• Jun 7th 2010 at 11:57AM
  • 51
2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder – Click above for high-res image gallery

The blueprint goes something like this: Take an aging sports car and raid the corporate parts bin for a few high-performance items likely stolen from a flagship model. Tweak the suspension tuning, throw on some wider rubber, pare down the standard features, add a smidgen more horsepower and then make a few cosmetic changes so it stands out on the showroom floor. Finally, slap on a more expensive price.

We've seen it done many times, but rarely executed so well. Using the recently freshened Boxster S as a starting point, Porsche has developed an entirely new Spyder model that joins the Boxster lineup as its new flagship. While the two-seater follows the aforementioned recipe, we have to admit that it appears to be anything but kit-based and shortsighted.

Porsche recently gave us some seat time with its latest concoction in the mountains above Malibu. What has the automaker done to distinguish the Spyder from its lesser Boxster siblings? What key ingredients have been added – or are missing – to make it so special? Is it the best-handling Porsche model in today's lineup? This and much more to be answered after the jump.

Photos by Michael Harley / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

We are big fans of the Porsche Boxster, but so is nearly everyone else. With an optimal mid-engine design, near-perfect suspension tuning and famously effective brakes, the only thing the entry-level Porsche has been missing is long-term model-range excitement. We welcomed the special variants like the 550 Spyder 50th Anniversary Edition, RS60 Spyder and the Design Edition 2, but they seemingly went as quickly as they arrived.

Addressing the void, Porsche pulled out a Boxster S, opened up the age-old "enhancement" blueprints and then clearly followed the directions. Enter the all-new 2011 Boxster Spyder.

Let's take a look from the inside out.

Buried deep within the new Boxster Spyder is the same 3.4-liter direct-injected flat-six hidden amidships in the Boxster S. However, this smooth-spinning jewel is running the same engine map as the Cayman S coupe, giving it a slight boost to 320 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque (up from 310 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque in the Boxster S). The standard gearbox is a six-speed manual, but those who prefer perfect computer-executed shifting will seek the optional seven-speed dual-clutch PDK (interestingly enough, the PDK accelerates slightly quicker and is more fuel efficient than the human-operated transmission – even though it weighs a bit more). All Spyder models are fitted with a slightly smaller 14.27-gallon fuel tank (its EPA fuel economy ratings are 19/27 mpg, if that matters to you) and a genuine mechanically locking rear differential.

The basic suspension components are unchanged, but the chassis rides nearly an inch lower and the wheel camber (both front and rear) is a bit more aggressive. The standard 19-inch wheels (up from 18s on the Boxster S) are the lightest cast aluminum wheels in Porsche's inventory. They are wrapped in 235/40ZR19 tires in the front and 265/40ZR19 rubber in the rear. Stretching between them is Porsche's iconic logo from the 1960s that acts as a reminder of a time when sports cars didn't need to go on diets.

Stolen from the 911 GT2 parts bin are the twin carbon-fiber Alcantara-upholstered bucket seats (saving 26 pounds over the standard chairs), easily the most prominent change within the cabin. There are also GT3 RS-inspired interior door panels with red nylon pull straps instead of mechanical levers, red numerals on the gearshift (6MT models only) and black-faced instrument gauges. Like the limited edition RS 60 Boxster, the dash hood over the primary instrument cluster has been deleted.

Further distinguishing the Spyder from its siblings are several significant exterior cosmetic changes. Most obvious to bystanders is the new one-piece rear aluminum hood, with its curves beautifully reminiscent of the early "550 Spyder" (subtract 6.5 pounds). Look a bit closer and you'll find aluminum door skins (subtract 33 pounds), a revised front fascia, new LED running lights, a fixed rear spoiler, twin black tail pipes, and that very unique black cloth top.

