The third-generation Porsche Boxster is now just four months away from a planned debut at next year’s Geneva motor show. But before the German car maker’s boss Mathias Muller granted the mid-engined roadster a definitive production go-ahead back in October, Autocar joined a team of development engineers in California as they put the final test miles on prototype versions.
Codenamed 981, the new Boxster represents a big break, both in terms of engineering and philosophy, from its predecessor. Following on from developments brought to the latest 911, the strict two-seater is not only larger dimensionally but also sports an aluminium bodyshell that is claimed to be the “the lightest car in its class,” according to Boxster development boss Hans-Jürgen Wӧhler.
It’s also slightly longer and a good deal wider than before, while a newly developed, automatically-operated cloth hood marginally reduces height, giving it a more elongated appearance.
Seeing the new car up close for the first time reveals other key modifications, including significantly larger wheel houses and larger brakes, although their exact dimensions are yet to be confirmed.
The larger aluminium body is supported by a thoroughly new chassis that receives a wheelbase that has been bumped up from 2415mm to somewhere in the vicinity of 2540mm along with a front track that has been increased in length by around 52mm to take it up to 1542mm. While there are no carry over components within the suspension, the architectural elements remain intact, with MacPherson struts sited up front and multi-links at the rear. But as Wӧhler points out, the spring rates have been increased while the damping reduced in firmness.
A bigger change is the switch from hydraulic power steering to the electro-mechanical system that recently debuted on the new 911. Purists will scream, but Wӧhler says, “you can rest assured, we haven’t stuffed it up. Drive the new model next to the old one and you can’t tell the difference – it’s that good.”
If there’s one familiar aspect about the latest version of Porsche’s rear wheel drive roadster it is its naturally aspirated six-cylinder direct injection petrol engines. Like the new 911 Carrera, however, they feature a smaller capacity.
We’re told the base 2.9-litre unit in the second generation Boxster makes way for a 2.7-litre engine, while the 3.4-litre mill in the Boxster S is supplanted by a 3.2-litre powerplant. Despite the downsizing, Wӧhler says both engines develop greater power than those they replace. Porsche had yet to receive final certification figures at the time of our ride experience, but expect something around 270bhp and 325bhp respectively.
Other driveline changes centre around the seven speed double clutch PDK gearbox, which has been reworked with a new electronics package that is claimed to make it more intuitive and provide faster shifts in each of the Boxster’s drive modes, normal and sport. It now also supports a so-called sailing function that decouples the engine when you lift off the throttle on descents, cutting the engine revs to idle and reducing rolling resistance.
But it is the manual ‘box that will undoubtedly make headlines. Like the new 911, the Boxster S receives a seven speed unit as standard. It’s based on the PDK gearbox, and comes equipped with a lock out that prevents you changing into seventh from anywhere but fifth and sixth gears. Owing it is lower torque rating, the base Boxster sticks with the existing six-speed manual.
More power and less weight results in better straight line performance with 0.2secs shaved off the 0-62mph time of both the Boxster and Boxster S, bringing their benchmark acceleration times down to 5.6sec and 5.0sec respectively.
With the new electro-mechanical steering system along with a stop/start function and new thermo management measures built into the new driveline, fuel economy is predictably improved by up by 18 per cent to 33.2mpg.
On first experience, admittedly from the passenger seat, the new Boxster has clearly moved up in standing. Impressions are of a more mature car with a broader set of abilities. A moderate increase in cabin length introduces added space, and with it comes a feeling of greater well-being.
At typical motorway cruising speeds, the new Porsche displays greater refinement than the car it replaces; mechanical, road and wind noise are all reduced with its excellent new cloth hood in place.
There’s greater compliance to the suspension, which results in improved levels of ride comfort around town. That’s not to say it isn’t sporting in feel, just that inherent harshness on certain surfaces has been relaxed a little, endowing the new car with a more settled feel.
What impressed most about the new Porsche Boxster, was the ability of it to carry big speeds through corners withou needing to check progress, such is the fluidity and neutrality inherent in the new chassis. It’s hard to say whether it improves on the outgoing model in terms of handling, but in isolation it is hints at greatness.
If you’re searching for a more definitive verdict you’ll have to wait until we get to drive the new Boxster for ourselves. The crucial thing is that despite the changes in character, the new model appears to retain all the crucial traits that have made it such a exciting car to drive up until now, and that also goes for the sound of its new engines, which continue to growl with the same familiar tone and ferocity as before.
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