Much has been written about Porsche’s 981 Boxster, and I’m sure a lot of it is true. So, when Porsche lent us a Boxster GTS for my honeymoon in California I thought what better way to get to know a car than to drive it through LA and along the PCH. Honestly, what could be better? Prior to this experience, we were already quite enamored with the 981 chassis, and this only helped to cement our excitement. It’s a fantastic car with very few flaws, but we were determined to suss them out. Normally a product launch only gives you a day, or perhaps two, to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a car, but we were given a week with this one to see how it would be to live with day in and day out. Read on for our findings!
When dealing with a new Porsche, and especially a Boxster, it is hard to move past how it looks. We haven’t quite convinced ourselves of the belief yet, but this may well be the most beautiful car Porsche has ever rendered in sheetmetal. This Porsche, views in profile as though it were an ocean swell, gradually rising from stem to stern. There is a certain beautifully dramatic line from the headlight that rises at the wheel arches and dips at the sideview window that makes your eye follow front to rear and exaggerates the wheel openings. This design of headlight is probably the best that a Boxster has carried (certainly far better than the 986 version). Granted, none of these aesthetic choices are unique to the GTS (aside from the headlight’s black backdrop), but that doesn’t stop us from appreciating the beauty.
So let’s move on to the parts of this Porsche that *are* unique to the GTS. Visually, it’s pretty easy to tell a GTS from a standard Boxster S. First, you have the the blacked out headlights. From there, the special revised fascia carries a lot more black trim, and the rear of the car sports a pair of blacked out exhaust tips and a larger black diffuser. Add in the standard 20″ wheels (an expensive option on the S) and of course the “GTS” insignias, and you have a subtly different look that shouts its differences at the cognoscenti. I’ll go more in-depth on the wheels later on, focusing solely on the visual aspects right now. The aluminum Pirelli-wrapped steamrollers equipped on this Boxster are called the “Turbo Design Wheels”, and they certainly look the part. I find myself playing jump rope with the fence on how they are sized, though. Is a 20″ wheel too large for this car? Would the design have been better served with a 19″ choice? Perhaps even an 18″?
Opening the door and stepping inside, everything is relatively standard Boxster fare as far as layout and typically quality execution is concerned. Materials and colors, however, are GTS Interior Package specific. Every conceivable surface is swathed in Alcantara, the dash and doors have carbon fiber accents, and the stitching on every section of the cabin is done in the same Carmine Red as the exterior of the car. Even the center tachometer dial and the accents on the shoulder safety belts are done up in Carmine Red. In case you forgot the color of the Porsche you were driving, you could look pretty much anywhere inside the car and be reminded.
Once seated in the pilot’s chair, it’s easy to see that this was built as a driver’s car. Everything is oriented toward making the driver feel comfortable and secure. The seats have very nice bolstering that, in conjunction with the almost adhesive nature of the Alcantara fabric, keep you held in place even in the most aggressive cornering maneuvers. The downside of the lateral holding of the seats is that they tend to get fatiguing after only a few hours in the car. We logged a lot of seat-time in this car over the course of the week, and by the end of the week it was getting a little old. For my daily 20 minute commute, it’d be no problem, but for a roadtrip more than 2 hours, a few stops for stretches would be necessary [Then again, I am 6’3″ and 260 lbs, this probably won’t be the case for someone of smaller stature]. There’s ‘adequate’ storage areas in the interior for the things you would need to bring with you every day (sunglasses, sunblock, a couple of bottles of water, etc.), but only just. The doors have pockets, and the glove box is quite deep, but the center console box seemed shallower and smaller than necessary in such a large center console. One thing that we really liked about this Porsche was that you sit down in it, rather than on top of it. Compared to our 986 Boxster Project, you sit much lower and more secure in the chassis. This characteristic makes it much easier for the driver to feel what the car is doing through the ‘seat of the pants’.
