Remember that episode of "Two and a Half Men" where a Boxster played a supporting role? For 22 minutes Charlie Sheen riffed on his brother's new car as "the girly Porsche." Funny, sort of, but Boxster owners, at least the ones who weren't hair stylists, knew better. Their car was the embodiment of Zen in the art of driving.
No other sports car, not even a Ferrari and certainly no roadsters from BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz, could touch the Boxster when it came to driving precision and feedback. The steering feel was uncanny and with its balanced, mid-engine layout the car could zig and zag like a hockey skate. The Boxster seemed to plug directly into the seat of the driver's pants and there was always enough power for serious speed. Never enough, though, to challenge the top-of-the-range 911. It was quite a bit cheaper than a 911, too. So, despite its dynamic brilliance and the way it could make other cars feel wonderfully stupid, the Boxster was always the one for people who couldn't afford a "real" Porsche.
That was then. For 2013 Porsche has redrawn and rebuilt the Boxster. It shares more parts with the 911 and it's made in Germany, no longer in Finland. It's a bit larger, but it still weighs less than 3,000 pounds, so a relatively modest 315 horsepower and 266 torques can accomplish a great deal. All Boxsters are convertibles with pushbutton fabric tops, yet there is no, zero, nil chassis flex on the roughest surface or under the hardest acceleration; Porsche engineered it to be roof-less.
Sadly, when it came to design, the budget ran out when the old car was half done. The stylists just stuck the front end onto the back and went home. For 2013, they finally completed the job. Just look at those flanks and that discreet wing with its beautifully integrated LED lights. Fantastic!
The Boxster S has a new transmission option as well - the PDK or Doppelkupplung, German for "double clutch." The PDK gearbox does in fact have two clutches, neither operated by a foot. Based on what the car is doing or the driver wants, the transmission pre-selects the next gear and has it waiting, spooled up on its own clutch. The transfer of thrust takes just milliseconds, so the flow of power to the rear wheels is uninterrupted.
Around town the PDK is almost indistinguishable from a fluid-drive automatic transmission. Press the SPORT button and put the revs to it, however, or shift it by hand, and it's clear that engineering magic is at work. Paired with the optional Sport Chrono Package ($2,370), the PDK also gets Launch Control and a "motorsport-derived gearshift strategy." Together, these deliver the best possible acceleration, thanks to seamless shifting and a momentary boost in torque.
The PDK also has seven forward gears. Top speed - reportedly 173 mph for the S model - is achieved in sixth; seventh gear has a taller ratio, for better economy. The new Boxster S will out-sprint a 911 Carrera to 60 and still travel 30 highway miles on a gallon of gas at reasonable velocities. In city driving, the engine shuts down at stoplights, to burn less fuel.
The third-generation Boxster is finally a full-fledged Porsche, with near-supercar looks, performance and handling, and it's just tight enough and low-slung enough to be not quite as handy for grocery runs as a 911. It feels more exotic than that.
Unfortunately, it's matured in other ways too. The first Boxster we drove - the first Boxster - was in 1997. That car caused a sensation among the faithful: A Porsche for less than $40,000! And so it was, about $5 less. (Oh, you want a second seat with that?) Today, the options alone on this particular Boxster S cost 30 grand. The Espresso leather interior is $3,535. Adaptive sport seats, $5,265. That PDK transmission? $3,200. (Good as it is, I'd pick the six-speed manual gearbox.) And on and on, down to $185 for gluing the Porsche crest on each wheel. OK, fine, tick whatever boxes you like, but be careful. In this case the total came to a breath-shortening $90,175. The little Porsche isn't so little any more.
Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of IMPA, the International Motor Press Association, whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.