The two-piece top is quite trick in design but only takes minutes to install. Manufactured with a carbon-fiber header and weighing less than 13 pounds, the well-engineered contraption locks rigidly into the windshield frame before being firmly tensioned with a cable behind the roll bars. If things are wet outside, a plastic rear window snaps into place to keep the weather out of the interior. It is interesting to note that the fabric flying buttresses, stretching back over the rear deck, are not under much tension (regardless of how things look). While the Boxster Spyder will hit 166 mph, Porsche doesn't recommend exceeding 125 mph with the fabric roof up (of course, the California Highway Patrol doesn't recommend exceeding 55 mph on Pacific Coast Highway, either).

Benefiting from the weight savings, the Boxster Spyder tips the scales at just 2,811 pounds. It's the lightest vehicle in Porsche's road-going lineup (176 pounds lighter than the standard Boxster S) and boasts a power-to-weight ratio of just under 8.8 lbs/hp. Take a quick look at the competition in the 300-plus horsepower roadster category – they've all packed on serious pounds over the years. The Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG is 3,472 pounds (661 pounds heavier than the Spyder), the Nissan 370Z Roadster Touring with Sport Package is 3,497 pounds (686 pounds heavier) and the latest BMW Z4 sDrive35is weighs 3,594 pounds (a whopping 783 pounds heavier than the Spyder). Compared to those porky pseudo-competitors, the Spyder seems like it was sculpted from a block of Aerogel.

The Boxster Spyder is a standard production model, not limited in production volume. It sits above the Boxster and Boxster S in the lineup. The standard Boxster (2.9-liter rated at 255 horsepower) starts at $47,600 with the Boxster S coming in with a base price of $58,000. As it builds on the Boxster S equipment package, Porsche has priced the new lightweight model slightly higher. The Boxster Spyder starts at $61,200.

As expected, customers are offered access to an extensive options list including seat belt buckles in leather ($535) or a floor-mounted fire extinguisher ($140). If you really like yellow calipers and expensive brake jobs, Porsche's lightweight ceramic "PCCB" composite brakes are on the options list too ($8,150). Our test model had special Arctic Silver Metallic paint ($710), self-dimming mirrors/rain sensing wipers ($690), bi-xenon headlights ($1,560), audio package plus ($700), automatic climate control ($1,760) and the Sport Chrono package ($960) for a grand total of $68,530. We would soon find it was worth every penny.

Like every other Boxster, the Spyder offers an intimate cabin for anyone taller than our 6-foot 2-inch frame. Never deterred, we fit perfectly into the supportive two-way adjustable sport bucket seats to find a very comfortable driving position behind the tilt/telescoping three-spoke steering wheel. With a twist of the traditional left-mounted key, the flat-six positioned just behind the small of our back kicks over and settles into a very familiar – but rather quiet – rumble. Order the optional Sport Exhaust. We would.

Our mission is to spend a full morning with the Boxster Spyder in the hills above Malibu terrorizing the botts dots along Latigo Canyon, the famed Mulholland Highway and Stunt Canyon road before heading back down the coast. Top stowed in the trunk, the sun shining brightly and temps in the mid-70s. No, it doesn't suck to be us.

Traveling up Pacific Coast Highway, the 3.4-liter pulls the lightened Boxster around very well. Don't expect the wheel-spinning torque of a V8, V10 or forced induction powerplant – this well-balanced engine instead rewards those who spin it to redline frequently. Porsche says the 2,811-pound Spyder sprints to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds with the six-speed manual gearbox (the PDK-equipped model with launch control will get you there in 4.6 seconds), and it feels every bit as quick as that sounds. Even if it isn't as quick as the dual-clutch gearbox, the manual transmission is nearly perfect in gearstick position, shift throw and driver feedback. Yes, it is our preferred transmission in the Spyder.

We must confess: Our initial expectations defined the Spyder as a lightweight Boxster-variant of the 911 GT3. The GT3 is damn near perfect, but a bit too hardcore and predatory for a daily driver. Looking over the spec sheet, we imagined the Spyder would share its suspension tuning, and steering feel, with that special 911. We couldn't have been more incorrect.

