In the early nineties, I vividly remember a road trip I took with my father to the Cote D’Azur. The smell of the sea and the feeling of the warm breeze hitting you as you thrust your hand outside the window of a speeding car hasn’t escaped me. It’s magical. In those indescribable moments, everything seems perfect enough. Moments like this are increasingly rare as we get older, so I suggest chasing them down.
When the opportunity to drive a Porsche Boxster and a BMW Z4 in Oahu, Hawaii, came along my emotions ran high. Hawaii has some of the most beautiful coastal highways in the world. The endless beaches, ahi poke, and fish tacos aren’t half bad either.
Much like the Mazda MX-5, the Boxster and Z4 suffer from a perceived lack of machismo or the illusive mojo. To that point, I believe it was The Sopranos’ Ralphie Cifaretto who said the Boxster is “…a Porsche wearing panties.” I must admit, I too have a slight aversion to open top cars. Maybe it’s because my first car was a 1980 VW Rabbit Cabriolet that leaked every time it rained, which then rusted out the floor. Yabba Dabba Doo. I often grin when I encounter a white BMW 6-Series convertible, Gallardo Spyder, or 911 Turbo cabrio in traffic or on the track. I get it. It’s more fun to cruise with the top down, but why would you buy a performance machine that is essentially a lesser counterpart to the coupe? Heavier, less rigid, rejigged, and not as secure? The downside seems high, especially for a daily driver.
The Boxster is different. It’s not an open top iteration of a great car. It’s pure open cockpit roadster. Porsche produced the Boxster from the ground up some twenty years ago and in true Zuffenhausen fashion, has fine tuned it to near perfection ever since. For 2017, Porsche has announced a new 718 badge for the Boxster and you guessed it – turbos for all! Nevertheless, the new Boxster Spyder is arguably the best sports car that Porsche is currently producing. Seriously. The Boxster GTS is also in the top tier of the current line-up. The Boxster is simply telepathic, exhilarating, and doesn’t seek attention. Anybody who understands and appreciates cars and speaks ill of the Boxster should run out and drive one. All it takes is a few minutes behind the wheel to realize that it’s as immersive and infectious as any vehicle on the road.
One thing I have to admit is I don’t like PDK. Don’t get me wrong, I love new technology, but I also have an appreciation for things that have timeless appeal, like an old Heuer chronograph or a good vintage pair of polarized Oliver Peoples glasses. While I’m certain that PDK is infinitely better than Porsche’s previous Tiptronic and as good or better than any double clutch system out there, it’s positively not as satisfying as pumping the clutch and shifting gears. It’s a visceral sensation that is synonymous with Porsche and I’m glad Zuffenhausen is stirring back into that direction after the latest GT3 was announced.
As for the BMW Z4, it’s a spectacular roadster that arouses the senses. The same cannot be said for its botched predecessors – the Z3 and the Fisker designed Z8. The Z4 drives like a little hot rod compared to the tamed precision of the Boxster. Even in sport mode, the suspension feels soft and lacking that instinctual feel for the road. Having a turbo charged engine, the Z4’s long hood would sway like small rhinoceros upon gear shifts. The good news it that the engine and exhaust sounds keep you smiling every moment behind the wheel. The Z4’s interior is very nicely executed and leans towards Italian roadsters, with a little more refinement than the Porsche counterpart. The seats are world class and overall the car feels special
While the Z4’s steering has ample response, it’s a little less confidence inspiring on coastal roads, and the outstanding gearbox helps ease the nerves. I spent a lot more time getting to know the Z4, but don’t get me started on the trunk and roof relationship. It’s awful. Yet, the distinct BMW leather smell once the top is up stirs up memories of my driving test in a 740 some two decades ago. I like that. Maybe it was the manual gearbox, maybe because I was in Hawaii and I knew that I didn’t have to live with the car, but the BMW Z4 is a spirited machine that I’d love to drive again. I think the Z4 is outstanding value in the segment and the nameplate has evolved into a formidable competitor that’s completely different than the Boxster.
There are only a few things in life that stay amazing. Driving a Porsche roadster on a coastal highway is one of those things. Not to take anything away from BMW – both the Boxster and Z4 are extraordinary motorcars – but when pitted up against each other, the Boxster connects the driver to the machine like no other. In the end, both cars offered those transient moments behind the wheel that conjure that rare dreamlike sensation I felt as a kid. It’s that magical combination of the warm sea breeze and the perfect car that made this trip unforgettable.
Images courtesy of the author exclusively for VVUZZ.