2001 Porsche Boxster

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2003 Porsche Boxster

This 2003 review is representative of model years 1997 to 2004.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Porsche enhances appeal of its Boxster, but there is no major redesign.
Pros:
  • More power
  • Fast
  • Superb handling
Cons:
  • Tricky manual gear shifter
  • Long-throw clutch
  • Not much cargo space

The 2003 Porsche Boxster remains one of the most alluring sports cars. But there is no major redesign—perhaps because the small automaker's resources were consumed by its upcoming Cayenne sport-utility vehicle. Instead, we get some cosmetic changes and mechanical upgrades.

The new convertible thus remains essentially the same as the 2002 Boxster. In fact, it's not all that different from the first Boxster, which debuted as a 1997 model for $39,980.

The first Boxster was reminiscent of Porsche's storied mid-engine race cars such as the rare 550 Spyder in which actor James Dean was killed in 1955. More than 120,000 Boxsters have been sold, and the slick little two-seater has contributed a lot to Porsche's profits.

The Sports Car Market pocket price guide calls the 1997 Boxster "still fabulous" and lists it as one of the "Top 50" collectible cars that will be "movers" in 2002. Resale value has remained high.

Since its debut, the standard Boxster has gradually received more power. And a top-line, higher-performance Boxster S trim was introduced several years ago to accompany the base trim.

Mid-Engine Design
The famous Porsche 911 model, which arrived in America in 1965, has a rear-engine design. But the first prototype Porsche had a mid-engine design in the late 1940s, as does the Boxster.

Mid-engine race cars began beating front-engine rivals in the early 1960s, and nearly all race cars have had a mid-engine design since the end of the 1960s. The Boxster is easy to drive quickly on race tracks.

The 911 always has been too popular for Porsche to tamper with its rear-engine layout. But the Boxster gave the automaker the chance to go to a mid-engine design. (A rear-engine car has its engine behind the rear axle, while a mid-engine car's engine is ahead of that axle.) The Boxster got its name from the union of the boxer engine architecture and its roadster body.

However, the engine can't be seen if you're standing alongside the car because it's enclosed in a compartment. Major service is done from beneath.

Entry Level Trim
The Boxster gave Porsche a chance to offer an entry level trim. While the 1997 Boxster listed at less than $40,000, the next most expensive Porsche that year was the $63,750 911.

The price situation hasn't changed much. The regular new Boxster is $42,600, while the Boxster S, which has more power and equipment, lists at $51,600. Regular 911 trims begin at $68,600.

Horsepower Increase
Thanks largely to changes in Porsche's VarioCam variable valve timing mechanism, horsepower of the regular Boxster's 2.7-liter engine has been increased from 217 to 225. Horsepower of the Boxster S 3.2-liter engine jumps from 250 to 258. Both have Porsche's traditional horizontally opposed piston layout that lets the engine sit low in the chassis.

Fuel economy of the base model has been improved slightly to an estimated 20 mpg in the city and 29 on highways with the standard 5-speed manual transmission. Figures for the Boxster S are 18 and 26 with that trim's standard 6-speed manual gearbox.

Optional Automatic Transmission
Porsche's extra-cost Tiptronic S 5-speed automatic transmission can just be left in the "drive" mode. But it has manual-shift steering wheel-mounted thumb switches for those who want to shift without using a clutch pedal.

The regular manual transmission's shifter has a tricky pattern in that it is easy to engage third gear, instead of first gear, and thus stall the engine. Also, the light clutch has a long throw that may cause folks with short legs to move their seat rather close to the steering wheel.

Visual Changes
While it looks much the same as its predecessors, the 2003 Boxster has newly designed cooling air intakes that give the front a lower look while allowing more airflow. The rear end extends lower and is wrapped more solidly around the redesigned exhaust pipe.

Porsche says the Boxster body "echoes such famous mid-engine Porsche sports and racing cars as the 550 Spyder and the (slightly later) RS60."

New Glass Window
The standard Boxster gets a new top with a heated glass window, instead of a marginal plastic rear window.

A redesigned rear spoiler fits nicely into the body when retracted and then lifts automatically into position at 75 mph to help keep the car stable; it retracts at 50 mph.

There also are newly optional 17- and 18-inch light alloy wheels, Boxster S shock absorbers, body-colored air scoops, remote unlocking front and rear trunk lids and dash-mounted climate controls, which have been moved from the console.

Also new: a 911-style cupholder that pops out of the instrument panel and a lighted and locking glove compartment.

Seat-colored leather is available for the steering wheel, gearshift lever, door handles and hand brake lever.

There is a 5.8-inch display screen with the new Communications Management system, which incorporates tuners, CD player, navigation system and trip computer.

The standard Boxster hits 60 mph in 6.4 seconds and smoothly cruises at 75 mph at 3000 rpm. But the engine calls for lots of shifting for the best acceleration.

The Boxster S, which hits 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, gets most of the same new items of the regular Boxster, along with such things as standard 17-inch wheels. It also has new rear stabilizer bars for surer handling.

The "S" has a revised manual transmission that calls for less shifting because its engine has a beefy torque curve that provides 85 percent of peak power at only 2900 rpm, assuring good low-speed response.

Blast To Drive
The Boxster is a blast to drive. Its steering is quick and precise, and it has race-car-style handling. The brake pedal has a nearly perfect feel, and stopping distances are short. The ride is on the firm side, but is supple.

This Porsche is fairly quiet with the top up and has a nicely designed interior. The new electrohydraulic convertible top lowers quickly and deftly vanishes under a rear cover at the touch of a button. Optional is a removable aluminum hard top.

There's decent room for two tall occupants, although getting in and out calls for some athletic moves. The front and rear cargo compartments hold a fair amount of stuff, although soft luggage fits better than hard luggage.

Safety features include Porsche's patented crumple-zone body structure and door-mounted side airbags. A Stability Management System to help prevent such things as skids is optional.

The Boxster continues as one of the top sports cars and doesn't really feel like an entry level trim.

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BB02 - 4/18/2014 5:25:16 PM