I’ve discovered how Porsche builds its cars. It takes enthusiastic drivers, plonks them in driver’s seats and then simply puts the car together around them on the assembly line. That’s the only rational description I can offer, because nothing else explains how Porsche has managed, time and again, for over 50 years, to produce cars that wrap themselves around you, like a second skin – they’re intuitive, they’re fundamental and they feel right. Of course, the company has built a few relative clunkers over the years, but even those cars would likely have run rings around their peers; the Boxster S, however, is no clunker – to feel more ‘at one’ with the road than in this Porsche, you would have to be a tyre.
Fifty years ago, William Lyon and Malcolm Sayer were thinking along similar lines, and when they emerged from their huddle, the result was the Jaguar E-Type – Enzo Ferrari’s pick for the most beautiful car ever made, a car so revolutionary, so outrageously lovely, so appealing to basic human emotions that it changed the sportscar game at a stroke. Offering stonking performance and amazing road presence at a price that left the competition scratching their collective heads, the E-Type was a priapic triumph, literally thrusting its way into the book of legends. It’s only fitting, then, that it features in this story – a roadster from the past that was made to be the ultimate driving machine, paired with a car that answers to that description today.
Line these two cars up side by side and you have an eyeball-searing sight – the E-Type grabs most of the attention, naturally, but the Boxster is no Quasimodo. The first Boxster, although a certified hit in terms of driving pleasure, drew some criticism for its somewhat ‘hairdresser’ styling, but with this car, there can be no such cribbing – look at it from the front three-quarters and the first thing that springs to mind is ‘Carrera GT’. It looks satisfyingly aggressive now, and its clean, classic lines are timeless, harking back to the Porsche Spyders of yesteryear.
The sculpted fenders look smashing, with the elliptical headlamps and tidy tail-lamps bookending a truly evocative design. Oh, and pause a moment and look at the two cars’ headlight designs, will you? Notice the similarity, in cars that are over five decades apart? That’s what the E-Type is – a pathbreaker, a benchmark, a thing of beauty to be aspired to. There are probably no words left to adequately describe its astonishing shape, its never-ending bonnet and its dizzying mix of muscle and sex appeal, but ‘breathtaking’ comes close.
The two cars are at once similar and disparate when it comes to their cabins. Both have been designed to shrink around the driver and make for a pure, yet comfortable, driving experience, but the approaches are different. The Boxster follows Porsche’s tradition of high quality, tasteful interiors, with slightly muddled ergonomics and a penchant for a myriad of optional equipment that tends to cause the car’s base price to skyrocket.
The car I drove came fully loaded – Porsche emblems on the head restraints, red seatbelts, red instruments, 12-way power seats, Porsche Communication Management, a superb three-spoke sports steering wheel with paddle shifters, a Bose audio system, Xenon cornering lights, park assist and, er, floor mats, all of which are options adding the small matter of Rs 10 lakh to the price (and I’ve left a few out – all the options in this particular car come to almost Rs 21 lakh). Still, you don’t go to a Porsche showroom if you’re a penny pincher, and the cabin is exceptionally well done, without being plush. The big tachometer occupies pride of place in the middle of the instrumentation, which tells you all you need to know about this car.
The E-Type offers a cabin that is plush and sporty even today, although ergonomics, by today’s standards, are a bit of a problem – only gymnasts will hop in nonchalantly, the pedals are somewhat cramped, the steering wheel isn’t adjustable and the rear-view mirror is the size of a postage stamp, so you simply have to contort yourself and get on with the task of driving, which is what this car is all about. The array of switches on the beautiful dashboard make you feel like a fighter pilot, and judging by how well this car’s interior has aged, it’s safe to say that they really built things to last, back in the day.
The interiors can go hang, with all due respect – these cars are meant to be driven, first and foremost, and they waste no time in telling you exactly that. I’m going to give away the end first by telling you that the Porsche is sublime – it is, without a doubt, the best roadster in the world. From the moment you get in, it envelops you in a cocoon of concentrated driving pleasure – the 3.4-litre flat-six engine starts up with a sonorous growl, all 310 bhp and 36.7 kgm straining at the leash. In crawling Bangalore traffic, it can be a bit taxing on the body – the steering is heavy, the pedals fairly stiff and it’s clearly waiting to cut loose.
When it does, it’s like a switch has been flipped – there’s an instant grin on your face as the car goes absolutely ballistic, its light weight helping it tear its way to 100 kph in 4.8 seconds, with Launch Control and Sport Plus engaged. The engine note is absolutely sensational, especially with the top down, and the brilliant PDK automated-manual transmission shifts far quicker than a human being could, holding revs for you to play around with, the paddle shifters on the meaty steering wheel becoming your best friends (as opposed to the fiddly PDK shifters on the standard-issue wheel). You’ll be so busy grinning that you won’t even notice when the car hits high three-digit speeds.
The Jag? Well, what can I say except that you haven’t lived until you’ve driven one. The 3781cc straight-six, producing 265 bhp and 35.5 kgm (not very far away from the Boxster’s numbers) is absolutely regal in its refinement, character and power delivery. Mated to a very slick four-speed gearbox, with synchromesh in second, third and fourth, the E-Type lunges off the line with a delicious burble and just keeps going on to its top speed of 241 kph, the creamy spread of torque letting you pull effortlessly in virtually any gear. This car feels contemporary 50 years after its birth – indeed, I can think of modern cars that can’t match its engine characteristics; back then, it must have blown peoples’ minds.
This brings to me to the Boxster’s coupe de grace – the way it handles. This is a car that will make a hero out of even the most ham-fisted driver, such are its capabilities. Never have a combination of a mid-mounted engine, compact dimensions and light weight come off this well in a roadster – the Boxster grips the road ferociously and just doesn’t let go, with the taut suspension giving you superb levels of feedback, the tack sharp, variable-ratio steering wheel affording it go-kart levels of flickability and the brakes providing the kind of stopping power normally associated with punctuation marks.
‘Body roll’ is a term the Boxster isn’t familiar with, and no matter how badly you behave in corners, it plays along and begs for more. The ride quality is surprisingly tolerable, for such a sporty car, and with everything set to Normal, it is actually a car that you can drive every day in the city.
The E-Type is an amazing car to drive, because it gives you opposing sensations. On the one hand, because the engine’s potency outstrips the chassis’ capabilities and the disc brakes are, by modern standards, not very sharp, you have to be careful, especially at the limit and when cornering hard. Yet, somehow, the Jag simultaneously manages to pull off the trick of being nimble, agile and finely balanced – with the engine ahead of the front axle, independent suspension at both ends, a near-perfect 49:51 front/rear weight distribution and with the subframe-mounted steering providing great feedback, the E-Type is sublime in its own right. Oh, and its ride quality trumps the Boxster’s by a wide margin.
So, when you’ve just driven these two cars back-to-back, what do you say? Not very much, to be honest, because you’ll be too busy revelling in the experience to actually verbalise anything (if you do, it’ll probably be unprintable). The E-Type is the original king of the hill, a gold standard which still hasn’t lost its sheen, a car that is even more desirable today than when it was unleashed on the world. The Boxster distills the essence and the purity of the Jag and produces a heady brew of its own, one that has made it a legend in its own lifetime. With cars like these, you don’t dissect technical details and analyse dry data – you give thanks that they’ve been made, and then you go right out and drive them again.