road. And it's about as cool as cool gets.
Created as a stylistic homage to the great Porsche roadsters of the 1950s, like the RS that James Dean drove to his death in 1955, the original Boxster had the right look but not enough oats to go fast. Not anymore. The 2005 Boxster is subtly improved in most every respect, including under the rear bonnet, where the engine resides amidships. The base Boxster gets a 2.7-liter, 240-horsepower opposed or flat six-cylinder engine, while the S model we tested comes with the same configuration on 3.2 liters of displacement and forty more ponies. The result is a lightweight rocket that travels from zero to 60 m.p.h. in 5.2 seconds and has an exhilarating top-end speed of 167 m.p.h.
While the Boxster S is not as fast as, say, the new Chevrolet Corvette, it is immense fun to drive hard. Wind the flat six through the gears and you are greeted with a wonderful, melodious sound. This isn't a screaming-banshee motor like you find in Japanese four cylinders or even a deep-voiced rumbler like an American V-8; it has its own buzz as it rushes toward redline. It even smells like a race engine at work should.
The thoroughly re-engineered chassis has a wider track and a new rear-axle subframe and steering-gear assembly. Porsche uses struts and coils at all four corners, and the Boxster has fabulous brakes. Our tester had the optional nineteen-inch wheels.
The Boxster S is especially fun to drive at high speed. Thanks to the sophisticated Porsche Stability Management system, it's far less twitchy to drive than Porsches of yesteryear, and safer, too, though as Porsche's literature wryly notes, PSM "cannot overcome the laws of physics"—or the ham-fisted among us who violate them.
There are few words to describe how invigorating the Boxster S is, though the one that keeps popping into my head is "connected." It almost feels as if impulses travel directly from your brain to the tires, with nothing in between to interfere. There are faster and quicker cars out there; there are none more enjoyable.
Inside, the new Boxster's cockpit is still a retro-modern mix. It has contemporary amenities, but like most sports cars, the fit is tight, and tall people will find ingress and egress unpleasant, especially with the top up. As well, there's precious little room to store anything. The two trunks, one up front and one in the rear, are roomy enough for his and hers clothes for a getaway weekend, but not for his and hers clubs. The best part of the interior is the three-gauge dashboard, which is dominated by a giant tachometer smack-dab in the middle, where it should be.
All told, the Boxster S is a magnificent little brute, eager to run fast and hard all day long. Leave it to Porsche to put the "sport" back into "sports car."
Scorecard 2005 PORSCHE BOXSTER S
BASE PRICE/AS TESTED: $53,100/$58,270
ENGINE: 3.2-liter flat six-cylinder
MPG: 20 city/28 highway
TORQUE: 236 foot-pounds
ZERO TO 60 MPH: 5.2 seconds
TOP SPEED: 167 m.p.h.