2007 Porsche Boxster SMore of the same goodnessI never had a reason to go to Tennessee. It was not on my list of things to-do before I die. (Hmmm...let's see: win the Nobel Prize, cure cancer, go to Tennessee).
So when Porsche decided to party smack dab in the middle of the Appalachians, I saw a great opportunity, a chance to reduce that to-do list.
No, I had little desire to visit our 16th state and that's a shame. I came to learn it's got a genuine "must-do" activity on its resume.
The road is called "Tail of the Dragon." a 14-mile stretch of pavement marked by perversely twisted tarmac and stunning scenery. Every few miles the road's surface is tattooed with skid marks while bits of glass and plastic sparkle like gemstones. Locals parked on lawn chairs sit on various turnouts, knocking back cold ones while offering colorful words of encouragement. The faster you go, the more "colorful" their encouragement becomes, like a public version of Daytona Speedway.
In short, The Dragon is the reason cars like the Porsche Boxster exist. Every corner tests the suspension, every straight the engine. And when the road ends you can bet those famous Porsche brakes were glowing cherry red. After the first three miles you'd swear the white coats from Weissach had something to do with this place.
We've been fans of Porsche's Boxster since its first spy photos some 10 years ago. Its simple yet elegant design, ample horsepower and overall utility made the Boxster an easy choice for folks who wanted a utilitarian sports car.
Although times change, the fundamental goodness of the Boxster is still intact, there's just more of it.
The Boxster's recent restyle (2005) left it with lots of new sheet metal although to the untrained eye it's much like the original design. The big news for 2007 are the powerplants. Both the 2.7-liter in the Boxster and 3.4 in the Boxster S are significantly different, offering more power, more torque and more emotion (sound). That's right, sound. The Boxster sounds more like a genuine Porsche than ever before.
The base 2.7 Boxster engine now produces 245 hp, just a few ponies short of what the previous Boxster S did while the new Boxster S makes 295 hp, a bit south of the previous 911 Carrera. Both engines are fitted with Porsche's VarioCam Plus variable intake-valve timing and lift system, hardware typically saved for top tier 911s. VarioCam broadens the torque curve, increases fuel economy and reduces emissions. Both engines contain new internal bits as well including lighter/smaller pistons, lighter cranks and lightened rods. Ultimately, it allows both engines to spin faster than before, and that's a good thing. Porsche claims the Boxster S will breach 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and eventually top out at a heady 169 mph. The Boxster does the same routine in 5.8 sec 0-60 mph and reaches terminal velocity at 160 mph.
Yeah, the Boxster is a quick piece and its impeccable balance means it can be driven at 8/10ths without drama. Hell, you can push it to "11" but that's a lot of work and as I've come to realize, most of my driving does not occur in that spectrum. And that's OK too; the Boxster is just as much fun cruising at a leisurely pace. I think that says a lot about the Boxster in general, the fact that it can be flogged mercilessly one minute and then return to a totally relaxed state.
The Boxster's engine architecture is identical to the Cayman and like its sibling, wears the dual-chamber intake manifold. At low rpm the path is short for maximum torque. As speed increases, a valve opens and effectively doubles the intake runner length. The intake's structure leaves the Boxster with the classis flat-six voice, a metallic "Braaaang" and a slight echo. It was something the first generation of water-cooled Porsche engines lacked.
The Boxster interior has matured into a first-class cabin. The switches, toggles and dials all have a decidedly solid feeling and leather and synthetic materials are superb. As I compared my 1998 Boxster to this new generation it appears to be an entirely different car, far more sophisticated and elegant. I like simplicity as much as the next guy, however, given the choice between a top that refuses to rise unless the car is fully stopped or a car that'll raise its roof up to 30 mph, I'll take the latter. Anyone with an older Boxster will attest to what a drag it is to get caught in the rain. It's not a problem now.
A base Boxster is born with a standard five-speed transmission, PSM (Porsche Stability Management), side airbags, leather seats and 17-in alloys with 205/55 and 235/50 series f/r tires. The Boxster S includes a manual six-speed, 18-in alloys with 235/40 and 265/40 tires. Options include: Tipstronic automatic transmission, 19-in alloys from the 911 turbo, PCCB brakes, Porsche Active Suspension Management, Sport Chrono package, HID headlamps, navigation system (Porsche Communication Management), Park Assist Although its 2.7-liter engine is more powerful than before, it still pales in comparison to the 3.4-liter of the Boxster S and its standard six-speed. If you never drove a Boxster S the base car would be just fine; chances are you'd be very happy. The fact is, the Boxster S exists and I would do everything I could to ensure that model was parked in the Bidrawn driveway. If the Boxster will make you happy, the Boxster S will leave you ecstatic. And the way I figure it, after the additional costs of the S are amortized over a standard loan, the monthly payment difference is fairly painless.
