2004 Porsche Boxster Reviews and Ratings

Roadster 2D S Anniversary

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2004 Porsche Boxster
Mitch McCullough

Introduction
Now seven years old, the 2004 Porsche Boxster is officially a classic. We fell in love when we first drove it and that love has not diminished over time in spite of other roadsters now vying for our affection.

Porsche has been improving on this mid-engine roadster ever since its introduction as a 1997 model. Boxster got a bigger engine and an improved interior for 2000, and Boxster S was introduced that same year with an even more powerful engine. There were significant improvements for 2003, though they are subtle. All of these improvements enhance the quality of the original without affecting the basic attraction.

The basic attraction is the Boxster's embodiment of the Porsche 356 Speedster and 550 Spyder. Steering response, clutch take-up, shift tension between gears, all are familiar in a fashion that can only be labeled Porsche. Yet the Boxster has that mid-engine, pivot-at-its-center feel, with none of the tail-heavy temperament that was the hallmark of the rear-engine 911 for so long.

The standard Boxster offers plenty of performance, and its engine was revised last year (2003) for quicker acceleration. More important, it sounds much better. Dipping into the throttle at higher revs rewards the driver with a deep, muscular whoosh of air rushing through the intakes that's satisfying, intoxicating. Yet the Boxster engine is quite tractable, great for putting around residential areas or busy parking lots at low rpm. It handles superbly yet rides very nicely, a wonderful balance.

We prefer the Boxster S, though. Boxster S retails for $9,000 more than Boxster, but, after all, it's your money. The S does everything better than the Boxster while maintaining what makes the original wonderful. The 3.2-liter engine delivers noticeably more thrust than what's on tap from the 2.7-liter. Though the standard Boxster is no softie, the Boxster S has firmer suspension tuning. Most important, the S is gratifyingly distinguished by its bright red brake calipers, easily seen through the elegant spokes of its specially designed wheels. Gotta have 'em.

From a practical standpoint, the Boxster is eminently livable. The top can be raised or lowered at a moment's notice, making top-down motoring an easy decision. It rides smoothly and feels tight and rigid. It's impressively free of the vibration that normally accompanies convertibles. It may not be as comfortable as a new 911, but its seats are supportive and comfortable and it comes with a high level of standard equipment. There are other roadsters that cost less, but the Boxster offers a style and character that is uniquely Porsche and very satisfying. In short, we've never tired of driving the Boxster. Model Lineup
Porsche Boxster ($42,600) comes loaded with leather seats, automatic climate control with a pollen filter, a double-lined power top with a glass rear window, telescoping steering wheel, AM/FM/CD, power windows, power locks, and a remote key fob with buttons to unlock the doors, the hood and the trunk lid. It also comes standard with side-impact airbags (and, of course, dual frontal airbags).

Powering the Boxster is a 2.7-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine. Boxster comes standard with four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with four-piston calipers and Bosch ABS. It's equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels and an automatic rear spoiler.

Boxster S ($51,600) differs primarily by its performance equipment. The S comes with a 3.2-liter engine, a six-speed gearbox in place of the Boxster's 5-speed, a sport-tuned suspension, and 17-inch wheels. The S is distinguished by its additional front air intakes.

Porsche is notorious for offering a lot of options and Porsche owners are notorious for ordering them. Among them: premium Bose audio systems, a wind deflector ($375) that reduces buffeting when the top is down, Park Assist ($530), Porsche Stability Management ($1,235), various wheel and tire combinations, and a long list of interior trim options that allow a buyer to individualize and enhance the car. It's easy to (happily) drive a $50,000 Boxster off the lot and it's not hard to spend considerably more. Walkaround
2003 brought significant styling revisions, but they are so subtle that only the keenest observers notice. Overall, the styling tweaks make the Boxster look a bit lower and longer. Yet the most significant cosmetic change is a glass rear window that replaces the clear plastic. A new roof provides for a more rounded and balanced shape.

Also new for 2003: Side intake grilles are body-colored, not black. The front air dam is redesigned with larger grilles. The rear valance is lower, with a new grille of its own and larger exhaust tips. The retractable rear spoiler has been reshaped to help maintain Boxster's benchmark 0.31 drag coefficient despite all the larger grilles. Fashionable white/gray turn indicators have replaced yellow ones.

The Boxster looks clean, purposeful and pure Porsche. From the front, the Boxster looks similar to the 911. In fact, they share front-end sheet metal though there are differences in the headlamps, bumper fascia and other details. From the rear, the Boxster suggests a blend of Porsche cars from the 1950s, specifically the 356 Speedster and 550 Spyder.

While the front of the Boxster is very similar to the 911, their proportions differ from the base of the windshield rearward. Unlike the rear-engine 911, the Boxster engine is mounted ahead of the rear axle rather than over the rear axle or behind it. This mid-engine configuration yields excellent weight distribution. Just as important, it puts most of the car's mass between the front and rear axles, a big asset when making rapid maneuvers; and that's what cars like this are all about.

