Review: 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder
"More for Less." It's the call to prayer of every car salesman to ever don a plaid jacket. Guys with sturdy names like Wally and Chuck would stop dead in their tracks and tell Porsche "Pal, this Boxster Spyder thing, you're all upside-down." You see, with the 2011 Boxster Spyder, Porsche has inverted the polarity on "more for less." You pay more but get less.
The Boxster Spyder has a high-performance mission: It's a race car that doesn't need a trailer. Porsche undertook a lightening program that started with a Boxster S and stripped a slew of equipment, lowered the suspension 3/4 of an inch and substituted aluminum for steel where possible in the body. One-hundred seventy-six pounds later, you've got a Boxster Spyder; lighter, lower, sharper. Has it worked for Porsche to go the Lotus route of obsessive weight reduction? Find out after the jump.
Photos copyright ©2010 Dan Roth / AOL
Here's some clarity: this car is not for you if you just want to putter around with a crest on the hood and a flat six behind you. The Boxster Spyder is a serious piece, and if you want a cushy Boxster, the S is your ride. The Boxster Spyder disquiets those who don't understand. Yes, it's the top of the Boxster model range, but there is no radio, or air conditioner, and door pulls are reduced to cloth straps. Those of you expecting a range-topper with a $61,200 base price to be the traditional full-boat option-mobile will need to re-center. Simply put, the Boxster Spyder is for motorsports.
Modern technology – and Porsche's in particular – is so good that the Boxster Spyder can serve as a day-to-day car, too. Back in the time of the Boxster Spyder's spiritual predecessors, the 356 Speedster and 550 Spyder, lumpy, idle-averse camshafts and finicky dual carburetors were the price you paid for performance. Instead of all that ruckus, the 320-horsepower 3.4-liter flat six in the Boxster Spyder is wonderfully flexible, happy to loll along in sixth gear or go roaring off for redline. Maximum horsepower happens at 7,200 rpm, and the full 273 pound-feet of torque punches in at 4,750 rpm. Though the powertrain doesn't feel peaky or high strung, there is a distinct determination that kicks in above 4,000 rpm, the result of the Variocam Plus variable valve-timing and lift system doing its thing. The engine also has the classic Porsche-six snarl that adds to the thrill of running through the gears. Fuel economy turned out to be an entirely reasonable 23 mpg despite a week of redline shifts. Weight reduction doesn't just aid performance.
Numbers freaks will note that the PDK gearbox is the one to have for extracting absolute speed from the Spyder. Equipped with the traditional manual, the run from zero to 60 mph clocks in at 4.9 seconds, while the PDK drops a tenth off that figure. Springing for the Sport Chrono Package Plus shaves the PDK's run to 60 even more, down to 4.6 seconds and costs you $1,320 extra. Fine, it's quicker with PDK, but the joy with which Porsche's traditional six-speed manual transmission operates, finding perfect synergy between road, man and machine, is worth a few tenths. Simply put, a manual-transmission Boxster Spyder on a windy road is revelatory.
There is an irony to Porsche charging you extra to add back some of the things you've already paid to have removed. Air conditioning, for instance, is stripped out of the standard Boxster Spyder, though Porsche will gladly charge you $1,760 for automatic climate control. You can liberate plenty of money from your wallet by ticking off option boxes. You'd expect performance upgrades, and Porsche delivers with choices like the $8,150 Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake option that puts the stoppers of God under your foot, though the standard braking system with its four-piston calipers rendered in solid aluminum and sporting 12.52-inches in front and 11.77-inch rear rotors is no slouch. An optional Sport Exhaust System puts $2,500 worth of vocal harpies in the tailpipe, as well.
What is more surprising for such a racy car is the healthy list of appearance options for both the body and the interior. Some are purely functional, like a fire extinguisher for $140, but others are rather nonsensical, like spending $690 for white gauge faces, $1580 to trim the seats to match the exterior or another $500 to get the mirror mounting points painted to match the body color. Of course, Porsche is happy to separate you from your cash, and since the Boxster Spyder's mission is so hardcore, the high price of frivolities is like a sin tax for putting comfort over speed. Complaints miss the point; all the comfort you want can be had in the Boxster S. The Boxster Spyder's peer group includes cars like the flyweight Lotus Elise, and even with no options, the Porsche is a luxury liner when compared to that car.
