Ever since Porsche started building cars, the company has shone in motorsports. The prime domain for the cars from Zuffenhausen has been circuit racing, but they have also starred in rallies and in the mountain hill-climbs that were very popular in post-World War II Europe. It's a minor sport now, but mountain hill-climbing drew big crowds and worked wonders for manufacturers' reputations. The late Gerhard Mitter, a multitalent who raced for Porsche in the 1960s, said three things made a Porsche stand out, especially for roaring up a mountain: "The cars are extremely light, the engine sits close to the driven wheels, and the controls feel like extensions of the driver's arms and legs." Thirty-five years after his untimely death at the wheel of a BMW F2 car, Mitter's assessment of the marque's virtues still stands. It's obvious even in street cars such as the second-generation Boxster. Although this is a high-tech car par excellence, it still displays the trademark virtues of light weight, strong traction, and utterly intuitive controls. That was the message that came out of a two-day drive in a 276-hp Boxster S to three hill-climbs in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.
While many classic racetracks have disappeared over time, most of the old hill-climbs have survived for the simple reason that they were (and often still are) staged on public roads. We chose three distinctive "tracks" in three different countries: Freiburg-Schauinsland in Germany, St.-Ursanne-Les Rangiers in Switzerland, and Gaisberg in Austria. All three locations are easily accessible from major airports, can be used free of charge, and are open year-round. Amateur racers and classic-car aficionados should bear in mind that meetings still take place annually in St.-Ursanne and on the Gaisberg. Since our Boxster was fitted with the optional Sports Chrono package that includes an in-dash stopwatch, we had fun beating the clock. Predict-ably, you can shave off a lot of time just by learning the braking and turn-in points, but after the fifth or sixth run, the growing danger of leaving a ditch with your name in it curbs your enthusiasm-especially when it rains, as it did during most of our 930-mile trans-Alps tour.
Although Porsche's marketing department refers to it as the New Boxster, the 2005 model looks suspiciously similar to the 1996 original. Project leader Hans-Jrgen Whler says that although it looks the same, "about 80 percent of the parts are new. Beneath the skin, there is still a strong link to the 911. In terms of appearance, however, greater differentiation is ensured by the redesigned round headlamps and by the bespoke instrument panel. The goal was to move the two models further apart and to freshen the Boxster without making its predecessor look old." Mission accomplished. The mildly flared wheel arches give the car a more dynamic stance, and the more sculpted rear
end broadens the shoulders. Inside, the Boxster S adopts the busy center console from the 911 Carrera S. Bespoke items include the shift lever, a set of redesigned dials with white faces for the S, and round chrome-rimmed air vents. Repositioned pedals and seats allow for more head- and legroom.
In fact, the extra room is the first thing you notice inside the new Boxster. The steering column adjusts for rake and reach, the pedal box has been moved forward a fraction, the seat can be pushed farther back and lower down, and it comes with optional movable side bolsters for better lateral support through corners. The center console is reminiscent of a Christmas window display at Tiffany's. There are more buttons, knobs, switches, and monitors than one could possibly decipher at the first attempt. Another layer of confusion comes from the three electronic displays in the gauge cluster that double as on-board computer, shift indicator, digital speedometer, trip master, and much more. Ah, the curse and blessing of modern times. Welcome innovations include a much bigger cooled glovebox, a DVD-driven navigation system, a reengineered power-operated roof that has three instead of two layers of fabric and a heated rear window, four side air bags (two in the doors, two in the seats), taller headrests, and a more effective wind deflector.