2013 Porsche Boxster review:

Buffer Boxster goes from cute car to sports car

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Purists will no doubt groan at Porsche's move to an electronic power-steering system for the 2013 model -- a change that the automaker justifies in the name of fuel efficiency -- but I didn't notice any numbness in the steering. (Full disclosure: I've not driven a previous-generation Boxster with the hydraulic steering rack.)

Our tester came equipped with the optional PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) system that lowers the static ride height by 10mm, adds adaptive damper control to all four corners, and adds a Sport suspension button to the center console that firms up the ride when increased chassis responsiveness is needed. Even if you're in the Normal mode, the system will firm up in response to an what Porsche calls "an assertive driving style."

In addition to the Sport suspension mode, the Boxster features a Sport drive mode that sharpens performance and throttle response, a difference that was hardly noticeable on our six-speed manual gearbox-equipped tester. On models with the optional PDK automatic transmission, the difference is possibly more palpable.

According to the EPA, the 2013 Porsche Boxster averages 20 mpg in the city, 30 on the highway, and 24 mpg combined. It does this with a combination of efficient direct-injection technology, an auto start-stop system that shuts the engine down to prevent losses from idling, and a regenerative braking system that recharges the battery when decelerating, eschewing the traditional alternator and its parasitic drag on the engine.

Cabin technology
Upholstered in $2,385 worth of "Yachting Blue" leather, the Boxster's cabin is simple and purposeful, but also very well appointed. I've already complained about the cupholder situation, so adopt a no-drinks-in-the-car rule and instead enjoy the way that the Boxster's controls (the shifter and the steering wheel in particular) fall nicely into the hand and the grippiness of the optional heated sport seats as they cradle your backside with well-defined bolsters.

Porsche Boxster
The Boxster's purposeful cockpit is made more luxurious by optional leather trim and Sport seats. Josh Miller/CNET

At the center of the dashboard is the PCM (Porsche Communication Management) infotainment system, which has improved dramatically over the past few generations. This 7-inch touch-screen-based system features turn-by-turn navigation with maps that are crisply rendered and pleasurable to gaze upon. Traffic data is displayed on the map via colored street overlays.

Audio sources for the PASM include AM/FM terrestrial radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, USB playback of MP3 and iPod/iPhone, an analog auxiliary input, Bluetooth hands-free calling (with address book sync and voice control) and audio streaming, and a single-slot CD player. For some reason, the system didn't recognize that my phone supported audio streaming until the very last day of testing, so I was stuck running a cable to the auxiliary input for most of my testing. The Boxster doesn't support any sort of advanced app integration, such as Pandora Link.

Porsche Boxster
The Porsche Communication Management infotainment system has dramatically improved over time. Josh Miller/CNET

Audio is piped through an optional Bose audio system that features 5.1 surround decoding and hides its powered subwoofer behind the dashboard to help keep the audio stage ahead of the driver. Audio quality is great, but with 10 speakers within an arm's reach and 445 watts of total power, what did you expect?

In sum
The Boxster in its base 2.7-liter form isn't a track weapon; for that you have The 911. The Boxster is not a tech-laden cruiser; check out the Cayenne or Panamera for that. The Boxster is a back road bomber and the epitome of the term "canyon carver." If you're the sort that's already predisposed to loving tossable roadsters like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the Boxster is a quantum leap in performance evolution and a huge step up in appointment. Both vehicles are exceptional for their balance, blending engines that induce grins without overwhelming their great chassis. (I know, drawing a comparison between the Boxster and the Miata isn't helping either vehicle's "girly car" reputation.)

The 2013 Porsche Boxster starts at $49,500, but our tester loaded on $15,735 worth of options. $710 for platinum silver metallic paint here, $3,860 for the PCM system there, $1,790 for PASM, surcharges for steering-wheel controls, 19-inch wheels, leather interior. Porsche even charges $185 for the Porsche crested center caps on the wheels! Add it all up and include a whopping $950 destination charge to reach our as-tested price of $66,185.

It's a pretty penny, but there's not much else like the Boxster in the automotive world today. Cars like the Infiniti G convertible or Lexus IS C cost less and offer more daily driver functionality (backseats and cupholders, oh my!) but simply can't match the Boxster's purpose-built performance, svelte roadster aesthetic, and Porsche exclusivity. The BMW Z4 comes close to matching this blend of luxury and performance, but it's a vehicle that's somehow smaller than the Boxster with less storage space, but also significantly heavier. There's also the Mercedes-Benz SLK to consider, but come on, dude, that's a total hairdresser's car.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Porsche Boxster
Trim Base
Powertrain 2.7-liter flat six-cylinder, six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy 20 city, 30 highway, 34 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy n/a
Navigation Optional with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player single-slot CD
MP3 player support standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB/iPod connection, Bluetooth audio streaming
Other digital audio SiriusXM satellite radio
Audio system Optional 10-speaker, 445-watt Bose 5.1 system
Driver aids n/a
Base price $49,500
Price as tested $66,185

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