GENEVA -- Porsche AG is speeding up the third generation of its least-loved model, the Boxster roadster, to pass BMW AG's Z4 and achieve record sales.
The revamped Boxster, which debuted today at the Geneva International Motor Show, will have more horsepower, cleaner engines and a retractable spoiler.
It goes on sale in North America this summer with a starting price of $49,500.
Porsche is betting the changes will help bolster the Boxster's appeal among buyers like Nick Griggs, who last year opted for a used 911.
His 2001-built 911 is a "better car than the Boxster," said the 35-year-old actuary from Cheltenham, England, who previously owned an Elise sports car from Lotus Plc.
"It's a combination of performance, but also some level of practicality. This is a step up to more of a grown-up's car."
The Boxster was introduced in 1996 and helped Porsche recover from near collapse in the early '90s by targeting a popular segment and leaning heavily on the 911 to lower costs.
It remains important to the brand's sporty image, even if sales of the line, which includes the hard-top Cayman version, are the lowest in the lineup with the addition of bigger and more expensive models.
It's also critical to helping the luxury-car maker, jointly owned by Volkswagen AG and the Porsche SE holding company, reach a goal of delivering a record 140,000 vehicles this year, a person familiar with the matter said last October.
Porsche sales hit 118,900 worldwide last year.
"The Boxster helps pad the numbers," said Jonathon Poskitt, an analyst with researcher LMC Automotive in Oxford, England. "It gets customers that can't quite afford a 911 sports car into brand, and it's important because it reinforces the image."
The Boxster's base version will boast 265 horsepower, 10 more than the previous version, and a new all-aluminum frame that's at least 55 pounds lighter on some models.
With the new aluminum body, the new base Boxster will check in at 2,889 pounds, while the more powerful S weighs in at 3,043 pounds.
The combination of lower weight and more power improves the acceleration to 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour by one-tenth of a second to as little as 5.5 seconds.
That performance beats the 36,400-euro Z4, which takes 6.9 seconds to reach that speed. The 38,675-euro SLK from Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz needs 7 seconds.
Porsche's two-seater convertible goes on sale in Germany in April, starting at 48,291 euros ($64,940), 2.8 percent more than the previous version. The Boxster S starts at 59,120 euros.
"The Boxster's the compact car of the Porsche brand," said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with IHS Automotive in Norwalk, Conn. "It's not aspirational, but it's a great entry point, and you can still stand in a bar and say you have a Porsche."
Boxster and Cayman deliveries are forecast to total 16,700 vehicles this year, roughly half the sales of the revamped 911, according to researcher IHS.
Porsche's top seller will probably remain the Cayenne sport-utility vehicle, with sales of 55,500.
Without a viable complement to the 911, Porsche would struggle to uphold its sports car reputation, which helps it sell cars like the Cayenne and Panamera four-door coupe, said Lindland.
That image will be further tested next year when Porsche adds its second SUV, the compact Macan.
"The people that buy the Panamera or Cayenne are saying I have a sports-car lifestyle, but bigger needs," said Lindland.
The improvements may help the Boxster overtake BMW's Z4 in sales. IHS projects that Porsche will sell 19,800 roadsters in 2013, nipping ahead of the 18,700 Z4 deliveries.
Mercedes's SLK, which was revamped last year, is due to beat both with sales of 35,900, the researcher forecasts.
While the Boxster improves its fuel efficiency by as much as 15 percent by reducing the size of the engine, the model's roughly 31 miles per gallon trails the BMW Z4's 35 miles per gallon.
The Mercedes SLK tops the rivals, boasting 48 miles per gallon for the diesel-powered SLK 250 CDI.
Even with the Boxster's improved performance and sleeker styling that leans on classics like the 550 Spyder and the 718 RS 60 Spyder from the 1950s, sports-car fan Griggs plans to stick to the Porsche icon.
"I would probably move to a more recent 911 next," instead of a Boxster, he said.