2009 Porsche Boxster S: Memoirs of Sicily’s Targa Floria

Written by Kimatni D. Rawlins

Like many others – and for more than several reasons -- Porsche passion remains in my blood like an old family tree. For one, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to drive and evaluate all of their products for the last ten years now. Two, I have followed the marque’s storied history through both their racing and consumer success. From James Dean and his 550 Spyder (aka “Little Bastard”) to Jerry Seinfeld, the Porsche bloodline spills into the hearts of auto aficionados at some point in time. I became hooked during a track session in the unique carbon-fiber Carrera GT in 2003. And now major advancements such as Porsche’s newly introduced PDK transmission has taken the brand’s level of performance to yet another level. And when the four-door Panamera hits the streets this year, expect all hell to break loose just as the Cayenne did when first introduced. The Boxster, on the market for twelve years now, has adjusted swiftly to the tough demands of performance convertibles.

The Journey: To convey what’s ahead of the game for Porsche, a few good men were invited overseas to a drive program that was altogether newsworthy, intriguing, informative and pleasant. We started our journey in Stuttgart, Germany for an exclusive tour of the new 100 million Euro Porsche Museum -- clearly one on the most significant building projects in the history of the company – and then on to Sicily to drive the new generation Boxster on the same roads as those courageous men in the famed Targa Florio race where Porsche won 11 years from 1956-1973. And of course there is nothing wrong with pushing a performance convertible within eye’s reach of Mediterranean splendor. Porsche’s intention was to give us an early look at a museum that they believe will present the passion and heritage of the brand to visitors worldwide for years to come.

New Porsche Museum: Co-existing with Porsche’s current museum not far away, the new Museum represents Porsche heritage and attributes and doubles as a nest for the approximately 80 or so featured vehicles which are fully functional and operable at any given moment. The sci-fi, quirky styled museum is designated into two areas -- pre 1948 and post 1948 – all in sequential order. Travel up the almost endless escalator and enter the 60,250 square foot exhibition area where the ghost white atmosphere immediately puts you in a state of historical awareness, yet with a futuristic feel. Romance in time as Porsche presents you the 356 “No. 1” Roadster, the 550 A Spyder, the 911 2.0 Coupe, the 924 and many, many more.

Targa Florio: After jet setting back into history it was time to catch up to the future. So the next morning we caught a charter plane to Sicily where the action begun. Yet, contrary to our expectations, the small village island was very windy, chilly and wet. It didn’t matter. All I knew is that I was about to drive a fresh Porsche roadster on many of the same roads as Umberto Maglioli who took the ‘56 Targa Florio crown in a 550 A Spyder and Colin Davis in ‘64 with his 904 Carrera GTS. Founded it 1906, the Targa Florio was one of the oldest, famed and challenging races of its time until halted in 1977 due to safety reasons. With over 6,000 turns and numerous mountain roads, the open road course tested the heart and will of the race’s most ambitious drivers. Porsche went on to name the convertible version of the 911 after the Targa Florio.

Sicily Introduction: At the small airport in Palermo, Porsche divvied up the Boxsters, which were lined-up in a semi-circle waiting patiently for their drive team. Like the early years when drivers ran to their cars for the start of the race (hence why Porsche’s ignition is on the left) we all scrambled for keys to the most prolific colored vehicles and darted towards the cadre of roadsters like mice in mazes. The first day’s drive was in route to the Kempinski Hotel Giardino di Costanza were Porsche made sure we were treated like royalty. My partner, Road and Track’s Sam Mitani, and I jumped in a canary yellow Boxster S taking the drive to the resort slow and easy while learning about the vehicle and its new PDK transmission which was recently re-introduced on the new 911. However, we would save the fun for day two. After all, we were too entrenched in the island’s small village towns, gangs of sheep and beautiful countryside. It was evening before we arrived to the Kempinski. Dinner was heavy on our minds.

PDK Defined: Porsche first used PDK in 1983 in a 956. The original technology was specifically for their racecars. In fact, many of Porsche’s consumer vehicle technologies are inherited from their racing experiences. PDK, which replaces Tiptronic S, is a combination of two gearboxes with each having its own clutch. When the transmission is set in any particular gear, the gear on deck awaits patiently for selection allowing immediate and faster shifts. PDK can be driven as an automatic and as a manual. Pros include quick starts which automatics provide and manual benefits including low power loss, reduced weight and efficiency. Porsche says PDK also decreases fuel consumption. One reason is due to the seventh overdrive gear which leads to low engine speed and lower gas consumption. The clean and simple sports steering wheel which comes with PDK has two gearshift buttons which are seamlessly integrated into the three-spoke design. Yet, Sam and I kept getting confused with the embedded gear selectors because each side has the same function opposed to the left being downshift and right being upshift Porsche said this is due to complete hand rotation of the wheel which performance drivers are used too. The Boxster’s standard gearbox is a six-speed manual.

The Drive: The next morning was very chilly and breezy. Though, we were enthralled over the day’s drive. We dropped the black canvas top in what seemed seconds for a quick photo shoot. It stacks snuggly atop the Boxster S’ mid-mounted 3.4-liter boxer engine. The new powerplant features 310 horsepower (up 15 hp vs. 2008 model) and direct fuel injection. The base Boxster gets down with a 255 horsepower 2.9-liter engine with no direct injection. Porsche didn’t want the performance too close to the 3.4. The powertrain is borrowed from the Cayman with Boxster specific adjustments since most driving will be down with the top down. Evident was the light and spirited feel of the 2009 vs. the 2008. Yet, stiffness and center of gravity remains unchanged between the two. The Boxster, a very diminutive vehicle, was actually comfortable inside. And all of its telematics and new multimedia technologies in the optional PCM 3.0 like larger touchscreen, iPod integration and Bluetooth makes for an enjoyable open-air experience. Sam and I rolled through towns timidly not wanting to disrespect the Dons. Locals stared like deer as the Boxster’s new front end, 18s, and LED lights garnered attention. Besides when will you ever see a Japanese and African-American driving a German car in Italian territory! After toying around we both got down like Umberto and Colin challenging the German’s attributes. Impressive!

Back at the den it was time to grub again. But I couldn’t find a Sicilian pizza anywhere in sight. So I enjoyed fine Italian cuisine consisting of Grouper ravioli with parsley pesto and nuts, Swordfish with aromatic herbs and vegetable lasagnetta, and Almond parfait with Chocolate sauce and fresh fruits. After all a $56,700 Porsche Boxster S ($46,600 Boxster) deserves the finer things in life! Stay tuned for our Panamera drive, I hope!

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