Refinement- At What Price?

Every now and then Allen Schwartz and I do our own Drive and Dines.  We agree on an interesting route, pick a spot for lunch and head out on the road.  The gods willing, our tops come down.  Allen drives a 2005 Boxster.  I drive a 2013 Boxster S.  On a recent outing, curious about my car, Allen asked if we could swap vehicles for a bit.  It was an interesting and eye-opening experiment. But first a little history.

It was the summer of 1989.  My wife and I were in the queue waiting to drive our car onto the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard.  It was then I saw my first Mazda Miata. It was in line ahead of us. It was stunning. By October, a Miata was sitting in our driveway.  For twenty-five years that car provided an incredible amount of fun behind the wheel.  Many times drivers of cars with great handling say, “it’s like driving a go-cart.”  The Miata was a go-cart.  Of all the cars I’ve ever driven, only the 2005 Boxster S that replaced it in the fall of 2014 could surpass it.  The Boxster, our first Porsche, was a Miata on steroids- precise handling, amazing balance, and considerably more power than the 115 hp cranked out by the 1.6 liter Miata engine.  The Boxster did have its shortcomings though- particularly, seats that were unkind to sensitive backs on long drives. In March of 2016, with comfort in mind, our Boxster became part of a trade for a 2013 Boxster S.

HCP members know their cars, so it’s probably old news that the 2013 Boxster [a 981 in the somewhat arcane  language of Porschespeak] marked the last major remake of the flat-six powered car before it was replaced by the current four cylinder, turbo-charged 718.  Compared to 2009’s redesign of the car [the 987-2], the 981 offered significant changes.  While its wheelbase was a bit longer, Porsche engineers managed to decrease its weight by seventy-seven pounds and increase torsional stiffness by 40%.  The suspension was reworked, 19” wheels became standard and the front brakes were beefed up. Hydraulic steering gave way to electrical assist.

The effects of the redesign are clear in the car’s performance stats; compared to a 2009, an eight foot shorter stopping distance from 70, .5 more g’s on the skidpad, and two-tenths of a second faster to sixty.  Against our 2005 S, the differences are more dramatic- 35 more horsepower, 25 more lb./ft. of torque and .4 seconds quicker to 60.  According to Porsche, our 2013 S accelerates to 60 over a second faster than Allen’s 2005.

So Allen and I traded cars.  The experience defied the numbers. Allen’s car felt more responsive and incredibly quick.  I was back in a go-cart.  Sure, the ride was a bit harsher but the road feel was greater.  With its hydraulic steering, Allen’s car seemed to respond instantly to driver input.  Was I imagining things or was I actually having more fun driving his car? Why was I thinking about the S we traded in?

It’s a funny thing about our 981.  Put it on a track against a 2005 and it’s no contest.  Yet the refinement of our car almost hides it’s superior performance.  You have to pay close attention to appreciate what the car is doing- and it is doing great things.  But, the immediate, visceral feeling of the 2005 is gone.  The 911 turbo that was offered for test drives at the Gideon this summer stuck me the same way.  It was a world class sports car and, at the same time, a luxury car with technology to control the car’s aggressive instincts.  Hit the turbo boost button and there was no denying what the car could do.  Yet in a way, the car’s Dr. Jekyll somewhat isolated you from its Mr. Hyde.

Make no mistake, it’s a pleasure driving our Boxster.  It’s a refined and extremely comfortable car.  The seats are kind to sensitive backs and the suspension makes rough roads a bit more tolerable- important for driving in Schenectady.  The performance is certainly there.  But sometimes, every once-in-a -while, I miss driving by the seat of my pants.


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