Boxster S is distinguished from the Boxster by its twin exhaust outlets, additional air dam intakes, and wheels.

Boxster measures 170 inches overall, significantly longer than the BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLK, and Honda S2000. But the Boxster wheelbase is about the same as that of the SLK and S2000, and shorter than that of the Z4. The Porsche is relatively light (2811 pounds for the standard Boxster, 2911 for Boxster S). Boxster is about 100 pounds lighter than the BMW, about 280 pounds lighter than the Mercedes, and about the same weight as the lightweight Honda. Lighter is better for braking, handling, and acceleration performance. Interior
As roadsters go, the Porsche Boxster is comfortable and its features are easy to operate.

The Boxster's convertible top is power operated. Dropping the top is as easy as twisting a lever above the rearview mirror and pressing a button. It takes 12 seconds to lower. Raising it is just as easy. It's so quick and easy that we performed this maneuver while waiting for a light to change at an intersection, though we don't condone this behavior. A luxurious headliner enhances the appearance and cuts wind noise when the top is up. When the top is down, you can stretch the optional clear plastic wind deflector ($375) between the upper seatbacks to minimize interior buffeting. Porsche also offers a removable hardtop ($2,345) that includes a rear window defogger; it's useful for harsh winter weather and driving through the mean streets.

There's plenty of room for two people in this little roadster and the bucket seats are outstanding. Comfortable and supportive, the standard seats come trimmed with leather. You can spread more cowhide around the interior with the leather interior package ($2,980) or spring for natural leather ($3,520).

Also standard is electronic climate control. The system is easy to operate with a big Auto button and an LED that clearly displays the temperature, even in bright sunlight. Like most German cars, turning the fan all the way down is the easiest way to turn it off. Most controls are easy to use. However, the digital audio system, new for 2003, has too many small buttons, requiring too much attention from the driver. As with most small roadsters, the audio sounds tinny, a description that also fits the optional Hi-Fi Sound Package with six speakers, two bass enclosures and six-channel amplifier ($830). An optional Bose High End Sound Package ($1,625) is available, but we have no experience with it.

Consistent with virtually every Porsche ever made, the Boxster is all business inside. But the instruments represent something of a departure from Porsche tradition. Three round pods are fused together, with the speedometer on the left, coolant temperature and fuel on the right and a big tachometer dominating the center. The speedometer and tachometer are analog, but there are small digital readouts at the bottom of each pod for the odometer and clock. A digital speedometer provides some useful redundancy. Overall, it's an attractive and effective blend of classic with contemporary.

A pair of steel tube hoops, mounted behind the seats and extending above the seatbacks, provides extra protection for drivers unlucky enough to find themselves upside down. Other passive safety features include dual frontal airbags, door-mounted side-impact airbags, three-point seatbelts with pretensioners and load limiters.

With usable trunk space front and rear, the mid-engined Boxster has more stowage than most small roadsters. Both boots can be opened from the remote key fob, a feature that was added for 2003, but the remote on our car had a short range and we occasionally pressed the wrong button. Inside, Porsche has addressed a significant shortcoming by adding a glovebox, 5 liters big and wired to the alarm system. The cup holders, redesigned for 2003, pop out between the center vents and climate controls, but are flimsy. The optional navigation system ($2,630) was upgraded for 2003 and features a bigger, brighter display; called Porsche Communication Management, the system integrates navigation, audio, and trip computer.

Luggage space is apportioned between fore and aft compartments, and is surprisingly good for a small two-seater. Getting at the engine, however, is another story. Although you can get to fluid reservoirs readily enough, access to the engine itself comes from below. Major maintenance should therefore be performed by your nearest authorized service facility. Driving Impressions
Driving the Porsche Boxster is a joyful experience, whether on a winding mountain road, on a closed racing circuit, or putting around town. Its excellent balance between handling and ride quality makes it easy to live with.

One of the things that impressed us while driving a standard 2004 Boxster was its tractability. It motors along with no complaints at very low rpm, making for pleasant cruising around town. Stand on the throttle, and the 2.7-liter engine springs to life, emitting a deep growl (actually more of a rowl) in the upper rev range. The standard Boxster offers plenty of performance for most folks and we'd be completely happy with it, assuming we stayed out of the Boxster S.

Revised for 2003 with Porsche's VarioCam technology and a new engine management system, the standard Boxster's 2.7-liter engine puts out 225 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 192 foot-pounds of torque at 4750 rpm. Boxster can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in only 6.4 seconds, according to Porsche, an improvement of 0.2 seconds over the 2002 model. Top speed is estimated to 155 mph in the Boxster.

Boxster S gets a bored out version of the same engine, a 3.2-liter that serves up 258 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 229 foot-pounds at 4600 rpm. The added power reduces 0 to 62 mph acceleration times to 5.7 seconds.

