Introducing The New 981 Boxster
July 13, 2012
John Budinich
There’s a New Kid in Town

On June 30, 2012 there was another major event at Porsche of Greenville. This was the day Porsche of Greenville held their unveiling of the new Boxster, the 981. Upstate Area members arrived at the dealership between 4:00pm and 5:00pm for a PCA Member “Show & Shine”. About 35 owners endured the 103-degree heat (some said they saw 107 on their vehicle dashboard thermometers), to display their vehicles in the front parking lot. There were Porsches of all models and configurations present and passers-by were stopping at the dealership to check out the “show”.

Inside the dealership, 6 member vehicles were on display to help put the new Boxster into perspective. The examples on display ranged from a 1974 914 (the precursor of the mid-engine Boxster), through a 2008 RS60 Spyder Edition, culminating with the two 981s under wraps in the center of the display floor. I would like to thank those members for preparing their vehicles and entering them in this display, in spite of the oppressive heat. The vehicles on display were: Mr. & Mrs. Mark R. Feightner’s 1974 914 2.0, John & Martha Babinski’s 1999 Boxster with factory hard top, Mark & Karen Essex’s 2003 Boxster S, Jim & Linda Horner’s 2004 Boxster, Marc & Kim Paquette’s 2005 Boxster S and Dale Whitney’s 2008 Boxster RS60 Spyder Edition. The dealership received a great deal of positive comments about the vehicles on display and the opportunity to see the progression of the Boxster throughout the years.

The party started in earnest at 5:00pm and there were over 130 PCA members, guests and dealership customers in attendance. There were heavy hors d'oeuvres on hand including shrimp, chicken, steak and vegetables. Refreshments included varieties of beer, wine, soft drinks and water. The guests ate well and appreciated the event being held inside the air-conditioned dealership. There was plenty of opportunity to talk and get caught up with old friends and to make new friends. Miss South Carolina was available for photo opportunities throughout the evening.

At 7:00pm it was time for the main event. After some brief comments from me representing the Porsche Club's perspective and some opening comments from Mike Burgess, General Manager, the two 981 Boxsters were unveiled. As Mike introduced the new model to the crowd, his daughter Paris and Erika Powell, Miss South Carolina USA, pulled the covers off of the Boxsters. There were two shining examples of the 981 on hand, an Agate Grey Metallic over Luxor Beige Boxster and a Basalt Black Metallic over Luxor Beige Boxster S. The crowd broke out in oohs and aahs along with a hearty round of applause. Then they swarmed over the two vehicles to get a better look and to try out the new interior. For the rest of the evening members could be heard commenting on the improvements in size, comfort, style and power the new model presented. The final event of the evening was a drawing for some gifts the dealership provided for the attendees, ranging from a coffee mug, t-shirts, and others, culminating with some Porsche Design fitted luggage. In all, it was a very enjoyable evening with great people and great cars.

The Boxster Grows Up

A couple of days after the reveal party, I was back at Porsche of Greenville to experience the new Boxster first hand. At the unveiling, we all marveled at the improved looks of the new Boxster and how it has matured. It is lower, wider and longer than the previous model but due to improvements in materials and manufacturing, it is lighter. There is a much stronger family resemblance in the styling cues taken from the 911 front end, the Panamera and new 911 interior and the sides and rear of the Carrera GT. The result is a much more aggressive look with overtones of greater sophistication.

When I first sat in the vehicle, I noticed something amazing - I fit! At 6'6" and slightly "out of shape", I was never really comfortable in the previous generation Boxsters. This new model afforded me at least two inches of headroom with the top up, more than sufficient leg room and ample hip room for let's say, slightly ample hips. In combination with the electrically adjustable height and reach of the steering wheel and the 14 way adjustable seats, it was easy to find the proper seating position for either spirited corner carving or long distance touring. The central "waterfall" console, similar to those in the Panamera and 911, contained most of the switches and infotainment displays that would be used to set the car up for my test drive.

It was now time to take the car out of the showroom and onto the roads around Greenville. As Dennis pulled the Boxster out of the showroom, it reminded me of one of the first things I noticed about the new model when we were setting up the showroom display for the reveal. The ramp leading into the showroom is uphill and on a slight angle to the doorway. As each of the PCA member's vehicles were being brought into the showroom, the transition from the ramp to the showroom floor went as expected. When the two new Boxsters, both normal and "S" versions, were brought in, I noticed that the driver's front wheel came off the ground at the doorway’s transition point. The wheel remained in the air as the vehicle covered about a foot and a half of distance. This one observation showed just how much stiffer the chassis of the 981 is when compared to the 986 and 987, as none of their wheels came off the ground. I wanted to see how that added stiffness translated to actual road use.

