Boxster in the Winter?
August 31, 2009 10:51 AM   Subscribe

How well does the Porsche Boxster fare in the winter? A real, "wake up and everything is ice" Midwestern winter? Engine over the RWD and stability control should make it drivable?

There's a couple of articles from Canadian reviews but they seemed sort of ga-ga over the car itself or expressing their disappointment at getting the car dirty in the winter slush. I have been avoiding RWD vehicles because of how they perform in the icy and snowy conditions, but with engine right above the rear wheels it seems like it should drive better than something like the Prius. I would think your biggest limiting factor would be ground clearance in heavy snows. I'm more concerned with traction in hilly conditions than I am with heavy snow. Snow melts quickly but you can easily hit a slick spot in the shaded part of the street weeks after a snow storm.
posted by geoff. to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I posted something like this before about driver ability. The same applies here. You can have all the bells and whistles you want- or have none, it all comes down to how well you react to loss of grip and how well you can anticipate loss of grip. How to steer through a slide or steer out of one, how to apply opposite lock, when not to.. etc etc...

It's a gift. A talent.

I can't tell you you "no, you should never drive a Boxster in the snow- it's dangerous" because I have no idea how talented you are behind the wheel of a car. If you know what you're doing, any car can be handled well in snow and ice. Get yourself some nice grippy snow tires and have fun.
posted by Zambrano at 11:01 AM on August 31, 2009


Zambrano is right on point.

But lots of power and big, fat performance tires are a combination that will really mess with the car's ability to do well on a slick surface, no matter how good you are. Snow tires will help a lot.

What will be a bigger issue is the car's ability to defrost the interior, given that soft tops are not great insulators, and the fact that the Boxster's rear window is likely to have defrost issues, as well. And that is in addition to very poor visibility with the top up even in good conditions.

If it were me, the weather issue would probably not keep me from driving it (other Boxster issues would keep me away, but if I got over those things, weather would not be the deterrent). But I learned to drive in the Midwest in the winter and drove an overpowered rear-wheel-drive car on frozen roads long before traction control was invented.
posted by The World Famous at 11:06 AM on August 31, 2009


Nokian Hakkapilitta tires. They're Finnish. It snows a lot there.

I'd take a sports car with snow tires over a 4x4 with regular tires most days of the week. At the very least, though, you need all-season tires. Summer performance tires will be downright dangerous when the temp drops below 40, snow or not. The rubber compound is just not right for the winter.
posted by hwyengr at 11:18 AM on August 31, 2009


Bear in mind that a low slung car is going to bottom out REALLY easily in snow. The guys I know who drive performance cars in winter are continually getting stuck. Basically the car lifts off the ground and the wheels end up in the air. It's even happened to my wife in her Honda Pilot when she took a run at a snowdrift.

I'm the guy who pulls them out in my tractor / 4WD truck.

Good snow tires will take care of many of the traction issues but you have to choose between good snow traction and good ice traction - they are different things. A grippy snow tire can be lethal on wet ice around freezing point, while a grippy ice tire can spin out in heavy snow.
posted by unSane at 11:28 AM on August 31, 2009


Between the bottoming out and the wide tires, either plan on getting skinny ones or plan on getting a winter beater.
posted by davejay at 11:32 AM on August 31, 2009


Car And Driver thought the 2005 Boxter S handled fine with winter tires, when they had one for their long term test.
posted by Jon-o at 11:45 AM on August 31, 2009


I worked as a jockey for a Porsche store here in Ontario for a few years, so I have a fair bit of winter experience in Porsches.

It cannot, and should not, be done without winter tires. It's extremely difficult to handle, I've had some light spins in low speed situations, none resulting in damage luckily, but scary nonethless.

Porsches can, with winter tires, be winter driven. It's actually quite common, and sales of winter tires for Porsche owners were significant. The driveability is absolutely there, and the cars are tested thoroughly in winter conditions by Porsche.

That said, I would not drive on unplowed roads, I would not drive in heavy weather conditions unless absolutely necessary, and I would give myself a lot of distance. With practice, it can definitely be done.
posted by smitt at 12:00 PM on August 31, 2009


To Zambrano's point, the newer model year Boxsters have glass rear windows, with defrosters. Early first generation Boxsters did have the plastic rear window, and that could be an absolute pain.

Best solution is to purchase a hard-top.
posted by smitt at 12:03 PM on August 31, 2009


Oh, and davejay is dead on wrt skinnier tires: winters should not be put on your stock wheels, you should be buying winter wheels and tires that are skinnier.
posted by smitt at 12:14 PM on August 31, 2009


A real, "wake up and everything is ice" Midwestern winter?

Well, I owned a mildly overpowered RWD car in Chicago for a few years and really disliked the experience. I dont think there's any driver ability that will help you get out of a snowed in parking spot. My friends at the time tried weighing down the trunk and winter tires with varying results.

That said, once the roads were clean and relatively free of ice, it wasnt too bad. Its during a snowfall and the snow turning into ice period after thats the worst. If its garage kept and used as a second car, you'll be fine. Primary mode of transportation? Not so good.

but with engine right above the rear wheels it seems like it should drive better than something like the Prius.

