REVIEW: 2000 Porsche Boxster S Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

by Ted Laturnus

Every now and then, I get to put cars through their paces on a race track. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I welcome the opportunity because it gives me a chance to really wring the car out…..to discover what it’s capabilities are (and mine, as far as that goes). Driving a car on the street is one thing, but if you want to find its true measure, you need to get on a race course where you can run it as fast as you want with no distractions.

So it was I found myself piloting a Porsche Boxster S through the falling leaves around B.C.’s Mission Raceway a few weeks ago. I’d been wanting to get behind the wheel of the Boxster S for some time, and Porsche had trucked in their entire 2000 model lineup for local media types to sample. This was also my chance to find out what it is that makes Porsches so special. Everyone knows that the German sports cars from Zuffenhausen have a fabulous racing heritage and unimpeachable credentials. But why? What’s the deal with Porsches?

First, a few specs. The Boxster S is powered by a liquid-cooled, horizontally-opposed “flat six” engine that displaces 3.2 litres. It develops 250 horsepower at 6250 rpm, and has a six-speed manual transmission. What separates it from the garden variety Boxster is about 33 horsepower, stiffer suspension, one extra gear, and much larger brakes. Both cars are mid-engined with a superb sense of balance and exhilarating performance, but the S has a higher top end, faster 0 -100 km/h times, and will stop a whole lot sooner. Basically, the braking system in the Boxster is the same one found in the upscale Carrera….larger rotors, larger calipers. Once you get used to the car, it makes a big difference. When you’re driving an automobile that can go from a standing start to freeway speed in just over five seconds, having powerful brakes is almost a prerequisite, it seems to me.

But back to the track. After driving the standard issue Boxster for a few laps, I got behind the wheel of the S. Right off the bat, I noticed that it has much more snap than the Boxster. Both engines make wonderful noises, snarling and burping away just behind your ears, but the S jumps ahead as if it’s been jabbed with a cattle prod. It will also haul the car down to cornering speed with alacrity. Once I got comfy with it, I found myself thinking more in terms of braking than acceleration. It goes plenty fast, but you can also take the S deep into the corners, and that’s what wins races. Both cars also have ABS, and, again, once you become familiar with the car’s handling and braking characteristics, you can apply the brakes while you’re cornering. You can leave your braking until the last possible moment, and, if you have the cojones, actually use the ABS system right through the turns. The S also has a traction control system, which eliminates any possibility of wheelspin. Interesting. There’s no shortage of car cars out there that can keep up to the Boxster S in terms of acceleration, and even a few that have equal handling abilities, but few can match it for braking power.

Indeed, the whole feeling of the Boxster is that of a race car in street clothing. Because of its mid-engined layout, the car is amazingly stable. The tuned suspension makes it ride a little harder, but there’s no having to saw back and forth on the steering wheel while cornering…..no compensating for oversteer or understeer. Just pick your line and hit it. As the owner of a Morgan, I’m used to sawing away on the steering wheel as I corner, and it took me awhile to get used to the fact that with the Boxster, it’s simply not necessary. The back end is not going to break away or try to swap places with the front. I could have spent all day on the track with the S.

Having said that, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out a few things. First of all, the Boxster S goes out the door for about $71,120 before taxes and options. And my test car also had one dead headlight and a traction control light that flickered on and off all the time. No big deal, I suppose, and the car was being run pretty hard, but for this kind of money, I expect no glitches whatsoever.

But to get back to my original question: what makes Porsches so special? It’s simple, really. They accelerate, handle, and brake better than at least 90% of the cars on the road. And if you like to drive with enthusiasm, that’s the whole enchilada.

SIDEBAR - Carrera C4

Porsche also brought along a few 911s for us to try, and I spent some quality seat time with the all-wheel-drive turbocharged C4, with one-time LeMans winner and perennial Porsche campaigner, Hurley Haywood, riding shotgun and giving me pointers. After finding the best lines, adjusting to the phenomenal power - 300 hp - and realizing that the C4 sticks to the pavement like you-know-what to a blanket, I started to gain in confidence and drive the car the way it’s meant to be driven. Mission is probably too tight a track for a heavyweight powerhouse like the C4 to really strut its stuff, but, thanks (again!) to those magnificent brakes and instant power, it makes pretty short work of the track. Although the road surface was still wet in places, I found that I could hit around 230 km/h on the pit stretch and get on the power through the turns without worrying about it, thanks to the cars traction control system. The 911 has almost no turbo lag and I could do most of the track in either 2nd or 3rd gear…..4th on the straightaway. When I pitted, after a particularly entertaining couple of laps, one of the corner workers came over and said: “You’re running about one minute per lap.” As far as I know, that’s Formula Atlantic territory at Mission Raceway and is more of a testament to the performance of the C4 than my driving ability. And, despite his curmudgeonly reputation, I found Hurley Haywood to be a model of patience and encouragement.

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