Vail Valley: Mountain roads are the Porsche Boxster’s natural habitat
Vail, CO, Colorado
Joyride. Now there’s a word that gets some bad PR, and not just thanks to Frank Booth of “Blue Velvet” fame.
A car like the Porsche Boxster S may not be great for hauling furniture, taking the kids to a swim meet or navigating a blizzard on Hoosier Pass. But get the right road at the right time of day and … Joyride. Absolutely pure joyride.
Last week, I had one of those moments of automotive zen as a counterpart and I skipped the congestion, motorcades and general 8.5 million-people-madness of the greater Washington D.C. metro area, and headed out to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
High atop Shenandoah National Park lies Skyline Drive, 105 miles of pure curves, hand-cut stone guardrails and, as it turned out on a rainy, foggy evening, not another car for two hours.
Subsequently, I can now say that the Boxster S, thrumming along with its almost perfect 310 horsepower, might be the most entertaining automobile I’ve ever driven.
The Boxster may still be derided by more well-heeled Porsche enthusiasts as a trumped-up Miata, a simplified, less-graceful, everyman Porsche (if one can consider a $66,000 vehicle “entry level”), but I contend that Boxster’s size, weight, power, handling and overall finish make it a heady competitor to the tremendously spendy 911 offerings, unless you’re still swimming around in cash like Scrooge McDuck.
I had a similar Boxster last year during a trip to Toronto, Ontario, but discovered that there are absolutely no curving roads in all of Toronto, certainly none that you’d find empty of people about an hour’s drive from downtown, so I did not quite get to experience the full effect.
A road like Skyline (or, for that matter, pretty much any route here in the Central Rockies) suddenly makes that seven-speed PDK transmission – that’s short for “Porsche Doppelkupplung,” the clunky Teutonic title for the blazingly fast, twin-clutch automatic – turn into an organic entity.
Lay considerable force into the gas pedal and the upshifts are nanosecond-fast; enter a curve with the same velocity and the PDK rather magically senses your danger-to-velocity ratio and telepathically cracks off the changes.
Steering is slightly heavy compared to every (by comparison) junky domestic car you’ve ever driven in your entire life, but the tradeoff is subtle precision in handling that remains taut and surgical even at precarious speeds. All this on those aforementioned rain-soaked, foggy roads.
And the brakes, oh dear lord, the brakes: Though they’ll occasionally shriek during low-speed stops, get them warmed up and they will literally stop on a dime, and remain fade-resistant during many miles of cavorting. Especially helpful when your passenger starts weeping, asking to get off the carnival ride.
The biggest blast is the engine noise and the exhaust note, a rooty rumble that turns all growly and frightening and wonderful, especially when it cascades through an empty mountain motorway. The optional high-end Bose speaker setup will nearly nullify the noise but … that’s not the point, whatsoever.
Back in civilization, where my average speed over the weekend was about 6 miles per hour, Boxster’s trick, full-auto top neatly disappears to provide full sunning glory (or a more effective system to suck about nine pounds of cherry tree pollen into my still-burning eyeballs).
In town, the Boxster’s hammer-taut suspension is just uncomfortable on pockmarked pavement. The wide doors and sporty seating position also cry out for valet parking spots to achieve less lambada-inspired entries and exits, but such is the price of automotive athleticism. Similarly, the limited luggage space (the larger, deeper front trunk absorbed a backpack and a garment bag, just barely) also predicates careful packing.
But when taken out to the hills and run like Ferdinand Porsche had in mind, the Boxster absolutely glows. No doubt about it.