During December's 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show press preview, Porsche board member Klaus Berning readily admitted that some of the company's newest vehicles were controversial.
Berning, whose responsibilities include Porsche's worldwide sales and marketing, alluded to the hot debate over whether the recently introduced Panamera four-door luxury sedan is a true Porsche, and whether the company should have ever produced their SUV, the Cayenne.
To calm the fears that Porsche has lost its way, Berning called the striking 2011 Boxster Spyder out on into the spotlight. It acted like a welcome salve for even the most ardent Porschephiles.
Unbeknownst to most of the media attending the press event at the LA Auto Show, a handful of journalists had already tested the new Spyder the day before the press conference. AOL Autos already knew the character of the car Berning was just presenting.Pure Porsche
There is no doubt that this sports car deserves the Porsche crest. Perhaps better than any recently introduced model, the Boxster Spyder represents the essence of what makes a Porsche, a Porsche.
Everywhere you look, there's lightness, simplicity, performance, and design elegance.
Designers drew inspiration from Porsche's own garage. They looked at the Porsche 356 Speedster from 1948, the 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, the 1960 718RS60 racer, and 1969 909. These cars share a minimalist approach to motoring that helped build Porsche's reputation as one of the world's premier performance car manufacturers.
While the new Boxster Spyder is clearly a member of the modern Boxster/Cayman family, the double bumps on the aluminum rear deck clearly recall racing Porsches from decades past. The Spyder's racing-inspired profile helps define the car ... at least when the top is off.
Porsche designers intended its open cockpit be open nearly all the time. The two-piece top assembly is for occasional use only, so don't expect to see hundreds of Spyders sold in Seattle, Portland or Duluth.
What's most important about the top is that it properly represents the Spyder's design philosophy. For example, compared to the power top mechanism in the Boxster S, the Spyder's arrangement saves a significant 42 pounds. In place of two separate deck lids on a standard Boxster, the sculpted one-piece aluminum rear deck lid on the Spyder weighs a feathery 22 pounds. The two-piece top fits under the rear deck, plus there is additional room for cargo.
The fabric and carbon fiber top is really more of a high-tech tent. It keeps rain out and protects the driver and passenger from wind buffeting or scorching sun. However, it provides little security for valuables left in the cockpit, and it's also trickier to get in and out of the Spyder with the top in place.
The nautical-like Bimini toupee isn't without other drawbacks. The engineer who designed the top can install it in about 90 seconds, but your author's first try required about four minutes. Attesting to the complexity of the mechanism, the owner's manual includes over a dozen steps for erecting the main top. Additionally, once the main top is secure, a secondary rear piece must be fitted to provide full weather protection. Plan on more steps to accomplish that.
The solution to these issues? Forget about them! They matter almost as little as Porsche's recommended lower top speed with the top in place (125 mph). With the top properly stowed, and with a get-out-of-jail-free card, the Spyder will run to 166 mph.
Besides, with the top off, it's easier to see how the racing-inspired look of the exterior carries through to the interior. Body-color elements on the transmission tunnel and dash that add to the elemental feel. Depending on color choices, the effect is striking.Engineered Liposuction
Porsche went to great lengths to pare down weight on the Boxster Spyder. For example, while the new Panamera has a power-operated tailgate, the Boxster Spyder's rear deck must be raised manually and is supported by a slender prop-rod operated by a human hand.
Conscious weight-saving decisions like these further define the Spyder.
Inside, compared to the elegant aluminum door handles one finds in a Boxster, Cayenne or 911, in the Spyder, one clicks open the doors using simple woven straps. The weight savings total 2.2 pounds.
Those straps open doors skinned in lightweight aluminum, saving 33 pounds compared to a standard Boxster with steel doors.
The Boxster's supportive seats also save weight by going without electric power controls. The detail-oriented eye will note that the seatbacks are carbon fiber, helping save 26.4 pounds compared to the seats in a Boxster.
Air conditioning is a no-cost option that saves 28.6 pounds when left off the car. Given that the Spyder should spend most of its driving life with the top off, A/C is hardly necessary.
Each of the Spyder's 10-spoke, 19-inch wheels represents saved weight. The set saves 11 pounds compared to the 18-inch rims fitted to a normal Boxster.
There are even ways to save weight to be found the Boxster Spyder's option list. For about $3,000, drivers can shave 22 pounds from the car's curb weight by substituting a lithium-ion battery in place of the standard lead-acid unit. That works out to be $136 for each saved pound an expensive diet!
Without the optional battery, calculated decisions helped Porsche keep the weight of the Boxster Spyder to just 2,811 pounds. This makes the Spyder the lightest current Porsche, and a full 176 pounds lighter than the Boxster S, a sports car already recognized for its lack of mass.
When designing this car, Porsche engineers knew that for every pound they kept off, the issue would be not what's missing in terms of equipment, but what's been gained in terms of performance.
Once on the road, you feel every pound that isn't there.
The thoroughfares around Carmel, California provide a variety of conditions and challenges; we drove everything from interstates to winding mountain paths. The heavily bolstered sport seats positioned this driver perfectly even though they only offered only fore and aft adjustment. Visibility was excellent, especially with the Spyder's top stored in the trunk where it belonged.
The Boxster Spyder takes to any road like a magnet to iron. It doesn't seem to care about the material (concrete or asphalt) or condition (smooth or pocked). The Spyder just wants to go and go, faster and faster.
Especially as the roads get twisty and undulating, the Spyder gets happier. The car's fluid feel seems uncanny. Nothing seems to upset the car's balance, deflect it off course, or detach its tires from the pavement. Steering is eager and responsive, almost anticipatory.
Lightness will do that for you. Porsche's engineers explained that having less mass makes it easier for the suspension to control the car while improving the chassis' ability to comfortably absorb impacts from potholes and other pavement imperfections. Unlike some other sports cars, the Spyder rides supplely.
Less weight also helps the Spyder's acceleration. Thanks to changes to the engine computer, the Spyder's direct-fuel-injected 3.4–liter flat-six cylinder engine produces 320 horsepower, 10 more than the Boxster S. Less weight combined with more power gives the Spyder a better power-to-weight ratio Porsche 911 S, and results in 0-60 mph times that are under five seconds.
Many sports cars are faster than the Spyder, but none possess this car's complete sense of poise. Everything works beautifully together from the way the clutch engages to the sublime feeling of the optional short-throw, six-speed manual shift linkage.
The traditional manual gearbox is standard, and seems appropriate for this car. Porsche also offers their clutchless PDK 7-speed direct-shift transmission as an option. Unfortunately, PDK-fitted vehicles weren't available for our drive, but Porsche engineers claimed that PDK Spyders will be faster 0-60 mph than the standard-shift models, enabling sprints of 4.6-seconds compared to 4.8 seconds.Porschephiles Rejoice
The 2011 Boxster Spyder gives Porsche enthusiasts reason to believe that their beloved company hasn't completely lost its marbles. A Porsche minivan might have done-in the brand's hard-core fans, but the Spyder should rejuvenate the faithful for years to come.
Yes, we're joking about the minivan.
The Weissach zealots will revel in the Spyder's ephemeral details, like the fact that not having a standard audio system saves six pounds. Regular buyers will enjoy the fact that, like all Porsches, the list of optional features is extensive. The radio is a no-cost option.
After a couple hundred miles behind the wheel, we'd recommend the sport exhaust system (the better to hear the engine) and the short-throw shift linkage (in lieu of the PDK option). These options make the Spyder an even better driver's car ... a tough accomplishment by any measure.
The car goes on sale in February of 2010, with pricing starting at $61,200.
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