While it is one of the best-handling cars that we have ever experienced (especially in this price bracket), the Boxster Spyder doesn't rely on an abusively-firm suspension, sticky low-profile tires or twitchy fast-ratio steering racks. Instead, Porsche engineers masterfully blended shock damping, spring rates and sway bar settings with the lightest chassis in their model range. Praise the simple elementary physics. If he were alive today, Sir Isaac Newton would undoubtedly drive a Boxster Spyder.

The Boxster Spyder is every bit as friendly and pleasant to drive as its siblings. Its mannerisms are curiously polite – until you hit a corner at speed. While the Boxster and Boxster S both take a moment to "settle" as the suspension loads and hunkers down, the lightweight model takes to the direction change instantly (the turn-in isn't twitchy, but rather obedient and predictable). Once on course, it holds the line with tenacity. After a few samples, we begin to savor the Spyder's handling and enter every corner at double the posted speed with nary a concern.

After a few more minutes of chasing a curvy road through the Santa Monica mountain range, this mid-engine sports car has us simply giddy. Light, communicative and agile – it is an absolute joy to drive.

What sets the Spyder apart is the way in which it delivers raw driver involvement in a completely modern sports car. It is a throwback to the old-fashioned roadster experience that most automotive enthusiasts crave: right foot taps the brake, left foot engages the clutch, right hand downshifts, left hand turns into the corner, ears hear the gravel under the tires, eyes notice the crack in the pavement, skin feels the warmth of the afternoon sun and the nose smells the drying sagebrush on the side of the road. This is intimate motoring.

As mentioned, most automakers follow the same "enhancement" blueprints, but they blow a step or two along the way (e.g., suspensions are set far too stiff, interiors are bland and cold, the graphics and cosmetic enhancements are too gaudy). Porsche has ingeniously honed and polished the Boxster Spyder to a fine state without marring its original finish.

Without question, the Boxster Spyder is one of the most enjoyable enthusiast-oriented cars we've driven in a long time, but is it for you? Cars like the Lotus Elise SC are much lighter and more nimble, but not nearly as comfortable or forgiving to drive. On the other end of the spectrum, the Nissan GT-R offers blazing speed, but it weighs an astonishing 1,000 pounds more and most driving sensations are lost in its computerized all-wheel drive wizardry.

When it comes to extremes, it wasn't Porsche's intent to set any new records. This two-seater isn't the lightest production car on the road, the quickest car at the light or the fastest car on the track. It isn't the least expensive, quietest or the most comfortable. But toss all of those measurable objective accolades aside, as the 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder excels in the most important category of all – it captures your soul.

Photos by Michael Harley / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      As someone who's taken a hard look at this car since it was announced, and has visited (harassed?) his local dealer on several occasions, I'll give my take.

      Regarding the top, and as a current Miata owner, I will agree that the Miata's simple center-latch folding Z-top is something I prefer to basically every electric top ever made. The card that comes with the Spyder technically has 17/20 steps detailed on how to take it down and put it up, but once you know how it works it'd take about 2 minutes by yourself. That's far and away from the 4 seconds it takes to get Miata all set, but it's not the end of the world from someone who drives his car in the dead of December with the top down to make all the other New Englanders look at me funny.

      There is no stereo, but it IS pre-wired with speakers. If you get the Sport Chrono Pack (which you want for the sharper throttle response) you end up getting everything necessary to play music through an iPod. I don't listen to the radio, being able to use my iPhone is plenty good if the need ever arose, and since it's required for the Sport Chrono Pack, why not. The full-on stereo adds another 7 pounds minimum, depending on how fancy you want your audio equipment.

      The Automatic Climate Control is what adds the A/C and at least 30 pounds back. I keep finding cars with it added. This makes me sad. I've NEVER used the A/C in my Miata. Not once, even in 100+F heat. Heat? Yes, but the Spyder has a heater.

