Test Drive: 2009 Porsche Boxster S

Inside the newly designed roadster

Porsche Boxster

Porsche

The Porsche brand has come to be synonymous with precision, power and best-in-class handling, making it a key benchmark for performance cars. While that's great for Porsche owners, it also means every manufacturer with an eye toward building a quick machine starts to compare itself to the iconic brand from Stuttgart. Competitors across the spectrum have stepped up the game to knock on the German builder's garage door with more horsepower and comparable handling in less expensive packages. Never one to stop and let the rest of the field catch up, Porsche has upped its game for 2009 with more powerful, efficient engines and one very clever new transmission.

Did you really think that while the king of the hill 911 benefited from these none-too-subtle changes that Porsche was about to let its entry-level – and best-selling - Boxster get left behind?

For 2009, the Boxster gets a slew of changes, all for the better, may we add. While it may not look very different from the outside - the design changes are evolutionary, not revolutionary - it's a completely different car under the taut and wider sheet metal. Porsche has equipped the two-seat ragtop with its innovative new double-clutch PDK gearbox, which means both Teutonically precise shifts, a sport-plus mode which is, in our professional opinion, the best we've seen and, as an added bonus, much better fuel economy.

Porsche and fuel economy, really? Isn't Porsche the purview of 'if you have to ask, you can't afford it?' Well, yes and no.

Porsche has been facing tighter emissions and fuel consumption standards from the European Union and the U.S. – which is one of the main reasons they took control of VW. That's usually bad news for a sports car company as it means an end to high-horsepower motors. However, Porsche has responded with an all-new 3.4-liter, 310 horsepower direct-injection (DFI) flat six-cylinder 'boxster' engine. With 15 more horses than the previous model, the 2009 Boxster still manages to deliver 11 percent better fuel economy – up to 30.1 mpg.

Now, you may be asking, what about the drive?

Ahhh, Bella Sicilia, yes the roads are clogged with sheep, really, and sometimes trucks get too close for comfort. And yes, lane changes seem as arbitrary as the Italian parliamentary system, but it is the home to the historic Targa Florio race, a race that Porsche won numerous amounts of times. It's the perfect place to drive the new 2009 Porsche Boxster S.

Few feelings can surpass rolling down your favorite road with the top down on a sunny day – especially if you happen to be behind the wheel of a Porsche in Italy, with the Sunday roads of this Catholic country empty and Kanye West blaring on the radio. The Boxster serves up an iconic and essential roadster experience with a well-balanced, lithe chassis that relies both on it being lightweight as well as powerful. The Boxster S's powerful 310 horsepower flat-six provides plenty of muscle for such a small, lightweight roadster, with the handling characteristics that Stuttgart is known for. It's the combination of the new direct fuel injection engine and the PDK that sets the heart a flutter.

Porsche is aiming to up the gear-shifting game with its new double-clutch, or PDK, transmission. The unit is actually composed of two different gearboxes mated together, with gears 1, 3, 5, 7 and reverse in one unit and 2, 4 and 6 in the other. The result is what feels like a constant flow of the awesomest power this side of Sicily.

As the clutch on one unit opens, the other closes at the same time, allowing for close to instantaneous shifts. While eye-blink shifts are great for the racetrack, they also help the new Boxster to save fuel.

The PDK transmission is ideal for those who want the precision of a manual without having to fuss with a clutch, or lazy auto journos driving around Italy. The PDK unit can be left in 'automatic' mode where the Boxster's onboard computer selects which gear is best for certain situations. It can also be operated, with the optional Sport Chrono Package, in 'sport' and 'sport' mode, which holds the gears longer and also blips up or down gears faster. Naturally, Porsche gives the driver the option of selecting the PDK gears via shifters mounted on the steering wheel.

Really, there isn't a better combination of engine and transmission in the business, and yeah, I'm looking at you Audi R8 and R-Tronic!

Over the few hundred kilometers behind the wheel, the difference between the new model and the outgoing becomes as glaring as factory-made American Ricotta cheese and the farm fresh version, infused with the smell of the earth and covered in honey, with a side of figs.

The Boxster S's mid-engine, rear-wheel drive setup delivers near perfect balance and makes for a ride that's both playful and planted. Unlike mega-horsepower monsters out there, the Boxster isn't likely to scold you for driving beyond your limits or kick you back in your seat with brute force. Coming down a treacherous mountain outside the ancient city of Tràpani, the Boxster S continuously proved to be a steady and composed ride. The convertible is as comfortable and luxuriously appointed as a five-star hotel and quiet – top up or down – as a library.

Did you expect anything less from Porsche?

Read Jon's review of the Boxster at DriverSide.com