Porsche Boxster S

Anyone who's played the "what car would I buy if I won the lottery?" game must surely have a Porsche on their shortlist somewhere. Chances are it will be the firm's flagship 911, too - but if your numbers don't come up, at least the new Boxster is a very tempting understudy.

The outgoing Boxster has only recently been knocked off top spot in the premium roadster rankings by Mercedes' SLK - but this new version could see Porsche return to pole position. Extra power, sleeker lines and a more practical and comfortable interior make it one of the finest performance cars on the market.

Anyone who's played the "what car would I buy if I won the lottery?" game must surely have a Porsche on their shortlist somewhere. Chances are it will be the firm's flagship 911, too - but if your numbers don't come up, at least the new Boxster is a very tempting understudy.

Eight years after the launch of the original version, Porsche has given its entry-level model a major overhaul - but has it been thinking outside the Box, or will the newcomer still leave buyers dreaming of 911 ownership?

As the original two-seater drop-top is now a familiar sight across the UK, the initial controversy over its shape has long been forgotten, and as a result the designers have made no changes to the Boxster's overall proportions. But it has been given a more modern look.

At the front, gone are the "fried egg" headlights, replaced by more traditional round lamps. The re-sculpted tail is more angular, and the S model gets new 18-inch alloys as standard, while aerodynamic wing mirrors are a stylish touch.

Porsche fans should be equally pleased with the modifications under the bonnet. The engine is still mid-mounted, and the previous car's 2.7 and 3.2-litre six-cylinders are carried over in the Boxster and Boxster S. But the good news is that the power outputs have increased, and the flagship driven here now comes with 276bhp - a 20bhp boost.

At the test track, the improvement is obvious. The surge of acceleration generated from the characterful engine is relentless, and the noise accompanying it addictive. Be brutal with the short-throw six-speed manual gearbox, and 0-62mph takes only 5.5 seconds - 0.2 seconds quicker than the outgoing car - while a 167mph top speed is in reserve. The 27mpg economy is the same as the previous-generation model's.

On normal roads, of course, drivers will never test the Boxster's power to the limit, but the standard-fit Porsche Stability Management system will be reassuring in the wet. Losing none of the appeal of the current model, the new Boxster is still one of the finest handling roadsters money can buy.

So the performance and styling have both improved, but the designers have been busy inside, too. The small Porsche is now far more comfortable, as the roll hoops have been moved further back to allow greater seat adjustment, while the pedals are set deeper into the footwell. There's more luggage room as well, with a 20-litre increase in space in the front stowage compartment.

At £38,720, the Boxster S is £570 more expensive than its predecessor, which looks pricey when compared to Nissan's capable 350Z Roadster and Mercedes' SLK 350. What's more, the Porsche does without the Merc's folding hard-top - although its electrically operated fabric hood is still one of the best on the market.

The question is, has Porsche done too good a job with the new Boxster? In terms of performance and handling, it comes close to the talents of the 911 Carrera Cabrio - and that makes the car just the ticket for roadster buyers...

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