For those who believe that global weather doesn’t really affect them, here’s a reality check. I got to drive the new Porsche Boxster at its Austria launch, because of snow in the Himalayas. Which trapped Bijoy long enough for him to offer me the drive. Heh, heh, Shumi to the rescue.
However, by the time I got to absolutely gorgeous, late autumn, orangey-brown Austria, the thought of piloting a full-blooded, mid-engined 280 bhp Boxster S on foreign streets was pretty daunting. Hell, it wasn’t till the second day that the beauty of the scenery actually sunk in!
Within a couple of hours of parking my luggage at the luxurious, old and character-loaded Schloss Seefels Hotel near Klagenfurt, I had my first go in the newest baby Porsche. I snagged the keys to a nicely understated slate grey Boxster S and was handed a road book with directions for a 60 km loop. The Porsche chap beamed at me with a confidence that I just couldn’t echo. After all, a manual shift Boxster S, all 3179cc of it, in my hands, in a left hand drive country, on public roads, without chaperone or cellphone was almost too much.
Boxster S to the rescue, this time round. The engine fired almost before I turned the key and as I rolled out of the parking lot, the car’s supremely slick and sporty shift was instantly noticeable. On that day, and the longer drive the next day, I’d never miss a shift, never select the wrong gear and never, ever spare a thought to the stick, which was on my right – all wrong. The Porsche team have been working on critical areas that include the reduction of shift travel, dropping shifting time, lightening the engine overall, and more performance. By the time I rolled out, I was ready to believe that nothing would shift as slickly as this Porsche.
Out on the highway, keeping the throttle pinned to even the halfway mark is pretty dangerous. The big boxer in the back is like a faithful Bull Mastiff puppy. It is obedient, playful and very, very powerful. Not to mention torquey. The new intake system employs a dual distribution on the intake, which opens both chambers only at full chat. Result? More torque right off the bottom, and a handy 32 kgm torque plateau from 4700 to
6000 rpm. And while the old Boxster S made (just) 260 bhp, the new one is good for 280. The chaps also cut down the drag coeff to just 0.29 and added a plastic flat underbody for better aero-efficiency. Three snicks of the gearshift interrupting a glorious, soft roar behind your ear will propel the little Porsche to well past the speed limit. And Italy this isn’t, where the Carabinieri wave you by with happy, indulgent grins. But the afternoon drive was enjoyable enough to be added to my growing list of stories for my grandchildren. Top stowed, the sun and the wind mussed my hair gently as I shot off full throttle from intersections and stop lines before backing off at the speed limit. The extra torque makes short work of acceleration and the 5.5 second run to 100 kph is as short as it is exciting. In typically Porsche style, the car is civil and quiet as long as you keep the revs down, but possesses a singing voice past 4500 rpm that’ll make Pavarotti weep in envy. Oh, and I even had the time (stuck in traffic), to fiddle with the all-options seat (identical to the new 911’s) in my car which allows the usual adjustments, plus side and thigh bolster adjustments.
The next day, our longer, 300 km route included Autobahns, B-roads, mountain passes, a ski resort (minus the snow, thankfully), and tons of picture-perfect autumn scenery. The Porsche guys intended two journos to a car, but I had the luck of being the odd-end of a 35-member troupe. Result? I had the company of Porsche Middle East’s Amaury La Fonta, a fine German gent with a keen knowledge of just how far over the posted speed limit was safe at any point of time.
So the two of us went plenty fast. Once my initial awe of the autobahn (in Austria they do have speed limits) was dealt with, LaFonta showed me the sights and told me where 150 kph was just fine. Just so you know, 150 kph, top down through a nine km tunnel is incredibly noisy and downshifting mid-tunnel for the heck of it is emphatically recommended. Especially if your co-passenger is on the phone.
As we swooshed down the ‘bahn, I did notice that at 150 kph in top gear (6th on the manual, 5th on the Tiptronic S), top down and all, tyre and wind noise are both quite low. The Bose speakers don’t have to work too hard to inject Rachmaninoff (or Marilyn Manson) into your ears. Very civil and very comfortable. The new Boxster is slightly larger than the older car, and happens to be a lot more spacious inside. The understated but very, very classy interior is done very well.
But frankly, it is the dynamics of the car that make it so special. The steering, for instance, is speed sensitive and you never seem to need more than a twitch to change a lane, or hunt down that apex. So cruising and cornering are both effortless. It is a wide car, though. And in traffic, the size is something that will bug you a bit. However, the wider track also gives it incredible stability. Porsche have, nevertheless, added PSM (stability management) as standard, with the Active Suspension Management (PASM) as optional. Our car was all-options, so we even had the yellow-callipered Ceramic Composite Brake thingys. But back to the appointments for a bit. The new top is made from a three layer textile that is better than before. More importantly you can top up, or down, in 12 seconds, at any speed below 50 kph. Back to the dynamics, then. Just when I was getting bored of holding 150 kph (it is embarrassing to use cruise control in a Porsche, unless you own one), we turned off into the heavenly B-roads. Down the narrower, twisting roads, the Boxster seems even happier. The ride quality is surprisingly plush and the Boxster seems not to notice the ripples, cracks and dips caused by frost heaves, despite the 18-inch wheels and 40-profile rubber-band tyres. Direct steering feel and the agility of a pussycat make the Boxster an absolute jewel down the twisties. When the cops are about, it begs you to slow down before the corner, slam a downshift before blazing to the apex and then backing off and smiling to yourself. Or in my case, to LaFonta, who looked on indulgently, only restraining my boyish antics when they threatened to become obscenely illegal.
About 30 km from the ski joint, we hit this deserted two-laner. LaFonta said cautiously, ‘There isn’t any police patrol or radar on this stretch, but it is narrow. If you are careful not to drift into the opposing lane, you can go very quickly.’
I ticked off one R1 and one black ZX-11 on a mental to-watch list, downshifted thrice on the Tiptronic buttons on the wheel. The engine note changed instantly from a low buzz to an angry honky roar that was typically Porsche. The engineers used a crossover circuit on the completely new exhaust to create a newer, more aggressive note for the car, and boy does that work. The car leapt into action. Then, LaFonta switched on the PASM system, which lowers the car, firms up the suspension and makes the Boxster buck on ripples and overbanding, like a rodeo horse. However, the fat tyres never leave the ground and the agility reaches levels which’ll make you giddy.
The next few kilometres were an ecstatic blur. Scenery and sanity forgotten, the Boxster and I went from apex to apex with loads of revs on the clock, an angry roar marking our territory. Hell, this urgency, noise and attitude would fit right in with five-point harnesses, full race seats and the ugly, but reassuring tubing of a full roll cage. The steering returns race-car amounts of feel with the PASM, and while I never quite managed to break the shackles of traction, it’ll probably be another sublime, controllable, memorable event.
The bikes went past while I was stuck behind a Renault. That was the only time I looked at the passing scenery, I think. Once past the car, it was time to chase down the bikes. What fun! The Boxster raged into corners, slingshotting down the straights, and reminded me increasingly of a hellaciously fast motorcycle.
At the ski resort, I handed the keys over to LaFonta, who’d been itching for a turn at the wheel. The rest of the afternoon was an orange-streaked blur in the afternoon sun, as the Boxster S and us swooped high and low through the Alps, passing traffic, waving to smiling bystanders and polite couples in minivans who pulled over so as not to spoil our fun.
Like the chaps in the McDonalds ads say, I think I murmured to myself at one point, ‘I’m lovin’ it.’