So go ahead and spoil yourself
2007 PORSCHEBOXSTER SLayoutLongitudinal mid-engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine3.4-liter flat six, dohc,four valves per cylinder
TransmissionSix-speed manual; optional five-speed Tiptronic S
SuspensionOptimized MacPherson spring strut axles, wheels suspended on wishbones with trailing links, twin-tube gas shocks
BrakesTwo-circuit system, aluminum monoblock calipers, cross-drilled and ventilated rotors
DimensionsLength x Width x Height (in.): 171.6 x 70.9 x 50.9Wheelbase: 95.1 in.Curb Weight: 2,987 lb
PerformancePeak Power: 295 bhp @ 6250 rpmPeak Torque: 252 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm0-60 mph: 5.1 sec.Top Speed: 169 mph
Why we love it: Genuine roadster attitude, very refined interior, willing engine
Why we don't: styling a bit staleThe Price Tag: $55,000 ($45,600 Boxster)
2007 Jaguar XKRMerc or Porsche? Here is the third way by Alistair WeaverIf ever there was a car company in need of a shot of testosterone, it's Jaguar. Barely a week goes by without murmurings of cutbacks, closures or worse. There are fears that this once-great British company will fall into Ford's corporate mire, done to death by a combination of mismanagement and union intransigence.
Jaguar's ultimate fate will be decided by time and Bill Ford's will, but if there's a beacon of hope among the malaise, it's the XK. The standard coupe and convertible were launched at the beginning of the year to a warm reception and bulging order books, and now there's a new sporting flagship, the XKR. Anyone who drove the old XKR will remember a point-and-squirt machine of the old school. It looked pretty and went hard but the chassis, originally developed for the antiquated XJS, lacked finesse. This new model was developed alongside the XJ and promises to be a very different machine. Jag's chassis guru, Mike Cross, reckons 'R' is a standard XK "plus 30 percent." Designed by Scotsman Ian Callum, the man responsible for the Aston range, the XKR makes no secret of its intent. A mesh grille, front foglights, quad tailpipes and an aluminum 'power vent' behind the front wheels all help distinguish the new car. The bonnet louvers-a signature feature of the old car-are also present and correct and embossed with the word "supercharged."
Inside, the makeover is more subtle. The new aluminum-weave centre console trim looks much better than it sounds, and there are R badges on all the major touch points and controls. The sports seats are also new, although they're still shaped for a man with middle-aged spread. It all works well, but some of the plastics feel low-rent and the rear seats are all but useless.
The 4196cc, supercharged V8 from the old XKR has been updated with the introduction of twin air intakes and Variable Inlet Camshaft Timing (VICT). Power is up 20bhp to 420 and there's now 413lb-ft of torque (up by 5lb-ft). Combine this with a reduction in curb weight of 154lbs (220lbs for the convertible) and it's not difficult to understand why this car is being described as 'the fastest ever production Jaguar'. Standstill to 60mph takes 4.9 seconds; top speed is electronically limited to 155mph.
The bar-bore statistics stack up, but it's the effortless surge of torque-in any gear at any speed-that really impresses. Plus, it sounds great. The supercharger whine has been lowered in pitch compared with the old car and it's now mixed with a more vociferous V8 rumble. It's also an ideal foil for the ZF six-speed auto 'box, which includes paddle-shift functionality. Meticulous mapping of the software has resulted in a shift that's both quick and smooth.
According to Cross, the XKR has been tuned to be more engaging than a Merc SL, but less overtly sporting than a 911. To achieve the requisite mix, Jag has uprated the XK's spring rates by 38 percent at the front and 24 percent at the rear. The steering and CATS electronic damping has been retuned and a rear suspension brace has been added to stiffen the structure. Nineteen-inch alloys are standard, but our test car rode on the 20-inch rims that are likely to be chosen by most customers.
The ride is firm but nicely damped and the high-speed body control is excellent. Its agility will be a revelation to owners of the old XKR, even if it's still not as nimble as a 911. Fast, sweeping curves remain its forte, but it's no longer disgraced when the road starts to get tight and twisty.