      For equipment the only things that make sense to me is the Sport Chrono Pack and the Sport Exhaust. This puts it at $65,000. If you add those same bits to a Boxster S, plus 19" wheels... plus the seats... the Boxster S, without any additional options, is now well MORE EXPENSIVE. Actually just adding the seats to the Boxster S makes it more than the Spyder by a few hundred dollars, and still doesn't get you the other weight saving goodies the Spyder does. Believe it or not, the Spyder as is will *save you money* over a similarly equipped Boxster S.

      I haven't taken one for a drive yet because it seems pointless to test drive this car in Boston. Keep in mind this weighs only 10lbs more than the original (1999) S2000. The current Miata is only 300-340lbs lighter, but has only 53% of the horsepower. The driving position is fantastic. There's nothing you have to futz around with.

      I do wish it was savage like a GT3. I know it'll be very quick, and have tons of grip, but it'll be very predictable and precise albeit with boatloads of oversteer deliverable on command like any proper Porsche. I'm still debating it, but I think with a proper test drive I'm going to pull the trigger on it.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I enjoyed the article and all of the comments. I picked mine up last Thursday in Akron and had the enviable task of driving it home to Little Rock on Friday. The car is fantastic. I have owned five previous Porsches; 944, 3 911s, and a Boxster S. I also had the first addition Miata when it came out. The Boxster Spyder is by far the best sports car of the bunch. It has the same power as my 2003 C2 cab with much less weight plus the mid-engine design. I have mastered the top with no problem. I drove it through several heavy rain storms on the drive home and had no leaks. I am so used to the fabric door pulls that I don't even notice them any more. The only problem I have seen is that most dealers used their allocation on spec cars and loaded them with options. I have seen one with a list price of $83k. Mine is lightly loaded with heated seats, climate control, and the radio and sound package. List price was $65k. I would have liked sport chrono and the sport exhaust but the car doesn't need them.
        • 5 Years Ago
        From my thorough poking around you could even put it through an automatic car wash if you just use two or three small towels to fill the gaps made from the snap-on wrap-around bit in the back. You could forgo filling the gaps, you'd just need to use the towels to mop up the expected pint-to-quart of water you'd end up with in the car.

        Of course you're talking to someone who drives top-down in downpours. Which as long as you're doing highway speeds with the windows up, you don't really get wet aside from the occasional drop that comes up the side of a window.

      • 5 Years Ago
      Love the side decals. Gives it a cool retro look.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The side decals are optional, just like everything on a Porsche. If they are standard, there is an option code to delete them.

        The bumperettes are a US regulatory thing. Aftermarket, or a replacement bumper skin from Germany or UK, or something... and it would have a wide license plate pocket, with no bumperettes.

        At least the bumperettes aren't black plastic, and are actually painted.
      • 5 Years Ago
      that's the least girly-looking boxster i've ever seen ;)
      • 5 Years Ago
      But the 2811lbs is sans radio and A/C, right? Whereas this example has both those options and more. It's mentioned that the top weighs less than 13lbs, but the Bi-xenon headlights add an additional 13lbs or so over the standard halogens. Just saying.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The thing is...

        The fabric top weighs 13lbs... and the power top is GONE. The weight difference between those two is much more than 13lbs. As with the aluminum doors over the standard steel doors, and the lightweight seats over the standard seats... weight advantage.

        Plus, the Boxster S probably has the same HID headlights, the same stereo, and such.

        Granted, one could probably spec a lighter car than the one tested, which does have some extra stuff.

        One could get a Boxster spyder without self-dimming mirrors and rain sensing wipers, bi-xenon headlights, the audio package plus, and the automatic climate control.
        The normal versions of those parts might save a couple of pounds total.

        I don't much see the point of rain sensing wipers. The top is such that any driver will have an acute awareness of the weather, if it even looks like rain, and be ready to pull over and put the roof on.

        But I would probably include a very basic audio system... maybe a radio (to monitor weather alerts. :D) and a bluetooth/usb/aux-in digital audio system, but without any disc transport or NAV, and such. That would still be pretty light, while still having music in addition to the engine's soundtrack.

