Last month was still great weather for top-down driving, of which I'm a big fan. And so it was a joy to schedule one of the new Porsche Boxsters, the little roadsters that were revised technically and cosmetically this year and which were officially launched here in March. So imagine my disappointment when I picked up the car at the Abu Dhabi showroom and found it had an optional fixed hard top. Yes, it is easily removable, but I had nowhere to put it, so it stayed on for my test. Such a shame. To top it off, the car was painted the colour of brazen orange. In fact, a friend referred to it as Butter Chicken orange, a reference to one of my favourite dishes from the local Indian takeaway restaurant.
But I was to find salve for my disappointment soon after. Cosmetically, the new Boxster is similar to the last iteration; just a few changes to the front and rear and other small differences that are hard to notice. But it's underneath the skin that is very different. First is the engine, a new, 2.9L six-cylinder boxer engine, which has more power (255hp) and lighter weight than the last one. Though it gets its maximum torque of 290Nm at a relatively low 4,400 rpm, it also likes to rev high. The driver will want it to, also, considering the exquisite, burbly exhaust note it sends out the back.
The power is put through another new feature, ever so conveniently called the Doppelkupplung. Thankfully coming with the acronym of PDK, it's a new, dual-clutch, seven-speed sequential manual gearbox with automatic option, and it works wonderfully. Porsche also claims it increases fuel economy and acceleration over the standard six-speed manual gearbox. In auto mode, the PDK sifts through the gears seamlessly; in manual mode, it's so quick it almost changes cogs before you pull the trigger.
Ah, but here is where Porsche seems to have faltered. Instead of pull-pull paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, the engineers opted for push-pull slider switches on the wheel spokes. Both switches do the same job: push with your thumb to gear up and pull back with your fingers to gear down. Too often, I downshifted when I should have upshifted; I hate them, and they feel gimmicky. But getting over the gear shifters, the gaudy orange paint and the frustrating hard top was easy once behind the wheel and driving. Though it wasn't really because of the horsepower: let's say that it's sufficient for a sports car, but not overpowering. Even selecting the sport plus mode (part of the optional Sports Chrono Package Plus), which remaps the engine and gearbox electronics for quicker response, loosens up the traction control and changes the exhaust note to a throatier growl, didn't make me wet my pants during acceleration. Exciting, yes; frightening, no. With the PDK, the Boxster will zip from stop to 100 kph in 5.8 seconds - if you want more, step up to the Boxster S, which bangs out 310hp.
But take that power and add it to one of the best-handling chassis on the road, and you've got a really fun car to drive. The midship placement of the 2.9L helps give the car fantastic balance, and taking quick, sharp corners was a blast with little to no tyre squeal or understeer. The steering setup aids in its agility, too; the ratio is less when the wheel is near its straight-ahead position, but gradually gets tighter with more steering input. Cornering is about as sharp and precise as you can get in a car.
And while the driver is having fun sailing around corners, they would be ensconced in a typical Porsche interior, which is purposeful, clean and sporty. Tightly stretched, saddle-stitched leather is just about everywhere, and the gauges and switchgear, while not overly fancy, are logically laid out and made of top materials. And I love the analogue chronometer that sits atop the dash, which can measure lap and acceleration times. The seats - leather, of course - are comfortable with enough bolstering to keep occupants from falling out in tight manoeuvres. My only grouse would be the monotone black theme, broken only by a band of aluminium-look plastic running along the width of the dashboard and other sporadic bits in the cabin. But that is the Porsche speciality, so you know what you're getting in to.
There's even a credible amount of boot space, thanks to that midship engine. You won't carry any lumber in this, but there's enough room for a couple small bags up front and more in the back, which makes this a perfect option for a romantic weekend getaway. When you're not running rings around other cars on a track day, that is. Hopefully, on that getaway, the sun will be shining and you'll have left the hard top at home.