The XKR is a genuine grand tourer, capable of covering huge distances at high speed and with a minimum of fuss. It looks terrific, goes hard and handles well. If Jaguar is to survive and prosper, then it needs more cars like this
2007 JAGUAR XKR
LayoutLongitudinal front engine,rear-wheel drive
Engine4.2-liter V8, dohc, four valves per cylinder, supercharged
SuspensionF: Double wishbones,coil springs, anti-roll barR: Five-link, coil springs,anti-roll bar
BrakesFour-channel ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Hydraulic Brake Assist,Electronic Park Brake
Dimensions: Length x Width x Height (in.): 188.6 x 74.5 x 52.0Wheelbase: 108.3 in.Curb weight: 3,671 lb
PerformancePeak Power: 420 bhp @ 6250 rpmPeak Torque: 413 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm0-60mph: 4.9 sec.Top Speed: 155mph (limited)
Why we love it: Great looks, long distance comfort, accessible performance, gearbox
Why we don't: Cabin quality, useless rear seats
The Price Tag: $86,500 (coupe) $92,500 (convertible)*figures are for coup
2007 Porsche CaymanUnderpowered? I think not by Markas PlattRunning a 48-hour turnaround between LAX and Frankfurt, Germany, is nuts unless your editor waves an invitation at you to spin Porsche's new plaything around the Bavarian countryside. This is a car I've been heavily campaigning to drive since our first peek at it a year ago. A week later and I was there.
Speaking as an artist, to me the Cayman represents a beautifully simple design. Its lines are clean and just a tad sharp; no part of the car looks unfinished or forced. It is rolling, sexy art. The last creature Germany produced that's this stunning is named Heidi Klum, and she struts her stuff for Victoria's Secret.
At the press dinner I was seated next to the Cayman's lead engine development engineer, and I just had to ask about the rumors that the Cayman's engine had been de-tuned a little to make a clear divide between this car and its big brothers, the 911 and Cayman S. He simply grinned and wagged an index finger.
"Zis is not true," was the answer. Good enough for me, and I spent the next full day understanding why.
The morning of our drive we were given choices of Tiptronic, five (standard) and six-speed models in various liveries to choose from. I nabbed a red sixer, flung my gear aboard and studied the route map, stoked to see it gave us plenty of time in the twisty bits as well as generous stretches of autobahn. Scanning the interior for anything that might cheapen the look of this entry-level Porsche had me coming up empty. There was just the right amount of shiny stuff, and painted accents taking the place of plastic is a snarky touch. The extra room in the boot is nice compared to a Carrera, but don't look to stow much more than a weekend bag and a case of beer (perfect for some of us).
Blasting into the German countryside, I loosened the reins on the 2.7 and flicked through the cosy gearbox, bouncing in and out of mogul-esque right and left handers. Nice balance, beautiful turn-in response, and the braking... well, lets just say you could stop on a piece of lint thanks to the fixed-caliper, cross-drilled stoppers.
Without acting the fool I pushed a little harder and blasted out of a long right-hander into a wide-open straight,shifting into upper gears, a permanent grin now plastered across my mug. The car accelerated eagerly, so what was all this "underpowered" talk I had been hearing? Jaded journalists no doubt. Now what about that autobahn? Going from country road to speedway, I breezed past the 100 mph mark and nailed my foot to the floor. Even passing 150, the car seemed willing for more, so I obliged. Only after a 15-mile burn did I lift. I was quickly brought back to earth, highbeamed by a Audi A8 who was in a real hurry. Rule number one on the autobahn: go fast or get out of the way... immediately.
The way I see it, this car has all the power and speed you need unless manned flight is your goal. Even in non-S form, the Cayman is more fun than a comped weekend in Las Vegas-and you can actually tell people about what you did in it (unlike Vegas)
At $49,000 base, the starter Cayman is not what you'd call cheap, but it's a swinging deal considering the performance you get. (And just look at it for God's sake.) Add some bells and whistles, throw on some 18s and you can push the numbers uphill fast, as there are plenty of expensive options like the composite-ceramic brake package. But hey, this is not your dad's 914 right?
2007 Porsche Cayman
LayoutLongitudinal mid-engine,rear-wheel drive
Engine2.7-liter flat six, dohc,four valves per cylinder
TransmissionFive-speed manual; optional six-speed manual or five-speed Tiptronic
SuspensionSpring strut axles with separate tie-bar arrangement, longitudinal and track control arms, twin-sleeve gas dampers
BrakesTwo-circuit system, four-piston monoblock calipers, cross-drilled vented rotors
DimensionsLength x Width x Height (in.): 170.9 x 70.9 x 51.4Wheelbase: 95.1 in.Curb Weight: 2,867 lb
PerformancePeak Power: 245 bhp @ 6500 rpmPeak Torque: 201 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm0-62 mph: 6.1 sec.Top Speed: 161 mph
Why we love it: Dosen't look like a base model anything. The interior smokes the Boxster premier issue.
Why we don't: No one I personally know owns one yet so I can't bet on a ball game to nab it for a weekend.
The Price Tag: $49,000