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To keep its product portfolio contemporary, Porsche has reworked its Boxster for 2009.
In truth, it takes a keen eye to spot the individual changes -- new LED lighting aside. The good news is that the subtle makeover achieves the desired effect, building on the Boxster's reputation and the open-air concept first shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in 1993.

Up front, the Boxster earns larger air intakes and restyled headlights along with bright light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that are used as the daytime running lights. The rear lamps also adopt LEDs for the brake and tail lights -- the tail light portion forming a neat eyebrow over the cluster at night.

New Porsche Boxster out for launch

These are subtle but effective improvements, especially when the Boxster S is wearing its optional, 19-inch wheels and P235/35ZR19 front and P265/35ZR19 rear tires.

The bigger news is the car's increased power. The outgoing model was hardly shy, so the extra oomph comes as a bonus. In the case of the base Boxster ($58,400), the engine has been upsized to 2.9 litres from 2.7. This bumps the power to 255 h.p. (up 10) and 214 foot-pounds of torque (up 13).

The up-level Boxster S ($70,600) also receives more power. In this case, the direct-injection 3.4L flat-six gets a 15-h.p. hike to 310 h.p., while torque rises 14 ft-lbs to 265. The difference is both noticeable and meaningful, as the car delivers better snap off the line and a more sustained pull through the mid-range.

More power and a livelier exhaust note from the Boxster's new pipes do not automatically make a better sports car. It takes the right road manners to complete the picture. Here, the Boxster is wonderful, especially when equipped with the optional active suspenders ($2,720). This setup not only lowers ride height by 10 millimetres, it ramps up the handling from very good to razor sharp without giving up on ride comfort.

Flogging the Boxster S around Sicily's less than straight and more than narrow roads served as a practical lesson in just how far the modern suspension has come. Indeed, the go-kart-like handling is such that the electronic nanny does not dive in needlessly. For the more adventurous, the overseer can be turned off entirely, but be warned, as the Boxster S's power flicks the tail out in the blink of an eye.

Adding the seven-speed PDK transmission with its paddle shifters ($4,660) to the Sports Chrono Package Plus ($1,800) brings a sweet twin-clutch gearbox, launch control, sport buttons and the attendant increase in the speed of the shifts.

The launch control mode gives the Boxster a missile-like push off the line.

Unlike many similar systems, the Boxster's is not limited to a set number of launches. Punch the sport plus button, put a firm boot on the brake, nail the gas and the system revs the engine to 6,500 rpm as it readies the car for the driver's signal. Lifting off the brake pedal unleashes everything the Boxster S has to offer -- it rips to 100 kilometres an hour in 5.2 seconds.

The interior has also been tweaked. Among the upgrades are some necessary items (Bluetooth connectivity and an iPod input) and new (optional) heated and ventilated seats. The navigation system has been revamped to include a 40-gigabyte hard drive and a touch-sensitive screen that allows it to be operated like an Apple iTouch -- it is a snap to use when compared with the previous version.

The changes to the 2009 Boxster are evolutionary in nature, but they make a big difference to the overall driving sensation. The new model boasts better cabin comfort, ride-on-rails handling and the best twin-clutch gearbox I have driven to date. A spirited drive, with the engine wailing and tires protesting, provided one of life's finer moments.

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