        I would probably also spec the Sport Chrono/PASM set up, and maybe TechArt's front suspension lift, to raise the front end over driveway approaches and such.

        I might also spec the PDK... but I'd have to take a nice good test drive of both the 6MT and the PDK to compare. Part of me loves traditional feedback from a manual gearbox, but another part of me kind of likes the tech of fast shifts that are barely longer than it takes to think about shifting.

        Honestly, if I lived in a sunnier climate all year, the Boxster Spyder would be a no-brainer. In variable climates, I'd be tempted to go with a Boxster S, or Cayman S, and modify them to resemble some of the Spyder's best traits, but still be weather capable, even if it doesn't keep the extra edge in weight. Boxster S and Cayman S are not that much heavier to remove them from consideration.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is a step in the right direction but they really needed to shed more like 300 lbs, not just 170. There is still too much junk in this thing - Porsche still needs to take a few lessons from Lotus it seems...
      • 5 Years Ago
      As a boxer fanatic, and a mid-engined favoring enthusiast, as well...

      This is about as close to automotive man-built worldly-nirvana as it currently gets.

      Just look at it... it even LOOKS nearly perfect.

      But there are always things to change, and thankfully Porsche has Tequipment.

      1: love the wheels. Either these, or Carrera S II star-design wheels, they both look fantastic. They need to be painted a shadowy medium gray, just like the intake trim pieces, and then the edges of the spokes polished, or otherwise brightened like the contrast of the dark silver trim, to the arctic silver paint.

      2: 3.8 liter power upgrade (X51 or current equivalent) engine transplant. 320hp out of 3.4 liters is very nice. 405hp out of 3.8 liters, (no turbo complexity needed) in this ~2900lb car... I can only imagine.

      3: I love the Arctic Silver. VERY classic. With a half-red interior, it would look even more traditionally Porsche with that classic german-racing livery
      ---But I love Porsche's Aqua Blue. I'd love to see the gunmetal intakes and details on an Aqua blue paint job.

      The fact that those are mostly just appearance details, and an alternate Porsche engine... is testament to how close this car is to ideal.

      And it needs a Cayman alternate. The stability of a car with a closed roof, but then equipped like this... would wipe the smile off some other brands who sell much more expensive mid-engined cars.
        • 5 Years Ago

        I love the fact that porsche has tequipment, and full-customizing capability. I see that they have options to paint the wheels... and usually they paint the whole wheel. I'd love to see those Boxster Spyder wheels, or Carrera S II wheels, for that matter, with a meteor gray shadow, or the same dark silver paint they use to paint the duct liners... but the face edges of the spokes painted or polished brighter. Maybe Porsche would do that... I dunno.

        I agree that the extra power is unnecessary... and the 3.4 is probably VERY good, and 320hp is quite good for a 3.4 liter 6, where most others use >3.5 liters to break over 300hp.

        The 987 Chassis is just so good, though, that I can't help but wonder if more power would be still quite useable, and just that much extra. Plus, I am impressed that the 3.8 liter power upgrade engine makes significantly over 100hp/liter, at ~405, with the variable intake and sport exhaust, and even makes 385 (just at 100hp/L) without them.
        I think an engine swap would be FUN, but I certainly wouldn't call it mandatory.

        Thanks for the tip about the 3.4 sounding better, though. It probably revs a bit more lightly, as well.

        Amen on the RS60. Pure hotness.

