The walkie-talkie crackles into life as we’re clipping along along Vancouver Island’s scenic (and surprisingly challenging) Malahat Highway, and Porsche driving instructor-slash-engineering advisor, Joschi Hildenbrand, begins to explain the finer points of his company’s PSM system. This engineering feature, which stands for Porsche Stability Management, is standard equipment in the new Porsche Boxster, and basically monitors the progress of the car – and its driver – adjusting the drivetrain and brakes to compensate for any irregularities and provide optimum performance and driveability. Most people won’t even notice it while they’re driving, but PSM makes the Boxster as safe as it’s ever been and is one of a host of engineering highlights on the latest edition of Porsche’s most popular roadster.
But Joschi (pronounced yoe-shee) doesn’t really need to extol the virtues of the Boxster. It’s understood that this is a lively, stable, and highly tossable al fresco sports car in the finest European tradition and arguably offers more driving kicks for the dollar than anything else on the road. It handles like a high-powered go-kart, has nosebleed-inducing brakes and, well, goes like a bat out of hades. You can take it from a standing start to highway speed in less than six seconds and it has an electronically governed top speed in excess of 260 km/h. More if you push it.
And for 2013, it’s just a little faster and more powerful than before. Two versions are available: Boxster and Boxster S, and power output is up for both…..265 and 315 horsepower, respectively. Transmission choices are a six-speed manual and Porsches sequential Doppelkupplung – PDK for short – automatic that allows the car to shift for itself or lets the driver choose gears, via steering wheel-mounted paddles or buttons. Interestingly, the PDK is the most popular choice with buyers, and, with the S, features Porsches’ optional “launch control” mode. Designed for boy and girl racers everywhere, this feature offers a racing start take-off, combined with slightly quicker changes between gears for the maximum in street performance.
And that’s not the only thing that’s faster. This is a traditional two-seater roadster we’re talking about here, and the Boxster has a slick power top that is on the receiving end of a revamp for the 2013 model year. It’s now lighter than before, and quicker to deploy, taking just 10 seconds from the time you pull up on the centre console-mounted lever, until it’s tucked neatly away behind you. Ditto in reverse, and the whole thing can be done while the car is in motion. No need to pull over, put the car into neutral, apply the handbrake, undo latches, and wait for the car to make up its mind. If you’re doing 50 km/h or less, you can put the lightweight top up or down faster than you can say Doppel….er…well, it’s fast.
All the better to hear one of the sweetest exhaust notes in the business. As ever, the Boxster’s engine is of the horizontally-opposed, or “flat six” configuration, and is mounted roughly in the middle of the vehicle for stability. Porsche has slightly altered the exhaust note on the new Boxster and it now features twin chrome exhaust tips as opposed to the collector box on the previous version. Most consumers would be surprised at how much time and energy car companies devote to exhaust systems, and this iteration of the Boxster is music to the ears.
To keep it all on the straight and narrow, the new Boxster also features electro-mechanical steering, which is taken from its big brother, the 911 Carrera. In a nutshell, this system automatically adjusts the steering for any irregularities in the road surface and eliminates the need for the driver to “twitch” the steering wheel to compensate for any understeer/oversteer. It also reduces the car’s overall weight.
To handle the ups and downs of life, the Boxster also has active suspension, with two settings: Normal and Sport. The former is for everyday freeway and city duty; while the latter tightens things up and allow the suspension to adapt to more aggressive driving. This is where Joschi’s PSM comes into play, and according to Porsche, the latter set-up ensures that the car doesn’t “skimp on driving fun”. Larger and more powerful brakes, with 18, 19, and 20-inch wheels and tires, and an electronic parking brake make sure the Boxster has its feet on the ground, and, for 2013, it has a redesigned interior, with a revised seating position, re-contoured seats and a new instrument cluster and monitor. Depending upon the model, heated / ventilated seats are available, and there are two sound system choices.
Admittedly there isn’t a lot of cargo room in the Boxster. Yes, there are trunks fore and aft, but if you’re a golfer, for example, carrying your clubs to the course is not an option, and the most you can stuff into the storage compartments is a soft bag or two. Zero elbow room inside, needless to say.
On the other hand, on a tight two-lane road, like Highway 4, that runs from Coombs (aside from featuring a general store that sells literally everything you can imagine, it has goats on the roof) to the Tofino – Ucluelet intersection, you couldn’t ask for a better drivers’ road. Tight high and low-speed corners, spectacular scenery, photo-ops galore, and plenty of local colour. For example, during a lunch stop at the Tigh-na-mara resort in Parksville, we stumbled upon a gathering of Austin-Healey owners. Dozens and dozens of the classic British roadster festooning the parking lot….heaven.
The drive from Victoria to Tofino was also where Porsche chose to unveil its new Boxster, not only to automotive journalists, but to a small group of Porsche owners, as part of the Canadian launch of its new travel arm: the Porsche Travel club. We started out at the Bear Mountain resort in Victoria, and ended up at the Wickaninnish Hotel, perched on the edge of the ocean at Pacific Rim national park.
The Porsche Travel Club is elegant in its simplicity. If you own a Porsche – or just wish you did – you can, for a fee, join a small group of enthusiasts and drive one of the Zuffenhausen speedsters to your heart’s content. You take care of your own travel arrangements to and from the event, and Porsche handles everything else, including route guidance, on-hand minders – Joschi, for example – and all meals and accommodations.
Not to mention supplying a brand-spanking new Porsche for your driving pleasure. Although this particular event took place on Vancouver Island, the Porsche Travel Club operates throughout Europe, including tours in places like Burgundy, Andalusia, Cote d’Azur, the Dolomite Mountains, and even northern Africa. Whatever the location, the hotel and restaurant accommodations are top flight, and everything is first-class. All you’ve got to do is bring your driving gloves and show up on time.
We drove Boxsters this time around on Vancouver Island, but 911s, Panameras, Caymans, and Cayennes are also on the menu, depending on the locale. The Porsche Travel Club also organizes driving “camps” aimed at honing the skills of the people that drive them, and had recently concluded a winter driving event at the Mont Tremblant racetrack in Quebec. This event, known as Camp4Canada, had participants hurtling around in 500-plus horsepower 911s and Caymans in the dead of winter and learning the ins and outs of driving on snow and ice at the hands of Porsche’s own driving instructors.
Indeed, at least one of the members of our little group – a podiatrist from Winnipeg – had attended Camp4Canada and was still raving about it. The proud owner of a new 911, he was joined at our event by an oil drilling executive from Calgary and his wife, both of whom drive Cayennes. “I’ve got a little gas and oil company,” he explained modestly, “and we’re about to start drilling in Albania.” Apparently, Albania is the next frontier for oil exploration in Europe, with vast reserves of the black gold. Who knew?
You can also mix and match while driving. In this case, Porsche supplied six Boxsters, two of which were the higher-powered “S” models, and journos and customers alike swapped cars along the way. For my money, the S, with its rocket-ship acceleration and spectacular handling, offers the most satisfying driving experience, mainly because its PDK automatic transmission features steering wheel-mounted shift paddles that make all the difference in the world when it comes to spirited driving. The S also features a slick rear-mounted spoiler that either pops up automatically at speeds over 80 km/h or can be manually activated by the driver. In a car with this kind of performance potential, it makes a difference.
And so does the road less travelled. I’ve done this run before, but no matter how many times I do it, as soon as I catch that first glimpse of the blue Pacific Ocean flashing through the trees, with those sparkling white breakers racing towards the shore, I’ve arrived. I’m exactly where I want to be, in precisely the car I want to be driving.