2005 Porsche Boxster

Charlie Magee

Although Switzerland borders Austria, the most faraway places of the two countries are almost 1000 miles apart. The quickest way to get from Les Rangiers to the Gaisberg is via Munich, but the most picturesque route takes you through Voralberg and Tyrol, through the Arlberg, and past the Brenner Pass. Since we are traveling in convoy with a chase car, the pussy-footed Boxster S returns a hyper-frugal 22 mpg. When it's let loose to race back from Salzburg to Zuffenhausen, the car increases its consumption to 15 mpg. While the fuel tank's capacity is unchanged at 16.9 gallons, the trunk volume has been increased to 9.9 cubic feet by replacing the space-saver spare with a can of sealant and a compact electric compressor for tire inflation. Despite a wider body and fatter wheels that enlarge the frontal area, the drag figure of the Boxster S was pared down from 0.32 to 0.30. At the same time, lift was reduced by 30 percent thanks to a flush-fitting underside, ground-effect aprons, and a lot of wind-tunnel work aimed at improving directional stability at high speed.

First held in 1929, Gaisberg is one of the oldest European hill-climb races. Despite its proximity to the city of Salzburg, the gray ribbon that runs up the rocky and wooded Gaisberg mountain is not heavily traveled during the week. Out of the three courses we sampled with the Boxster S, this one is by far the trickiest, meanest, and baddest. A combination of narrow pavement, blind corners, sudden surface changes, steep climbs, and yawning drops calls for a prophetic mix of confidence and caution. The fastest man on this 5.4-mile-long roller-coaster ride was Rolf Stommelen, who ran it in 3:39.2 minutes in a 910 Bergspyder. The Austrian authorities recently posted a ridiculous 30-mph speed limit, but we were told that Easter happens more often than a radar trap on the Gaisberg, so we gave it stick-until the mountain was dipped in fog so dense that not even the birds dared to fly from one branch to the next.

Front View

After a break for four cappuccinos and two apple strudels, the weather finally improved from torrential to steady rain, and we could do a few eight-tenths wet runs up to the midway point, where the only long straight lets you relax for a few precious seconds. In Sport mode, the Boxster S puts you on red alert on a wet washboard road. Back in normal PASM mode, the car was more cooperative and more stable overall. Despite the oversized wheels and tires following every imperfection, we could feel the benefit of the wider track and its revised lightweight suspension, with more sure-footed roadholding and an even more immediate response to steering and throttle orders.

On the way to Stuttgart, we diverted to two more hill-climbs that once were popular but now are almost forgotten: Sudelfeld near Bay-rischzell and Wallberg near Rottach-Egern. Very busy in winter and yet virtually deserted in summer, these fast and well-maintained mountain roads allowed the Boxster to shine.

The transition from old to new is not quite as impressive as the step from the old type 996 911 to the 997. But the Boxster S in particular has become a more complete sports car. While Porsche is proud of the sportier character and the more upscale presentation, we were particularly impressed by the blend of balance and performance.

More capable and-on an equipment-related basis-six percent cheaper than its predecessor, the new Boxster S is a better Porsche and an even more desirable roadster. Available in November, it also makes a dynamically compelling and financially interesting alternative to next year's 911 cabriolet. Gerhard Mitter would have loved it.

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