The standard 6-speed manual is an improvement over the old gearbox, in addition to being sharper than the 7-speed-stick available in the new 911. The PDK-equipped Boxster is a half step quicker from zero to 60mph than the manually shifted one, but if a buyer is so concerned about straight-line superiority, a conversation with the folks at Ford or Chevrolet about their oxygen-huffing ballistic muscle cars might be in order.
If the driver has a heavy commute, plans to lease the S for a couple of years and does not care about the poor guy who eventually shells out to replace the PDK's clutch pack, then the $3,200 flappy-paddle box is justified. If, on the other hand, the driver has lusted after a Porsche for years, the manual is the more emotionally satisfying choice – and it saves about 65lbs over a PDK-equipped car, too.
On the highway, traffic splatters the little red roadster with Sno-Melt and dirt. Inside the cabin, the S continues to feel like a maturation of the original Boxster idea born 15 years ago: quiet, comfortable and a minimum of buffeting. The engine hums away contentedly, doling out big lumps of torque nearly everywhere in the rev range. It feels extremely compliant, and even quieter with the top up. It is, in a word, nice, but that is hardly this car's raison d'etre.
The next exit is for a local ski hill. The road wriggles through the mist along the side of the mountain. A speed trap sits before a long sweeping right-hander; creep past, then downshift, leaning into the throttle as the road slants upward and the engine crescendos from whuffling complacency to high-pitched eagerness.
Ripping faint shreds of vapour into twin trailing vortices, a true sports car comes barrelling out of the fog of mass-market anonymity like a rocket straight out of Ferdinand Porsche's crypt. Slick though these alpine roads may be, the Boxster is poised, nimble, a joy. Below, Vancouver lies smothered in damp cotton wool. Up here, the car dances in the sunshine.
Nit-picking, the electric-power-assist steering has the faint cloying aftertaste of an artificial sweetener. It is sharp and accurate, but carries less feel than the old model. The mid-engine layout continues to charm in its balance, and if trickery like active engine suspension mounts and rear torque-vectoring – braking the inside rear wheel to transfer power to the outside wheel and improve cornering – are working behind the scenes, the driver still feels a direct connection to the machine. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
The snowbanks build and the temperature drops. Turning off into an abandoned parking lot and switching off the electric assists, the Boxster S eagerly shows that, despite a 77lb weight reduction over the outgoing model, it is still awfully fond of powdered doughnuts. Even so, the slides are remarkably easy to control.
This is a superlative machine, finally come into its own. The only caveat? If the Boxster is this good, how great will the coming Cayman – its stiffer, tin-top cousin – be, particularly when it is unleashed in coming years carrying the higher-performance “R” badge on its posterior?