Last month, automotive parts supplier ZF extended to us the opportunity to drive the 2014 Porsche Boxster at the company’s home base in South Carolina, in order to evaluate the mid-engined sportscar’s ZF-sourced 7-speed PDK transmission. So, we went south, eventually arriving at a retired-and-repurposed Army airbase affectionately known as the South Carolina Technology & Aviation Center, where we could wring out the wee German convertible on an old runway.
What we were looking for from the Porsche Boxster and its 7-speed PDK was expediency; dual-clutch transmissions hold the promise of lightning-fast gear-changes thanks to two sets of forward gears: one for even-numbered gears, and one for odd. The transmission can propel you forward in fourth gear, for instance, while readying fifth for an almost instantaneous up-shift when needed.
Note, however, that tuning of the dual-clutch transmission thus requires a bit of predictive programming. If the controller selects an up-shift when the driver requests a down-shift, the gearbox must reset accordingly, which costs some time.
To put the Porsche Boxster and its ZF-sourced dual-clutch through their paces, we took the car out to what was once an old runway at this retired Army airbase. ZF was kind enough to allow us multiple launches and quarter-mile runs to assess the gearbox. This being the plain-Jane base Porsche Boxster, it had the entry-level 2.7 liter flat-6, making 265 HP from its perch just behind the driver’s head.
Launch after launch, the result was tremendously satisfactory. We kept the gearbox in its default setting in the Porsche Boxster for the entirety of our testing, and the unit perfectly matched its expediency with smoothness, to the point that gear-changes were very unobtrusive, if not imperceptible,. No, it doesn’t feel quite so seamless as today’s torque-converter automatics, but still it provides a thoroughly positive shift.
When the gearbox controller guesses your next gear-selection correctly, changes occur faster than you can blink – remember, this is what the PDK is known for. When it guesses wrong, the lag does put a damper on the experience. The resulting pause as the gearbox catches itself is very likely well under a second, but it’s the longest split-second you’ve ever known when its preceded and followed by instant blips of trouble-free shifting.
Having only 265 HP to work with, the Porsche Boxster is really a car that needs all-hands-on-deck in order to feel fast. When the PDK’s predictive programming guesses correctly, it doesn’t disappoint. But if you should happen to request a shift other than what the gearbox controller had in mind – it’s as frustrating as missing a shift with a manual.