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New! Porsche Boxster

Published: 13 Jan 2009 00:35:49 PST

There's one big problem with the new Boxster, but it's not the car's fault. The '09 Boxster is in every way better than the '08 car – it looks, handles, stops and goes better than ever before. But that's still not enough to get over the issue. And, truth be told, it never will be, because the problem is not the Boxster – it's the new Cayman that's just been launched alongside it.

Faster, more powerful and even better handling, the only thing the Cayman hasn't got over the Boxster is the convertible roof. So you better make sure you want the open-air experience over the better figures, as in every other way, the Cayman beats it. The tin-topped S has 10bhp more and 8lb ft more of torque than the Boxster S. Its top speed is 2mph higher, and it's 0.1secs quicker to 60mph. I know those don't sound like much, but to Porsche drivers those fractions are everything.

However, because England is one of the largest markets for convertibles in the world, let's forget about the coupe, and concentrate on the new Boxster. In typical Porsche manner, the company has made just enough improvements throughout the car to make the old one feel as interesting as yesterday's newspaper. Not that you can tell just by looking at it.

To save you the eye-strain, there are new bumpers front and rear, LED front running lights and tail-lights, larger twin-tube headlights and... and that's about it. There are a few other microscopic changes, but only spec-sheet junkies will notice or care.

The rest of us will be more interested in the new, higher-quality interior. Everything is in exactly the same place as last year – it's just that the quality has been significantly improved – and the already ridiculously long options list extended even further. It now includes such things as ventilated seats, a touch-screen nav system and Porsche's take on the double-clutch semi-automatic gearbox, PDK.

While someone needs to explain to me why you need ventilated seats on a convertible, I can tell you that the PDK system on the Boxster is pretty much exactly the same as the one fitted on the new 911. That means seven speeds, the same wheel-mounted silver switches and the same forward for up and back for down arrangement.

You can argue that that's the wrong way round, but what you can't quibble about is what it does for the car's performance. A PDK-equipped Boxster S is faster-accelerating and uses less fuel (largely because of its tall seventh gear) than the six-speed manual car, almost regardless of who is pushing the pedals.

That's two reasons to spec the nearly £2k option, but there are two more: Launch Control and, if you spec the even more expensive Sports Chrono Package Plus, a Sport Plus button. Both are useful if you haven't got the skill to launch or change gears properly yourself. To engage Launch Control, you just mash the throttle and brake pedals then sidestep the brake when the tacho needle hits the red line. Keep your foot down, and five seconds later you'll hit 60mph.

Sport Plus works just as well, but is a little disconcerting. With this console button pressed, the ghost of Stig enters the car and does all the gearchanging for you. It's quite a party trick the way it works, changing down right to the apex of The Streets of Willow's corners then hanging onto the gears all the way out. But, Luddite that I am, and even noting the 16 per cent improvement in fuel economy PDK is claimed to deliver, I'm still not sure it's more fun than a manual.

One option that is far from disturbing – and massively overdue – is the limited-slip diff. They didn't make much of it at the launch, but it's one of the key new features of this car. Ever since the Boxster, and then the Cayman, was launched, Porsche has refused to offer an LSD on either. Some suggested that it never would, as the mid-engined cars fitted with the grip-enhancer would outrun the 911.

Well someone's changed their tune in Germany, then, as now both cars are offered with the device. It can't be due to the company thinking the new 911 is so much faster than the Cayman or the Boxster, because it's not. Both of them are only a tenth or two off a manual Carrera's 0–60 time. So it must be due to someone finally waking up in Weissach and realising that they are bought by different customers for different reasons.

With PDK stealing the headlines, it's easy to overlook the changes made to the engines. The standard car gets a 2.9-litre six – up from 2.7 – and nets a 10bhp power gain. The S gets the 3.4-litre with direct fuel injection that puts out an extra 15bhp over the '08 model. The figures are not particularly earth-shattering, because they don't need to be. The Boxster is all about balance and precision, so making huge changes would have upset the mix.

We only got eight laps of the track – and all of those with a benevolent race driver sitting next to us – and no time on the road, so this was hardly an exhaustive test. But we spent enough time with the cars torealise that even though it seems like Porsche has just made lots of small changes, the '09 cars are a big leap forward from the '08s.

The quality is better, the performance is greater using less fuel, and the handling has taken a giant stride towards in the right direction. But there's still that one problem that might stop me from buying one. The open-air Boxster is a very long way from being a hairdresser's car, but I still can't help thinking that the Cayman is the right choice for this money.


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