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Porsche builds cars primarily for performance (or occasionally to fill a market niche, as with the Cayenne), which the 2007 Porsche Boxster S made clear the moment we got in the driver's seat. Oh, the interior does have its luxury elements, but the Boxster S lets you know it's designed to go fast, from its minimalist three-spoke steering wheel to its instrument cluster, with the tachometer placed in the center and the 190mph speedometer off to the side. That's right, the speedometer goes up to 190mph, only 20mph more than the top speed of the Boxster S.
Porsche makes its Porsche Communication Manager (PCM) package available for the Boxster, a module that includes navigation, a CD player that can handle MP3 discs, and a hands-free cell phone module. Unfortunately, our test car didn't come equipped with the PCM, so we aren't covering it in this review. At close to $65,000, we expect a bit of luxury, and the Boxster S delivers in the form of a very nice full leather interior. At $2,525, the full leather interior in cocoa brown is pricey, but it is well stitched and made us feel as if we were sitting inside an executive's briefcase.
Although not a retractable hard top, the power convertible top on the Boxster S worked well, with minimal fuss. We merely had to unlatch the front by pressing a big button labeled "press," then hitting a switch on the center console. The whole thing folds up and buries itself behind the seats quickly and nicely.
Surrounded by sound
As mentioned above, this review car didn't come with the PCM, so we couldn't review Porsche's navigation system. Its stereo was upgraded to a Bose surround sound system, which includes 11 speakers, plenty to fill the small 2-seater cabin. The system has two speakers in each door, a tweeter on each end of the dash with a center fill in the middle, and an array of 4 speakers behind the seats, which includes 2 subwoofers. The quality of the audio is very good with this arrangement, but we felt it should have been better. Maybe the size of the cabin is a factor here, but it didn't sound as if the highs, mids, and lows had enough separation to make them distinctive.
The center stack controls are nice and refined, but small and potentially difficult to operate.
The stock stereo worked just fine, but it didn't have an auxiliary input, nor did the single disc player handle MP3 CDs. A six-disc remote changer is offered as an option, but it mounts in the trunk, something we've never liked. Porsche doesn't make satellite radio available at all, not even with the PCM. Overall, we definitely would have preferred more audio options.
Two convenient slots in the glove box allow for CD storage. And we like the design of the center stack, with its nicely refined climate controls. As opposed to the large dials seen on many cars, Porsche uses small buttons. They look nice, but there could be usability issues as drivers try to make adjustments while also looking at the road. There is a nice array of readouts on the instrument cluster display. The bottom of each gauge shows information such as an odometer, a trip meter, and a digital readout of the car's speed front and center. The driver also can show average fuel economy, range, or audio source information.
Passing with gas
Given the car's pleasing exhaust note, we were quite content to turn the stereo off, and not fumble around with any controls on the center stack. Porsche says the car goes from zero to 60mph in 5.1 seconds, and we have no reason to doubt it. After we got used to the acceleration, it quickly became apparent how little room we needed to merge into traffic or pass slower cars on the highway. A good push on the gas pedal made all the cars around us a distant memory.
The Boxster S achieves this acceleration, not to mention its top speed of 170mph, with a 3.4-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine producing 295 horsepower. The engine uses Porsche's variable valve-timing technology called VarioCam Plus. With the Boxster S, it only has to push the car's 2,987 pound curb weight. The engine isn't visible from lifting the front or rear hood; that's all cargo space. Rather, the engine lies near the base of the car, behind the seats.
A multifunctional steering wheel is available, but our test car's steering wheel only had the one function, pointing the car, which it did very well.
This mid-engine arrangement lets Porsche balance this car out by putting the bulk of its weight in the center, instead of over the front or rear axles. The car's handling benefits immensely. On most corners we couldn't even stress it; it just followed in the direction we wanted it to go. On the one corner where we could throw out its tires a bit, it had no problem getting back online, inspiring plenty of confidence.
Its six-speed transmission shifts with European refinement--it moves into each gear precisely, but without a snap, more like a well-worn groove. The ratios feel good, too, making it easy to power from one gear into the next without dropping revs.
The EPA rates the manual transmission Boxster S at 20mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway. We observed 21mpg during our testing period of city and freeway driving, with enthusiastic outbursts here and there. The Boxster S achieves a very good emissions rating of ULEV II (ultra-low emission vehicle, stage 2) from the California Air Resources Board.
Demands to drive
The car's excellent handling and acceleration are two elements that will help a good driver avoid accidents. Its big, four-piston brakes do a great job of stopping the car, and, of course, it also uses antilock brakes. Porsche Stability Management is Porsche's version of traction control and comes standard on the Boxster S. To assist in high-speed roadholding, an automatic spoiler deploys at speeds more than 75mph and retracts at 50mph.
Driver and passenger are well protected with front, side, and head airbags. Each seat gets its own roll bar. A tire pressure monitor system is standard and shows the actual pressure in each tire on the instrument cluster display. Park distance control is optional.
The base price of the 2007 Porsche Boxster S is $55,500. Our test car added metallic paint in arctic silver ($690), a full leather interior in cocoa ($2,525), bi-xenon headlights ($1,090), a rear windstop ($375), Bose surround sound audio ($950), and sundry other options, bringing our car's total to $64,450.
For luxury feel and performance, the 2007 Porsche Boxster S stands head and shoulders above any other roadster we've tested. The only other car that invites any kind of comparison is the Honda S2000, and that is only (and barely) from the performance perspective. The Boxster S feels like a race car with a luxury interior and begs to be driven hard. We can think of nothing more frustrating than sitting in commuting traffic with this car.