The new DS3, customise every feature to suit your style
OK, it's a cliché, but life doesn't get much better than cruising down the Cote d'Azur to St Tropez on a crisp, spring Sunday afternoon in a Porsche Boxster with the top down.
But the cruise back to the hotel was really just the icing on the cake. We'd spent most of the day throwing Porsche's new Boxster around the mountain roads of the Alpes Maritimes in the south of France, including at least one extremely intimidating section that is used as a stage of the Monte Carlo Rally each year, finding out why Porsche is so pleased with its new baby.
I was driving the more powerful Boxster S version, its mid-mounted 3436cc flat-six 'boxer' engine delivering a claimed 232kW at 6700rpm and 360Nm from 4500-5800rpm to the rear wheels through a seven-speed PDK double-clutch transmission with paddle shift - an option, but no more expensive than the standard six-speed manual.
In the real world that translates to explosive acceleration - taking you from a standstill to 100km/h in five seconds flat - and more top speed than you will ever use this side of the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans.
But much as this engine loves to rev, top end - apart from a couple of brief bursts on the Route Nationale near Grasse and one memorable overtaking manoeuvre - remained largely academic.
What was more relevant was its broad spread of torque, surging out of tight corners, pulling hard enough to get your attention with anything more than 3500rpm on the big central rev counter, accompanied by a lovely growly soundtrack.
Above 5000rpm the growl becomes a howl, as your seat comes up and gives you a klap across the kidneys. Next week starts getting closer at a sphincter-clenching rate and the road ahead seems to become a whole lot narrower.
In 'Normal' mode the PDK gearbox is incredibly smooth - you often don't even notice the upshifts - shifting instantly, without hesitation, whenever you hit the paddles.
FEELING LIKE A PRO
Then you press the Sport button and everything gets a whole lot sharper, the steering tightens and the transmission holds on to each gear for longer, accompanying each downshift on the overrun with a spine-tingling blip of the throttle that bounces back at you off the mountainsides and makes you feel like a real pro.
Press again for 'Sport+', and the Boxster becomes even more aggressive, seemingly always one gear too low and tugging on the leash like a badly trained Rottweiler. Unless you're on a racetrack or a fast road you know really well, it may demand more of its driver than you are comfortable with.
Nevertheless, what really makes the Boxster a supercar killer in anything but a straight line is its superbly agile chassis - in particular its precision steering, dead accurate and perfectly weighted, telling you exactly where you are on the road without jittery feedback.
The mid-mount layout places all the car's major masses between the axles; the new Boxster has 60mm more wheelbase than its predecessor but front overhang has been reduced 27mm so it's only 32mm longer overall.
The track is also 40mm wider in front and 18mm wider at the rear, placing the outsides of the 18” tyres flush with the wheel arches and imparting perfect balance on the road, the car seemingly always perfectly poised for the next move, giving you immense confidence that it will go exactly where it's pointed.
“A jagged mountainside on one side and a sheer drop on the other”
For the roads in the south of France - even the main roads - are incredibly narrow, and the corners, especially up in the Alpes Maritime, ridiculously tight. There are long stretches where the road is physically too narrow for two cars to pass each other and that rally stage, although tarred, is no wider than a suburban driveway, with a jagged mountainside on one side and a sheer drop on the other - and it's a two-way road with literally hundreds of blind corners.
So, although we never got the Boxster locked into one of those long sweepers beloved of supercar drivers, as a point-and-squirt tool it is without peer in my experience.
It is also very comfortable, the ride firm without being harsh and the multi-adjustable leather seats supportive without constricting driver movement.
However, the car is very low and the new architecture, which places the base of the windscreen 100mm further forward and rakes it more steeply towards the cockpit, necessitates very deep footwells, making getting in and out a bit of a mission.
But none of that matters as you cruise through the old harbour of St Tropez, making unnecessary downshifts into each little roundabout so that that the people sitting outside the cafes will look up and see the late afternoon sun glinting on the new Boxster's crisp lines, so much edgier than the previous model. Just for the moment you are living the life and man, it feels good.
The 2012 Porsche Boxster (Boxer engine in a roadster body - geddit?) is available to order now in South Africa now at R589 000 for the 2.7-litre, 195kW standard version and R699 000 for the Boxster S.