The 981 Boxster is fitted with a 2.7-liter motor with 265 hp, 206 lb ft and was equipped with the 6-speed PDK, Sport Chrono I.C.W. PC, Power Steering Plus and PSM. Dennis turned the car over to me setup in Sport Plus mode and told me to have a good drive. First let me say, I was never one for paddle shifting as I have been driving my 5 speed manual 944 since 1986 and I enjoy stirring the gears. That being said, the shift handle of the PDQ in this Boxster fell perfectly under my hand on the angled center console. With that, I decided I would forgo the paddles and use the shifter. The only thing I would not be using as usual was my left leg. The sound as I pulled out of the dealership was fantastic. The sport exhaust, combined with the rest of the package, made for a throaty and aggressive sound that I could not get enough of. I am glad the day was perfectly suited for top down driving.

I sampled a variety of roads, from bumpy local streets, smooth secondary roads, some twisties in the area, on-ramps taken "aggressively" and highway driving on I-85. No matter what roads or style of driving I chose, the Boxster handled them all with equal ease. That stiff suspension I mentioned earlier allowed for some very sure-footed handling without ever feeling harsh. The overall impression was solid but comfortable and I think I would run out of capability and nerve long before the new Boxster ever would. I truly did not want the test drive to end but I figured I better get the car back to the dealer before they sent out a posse looking for me. As an aside, the new electric power steering was very communicative and I always received great feedback from this system. I have read that some reviewers find the electric power steering somewhat numb in the 991 but that is not the case in the 981. That is just my opinion.

After returning the 981, I was offered a 2012 987 Boxster S to drive as a comparison. The S is fitted with a 3.4-liter motor with 310 hp, 266 lb ft and was equipped with a 6-speed manual, Sport Chrono, PSM and Design Sport Package/Sport Exhaust. By numbers alone, the 987 S should be much better than the 981. I will say the 987 S does sound good with the sport exhaust. I prefer the sound of the 981 though as it sounds deeper and meaner to me. I know that is not very scientific but to each their own. I did feel right at home with the manual transmission in this car. One thing I did notice right away was how the tighter confines of the cabin made me more aware of how I positioned my legs and feet to avoid mishaps while shifting.

I drove the same route I drove with the 981. I will admit, the 987 S is an extremely capable car. It handled all of the conditions well with just a slightly rougher feel to the ride. My main issue with the car was that I could never really find a comfortable driving position. I was pinched in certain spots, my head was closer to the windshield header than I preferred and I always had to be conscious of how my legs were positioned in order to avoid pedal interference or interference with my hands during turning maneuvers. I returned the 987 S, happy for the opportunity to drive it but somewhat let down after driving the 981. I am sure that this is exactly what Porsche had in mind when developing the 981.

During my debrief with Dennis, Mike and the others at the dealership, I could not help but realize how impressed I was with the new 981 Boxster. The styling is much more agressive, the ride and handling are extremely capable while being confidence inspiring and the comfort in the cabin is "night and day" better that the 987 Boxster for someone of my height and build. Even with all of the improvements in the new model, the pricing is very close to the outgoing 987. One thing to remember, it is still a Porsche so you can go online and build a Boxster for over $100K if you go crazy with the options. I know because I played with Porsche’s on-line configuration tool and got carried away.

In conclusion, I am sure it is obvious that I really like the 981 Boxster. I can't wait to get the opportunity to try out the S version of the 981 with its 315 hp and 266 lb ft with the PDK. I have become a fan of the PDK transmission with its quick shifts and rev matching downshifts and the extra 50 hp the S provides can only make this car better. I think I have to put the "New Kid on the Block" at the top of my Porsche wish list. It has all of the power and handling I could want and more than I could probably use, in a package that is comfortable and fits in all the right places. It really makes me ask the question, is the new 991 Carrera S I drove in February really $43K more car?

I want to thank Porsche of Greenville for the opportunity to drive and compare these two versions of the Boxster. You owe it to yourself to visit your Carolinas region Porsche dealer for a test drive and to experience the new 981 Boxster. Just don't blame me if you end up placing an order. I'll happily take mine in Agate Grey Metallic over Luxor Beige.