2013 Porsche Boxster sets standard for the market's few luxury roadsters

Thanks to its superior handling, the 2013 Porsche Thanks to its superior handling, the 2013 Porsche Boxster sets the standard for the market's few luxury roadsters. Photo Credit: © 2012 Porsche Cars North America

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There aren't many luxury roadsters on the market. Besides Mercedes' SLK, Audi's TT and BMW's Z4, the Porsche Boxster has no other competition. That didn't stop the famed sports-car maker from delivering a well-executed redesign for the 2013 model year that should woo every shopper that comes its way.

The redesigned 2013 Porsche Boxster impresses visually inside and out and handles superbly. The base model could use more power; otherwise, there were few faults to be found.

Performance

The one thing the Boxster does best is handling.

The Boxster has long been known for its mid-engine design, allowing for nearly perfect weight balance, and that remains in the new generation. The body is as wide as in 2012, but the front and rear tracks have been widened marginally for 2013 to keep the tires flush. With the optional 20-inch wheels and tires on my tester, the car felt like it was clawing the road. Every twist and turn was whip-snap short and confidence-inspiring.

The combination of that handling with a natural seating position, droptop visibility and friendly six-speed manual transmission made me feel one with the car right out of the driveway.

Porsche's PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission is a $3,200 option, but I found the base six-speed manual to be well-executed. The clutch wasn't too heavy, yet required enough force to make you pay attention to your shifts. The shifter itself fell into its gates with little effort and even less guessing. How could anybody buy this little gem of handling beauty without a manual?

Power from the base model's 2.7-liter, flat six-cylinder engine was adequate for me. I had fun revving through most gears; only 6th disappointed me at highway speeds. There I had to downshift to get true passing power in most situations. The 265 horses weren't enough to please many of our editors, though, who would prefer the Boxster S and its 315-horsepower, 3.4-liter flat six.

Our test car was equipped with an optional sport suspension for $1,790 that let us choose between Normal and Sport driving modes. It worked, that was clear. Suspension settings firmed up significantly when Sport was chosen, and turns somehow became even sharper. Ride height overall is .39 inch lower in Boxsters equipped with the sport suspension. If you're on the fence about getting it, I drove in Normal mode most of the time and still found the car to be a thrilling handler. Our tester also had Porsche's Torque Vectoring System, which is a $1,320 option. It adjusts torque to the rear wheels by braking to improve handling and traction, but it was hard to determine what the technology was doing, both in everyday and in spirited driving. Braking overall was quite good, but not something that stood out to me.

Convertible performance

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Unlike the retractable hardtops on the SLK and Z4, the Boxster has a retractable soft-top. Because there's no additional operation needed to fold it up, like the hardtops require, it closes and opens in nine seconds. I measured it a number of times, and the worst attempt just hit 10 seconds. That means you can close it easily at stoplights, or even when traveling at slow speeds.

With the top up, visibility is pretty poor if not downright lousy. I had a hard time backing out of parking spaces and judging blind spots on the highway. The small side mirrors didn't help matters.

On the road, wind intrudes significantly right around 65 mph. Under that speed, you can cruise to your heart's content while still maintaining a conversation with your passenger.

With the top up, the cabin is incredibly quiet. Retractable hardtops came into favor because they isolated passengers from exterior noise more than soft-tops of the time did. But judging by the new batch of soft-tops -- from affordable convertibles like Chevy's Camaro to the Boxster -- the technology has improved greatly. The quiet cabin made me glad Porsche didn't negatively impact the Boxster's optimum performance by adding a heavy hardtop.

Interior

The old Boxster was also a good performer, but it was definitely not a stunner to look at, inside or out. While the 2013 gets a swoopy exterior with a backside unlike any other car on the road, the inside has been retrofitted even more significantly.

It now carries over the layout from Porsche's 911, Panamera and Cayenne, with a long center console housing the shifter and various buttons leading up into a large multimedia touch-screen.

The materials and controls feel nearly as nice as the ones in the new 911 Cabriolet I tested the week previous to the Boxster. There isn't as much high-grade leather covering areas like the dash and doors as there is in the 911, but at least now the interior is truly luxurious. I find it hard to imagine shoppers would pick a competitor because it had nicer digs.

My test car had the optional 14-way adjustable, full-leather seats. Two-way seats covered partially in leather are standard. I can only speak to the ones in my car, which I found supportive, comfortable and downright tailor-fit. There was plenty of bolstering during hard corners, and they had adjustable thigh support -- a feature I find quite welcome when equipped.

The two trunks -- a 5.3-cubic-foot-deep well up front and a flatter, wider, golf-bag-accommodating 4.6 cubic feet in back -- seemed almost spacious, but there's little to no storage inside the cabin. Each door has a small pocket and there's a tiny cubby between the seats and the glove box. There's no place to easily stash a smartphone, garage-door opener or even money for tolls or drive-throughs.

And don't even get me started on the cupholders, which remain awkwardly hidden above the glove box. If BMW can finally figure out how to please American drivers with conventionally placed cupholders across its lineup, it's time for Porsche to join the party. The only thing these cupholders can adequately grasp are water bottles with some flex in the plastic. Otherwise, you'll just worry they'll pinch the drink container and spill some of its contents -- or that they'll fall out completely during a turn or stop, ruining that nice interior.

Features and price

Like all Porsches -- and a few other German makes -- the Boxster comes modestly equipped at its $50,000 base price, with oodles of options with additional price tags attached. Equipped with a variety of options, our tester came to $75,000, pushing it far out of the realm of affordable luxury. Looking at the option list, I could slash the torque vectoring and maybe the convenience package, saving well over $5,000, but could I say no to the gorgeous 20-inch wheels ($3,125) and the black paint job on them to match the canvas top (another $1,425)?

Hard to say. If you're considering a Boxster, keep in mind that you're going to need at least $60,000 to get one with just a few features, like a multimedia system and leather seats -- items that are pretty much expected in this type of car.

Safety

The Boxster has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

There are two separate side airbags for both occupants. The thorax side airbag inflates from the seats' outside bolster, while side airbags also deploy from the top of the door, for head protection. As is required of all new cars as of the 2012 model year, the Boxster has antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with traction control.

Boxster in the market

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A luxury roadster probably isn't something you normally think of cross-shopping; people who buy from Audi, BMW or Mercedes are likely already fans of the brand. The Boxster, however, should stand out because, well, it's a Porsche. If you're going to spend this kind of money on a roadster, it's a sound move to go with a company that builds well-balanced sports cars.

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