- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2000

In at least one respect, automobiles are a lot like computers. As soon as a new model comes out, it becomes, if not obsolete, less desirable than the one to follow.

That's particularly true of sports cars and other high-performance machinery. Whenever a manufacturer introduces a new model, the designers and engineers already are at work on its improved successor.

So it is with the Boxster, the highly regarded midengine sports roadster from Porsche of Germany. Barely three years old, it has a brand-new big brother for the 2000 model year the Boxster S.

It is a more powerful, more expensive version of the original, with stronger brakes and a six-speed manual gearbox.

The standard Boxster also will continue to be sold, but with the smaller engine and a five-speed shifter. Both models also are available with Porsche's Tiptronic, a five-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted.

The Boxster, intended as a less-expensive alternative to Porsche's megabucks 911 models, had been climbing in popularity. Sales started out under 5,000 but climbed to nearly 11,500 for the 1999 model year.

The new Boxster S is likely to boost that number even higher. But unfortunately for the skilled purists who would most want to own one, the price also is climbing.

With a base sticker of $50,695 for the S model, the Boxster tops the half-century mark for the first time. Moreover, as with most high-performance German cars, the option list is mind-boggling.

Although the options allow an owner to personalize a given car to the point where it could almost end up as one of a kind, most are exceedingly pricey. For example, there are nine different special metallic paint jobs, any of which costs $3,010.

The test Boxster S, however, exhibited some restraint. With a short list of options, including cruise control ($560), traction control ($870), a wind deflector ($365), a CD player ($345), special speakers ($600) and a less-expensive metallic paint ($805), it topped out at $54,332.

If you are the sort who can write the check or handle the payments, you will be driving a civilized sports roadster, with tight top-up isolation for foul weather, that is almost as much at home on a racetrack as in everyday driving.

Power comes from a 3.2-liter "boxer" engine a design in which the cylinders lie flat, with three on each side of the crankshaft that delivers 250 horsepower and a hefty 225 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm.

That's a bunch more than the standard Boxster (215 horsepower and 192 foot-pounds of torque), which itself is a boost from the original model. It also edges out most of the other sports roadsters in its class. The torque translates into right-now throttle responses.

With the engine located forward of the rear axle and right behind the driver's shoulder blades, the Boxster S has a weight distribution slightly biased toward the rear driving wheels.

Its handling, however, is nearly neutral, with no tendency either to plow ahead or turn too abruptly.

MODEL: Porsche Boxster S

VEHICLE TYPE: Two-door roadster

PRICE-AS-TESTED: $54,332

MILEAGE: 18 city, 26 highway

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