First drive: 2012 Porsche Boxster S in Germany
International car launches are common in the automotive industry, where local journalists are flown to various exotic locations to drive a new model before anyone else. Of course, such trips aren’t common for us, but we did go on our second ever trip outside the GCC, to test-drive the all-new 2012 Porsche Boxster in its hometown of Stuttgart, Germany. It beats driving a Hyundai in Korea, that’s for sure.
The all-expenses-paid trip took us to Stuttgart via Munich, where we were put up at Moevenpick hotel next to the airport. After a night of fine-dining, we were shuttled to the gigantic Porsche Museum where a fleet of 2012 Porsche Boxsters were waiting for us, in a whole array of random configurations. It was only pot-luck which one each of us would end up in, as the cars were already designated.
But before that, we got a presentation about the new car from the designer himself, as he tried to explain how the new model looks completely new. In all honesty, we think it looks better, but we’d be hard-pressed to spot the new one in public. The only clues are a slightly reshaped front-end, bigger intakes on the sides, and a little lip on the rear, with every other change too subtle to notice.
Jumping into our automatic Boxster S though, the cabin is both different as well as familiar. The interior is completely different from the old model, but it immediately becomes obvious that the design follows the new 911’s theme, with the rising centre-console and the chrome-lined buttons. We saw both beige and black leather interiors, both giving off the premium vibe that the Porsche price-tag deserves. None of the door surfaces are particularly padded though, and the heavily-bolstered sports seats are very narrow, poking at your shoulders if you slouch even the least bit.
After we pulled out onto the road in convoy, we hit a few red lights, at which point the engine kept shutting off as soon as we stopped. Indeed, the 315 hp Boxster S is equipped with automatic start/stop to save fuel, but it was annoying so I turned it off.
Driving in Germany is freaking amazing. Once we hit the autobahn, the lead car kept us at the speed limit of 120 kph before we eventually hit the unrestricted-speed section. I figured the German dude leading us won’t really go too fast, seeing as there were only two lanes and some traffic, but he suddenly pulled out into the fast lane and floored it. What the heck, I simply did the same thing, and within 10 seconds we were doing 210 kph, legally, for a good while until some slower cars pulled into the fast lane. A chunk of the convoy behind us had fallen behind, so we drove slower now to let them catch up, but I’d already had my fill of overspeeding in traffic for the day. It was great, and the car handled it perfectly well.
Surprisingly, the Boxster S rides almost as smoothly as a BMW 335i, and on a wet windless day, that thick cloth top insulates noise almost as good as the hardtopped Lexus IS 300C we used to have on our fleet, so all that’s heard is moderate wind noise at high speeds. It’s a proper daily driver, even if the engine drone is also always audible.
After a lunch break at some classic building whose name escapes us, we set off again, in light rain, for a drive through the countryside, full of hills, villages, forests, farmlands and cows. It was like being in one of those early Need For Speed video games, before the NFS franchise became ricer heaven. Every bit of road here is twisty, even the ones that go through the villages. We were speeding through some of the curvy farm and forest roads at up to 130 kph, following the lead car into blind corners and oncoming traffic, but with a degree of cautiousness of course, as some of these two-way country roads, though well-paved, were barely wide enough to allow two cars to pass each other.
The Boxster now optionally comes with that torque-vectoring-whatever system that helps it turn tighter without understeer. In our entire drive, we never heard the squeal of tyres, even on the tightest turns, so maybe that system is getting the job done. But then again, our car did have excessively-grippy 265-width tyres in the rear.
The 7-speed “PDK” dual-clutch automatic is the fastest of its kind we’ve used, compared to similar units in the Nissan GT-R and the VW Golf R. In manual mode, the Porsche downshifts gears before my fingers even leave the shift-paddle. There is a tiny delay on upshifts, but it isn’t as critical anyway. Still, leaving it in automatic “sport” mode was convenient, as the gearbox is smart enough to downshift quickly on braking.
Having covered more than 200 km, we stayed overnight at the Park Adler hotel in yet another picturesque village, then got up the next morning to head straight back to the Porsche Museum again by lunch-time. Having switched cars, we got some wheel-time in a 6-speed manual Boxster S. The shifter is slightly firm, but direct in its movements. The real pain was the clutch though, which was very firm, more so than the one in our Honda S2000. Seeing as we didn’t hit any traffic, it was fine, but it made me wonder if my left leg would get used to it if I drove it every day in the city.
Also, whether manual or automatic, the brake feel on all Boxsters seem to be too light, with not much happening in the first few moments of pedal-travel, before hauling the car to a stop like a sports-car should. Maybe it was a side-effect of the optional ceramic brakes that both our test cars were fitted with, identifiable by their yellow calipers. On another note, the new Boxster doesn’t even have a proper handbrake any more, replaced by a blasphemous electronic parking-brake just like in the new 911, though we’re certain most casual buyers wouldn’t even know what they’re missing out on. Also, the new electro-mechanical steering doesn’t offer as much feedback as we’d like, although it is still sharp and weighty.
Driving through villages in the middle of a religious public holiday, we took various detours around a couple of street processions, causing a scene with our raucous line of Porsches. The throaty exhaust note is loud with the “sport” mode on, but it can be made slightly quieter electronically at the press of a button.
We also drove with the top down on this leg, and were surprised by how little of the wind was actually intruding inside the cabin. In a lowly-engineered car like the Chevy Camaro Convertible, the wind was drying out my eyes and tearing my head off along with its poorly folded-down roof. In the Boxster, the wind never reached my eyes, while the top was firmly stowed in place.
Having reached the Porsche Museum again, we were already convinced by the amount of engineering that the company had put into their latest model. There was a museum tour-guide waiting for us, ready to delve us into the history of the marque that started out with the Porsche 356 back in 1948. While the raw driving experience of that first car has been dumbed down in these 60 odd years, the new Boxster offers up its own version of driving pleasure, with its accessible limits and safer demeanour that regular drivers can explore, at much faster speeds than ever before.