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Porsche 911 S, Boxster S compete in $100,000 best bang for buck

A friend approached me for car-buying advice. He wants a Porsche.

He’d reached that time in his life when, kids out of the house and mortgage paid, he could afford one -- and he’d convinced his wife. No question the sports car was to be a Porsche, a brand he’d coveted since he was a kid. And he wanted a new one, not, say, a 1970s 911, which would necessitate a first-name basis relationship with a mechanic named Fritz.

His budget was $100,000. Would it be the all-new Porsche 911 Carrera S, with its 3.8-liter, 400-horsepower flat-six engine, or the all-new Boxster S, a two-seat roadster with a 3.4-liter, 315-hp engine?

After driving both at dealer lots, he admitted that he was paralyzed, transfixed for lust by each. (“I’ll take both” was not an option.)

I understood. Since the previous model, the latest 911 had grown larger, plusher and more like a supercar. It is the master of many worlds: You could drive it every day on an hour-long commute, then swing by a private racetrack for a few hot laps on Sunday.

Then there’s the Boxster convertible, Porsche’s least expensive model, which has long been hampered by insufficient power and slightly underwhelming looks.

Miniature supercar

No longer. The 2013 S Boxster looks like a miniature supercar, and has a fantastically improved interior. With the soft top down, the engine sings to you and the propulsion whips your hair harder than Willow Smith.

I too was stymied, imagining I was in the same lucky situation, and torn by the “practicality” of the 911 -- you can store some stuff and it’s got half-hearted back seats -- and the glorious frivolity of the Boxster.

To better illuminate matters, I lined up both models on the racetrack.

First, the Boxster. Even dropping the top is fast on this car. This one had a six-speed manual, which is the way I like it. Steering is deliberate, the chassis is solid but the car light.

It was like riding a zephyr. I swooshed through corners, skimmed down straights. The wind and I were one. The engine sounded like a thousand eagles screaming.

There’s no storage. No room for a third passenger. Doesn’t matter. This is the one I’d want. I’ll report back, immediately.


Before that, I had better give the 911 a go. There was room for my backpack. That was nice. The leather seats kept me from slip-sliding around, but were light and pillowy as beignets. It had a seven-speed automatic transmission, which flits through gears faster than a felonious thought.

I’ve spent more time on racetracks in a 911 than any other car. And here I was invincible. I ran down other drivers, in corners, in straights, everywhere. The 911 is a 3,100-pound guided missile.

It has 85 more horsepower than the Boxster and the straightaways evaporated under its wheels. Oh, if only the Boxster had an engine as potent as this.

I got out. Stymied again.

Perhaps cost should dictate. Porsche’s base prices are exorbitant, the upcharges on options brutal. You want full leather and red-colored seat belts? It’ll cost you.

Weekend car

The Boxster S model starts at almost $62,000, but was $85,000 as driven. Below my friend’s budget, but still a car essentially meant for weekends. The 911 S starts at $97,350, so he could forget about special leather or automatic transmission.

My advice? Uh, hmm, well.

Then I heard about a company in Blauvelt, N.Y., which presented a tantalizing third option: DeMan Motorsport could drop a 3.8-liter S engine into a Boxster or its coupe brother, the Cayman, making as much power as the 911.

The shop specializes in building and prepping Porsches for racing. Owner Rick DeMan says the Porsche engine swap would cost around $20,000, still pricing a Boxster or Cayman below $100,000. One big issue: The modifications invalidate the factory warranty.

The engine is located in the middle of both the Cayman and Boxster, allowing for better balance than the 911. (Porsche is unlikely to equip either with 400 horsepower engines for fear of cannibalizing sales from the more expensive 911.)

I met DeMan at Monticello Motor Club to test drive a fully customized DeMan Cayman. This outrageous car was no longer street legal. It had been lowered, given lightweight body panels and a racing suspension, and had a full roll-cage. It was a race car. (The price of car and modifications came to about $150,000.)

It also had the 911 S’s engine. Would it offer the best of both worlds?

From the first corner, I sensed an ideal blend of poise and power. The Cayman swivels from its hips, wiggling through turns like an eel. That was expected. But the added power transformed it into a whole new beast -- in many ways, the best of the Cayman and 911.

Can I choose all three?

Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News.

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