Dawn touches the mountain first, hurtling across space, howling and furious. We see it as quiet light gilding the pines, grey turning to gold, but a hundred and fifty million kilometres away atoms scream in their death throes, roiling and boiling and breaking apart into raw energy.
Today, the morning and the mountain belong to Stuttgart.
Behind me, six miniature suns ignite, one after another, a staccato punctuation rising to a single wail. Each piston is firing twenty times a second as the needle on the red dial swings clockwise towards redline, each combustion chamber is filled, fired, evacuated, shunted out the centre exhaust and straight into the ear canal.
The wind of speed becomes a tempest, the symphony of fire out-shouted by the effects of its thrust. All is tearing tumult, empty road and whoop of joy. Hairpin, late-brake, heel-stab, downshift, steady throttle, grip-grip-grip through the corner, then a little too early on the throttle and hip-pivot out of it, flying ever upwards. The flat-six sounds its barbaric yawp in the wilderness, shades of ancient Visigoth and Vandal. Civilization is sundered, tarmac to be stormed and sacked.
Below me, the city sleeps, a lone cruise liner ferrying its passengers into port. They're travelling, and I am merely driving on a road that leads to nowhere, but there's little doubt as to who's actually being transported.
Too early for tourists, too early for cyclists; the mountain is mine and the road is empty. I reach the top, loop back, make the run again as the tsunami of photons comes shooting out across space to smash against the rocky outcroppings and dense green forests.
The bugs are out in force as I loop around at the top, the tarmac of the lot scrawled with the graffiti of last night's hellions. The engine growls and grumbles happily, a little red beast sated – for now. I shut it off and circle with my camera, swatting away the no-see-'ems. It's silent, but not for long. There, just on the edge of hearing, there is another. Another flat-six turbine-whine, this one higher pitched, with the roar of an air-cooled engine. They are coming – today, the morning and the mountain belong to Stuttgart.
As an aspirational brand, Porsche has almost always been within grasp. The 911, it has been said, is the greatest argument for capitalism ever, and while the average consumer might feel their eyes bug out at the options list of a new one, or the staggering recent appreciation of the 993 and 964 years, if you work hard enough, you can still put some kind of 911 in your driveway.
Or, failing that, some kind of Porsche. A 944, perhaps. A 928, if you're a bit of a masochist. A 914, if you'd like to outlaw build the engine and thumb your nose at the purists. It's not like Ferrari or Lamborghini, where even the cheap seats are astronomically priced and generally unusable; Porsche hammers out dreams into steel, rubber, and glass, and most of us could just about make one work.
Aside from a basic Macan, which while a very good car isn't anyone's boyhood dream car (unless you're Milhouse Van Houten), the Boxster is the attainable modern Porsche. The S version strains that “attainability” tag-line at $72,900, and the GTS stretches things like Willy Wonka's taffy-puller to an eye-watering $85,100-plus-options. However, via leasing or financing, or betting on the resale value, it's still at least within theoretical reach; it's certainly less expensive than the Cayman or 911.
Yet despite being the littlest Porsche sportscar, the Boxster is also probably the best. I prefer the Cayman as I like the styling of a coupe better, but there's nothing like being able to drop the top and open your heart to the full experience of flat-six harmony and rushing air. The mid-engine layout is more reactive, perhaps a little less forgiving of ham-handedness than the 911's massively-grippy engineering, and the performance is such that you still have to get up pretty early in the morning to stretch this car's legs a little.
Having come fully under Volkswagen's thumb these days, Porsche is expected to produce results, not just in racing or engineering capabilites, but in profits. It does so with utter ruthlessness, posting up per-unit margins that even exotic manufacturers eye enviously. The sales strategy is routine across the board, with multiple variants of each model coming along like clockwork, each a part of Porsche's unstoppable Schlieffen plan of sales dominance. Carrera S? Might as well be Carrera $.
But for all the carefully-planned tweaking and product positioning, there is still joy to be found in a Porsche. Helpfully, they stick a GTS badge on the back to help you find it. The Panamera GTS is the best-of-breed, a thundering ICBM with lusty V8 soundtrack. The Cayman GTS goes like Hell. And the Boxster GTS?