        On the cayman issue, again, not mandatory for upgrades, but I can't help but wonder what a weight-loss regimen and some sharpening would do, basically the same changes that the Spyder has over the Boxster S. The Boxster S is a very fine car, also. Improvements on the top of that are "gravy", as they say. :D

        Aluminum hood and doors, maybe an aluminum or composite rear hatch with thinner glass, less sound insulation throughout, lighter shell seats, simple door cards with the loop pulls, black headlight housings, fog-light delete, open ducts with the silver lining trims, a fixed duck-tail spoiler trimmed for Cayman's aerodynamics, Spyder's light wheels and tires... Standard sport or dual-mode exhaust with a ~340hp tune for the 3.4 liter engine. 6MT/LSD, or PDK/LSD. Optional SportChrono/PASM. (not that I would say no to a 405hp 3.8, or even a 450hp GT3 engine swap in a hard-roof 987, either. :D )

        I'd love to see Porsche re-work the roof skin of the Cayman into a double-bubble like treatment, similar to what they did with the 997 Sport Classic, maybe CF (perhaps just UV-clear-coated), or sheet-molded composite, over the main steel structure underneath, with a thin composite and alcantara headlining inside. Something to maintain head room and helmet clearance, but to cut down the height of the roof on the center-line, where it is somewhat needless, and also the highest point on that highly compound-curved roof.

        A lower roof would lessen the effective frontal area, and a lower roof aesthetic, to make the car look less overly tall. Along with looking lower, perhaps some wide-fender action. GT3/GT2 front fender profile, and widened steel rear fenders, somewhat like Carrera S and 4S. Just slightly wider for a bit more tire and rear track width. Not ostentatious.

        My only other wish would be quarter windows that follow the c-pillar further back, more like 911. I've never quite really liked the upsweep in the quarter window line. Panamera didn't get it right, either.

        Most of this is just pie-in-the-sky, and shouldn't be at all taken as a slight to the way the 987 cars are currently built. They are fantastic just as they are. I pretty much automatically run modding scenarios through my head on this sort of thing.
        • 5 Years Ago
        1: Porsche allows you to have the wheels (and a large number of interior pieces) painted any color you would like

        2: More power is totally unnecessary. What makes this car brilliant is that it is infinately more satisfying to drive on a twisty back road than a high-powered bruiser like a Turbo or even a Carrera S. Besides, in all honesty- the 3.4 liter SOUNDS better than the bigger engines.

        3: I agree on the silver/red. The special edition boxster RS60 looked f-ing fantastic with that scheme.

        5... ?: I have wanted Porsche to bring a hard-core cayman to the table for a while, but now that I'm getting a chance to drive them; I don't think there is much room for improvement other than a more high-strung suspension... The car already weighs practically nothing.
        • 5 Years Ago
        This is what the Boxster should have been more like originally (closer to the Boxster concept).

        Porsche really needs to update the design/look of the dash - looks outdated (not much diff. from the dashes of Porsches from the 1980s).
      • 5 Years Ago
      Well said.

      I find it interesting that so many Miata owners are following the Boxster Spyder. While I also consider the Mazda roadster one of the most enjoyable cars on the road to drive, I put the two (Boxster and Miata) in different categories.

      - Mike
        • 5 Years Ago
        That is the joy of driving the Miata. You can push it at 9/10ths all day long and have a blast doing it.

        I've driven 500-hp cars in the canyons (and on the track). Unfortunately, you end up driving with an egg under your right foot at speed so you don't accidentally kick the back out and spin into a wall.

        As you point out, the Spyder has power... but not so much that you fear it. That's fun.

        - Mike
      • 5 Years Ago
      id rather have a cayman
      • 5 Years Ago
      Once again Porsche have built the best all rounder they could and lets face it, they aren't half bad at doing it.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm in love. Too bad this doesn't fit into my budget.

      Bring back the MR2/MR-S..
      • 5 Years Ago
      Great write-up. This is definitely the car I would get if I had the money and was in the market for a convertible. I love what they did with the rear fascia, too.. It looks even more aggressive than before.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Perfect car, I agree. If I had like 70 grand I would buy it. But if I had like 50 I wouldn't buy a regular Boxter. That says something.


        When does the RS model come out? :P

        Everything is better with more power.... (not really) lol
        • 5 Years Ago
        I agree with you 100%. Great article and yes, this would be in my garage if I was shopping in this class.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I definitely agree with your comment about the rear - I liked it quite a bit more than the stock boxster. Excellent write up and the photography is damn good as usual.
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