As far as the construction of the Boxster GTS is concerned, I have no major complaints. The software of the infotainment system, however, was a little clunky. Over the course of the week, we attempted to pair our phones with the car’s Bluetooth at least half a dozen times, and were completely unsuccessful. I’m sure there is a detailed how-to somewhere, but it wasn’t intuitive enough to be able to figure it out without that, which is an interface fail in my book. The navigation system, also, was a bit difficult to use and get used to. A few times we tried to use the ‘nearby attractions’ feature and found it unhelpful. Entering addresses is a lengthy, burdensome, and aggravating assignment, but it was doable with some acclimatization time. One other minor issue with the system was the fact that it read all measurements in yards. I’m inclined to believe that the system was originally designed for the metric system and they just replaced “Meters” with “Yards” and thought that was good enough. I don’t know about you, but the only things I ever measure in yards are bags of sand, fabric, and football fields. I contend that every manufacturer in the world would be better off just handing their navigation operating systems over to Google and letting them run the show. Porsche is fantastic at building cars, but not so much at building navigation systems.
Driving Impressions –
The downside of our trip to Los Angeles was the fact that we were cursed with terrible weather the whole week. Everywhere we went it was foggy, gloomy, rainy, and gross pretty much all hours of the day. There were a handful of times where we we were able to let the top down and enjoy some sun, but they were few and far between. Fewer and farther between than we really expected for a vacation to southern California. Because of the nastiness of the weather, we didn’t really take many trips specifically for the driving, and the Boxster GTS was unfortunately relegated to “just transportation”.
We did take a trip north to Malibu for some drives along the coast and up in the mountains and valleys north of the city, but because the roads were wet, I had to drive with a bit more trepidation than I might otherwise normally have done. The Boxster could obviously handle more than what I was dishing out at it, but with the combination of nervous wife in the passenger’s seat, wet roads, and summer tires, I kept the speeds low and the slip angles in check. Fog was also a major concern, as it made it quite difficult to read the road in front of us. Its disconcerting to not know if a sharp hairpin lies ahead, so you have to drive as if there always is.
As “just transportation”, the Boxster works well
This is a car that can comfortably cruise on the highway for hours at a time. Yes, this is a car that yearns for the corners and strains for the twisty bits, but if you pull it out of sport mode, and quiet down the exhaust button, the Boxster will dutifully serve as a commuter mobile. We had several moments of traditional Los Angeles traffic in our week with the Boxster, and the comfort, combined with the integrated Sirius/XM radio helped alleviate some of the stress.
On the streets of LA, down in the gridlock, however, the Boxster does become a worrisome proposition. The car is quite low enough, and the wheels quite large enough, that damage is a constant concern. Many intersections have dips between the connected roads that, if taken at full speed, would knock the front splitter right off of the car. Many obstacles, such as raised sidewalk curbing, lowered manhole covers, and impatient drivers threaten to chip the beautiful wheels, scuff the bumpers, and damage that lovely paint if any missteps are taken. While we had none of these issues, it was a near constant concern for us. It wasn’t our car, but we certainly didn’t want to be responsible for any damage incurred. Additionally, we valeted the car practically everywhere we went, ostensibly in order to prevent parking damage or theft, but I was still concerned.
Oh, But The Driving
The actual driving bit, though, what little of it there was available, was exciting. Like all other 981 variants, the Boxster GTS is a dream to drive quickly. The steering is still magnificent (though not quasi-precognitive like that found in the 987) and the chassis dynamics are stellar. The large wheels make for a bit of suspension crash over some of the more pronounced expansion joints and road imperfections, but not enough to hamper your fun. For personal preference, I’d have gone with a smaller wheel with a stickier tire, but that’s just my preference, and likely not the preference of Porsche’s normal customer.
Top up or down, the exhaust trumpets triumphantly, providing a symphonic musical accompaniment to the “schooop” sound of the intake and the chirping and humming tires. The glorious direct-injected flat-six engine belts out one of the most melodic exhaust notes I’ve ever heard. The Boxster GTS comes standard with the sport exhaust that, when engaged, sounds much louder than any other Porsche I’ve driven. Our 986 is positively silent in comparison. The 981 has a much deeper and throatier tone than the 986, and it doesn’t quite wail at higher RPM like the old 2.5 liter did, but it is certainly better.
I, for one, have never understood why people deride the 981 for not having enough power. This Porsche’s 330 horsepower is more than adequate, and I never felt like it needed more. More is available in the Boxster Spyder, of course, but is more necessary? This 981 GTS is legitimately fast, and it has the cornering prowess of cars twice its price. No, it isn’t insane, and it probably won’t blow you away with how fast it accelerates, but it might just be the most capable all-around car I’ve ever driven. Loud when you want it to be, comfortable when you need it to be, and 100% fun at all times.
