Even though Porsche is thriving, and it is currently the most profitable subsidiary of Volkswagen, (Volkswagen owns Porsche), it wasn’t always this way. In the early 1990s, Porsche experienced financial struggles due to the economic recession and lack of exciting and new models. The 911 was notorious as a world famous sports car, but it did not sell enough to offset Porsche’s monetary issues. The solution to this was to build an affordable sports car that could sell more units than the 911 while retaining high profitability. Enter the Boxster. Introduced for the model year 1997, the Boxster renewed Porsche’s importance. Four years after the Boxster’s debut, Porsche’s volume quadrupled.
It is apparent that the Boxster is influenced by the 911’s design. The headlights and the detailed air dam give it an aggressive yet soft stance. Note how it does not really have a grille. The side profile features crisp lines that accentuate the sporty exterior. The side vents for the engine mar the otherwise smooth profile. With the top up, it has the appearance of a hunkered down sports car. With the top down, it looks like a roadster. The taillights are similar to the 911. I like how the inner edges of the taillights create broad shoulders in the rear. The simple styling has aged well over the years. The interior is very business like inside. The white gauges give it some flair, but gray and black colors dominate the interior.
The driving experience is where the Boxster shines. The steering is a little heavy when parking, but it has perfect weighting at speed. It provides excellent feedback. Even on smooth parking structure roads, I could still feel smidgens of road imperfections filtered through the wheel. In corners, the Boxster is a delight, aided by fluid steering. The engine’s placement behind the seats gives the Boxster incredible balance. There is virtually no understeer at all. Couple that with the restrained body lean, and you have a very capable handler. The sticky tires also allow it to carry more speed in the corners, and the steering is laser sharp. The stiff suspension may be great for handling, but the ride quality takes a beating. It is not overly uncomfortable, but you are always aware of the road imperfections, especially in a car as low as this. The brakes provide excellent stopping performances and are easy to modulate.
The standard engine for the Boxster is a 217 horsepower 2.7 liter H-6 engine (horizontally opposed inline six cylinder). Upgrade to the S version, and you are treated to a 250 horsepower 3.2 liter H-6 engine. This Boxster S’ H-6 provides effortless power. It really pulls,and will keep doing so until its 7,200 rpm redline. At low revs, it lags as you have to keep this engine in higher revs, but give it more gas and it surges. The transmission is…wait for it…a five speed automatic. I’ll make this short. It’s a Porsche, and not just a Porsche, it’s a Porsche sports car. Hence the need for a proper manual transmission. With that said, the automatic transmission feels dated. It shifts in a clunky manner, and it hesitates to downshift. The manumatic function is decent, provided you get used to the shifter buttons on the wheel. Fuel economy is decent at 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway for the automatic. For the S with a manual transmission, fuel economy is 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.
Refinement is decent with the top up. It is remarkably refined for a sports car. Road noise and wind noise are not present. The quiet engine emits a glorious musical note when pressed. I recommend putting the top down so you can enjoy the noise of the H-6 behind the seats.
While it does feel somewhat opulent to sit in, there is a feeling of fragility. Some controls feel brittle, and the gear shifter feels cheap to touch. The interior is well assembled otherwise. The overly complicated controls can induce feelings of anger and frustration. For example, the radio buttons are not very well labeled, and are crammed together. The radio and AC displays wash out in direct sunlight. The gauges are easy to read, although the speedometer can be hard to read. The cabin is surprisingly accommodating. There is adequate headroom and legroom, and it is possible to find a good driving position. Visibility is decent. The seats offer excellent support in corners, although some drivers may find them too firm. The mid-engine layout means that the Boxster is practical as well. It has a trunk in the back and in the front. They both are usable trunks. There is virtually no cabin storage.
I can see why the first generation Boxster was such a success. In a segment dominated by Mercedes-Benz SLKs, BMW Z3s, and Mazda Miatas, the Boxster’s mid-engine layout gives it unparallelled handling brilliance. The marvelous engine backs up the performance suggested by its sporty looks. My only real criticism is that it has an automatic transmission, but the Boxster’s excellent handling makes my criticism trivial. The Boxster is an example of a back to basics car. It focuses on one objective: to reward its driver with Porsche performance and handling. The fact that it is practical for a sports car is a bonus. Driving this car gave me a revelation. Yes, Porsche is reaching highs profit wise, but that is because its cars are slipping away from exclusivity to the mainstream. By mainstream, I mean they entered the SUV and sedan market with the Cayenne and Panamera. While those provide the driving experience of a Porsche, they sell mostly because of the Porsche prestige. Now, the latest 911 and Boxster are being designed after the aforementioned vehicles instead of the other way around. I might be wrong, but the latest 911 and Boxster are definitely not the pure and thoroughbred machines as they used to be. Porsche still makes excellent cars and remains one of my favorite automotive companies of all times. But Porsche has changed a lot over the years. And that’s why, even with an automatic transmission, I still cherish this 2001 Boxster S.