Jazzy sounds and moves, played sharply.
by Dan Carney
The shiny aluminum stacks atop the carburetors of old racing cars are called "intake trumpets," because their bell-shaped openings resemble those on the brass horn. The 2001 Porsche Boxster, like every new car, has a plastic air intake system that no one would mistake for a finely tuned instrument. But the wonderful sound that blares from the Boxster’s intake is the equal, for gearheads anyway, of any tunes Satchmo ever blew on his horn.
Most cars make their aural statement with their exhaust note, and the Boxster’s smooth exhaust purr is audible much of the time. The flat, horizontally opposed 2.7-liter six-cylinder engine is one of the few engine configurations that provide perfect primary balance (an in-line six and a 60-degree V-12 are the others), so the engine is silky throughout the rev range. But as the revs climb past 5000 rpm, a harmonic resonance builds in the intake system that blasts like music out the Boxster’s driver’s side air intake, willing the driver to go faster.
The air intake/megaphone is only a couple of feet from the driver’s left ear, and with the top down the sound is as pervasive as jazz in the Big Easy. To borrow a phrase from another musical genre, if it is too loud, you are too old.
The Boxster may be the king of aesthetics, because it backs up its soundtrack with a great video. The car’s styling confirmed the arrival of the retro trend when the Boxster appeared as a show car at the 1993 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. And Porsche did it right, with a curvaceous style that recalled the company’s speedsters from the 1950s, without being a clone of those cars.
This reviewer could be content to spend the whole day either cruising at 5500 rpm or sitting at a roadside cafe admiring the Boxster’s distinctively styled flanks.
But the Boxster, like the rest of us, lives in the real world, not in Eden. And in the real world, other concerns arise. Such as climbing behind the steering wheel in the first place. The wheel telescopes, but doesn’t tilt, and rests so low that it can be difficult to slip between the seat and the wheel. And speaking of the seat, the narrow race-inspired side bolsters feel like a kidney punch after more than a half an hour in the saddle. We appreciate Porsche’s desire to keep the driver in the seat, but can’t help noticing that some other sports cars accomplish this goal more painlessly.
The interior is beautiful, especially with the optional leather package, as our test car was equipped. A redesigned dashboard accompanied last year’s arrival of the more powerful Boxster S model, and the base car also enjoys the more expensive looking interior. However, the dashboard’s array of circular instruments trims a couple loops off the panel used in the 911. That means losing two gauges, so the Boxster has only a fuel gauge and water temperature gauge to complement its tach and speedo. Car guys like to know what is going on down in the engine room, so this is a disappointment.
The base model also received a horsepower infusion last year, replacing the original 201-hp, 2.5-liter engine with a 217-hp, 2.7-liter version. Compared to the old car, the new Boxster does feel stronger, but it also still needs to be revved up to get the car moving with real authority.
Underway, the steering provides very good feedback to the driver, but is perhaps a touch short of the feel of a previous generation 911, or of even a current Miata or MR2 Spyder. The hydraulic power steering is unobtrusive, which is great at speed. But at parking lot speeds, the steering is surprisingly heavy. Again, others have managed to have low speed boost without ruining the feel at higher speeds.
The five-speed shifter is good, on par with the better sporty front-wheel drive cars, as one might expect from a car that has an engine between the shifter and the gearbox. It is no match in precision or excitement for any of the front-engine, rear-drive vehicles like the Z3, S2000, or even a Miata.
Locating the engine in the middle of the car gives the Boxster the balance of a pure-bred racing car, so it is as easy to steer with its throttle as with its steering wheel, and the car never does anything unexpected mid-corner - as long as the pavement is smooth, anyway.
The Boxster shares its chassis platform with the 911, and with its mid-mounted engine, the Boxster handles better in the curves. To prevent the Boxster from cannibalizing sales from the upmarket 911, and to save money, Porsche saddled the Boxster with low-rent MacPherson strut suspension at all four corners. Over bumpy pavement, the struts don’t cope well, and the Boxster skitters where the 911 (and much cheaper cars like the Miata) glides.
The clutch, brake and gas pedal are well-positioned for heel and toe braking and downshifts, but the stiff accelerator and clutch pedals numb the driver’s feel for what is happening down there.
One unfortunate trade-off of having a mid-mounted engine and a folding top, which are both at the core of the Boxster’s character, is that there is no access to the engine. Sports car buyers tend to like things mechanical, and would like to at least see and maybe even fiddle with, the engine. Instead the Boxster has a room truck at both ends, but no access to the engine in the middle without putting the car on a lift.
The Boxster fares best when compared to the 911, because then its price seems reasonable, and the corners that Porsche cut look understandable. The car is a gorgeous piece of work when sitting still and provides drivers their own mobile concert when driving.
But for $20,000 less than our test car (a shade over $50,000, including the sport suspension, leather interior and 17-inch wheels) buyers can go faster in the Honda S2000, or enjoy similar retro styling and prestige with the BMW Z3. Even the Miata, (which, at half the price, isn’t a direct competitor, but we notice it betters the Boxster in some areas) features a more capable suspension system, better tactile feedback from the controls, and a luxurious (in colder climates) glass rear window with built-in defroster.
2001 Porsche Boxster
Base Price: $42,100; as tested, $50,872
Engine: 2.7-liter flat six, 217 hp
Transmission: five-speed manual, five-speed Tiptronic S automatic (optional)
Wheelbase: 95.2 in
Length: 171.0 in
Width: 70.1 in
Height: 50.8 in
Weight: 2778 lb (six-speed manual), 2888 lb (Tiptronic automatic)
Fuel economy: 19 city/ 27 hwy (manual), 17 city/25 hwy (automatic)
Safety equipment: Anti-lock brakes, dual front and side airbags
Major standard equipment: Automatic climate control with dust/pollen and activated charcoal odor filters, partial leather covered seats, height-adjustable seats with power recliners, telescoping steering column, leather-covered three-spoke steering wheel, shift knob, door handles and handbrake lever
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
© 2001 The Car Connection