At a glance, the Boxster engine is classic Porsche with roots that date to Ferdinand Porsche's early work in the 1930s. The horizontally opposed six-cylinder "boxer" layout offers packaging advantages because the pistons lie flat, which helps keep the center of gravity low. But the Boxster engine represents the state of Porsche art with twin overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, variable cam timing, and liquid cooling.

Boxster comes standard with a wonderful 5-speed manual gearbox, while Boxster S comes with a similarly wonderful 6-speed manual. Porsche's 5-speed Tiptronic S automatic ($3,210) is available for both models. The Tiptronic offers its operator the choice of full automatic operation or fingertip push-button self-shifting. It's the best compromise between stick and automatic on the market and works extremely well, but it's also the most expensive. A manual gearbox provides better performance and efficiency and seems more fitting for the Boxster. We prefer it.

Porsche brakes are legendary and braking in the Boxster is superb. Oversize vented discs are used on all four wheels plus Porsche's excellent antilock system. Porsche Stability Management ($1,235), or PSM, is a recommended option as this anti-skid system can correct skids can help you stay on the road in an emergency handling maneuver.

The Boxster generates impressive grip in the wet, whether braking or cornering. PSM helps greatly in slippery conditions, making it more difficult to make a mistake in this car. You can apply the throttle aggressively in a slippery turn and the stability system will prevent a spin.

As much as we like the standard Boxster, the Boxster S has more power and the engine revs more freely. Both engines sound wonderful at high rpm, generating a classic Porsche sound similar to that of the 911 and Porsche race cars. The Boxster S develops 85 percent of its peak torque at just 2000 rpm, providing outstanding throttle response.

But the real fun lies in the Boxster's precise response to driver commands. Mid-engine balance, an excellent chassis, and firm suspension tuning add up to a level of agility and stability that seems a cut above the Boxster's key competitors. No wrestling is required to guide this roadster down to the apex of a fast turn. It seems to anticipate the driver's intentions without a hint of hesitation or uncertainty. The ride quality is firm, but that adds to its appeal. The Boxster gets the same shock absorbers as the Boxster S, and the standard 16-inch wheels can be upgraded to lightweight 17- or 18-inch wheels.

So, Boxster or Boxster S? It's a much tougher call than it was before the base model was improved and comes down to personal preference. Enthusiasts who appreciate taut handling and quick acceleration performance and drivers who like ripping down mountain roads or autocrossing appreciate the higher state of tune of the Boxster S. Others are quite satisfied with the standard Boxster. While spending a week in Southern California with a Boxster, we never felt a longing for a Boxster S, we never felt that something was missing. If you're unsure, our recommendation is for the standard Boxster. Those who need the performance of the S, and you know who you are, will feel it's money well spent. Others will prefer to bank the cost difference or spend it on options that enhance the standard model. Summary
The Porsche Boxster is an almost flawless sports car. It looks great and it sounds great. It provides a wonderful driving experience. And it has its own persona.

There are, of course, other roadsters available, the BMW Z4, Honda S2000, Mercedes SLK, and Audi TT, plus less-direct competitors such as the Mazda Miata, Nissan 350 Z, Chevrolet Corvette, and Lexus SC430. These are all good choices in their own right and most of them cost less than a Boxster. But none of them is a Porsche. And as they say, there is no substitute.

Model as tested
Porsche Boxster ($42,600)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Stuttgart, Germany
Destination charge
765
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
42600
Price as tested
50840
Options as tested
18-inch light alloy Carrera wheels ($2,920); wheel caps with colored crest ($175); cruise control ($570); Porsche Stability Management ($1,235); HI-FI digital sound system ($830); remote control alarm system ($450); Windstop deflector ($375); floor mats ($95); metallic paint ($825)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Porsche Boxster ($42,600); Boxster S ($51,600)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual frontal airbags, side-impact airbags, rollover bars, ABS, belts with pretensioners and force limiters
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
2.7-liter dohc 24v 6-cylinder
Transmissions

Specifications as Tested
automatic climate control w dust/pollen filter and activated charcoal odor filters, digital AM/FM/CD, leather seats, power windows w one-touch auto up/down and anti-jam, power locks, power heated mirrors, telescoping steering wheel, anti-theft system, power soft top, front and rear luggage compartments with remote power releases, 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, automatic rear spoiler, fog lamps, heated windshield washer nozzles

Engine & Transmission
Engine
2.7-liter dohc 24v 6-cylinder
Drivetrain type
mid-engine, rear-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
225 @ 6300
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
20/29
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
independent
Tires
225/40ZR18, 265/35ZR18
Suspension, rear
independent

Accomodations
Seating capacity
2
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
38.1/NA/41.6
Head/hip/leg room, rear
N/A

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
9.1
Wheelbase
95.1
Length/width/height
171.0/70.1/50.8
Turning circle
35.8
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
N/A
Track, front/rear
57.7/59.2
Ground clearance
N/A
Curb weight
2811


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