People tell us the Porsche Boxster isn't a very manly car -- that it's designed for hairdressers, those of a metrosexual disposition and people with ovaries. Well if that's the case, fire up the hairdryer, apply the crack wax and pass us a thong, because we've driven one and we think it's sensational.
The Boxster is more fun to drive than its big brother, the 911. There -- we said it. Okay, it's not as brutally quick as the 911, but on a twisty track, in the hands of a skilled driver, the Boxster S will give the 911 plenty to worry about. Car enthusiasts will already be aware that the Boxster's mid-engined layout gives it unrivalled balance -- it's as agile as a 10-year-old Russian gymnast -- but these new cars now have the grunt to match the exquisite handling.
Power to the feeble
Porsche has replaced the old Boxster's 2.7-litre engine with a new 2.9-litre unit that produces 255hp -- 10 more than its predecessor. The outstanding, top-of-the-ladder Boxster S gets a new lump, too -- a 3.4-litre direct fuel-injection unit producing 310hp -- 15hp more than the old Boxster S.
Miraculously, this extra performance doesn't come at the expense of fuel economy -- quite the opposite, in fact. The 2.9-litre Boxster gets 31mpg (9.1 litres per 100km), while the Boxster S gets 30.1mpg (9.4 litres per 100km) -- 10 per cent and 15 per cent improvements on the previous engines.
One of the hottest new features in the Boxster S is the PDK twin-clutch transmission, which (when fitted with the optional Sports Chrono Package Plus) allows launch control.
Select 'Sport +' mode using a button on the centre-console, place your left foot on the brake pedal, slam your right foot hard on the accelerator and the engine will rev to the perfect speed. When the traffic lights turn green -- or the pretty girl drops her hankie -- lift off the brake pedal while keeping the accelerator planted and what was once the horizon will become a distant memory.
The standard Boxster does the 0-60mph sprint in a respectable 5.9 seconds -- which is fast enough to embarrass most sporty hatchbacks. The Boxster S, however, with PDK transmission, does the sprint in 5 seconds flat -- just half a second slower than the Porsche 911.
Those who don't believe Porsche's figures can prove it for themselves. Each Boxster S comes with a dash-mounted digital/analogue timer that records 0-60mph runs, quarter-mile drag races and lap times on to a hard drive linked to the engine computer.
The Porsche Boxster has some very impressive cabin tech, most of which is controlled via the Porsche Communication Management 3.0 system (PCM) -- a central control unit for all navigation, audio and communication. We found the audio aspects of the system most impressive. Maps are stored on the 40GB hard drive, which allows for faster route calculation, but like most sat-navs, it isn't quite as user-friendly as it should be. Why are there separate buttons for 'trip', 'navi' and 'map', for example? Aren't they all basically the same thing?
PCM's audio features are far more impressive. Connect your iPod via a cable in the centre console and PCM lets you browse playlists, track lists and playback controls all via the 16.5cm (6.5-inch) 16:9 touchscreen display. Other MP3 players are supported by line-in, and the USB port lets you connect a USB key or external hard drive full of music. Our only gripe in this area is that you can't rip audio CDs or copy MP3 files to the car's built-in hard drive, as you can with the Lexus RX450h.
PCM's communications features are also impressive. It's possible to pair your mobile phone using Bluetooth, so all your phone conversations are routed over the in-car speakers. Drivers also have the option of inserting their SIM card directly into a slot in the PCM head unit, which is great if your phone lacks Bluetooth or simply isn't on PCM's list of compatible handsets.
The Porsche Boxster has always been one of the best-handling cars on the road -- a mind-boggling achievement considering it's a convertible. The latest models continue that tradition and now (especially in Boxster S form) offer sensational acceleration, great, usable technology and -- crucially -- a certain cool factor. If you're looking for a car that offers real driver involvement, fun, and great design, you needn't look much further.