What's the moment you most remember in a car? No, you perv, while driving the car. Let's talk about Turn 9 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
It's a tight 2nd-gear right-hander, steeply off-camber. It's preceded by a high-speed chicane, so you're sliding left as you brake and turn in to the right. The rear end of the car gets light and, just a fraction of a second later, the front end threatens to wash out as the camber of the road drags you away from the apex. The exit section is pinched and still off-camber, so you're not unlikely to find yourself facing a chichane three cars abreast, in urgent need of an Evo-style "dab of oppo." Get this sequence right, and you're upshifting to 3rd surprisingly early at the corner exit. Get it wrong? You're flying off the track backward at between 60 and 80 miles an hour. Someone's in-car video of your lack-of-talent moment will be on YouTube before you've regained consciousness at Riverside General.
I've lapped this track in a Porsche 944 Turbo S, and this section is the car's whole reason for being. It's 20 seconds of car ballet, a long lump-in-the-throat moment when the car's weight never settles and you can't do anything according to the brake-turn-gas "chalk talk" they taught you in driving school. The 944 is a great dance partner here: You can both hear and feel exactly how much slippy-slidey is going on at each tire, and like that college sweetheart you wish you'd married, it's frisky and wiggly at the same time that it's linear and stable.
In this car, Turn 9 is where that rear-engine 911 you've been harrying just has to let up a touch more, has to brake fractionally earlier, and let you by. You can pass them on the inside or outside - depending on whether you think that other driver's ass-engined Nazi slot car will slide off-line going forward or backward. Even non-S Turbos, lacking the obsessive structural reworking of the more rigid "S" version, can't match the confidence of an "S" through Turn 9.
To own a Turbo S is to marvel at the speed with which heat soak eats rubber, constantly peroxide skinned knuckles because of the hilarious underhood clearances, and laugh at the audacity of Porsche's specialty tools costs. But Turn 9, in 20 seconds, makes it all entirely worth it.
Every car should have a magic moment to offer. To be Jalop is to know that obscure and plebian cars, including some endearingly leaky crapcans, will offer them up. Sometimes half the fun is finding that a car will do something out of character but wonderful, using some capability that a dedicated design team somehow slipped past car-company bureaucracy. That's the magic of the Volvo 240, a car whose willingness to be chucked into corners and revved until the valves float is entirely at odds with its sensible-shoes reputation.
I imagine that the Lamborghini Gallardo's magic moment is to pull up to the valet at, say, the Hard Rock Casino in Vegas, with a Vodka and Red Bull in the cupholder and after drag racing some other night-sunglass-wearer in an F430. The rest of that car's performance envelope is kind of a footnote to the spectacle. Ordering one in an inconspicuous color is like having a Prius without the hybrid drive – it misses the point of the car entirely.
Which brings me to the Boxster. The first Porsche designed to a price point, it is clearly made to be a lifestyle accessory first and engineering statement., oh, maybe third or fourth. It's never bad to drive, but it has no magic moment. It's everything that's wrong with modern machinery – too slow and disconnected to be fun in the around-town drudgery of getting to work, but too fast to for its limits to be safely explored. It's twitchy because it's short and midengined – which feels great at 5/10s - but Porsche has fitted it with bicycle-width tires up front, so it plows like a Big Wheel when your corner entry speeds climb.
An old air-cooled 911 is noisy because it's basically got an airplane engine bolted to the frame rails. That rattles your brainpan on a long drive, but it's mechanically authentic. A Boxster is built more like a Corolla in reverse, with all manner of rubber bits and sound matting between you and the engine. It's noisy only because they thought they would sell more that way. On track, well, it's a convertible, which means the path from here to the apex depends on how the chassis decides to flex along the way. And when a stoned kid outside a San Francisco club tells you to "let it swing, brah, show do she do" – which is Bay Area speak for "please, do a smoky burnout and show you're a hoon and not just another metrosexual poser," the torqueless open-diff convertible may as well be a Cabriolet.
A new Boxster costs more than most families make in a year, it depreciates as fast as organic produce, and it promises vastly more performance than it delivers. It tells the world more about its driver than it tells the driver about the road.
Is it the least Jalopnik car in the world?
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