The economy has a case of the jitters and sales of the lowest-priced Porsche go down while sales of the highest-priced Porsche go up.
Sales of the Boxster (starting at $42,600 to $52,000) slid to 8,118 units in the first nine months of this year from 10,071 in the same period a year ago, while sales of the 911 (starting at $67,000 to $180,000) rose to 8,779 units from 7,907.
Porsche North America, the U.S. distributor, even put incentives on Boxster to help move unsold inventory, offering $1,000 in cash to members of the Porsche Club of America to help dispose of inventory.
Unfortunately, it forgot to tell the brass in Germany of the incentive offer. Porsche execs in the home country considered the rebate offer a gimmick that hinted at a distress sale and slighted the sports car's image, not to mention its value.
Porsche North America won't do that again.
There were two reasons Boxster sales declined, Porsche says. One is that enthusiasts knew Boxster was going to get a facelift for '03 and so they held back on a purchase of an '02 until the upgraded model arrived.
The other is that some Porsche buyers, just like those who purchase a Ford, Chevy or Toyota, are affected by the economy.
"The Boxster buyer is 35 to 45 years of age, earns $100,000 plus, and is a manager or supervisor whose job is affected by the economy," explained Porsche spokesman Bob Carlson.
"The 911 buyer, however, is 45 to 55, earns $200,000 plus, and is an entrepreneur whose job isn't as affected by the economy," Thomas said.
So when the economy is shaky, the boss buys a 911, the employee holds off purchasing a Boxster.
Oh, well, at least we're talking cars and not stock options.
Which brings us to the '03 Boxster, or what some refer to as the poor man's 911--though most would have difficulty considering anyone earning $100,000 a year to be a down-and-outer, much less a person in need of a $1,000 rebate.
Boxster is offered in base and top-of-the-line S versions. We tested the base, which like the S, has undergone its first significant styling change since it first appeared in the 1997 model year.
Subtle changes were made to the body to make it more aerodynamic to slither through the air without power and fuel-robbing disruptions. For '03 there's a more rounded roofline, lower rear end, and newly designed cooling air intakes that give the front end a lower look while providing more airflow to the engine.
The '03 Boxster is so aerodynamic you can drive in the rain with the top down and not a drop of water will enter the cabin to splatter your melon, boasts Carlson.
Of course, to ensure the magic to keep you dry you must purchase the optional windblocker ($375), a stand-up plastic barrier behind the seats which keeps air passing over the car from traveling back into the cabin, and you must travel at no less than 45 m.p.h.
"Under 45 m.p .h. and you're on your own," Carlson says.
As for the top, pull one release lever, push a button, and it powers down and out of sight in 12 seconds. Thanks to the new, more rounded design of the top, you can slip into and out of the car without bumping the noggin.
Boxster also boasts both increased power as well as fuel economy for `03.
Thanks to new variable cam technology, the 2.7-liter 6-cylinder in the Boxster now delivers 225 h.p., up from 217 h.p. (258 h.p., up from 250 in the S).
The mileage rating goes to 20 m.p.g. city/29 m.p.g. highway from 19/27 for '02 (18/26 for the S, same as '02).
The most noteworthy upgrade for '03 is that to increase longevity, the 2-seat roadster now sports a glass rear window with built-in defroster rather than plastic, which could discolor or crack. The glass also helps reduce noise filtering back into the cabin when the top is up.
One other change is a redesign of the cupholders. Rather than two hold rs popping out of the dash at the same time, one now slips from its housing, and then pull and a second holder emerges.
You might argue that upgrading cupholders makes little sense in a 225-h.p. sports car, but keep in mind that hot coffee in the lap is far more aggravating than cold rain water on the scalp.
One feature left unchanged: Boxster continues to be fun to drive. Kick the pedal and the 2.7-liter six springs to life and the smooth 5-speed manual helps get all the energy out of the six. A speed-activated rear spoiler automatically rises when you reach 75 m.p.h. to keep you better planted to the road and then retracts when you ease back to 50 m.p.h.
For serious motoring, opt for Porsche's stability management system with traction control, a $1,235 option that helps keep the car going in the direction pointed on slippery or dry roads. Sensors detect any loss of grip front or rear and automatically apply braking to the slipping wheel or wheels and reduce engine power to maintain stability.
No free lunch, however. You'll feel most of the tar marks in the road thanks to a stiff suspension designed for optimum handling at the expense of cushioned ride.
You'll have to accept occasional up-and-down gyrations for the ability to make tight corners and turns, which, of course, is one of the primary reasons you consider Boxster in the first place.
Base price of the Boxster is $42,600. Standard equipment in addition to that noted includes four-wheel anti-lock brakes, dual front and side impact air bags, power windows/seats/locks/mirrors (heated), leather seats, automatic climate control, digital radio with in-dash CD player, and fog lights.
There's also front and rear luggage compartments, or what Porsche calls front and rear trunks. The two-seater doesn't have a lot of space to carry items in the cabin, and really not much more in those trunks.
Boxster is a mid-engine machine with the engine directly behind the driver. This means the normal engine compartment up front now serves as a mini trunk. Space reserved for the stored power top makes for a tiny trunk in back. Boxster holds the golf clubs, though it holds them in the passenger seat.
The test vehicle came with optional 18-inch alloy Carrera wheels at $2,920 (17 inch in '02); wheel caps with colored crest at $175, cruise control at $570, remote keyless entry at $450 (until you decipher the trio of key fob buttons, you can unlock either trunk when simply wanting to unlock the doors), a Hi-Fi digital sound upgrade (6 speakers rather than 2 for concert hall sound) at $830, seal gray metallic paint at $825, and graphite gray floor mats at $95.
It didn't come with the $2,630 navigation system. If smart enough to earn $100,000 a year, do you need a satellite circling overhead to tell you that you're 5 miles from home?
Next up from Porsche, the Cayenne, its first sport-utility vehicle due out in the first quarter of next year with a choice of 340-h.p. or 450-h.p. turbocharged 4.5-liter V-8 engine.