For full weight savings, leave all the option boxes unchecked, though even modern race cars have climate-controlled cabins. The Boxster Spyder's roofless design may mitigate some heat buildup, but a sunny day at Laguna Seca is still going to steam your Nomex. The Boxster Spyder we drove was equipped with air conditioning and an audio system with CD player, auxiliary input, and Bluetooth phone integration. Cruise control was also part of the options list – all welcome features as the Boxster Spyder took on the role of commuter car.
Sport seats with snug bolstering and carbon fiber seatbacks are standard in the Spyder. They're exceptionally comfortable for some, aggressively snug for many, and could use a few more degrees of seatback angle adjustment. You sit bolt upright in the Boxster Spyder, and you stay firmly in place, so stay out of the Golden Corral. The seats hug snugly to counteract the cornering forces the Spyder is capable of generating, and they're brilliant at it. Applying the brakes puts the rigid calipers to use converting kinetic energy to heat. The PCCB option can withstand the most abusive braking you'll ever dish out, but the standard system isn't deficient at shrugging off velocity in its own right. Braking is strong and you can control it so finely with small movements of your foot that most other cars feel exceptionally sloppy. The Boxster Spyder's brakes are as quick at what they do as the chassis and powertrain.
A source of scorn is the lightweight top that the Boxster Spyder comes with. You do get a cool-looking double-bubble decklid which changes the visual character for the better when going roofless, but the rest of the weather protection setup has drawn ire. Get over it. The folding top in the standard Boxster is there for you lazy types, and it goes up and down in 12 seconds with the press of a button. The Boxster Spyder carries a wonderfully Germanic manual top that includes a bow with index pins, a fabric roof panel, a vinyl back window that snaps in and requires you to loop a cable around eyelets and apply tension with a big red lever. It's a head-scratcher at first, though raising and lowering the top becomes a quick process after you do it a couple times, and Porsche has provided a cleanly integrated area under the rear lid to stow all the pieces. This is simply a car that makes you work at some things, and sealing out the elements is one of them.
Cornering is the Boxster Spyders's strongest suit. Granite-solid stability breaks away progressively when you've reached the limit of the Pirelli P-Zero rubber. That limit, by the way, is higher than can be sanely explored on most public roads. The steering is rack-and-pinion via chatterbox without excessive weighting or kickback. While the standard Boxster Spyder wheel and tire package shares the same 19 inch diameter as the Boxster S, the Spyder uses lightweight rollers that are wider, fitting 235/35 ZR19 tires under the front end, and 265/35 ZR19s out back, and also running lower pressures than other Boxsters for better performance. For handling precision, and that whole man-machine synergy thing, it's all but impossible to top the Boxster Spyder. The Sport Chrono Package on our Boxster Spyder, which translates to a "Sport" button at the base of the center stack, further sharpens the already-exceptionally responsive throttle. The engine's flexibility and instantaneous response makes everything else seems half-asleep by comparison. Thank the sky-high 12.5:1 compression ratio made possible by the Direct Fuel Injection.
The brilliance in what Porsche has wrought with the Boxster Spyder isn't just its impressive abilities, but in the car's approachability. Your mother could drive the Boxster Spyder, though she'd despise the seats and just forget about the top. Average drivers will never know what a pavement-eating animal the Spyder can be, and enthusiasts with half an idea of where the line through a corner is will feel like Walter Röhrl.
The Boxster Spyder is Porsche's best chassis. Choices are thin on the ground for cars that handle as accurately without bad habits, and the Boxster Spyder is a pussycat despite the way it claws the asphalt. If your weekends are filled with cones and apexes, your track-day car has arrived. Oh, and you can putter around in it in between races.
Photos copyright ©2010 Dan Roth / AOL
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