Competition Analysis –
As tested, this car was ninety nine thousand dollars. The GTS starts at $75K, but this one was loaded down with a bunch of options (Just paint, the GTS interior and exterior packages, wheels, and PDK accounted for more than ten grand in options.) Yes, that’s Carrera money (with few options, which is both impossible to find and not as fun to drive), but it doesn’t really matter. If you’re in the market for a fully loaded Boxster, chances are high that you aren’t cross shopping it with a Carrera, or at least you shouldn’t be. They are very different Porsches, and offer very different experiences. Personally, I’d rather have the Boxster. It’s sublime.
At that price point, the Boxster is hardly the king of speed. If you’re looking for something faster, you can probably move into a Jag F-type or a Corvette of some kind and be happy with your choice. However, if you’re looking for something more fun, focused, and precise, you’d be hard pressed to find it at any price point. This is a car that demands to be driven well, because it offers so much in return. The balance and poise that a car like the Boxster offers is rarely found, and in the current marketplace, is pretty much non-existent.
For my personal needs, this car would fit the bill perfectly. This would make a great commuter car that could be used for exciting morning drives in the mountains on weekends. With a deep front trunk and a nicely sized rear trunk, Boxsters have long proven to be pretty darn good at making the grocery run, as well. We use our 986 for groceries and road trips all the time, this 981 would just make the job that much faster, not to mention more fun.
The Options –
As said before, this Boxster was loaded down with quite a few options. Are they worth it? Does a hundred thousand dollar Boxster have an appeal for buyers, or would it be better to have the GTS without any options at a little closer to its base price? Personally, I’m in the latter camp. I understand Porsche’s need to fill in as many option boxes on their journalist loaner cars as possible, because they want us to experience those options and then tell you about them. So, which ones should you opt for?
Paint – $2,580 :The three “special” colors of the Boxster GTS options list are beautiful, namely Carmine Red (the color of this car), Lime Gold Metallic, and GT Silver Metallic. And, while beautiful, those colors seem pricey to me, especially considering some of the less expensive colors look so good in person. White is a no-cost color that looks great (as does Speed Yellow, but it’s a bit loud for my tastes). If you want a halfway in between color cost, you can get Rhodium Silver Metallic or Sapphire Blue Metallic for $710. Given my own personal preferences, I’d pick Sapphire Blue.
GTS Exterior Package – $1,130: This package does make an excellent visual difference, by adding some gloss black trim to the outside of the car. The rear diffuser especially needs this paint, as it really looks the part. The front valance is very attractive with this accent package. Again, I’m not sure this option is worth the extra cash outlay, but for you, it might be. It works really well with this paint color, too.
Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK gearbox) – $3,960: This is a tricky one. On the one hand, I really like the three-pedal driving experience, and the control it gives me over the car and its dynamics. Then again, PDK shifts so much faster and is so much more intuitive to drive that I’ve loved every PDK car I’ve ever driven. It’s a tough choice, but in this case, I might go with the manual gearbox. I’d love either equally, I’m sure.
SiriusXM Satalite Radio Receiver – $670: This one was quite nice. Normally in a car with bluetooth, I will listen to streaming music through my phone, be it Pandora, Spotify, or Prime. When I had a difficult time getting my phone to connect to the bluetooth, the SiriusXM filled in quite nicely. There was a large selection of stations to pick from, and we found something we both liked. Unfortunately the repetition level of songs is quite high and over the course of a week of driving we probably heard one song about a dozen times. I also didn’t like that the signal would occasionally cut out going under bridges. That said, it was nice to have, and I might consider opting for this package if I were buying a new Boxster.
All in all, the Boxster was an excellent car, and we had a heck of a time driving it around Los Angeles for a week. On the highway it was great, and it performed flawlessly in the twisty roads north of the city. Down in the concrete jungles, though, I was always fearing for the extremities of the car being bumped or jostled or scraped. That said, the car is worth the worry, and I’m sure if the weather had cooperated, I’d have a lot less concrete jungle seat time and much more Angeles Crest Highway time to report on. Perhaps next time.
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