Mercedes-Benz SLK350 2011 review: snapshot
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The Boxster is no longer the little brother of the Porsche family. It's more substantial, more polished and has more ability than before.
Porsche has been testing the limits of buyer fidelity recently with the most thorough overhaul of its signature sportscar, the 911, since it appeared five decades ago.
The new 911 is larger, more comfortable and some raw edges have been smoothed away. But the 911 revisions haven't triggered an identity crisis; its distinguishing features are intact. With Porsche's junior sportscar, the Boxster, there's more room for doubt.
This roadster won critical acclaim after being drafted into the team in the 1990s. It came on as a sub and salvaged the company's financial results. Still a teenager next to the 911, it has earned a permanent place in the squad and so for its first complete makeover, Porsche has done more to the Boxster than to the 911.
"This is no longer the little brother,'' technical expert Paul Watson said "It's really grown up. ''Hardly a dimension carries over, with the new 981 Boxster longer by more than 3cm overall and 6cm in the wheelbase.
It has wider tracks, especially the front, shorter overhangs, and a lower roof while the windscreen is set further forward and raked more acutely. The result is a car that looks a lot different and is clearly influenced by the Carrera GT, Porsche's mid-engined supercar from the noughties.
It's a crisper shape, which avoids the push-me-pull-you look of the previous car, in which the front and rear were too similar. As with other Porsches, the cabin gets the Carrera GT's angled centre console and it's just as good here, with a corresponding lift in the overall quality of the cabin.
Like last time, there's some engineering overlap with the 911. The two cars are the same underneath up to the A-pillars, although this Boxster gets more unique panels, such as the doors. Specific to the roadster is an increase in overall rigidity by 40 per cent and a redesigned roof.
This opens in just 9 seconds, has larger rear glass and no longer has a metal cover when lowered. Instead, the fabric incorporates one solid magnesium panel so that when folded, the roof aligns with the bodywork.
Roof up, cabin noise has been halved. Like the 911, the Boxster has become more civilised. Porsche also addressed the problems of weight and efficiency in the same way it did in the 911. So the body is no longer just steel but a mix of steel and almost 50 per cent aluminium.
Its centre of gravity is lower and weight has been trimmed by 25-35kg so that it comes in at under 1.4 tonnes -- substantially less than the Audi TTS Roadster, BMW Z4 35is and Mercedes SLK 350.That gives it a head start on efficiency, which is reinforced in the engine bay with direct injection, energy recuperation, thermal management and idle-stop, among other features. The result is a 15 per cent improvement.
Both engines gain a smidgin more power and develop their peak outputs higher in the rev range. The 3.4 is a version of the previous engine while the 2.7-litre downsizes the previous 2.9. It loses 10Nm of torque, but what's there is more accessible. The six-speed manual transmission carries over while the double-clutch automatic is still a seven-speed.
Performance improvements are modest but neither car is a slouch, with the slowest Boxster manual reaching 100km/h in 5.8s and the fastest S automatic with launch control achieving 4.8s and recording a sub-eight minute Nurburgring lap time, an improvement of 12 seconds.
They sound fantastic and the 2.7 feels good until you sample the mid-range and top-end of the 3.4. Other changes include revised suspension geometry, bigger wheels and brakes, and access (at a price) to Porsche's entire suite of dynamic trickery, including active suspension, torque vectoring and a limited slip diff.
The Boxster follows the 911 in switching to electric steering and an electric park brake, while the rear spoiler becomes a proper wing instead of the previous air dam. Prices rise a little but the pay-off is a more confident car. It feels tight and rigid on the road, with little suggestion that the open-top design has involved dynamic compromise. It steers well, has the same excellent balance and minimal unwanted body movement.
At the same time, it hasn't lost one of its most endearing qualities: its forgiving nature. So it's more substantial, more polished and has more ability than before. Yet it doesn't feel like a different car
Only this time it can beat its rivals on more than just dynamics. It's the one I'd pick. The Porsche revamp of its sportscars still has a long way to go. It will include for the Boxster a four-cylinder turbocharged engine that will lower the price of entry and give Porsche some welcome volume in its core business. Meanwhile, it expects this Boxster to repeat the success of the original, meaning 350 sales a year here.
Carmakers often complain that brand loyalty ain't what it used to be. But Porsche is the tectonic plate of carmakers when it comes to big shifts. Slow but sure. Maybe other brands only have themselves to blame.
Boxster $107,500 (manual), $112,800 (automatic)
Boxster S: $133,800 (manual), $139,100 (automatic)
2012 Porsche Boxster
Price: From $107,500
Crash rating: not available
Engines: 195kW/280Nm 2.7-litre; 232kW/360Nm 3.4-litre
Body: 2-door, 2 seats.
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 7-speed PDK; rear-wheel-drive
|(base)||2.7L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$34,200 – 44,220||2012 Porsche Boxster 2012 (base) Pricing and Specs|
|S||3.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$41,000 – 52,470||2012 Porsche Boxster 2012 S Pricing and Specs|
|S Black Edition||3.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$40,600 – 51,920||2012 Porsche Boxster 2012 S Black Edition Pricing and Specs|
|Spyder||3.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$46,700 – 59,070||2012 Porsche Boxster 2012 Spyder Pricing and Specs|
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data