On paper, it's a collection of options you can already get on your custom-ordered Boxster S, with a few aerodynamic tweaks and an extra 15 hp cherry on top. Over the base S, the GTS adds an adjustable sport exhaust, 20-inch alloys, Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), the Sport Chrono adaptive throttle, bi-xenon headlights, and an Alcantara-lined interior. It is approximately $20,000 meaner than the regular S, yet “only” $12,700 meaner to your wallet. What. A. Deal.
I'll tell you one option box I'd leave unchecked, even if it marks me out as a wooden-shoe-wielding Luddite: the excellent seven-speed dual-clutch PDK gearbox. I'd been told this Boxster was a PDK-equipped car, so when I arrived to pick it up for the week, peered inside and saw the Alcantara-covered shifter for the six-speed manual instead, I distinctly heard the choirs of angels singing. Better than finding a forgotten $20 in a pair of old jeans.
Porsche has tweaked the seven-speed manual in the 911 to a point where it's hugely improved, but the Boxster and the Cayman are still better choices if you view a sportscar as a vehicle to stir the soul rather than produce the numbers. The PDK doesn't much blunt the experience by the way, and there are some annoyances to be put up with if you go for the stick-shift.
Sport chrono is standard on GTS models, and that means three-level selectability for throttle response. Normal is fine, hit Sport and you've woken both the car up and your neighbours as the sport exhaust is in full loudener mode, and Sport+ sharpens everything up for the track and adds automatic rev-matching. In typical Porsche fashion, this last can't be fooled, and never sets a foot wrong. But it drives me up the wall anyway.
In the Cayman GT4 – which is absolutely wonderful, by the way – there is no such adjustability. A single button turns rev matching on and off; that's as it should be. Rev-matching might be handy on a first lap of an unfamiliar track, but if I've spec'd a manual it's because I want to master the car myself, not have it drive for me. Two demerits.
However, the Goldilocks middle-ground of Sport and PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Mangement) left in normal mode for rumpled pavement makes for a thrilling way to clear the cobwebs out on an early Sunday morning. I'm here to meet up with the members of the local branch of the Porsche Club of America, and they turn up with a huge variety of machinery to answer the question, “Just what counts as a 'real' Porsche?”
There's a gorgeous 930 turbo, a slate-grey 993 tiptronic. There's a manual 928 S4, and a 1988 Targa with a modified suspension. The founder of PCA Canada West is here in a 991 Cabriolet with a PDK and powerkit; he got the club going in 1975, and it's celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year. They have an annual show-and-drive out at Dundarave in West Vancouver to benefit charity. If you're on the West coast, it's certainly worth checking out.
Much car talk follows, along with rides in everything. Hoo boy, that 930. More. More of that please.
And as for the Boxster GTS, now ready for a slower roll down the hill and back to normal family life on a Sunday morning, it's an absolute peach. Porsche will sell more Macans, Panameras, and Cayennes than all three lines of their sportscar models in all trims.
They are a sales juggernaut these days, not just a speciality manufacturer of sports cars. Even so, they still build something worth getting up at the crack of dawn to experience.
Numbers: the Boxster GTS's 3.4L flat-six produces 330 hp at 6,000 rpm and 273 lb-ft @ 4,500-5,800 rpm; 0-100 km/h comes in a claimed five seconds for the manual, 4.9 for the PDK; fuel economy is rated at 12.1/8.9L/100 km city/highway. It has a deep 150L trunk up front and a shallow 120L trunk out back. It is expensive, and the options are costly.
It's really quite a lovely machine, and doubtless you can expect a slightly more hardcore version to sit above the Spyder that's the current King Boxster. Right in the middle, the GTS is the Goldilocks Temperature Special – just right for welcoming the dawn, just right for a fiery salute to the break of day.
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/80,000 km roadside assistance
|Model Tested||2015 Porsche Boxster GTS||Destination Fee||$1,085|
|Base Price||$83,900||Price as Tested||$100,565|
$15,840 (Carmine red - $2,950; GTS embroidery and decaling [communications package] - $4,200; parking assist front and rear and reverse camera - $1,730; climate control and heated seats - $1030; infotainment and Bose audio - $4,560; satin-painted alloys - $1,010)