The Prius is FWD. The difference betwen FWD (pulling, think horse and carraige) and RWD (pushing, think someone pushing you from behind) in a midwestern winter is like night and day.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:50 PM on August 31, 2009


I don't know if space or other considerations are keeping you from the idea, but a winter beater is really the best plan. You can get mid- to full-size 10 to 20 year-old US sedans cheap and they make great winter machines.
posted by maxwelton at 2:00 PM on August 31, 2009


Prius was a bad example, I didn't realize it was FWD. I've only driven RWD cars, but not a mid engine. I figured that having an engine block ontop of the rear tires would add a bit more oomph on the traction. I found a really good deal I think I'm going to jump on it and come out ahead with the Nokian Hakkapeliitta tires.

I worked as a jockey for a Porsche store here in Ontario for a few years, so I have a fair bit of winter experience in Porsches.

It cannot, and should not, be done without winter tires. It's extremely difficult to handle, I've had some light spins in low speed situations, none resulting in damage luckily, but scary nonethless.

Porsches can, with winter tires, be winter driven. It's actually quite common, and sales of winter tires for Porsche owners were significant. The driveability is absolutely there, and the cars are tested thoroughly in winter conditions by Porsche.


Exactly what I was looking for thanks guys!
posted by geoff. at 2:12 PM on August 31, 2009


I drive a 911 in the weak Virginia winter and the few days that we get snow or ice are a real adventure, even with winter tires. The biggest problem with the 911 is that you simply cannot run narrow enough tires. Even winter tires that are 13 inches wide are simply no good for foul weather driving. I've done it and I can keep the car on the road, but it is mentally taxing. You have to be alert and it helps to have done some rally driving. The Boxster has been reported to do much better on snow. If you can find the old 16" rims, I think they would be even better. As mentioned upthread, I think the biggest problem you would have is ground clearance. I've also found that the windows are a bit reluctant to move down when they get coated in ice and if the windows won't move down, the door won't open (or close). Scraping ice off the window so that I can get in the car is not one of my favorite moments with the car, to be sure.
posted by Lame_username at 3:19 PM on August 31, 2009


unSane writes "Good snow tires will take care of many of the traction issues but you have to choose between good snow traction and good ice traction"

Studded snow tires will grip on ice and snow; it the only thing I run in the winter.

geoff. writes "I've only driven RWD cars, but not a mid engine. I figured that having an engine block ontop of the rear tires would add a bit more oomph on the traction. I found a really good deal I think I'm going to jump on it and come out ahead with the Nokian Hakkapeliitta tires."

The best two wheel drive car I've ever driven in the winter was my (mid engined) Fiero with studded winters all around. Unstoppable until the snow got deeper than the bottom of the car; around 8" deep after which one could still go but one couldn't steer. And that with an open diff and no traction control besides my right foot. So I wouldn't hesitate to at least give it a try with a good set of tires.
posted by Mitheral at 4:07 PM on August 31, 2009


Studded snow tires are unfortunately not allowed where I live.
posted by unSane at 4:28 PM on August 31, 2009


Not sure about the Boxster, but I have an MR2 (mid-engine RWD, turbo, no stability control) and it is a nightmare on wet surfaces - it's like having soap dispensers above the rear wheels. The problem is that you have a lot of weight at the rear, which means the rear end will attempt to swing out of a corner if it loses traction.

In a front-engined car (weight at the front), you have a fairly stable system with the centre of mass being forward of the centre of drag so if it slides, it will tend to slide nose-first. Think of an arrow with weight at the front and feathers at the back. Even if it's a front-engine rear-drive, you have this relatively-stable arrangement while sliding, so an oversteer is readily correctable. Front-engine, front-drive is the easiest because you can use engine power to attempt to straighten the car out (or pull it away from an impact), even when it's completely sliding, without fear of making the situation much worse.

A mid-engine car is the opposite. In the dry, it's awesome because the weight over the rear wheels gives you more traction for good acceleration (static friction being strongly linear with downforce) and the greater balance means that you can corner a lot harder because you won't overload the front-outer tyre before all of the others. However in the wet, the slip-point where you go from static to dynamic (skid) is not substantially improved by down-force. This means that the rear wheels will slip just as easily but there are much larger lateral forces from the weight of the engine at the back, which means that the rear will slide out much earlier and in dramatic fashion.

I've been driving it for 5 years now and it is still exciting. I do not let anyone else drive the car in the wet. Not ever - it will happily lose the tail end at 20km/h around a roundabout. Putting power on spins the wheels for instant loss of traction, coming off the power can lose traction from loss of downforce so it's all a bit interesting. I would never consider driving it in snow. Anecdotally, I heard (though do not have a reference) that the half-life of the MR2 was about 18 months on its release in Japan, i.e. half of them were crashed within 18 months, another 1/4 (half the remaining) within the next 18 months, etc.

Stability control probably changes the game significantly.
posted by polyglot at 7:11 PM on August 31, 2009


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