First Drive Review: 2009 Porsche Boxster S PDK
By Erik Johnson of Car and Driver
Standing as we were during this press launch amid Porsche racing luminaries such as Derek Bell and Hurley Haywood — in addition to current Porsche racing stars like Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Long — didn't make formulating an opinion of the revised-for-2009 Porsche Boxster very easy. It might have had something to do with our gawping, wide-eyed awe at a gathering of drivers who had 10 combined wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 10 combined wins in the 24 Hours of Daytona, five combined wins in the 12 Hours of Sebring, and four combined American Le Mans Series championships. You try to concentrate under those circumstances.
The Boxster itself cleared things up; it's that good. Indeed, after gathering our wits, we came to the conclusion that the Boxster remains one of the world's best cars, and this year's addition of direct injection (for S versions only) and Porsche's new PDK dual-clutch automated manual gearbox only make it more so. As we bombed around the Streets of Willow Springs road course in Rosamond, California, the Boxster's carry-over strengths and latest improvements were readily apparent.
This isn't an all-new car — although Porsche calls it the second generation of the 987 chassis — so the superb underpinnings that have made the Boxster a multiple 10Best Cars award winner remain, albeit tweaked for 2009. The precise and talkative steering has been lightened a smidge. The already impeccable ride quality and wheel control are enhanced by increased comfort due to softer spring mounts. Tenacious grip and handling are even better, owing to retuned rear shocks and springs, as well as a larger rear anti-roll bar on cars with the optional limited-slip differential, a feature that is now available on all Boxsters. These alterations aren't groundbreaking on their own, but taken together, they make for a more capable, cohesive Boxster, something we might have thought impossible before our drive.
Aesthetically, there are redesigned front and rear fascias with copious amounts of LED lighting, new mirrors, and new exhaust tips. The front lights can be customized with your choice of swiveling headlamps, bixenon illumination, or sweet-looking Audi-style LED daytime running lights. Standard wheels are 17s on the base car and 18s on the Boxster S. The cabin gets a refresh with a new steering wheel and upgraded in-car infotainment setups; we didn't get a chance to fiddle with the new electronics, but they promise more intuitive controls and things like Bluetooth music streaming, a built-in hard drive, and a slot for your phone's SIM card.
PDK Should Stand For "Pretty Damn Killer"
Shifts are quick and smooth, with the dual-clutch setup facilitating no interruption of power delivery to the rear wheels. Three modes are standard: automatic, manual, and sport. Sport mode heightens throttle response, loosens up the Porsche Stability Management, and makes PDK a bit friskier. Gussy up your Boxster with the Sport Chrono package, and you'll get launch control and a "Sport Plus" button, which take PDK to racy new heights. In sport plus mode, PDK will no longer adapt to your driving habits, which it does in sport and automatic modes, instead adopting max-performance-oriented racetrack programming, where the revs are always kept high.
On the track, even regular automatic operation proved capable, but we loved the sport plus mode, with downshifts in particular being so good in their logic and immediacy that we barely even noticed they'd happened. Indeed, partly because it's so damn good and partly due to the difficult steering-wheel-mounted thumb buttons involved in manual-mode shifting — thumbs should never be involved in gearchanges — we largely let PDK do its own thing. We expect most buyers of the $3420 gearbox will do the same (Porsche predicts a 50-percent take rate, up from about 30 percent for the Tiptronic).
Momma Always Said to Be Direct
Porsche claims the engines in base and S 2009 Boxsters are 13 pounds lighter than before and that a Boxster S with PDK is 33 pounds lighter overall than a comparable Tiptronic model. The base Boxster with a manual gains 66 pounds, however, largely from the newly installed six-speed box. The S/manual and base/PDK models hold the line on weight.
A PDK- and Sport Chrono-equipped Boxster S will accelerate to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, according to Porsche, 0.1 second quicker than a manual model, and will achieve a terminal velocity of 162 mph in sixth gear. (Seventh is a fuel-sipping overdrive ratio.) We clocked a manual version of the previous car at 4.9 seconds to 60, though, so we expect the Porsche claims will prove pessimistic once we get a chance to hook up a test rig. With the extra power and the urgency of PDK-enacted shifts, the Boxster S now certainly feels quick.
Always a Joy to Drive
With the 2009 model, Porsche hasn't reinvented the Boxster S but has instead taken what was already fantastic and made it even more so, adding increments of refinement, capability, and power. We remain smitten and can only expect to be more so when given the chance to sample the latest Boxster S with a manual transmission, which, it must be said, is still our preferred method of effecting gear swaps. Sales of the 2009 Boxster will begin in March 2009. Pricing will increase by only $900 or so for either Boxster, with the base car ringing up at $47,550 and the S at $57,650. If that seems a bit expensive, consider it simply the price you must pay to get your hands on a Porsche luminary of your very own.