Rearview Mirror: Boxster or Concept R?

Since Volkswagen’s debut of the Concept R roadster last November at the Frankfurt Auto Show, I’ve been having an internal debate; just me, myself and I. The question at hand is this: Assuming I could comfortably afford to buy either, would I choose a production version of the Concept R over a Porsche Boxster S?

The question is not an easy one to answer. One reason it’s so difficult is that the Concept R is still a concept, so it’s impossible to make a legitimate comparison with any other car. Some things we know for sure about it, but we’ll need to fill in the blanks with some educated assumptions for the sake of this debate.

We know from looking at it that the general shape and proportions of the Concept R are very similar to the Boxster. The VW is actually about six inches shorter overall, but the width of both cars is identical, and the height is very similar as well, the Porsche being taller by just over an inch. Both are two-seaters as a result of having their engines mounted rear-midship and driving the rear wheels.

The engine specifications are quite similar too, though the layouts are different; the VW makes use of the ubiquitous VR6 configuration mounted sideways behind the seats, while Porsche uses its tried-and-true flat-six “boxer” arranged longitudinally. Each of these engines displaces 3.2 liters, resulting in output in the neighborhood of 260 horsepower (specifically, 258 for the P-car and 265 for the Dub). The Concept R is supposedly capable of a top speed of 169 mph, five more than the Boxster S. The VW also beats the Porsche to 60 mph by about half a second at 5.3.

Clearly the Concept R has the Boxster squarely in its sights. The similarities are undeniable, and it would seem that VW has even raised the bar slightly. However, several things remain to be seen. Since we all know that concept cars are often more ambitious than their production counterparts, it is likely that the Concept R’s dimensions are subject to change prior to production. And let’s be honest, when was the last time a concept got trimmed down for production? They always grow a little here or there.

Another unknown at this time is price, the primary reason more of us don’t own Porsches in the first place. Trying to guess the price of a car like the R is tricky business. If it’s kept relatively simple in terms of content, VW could conceivably offer the car starting in the mid- to upper-20s. However, if Wolfsburg views the roadster as another opportunity to take the brand upmarket, loading it with new technology and the latest creature comforts, it wouldn’t seem out of line to see a price tag at or around the $40,000 mark.

Being cautiously optimistic, let’s assume a $36,000 price with popular equipment. The Boxster S starts at about $52,000, but Porsche (and its dealers) have discovered the secret to profitability is to offer nearly anything interesting as an extra-cost option. A quick scan on the lot at the local Porsche center revealed typical list prices in the neighborhood of $60K. In theory, one could assumingly buy a Concept R and a GTI for the price of the Boxster.

Regardless of the final, there is bound to be a major price gap between the two cars. Price will certainly be an influencing factor in choosing one or the other, but the more important issue will that of value, or rather perceived value. Will the Volkswagen be as equally capable and endearing as the Porsche for nearly half the price? Time will tell.

Some of you may be asking, “Why consider the Boxster at all?” I’m well aware that in many circles, the Boxster, especially in non-S form, is not very highly regarded. I’ve heard it referred to as a “girl’s car” and been told that the only real Porsches are 911s. That’s all well and good, but I’m a bit nostalgic as a car lover, and my favorite vintage sports car is the Porsche 550 Spyder, a sports car in the truest sense, in that was made for the track but could be driven on the street. The 550 served as the inspiration for the Boxster, and I will always have a place in my heart (and garage) for a mid-engine, two-seat sports car. The Boxster S addresses many of the shortcomings of the standard model and is, in my humble opinion, a genuine sports car. As for girls’ cars, I happen to have a VW Cabriolet in my driveway and I’ve become fairly resilient to that remark.

What the Boxster offers that the Concept R will lack is a genuine sense of purpose. Porsche (until just recently) has always done one thing: build great sports cars. The Boxster is born of this pedigree, and even in its mildest form its only purpose is to be a sports car. Its chassis, engine, brakes, body, cockpit, center of gravity, everything about it was designed to be a driver’s car.

The Volkswagen roadster, by comparison, will no doubt be a sporty car, but one based on mechanicals adopted from more pedestrian transportation. Who knows, it may work very well, but there will be no denying that underneath that sexy shape will lie the heart of a Golf (albeit a mighty Golf).

I tend to put a lot of credence in having something that is original, not an imitator. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never warmed up to Lexus products. To me, there is an inherent value to owning the genuine article, and it often reveals itself at the time of resale. There is also a certain personal satisfaction in owning an original that simply can’t be matched with a copy. For this reason I can see myself leaning toward the Porsche. (I can already hear that four-letter word being uttered: S-N-O-B)

On the other hand, what if the original is actually an inferior product? What’s the shame in owning something that performs as well as the original, perhaps even better, but costs substantially less? Does the badge really matter, as long as it lives up to its expectations? While I certainly value an original, I’m also practical enough to recognize a great car when I see one, regardless of price. Besides, I’ve always driven Volkswagens, so why should I switch up now if I’m given a legitimate reason to stay with the brand? If the Concept R lives up to its implied promises, I could very well see owning one. The money I save could be much better spent elsewhere.

So for now the question remains unanswered. Which is fine, because for now I could probably afford neither the R nor the S. Time will tell if Wolfsburg is capable of producing a genuine alternative to Stuttgart’s iconic roadster. I look forward to the day when I am faced with that decision.

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