IN THE CLEARING STANDS A BOXSTER—AND A SPYDER BY ITS NAME
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Published on Sun, Jun 5, 2011
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By John Grafman Gazing at the Boxster Spyder a knowing smile unfolds on my face. There are a multitude of reasons why this might be, but after driving the Boxster hard there is one reason that rises above all the others. The performance of the little Porsche delivers on the promise of its design. I only wish this was true with many of the other cars we review. In a town saturated with Porsches, I’m convinced this one will simply blend into the landscape. Oh, how wrong I am. The chopped down proportions, plus the trunk panel lid aft of the seats that reflects the double bump of the legendary Porsche Carrera GT supercar, work to draw the attention of many people, if only for a few moments. This is more than eye-candy; this evokes emotion, and a sense of history. Slipping and twisting my way into the carbon-fiber shell race bucket seat I feel the spirit of the historic 550 Spyder. My rear end can’t be more than a few scant inches off of the pavement. Clearly the car is low from the outside, yet once inside looking outward I gain a much better perspective. All of a sudden even Honda Civics look like elephants, and Chevy Suburbans roam the 405 freeway like dinosaurs just waiting to snack on this mouthwatering, bite-size, German snack.
Typically, while driving a sports car, my attention is split between focusing on driving, and watching out for local law enforcement. Now I have something else to watch for. With the Spyder I am keenly aware that this is an additional 20 mm lower than a standard Boxster. Odds are more than a few drivers won’t even see this next to them when merging over. At just 48.5”, I’m not sure if I can entirely blame them. Hell, the top for the windshield header on this is lower than the bottom of the side windows on most other Crossovers, SUVs and even passenger cars. Sure, this is eye-catching, but only if the car can be seen. Adaptation is the key. Darwin would be proud. The Spyder is more than a styling exercise. Two key elements allow this to excel, and survive in the wild. The low profile is just one part of Porsche’s effort to reduce the weight on this model. Reduce the glass height and one reduces the weight, as does having doors of aluminum. It starts with the elimination of all unnecessary conveniences like a/c or radio, adding lighter rims, and a roof that is all but non-existent (more on that later). A little here and a little there, and when all is said and done, the Spyder shaves 187 pounds off of a similar Boxster S. This creates an über nimble car. As long as the driver is paying attention, it is entirely feasible on the street to jog one way or another in order to avoid becoming the next casualty. This is both stealthy and agile. The second element that sets this apart is a bump in power. With some tweaking the engineers squeeze an extra ten ponies out of the 3.4-liter flat six-cylinder motor that’s available in the Boxster S, and 65 more than the base model. The total output for the direct fuel injection motor is a healthy 320 ponies. This hits peak power at 7,200 rpm, 300 shy of redline. Torque is rated at 273 lb.-ft.@4,750 rpm. What this boils down to is the best power to weight ratio in the Porsche line-up. So there isn’t any monster that this can’t evade with a slight blip of the pedal on the right.
This also has a tiny little button on the center console. Good things come in small packages. A touch of this innocuous button puts the car into sport mode and advances the timing and valve lift, so that you get into it that much faster. It doesn’t take too long before I’m addicted to the rev-happy motor. At lower rpms it doesn’t sound or behave in an overtly aggressive manner, although there is still plenty of off the line torque. But, the story is different once the needle moves into the upper regions of the power band. This naturally aspirated, direct injection motor begins to howl! I’m captivated by this whine, and I’m drinking it up far too often. Anyone with a soul that has petrol in it understands the emotional connection. As promised, this does move. Able to go from nothing to sixty in 4.6 seconds (factory spec) is proof enough this has the goods. That sort of acceleration feels lightening quick in any car, but the closer one sits to the pavement, the more the feeling is amplified. This would be scary fast if it weren’t for the smooth way the power is delivered. Often I’m surprised what the speedo is telling me. Seriously, I’m going how fast? The sensory input from the steering and the brakes encourages hard driving. The experience is what a sports car aficionado is looking for. The disc brakes aren’t exceptionally large looking, and seem a little small sitting inside the large and open spoke 19-inch rims. However, these brakes are more than ample in a flyweight car. The stiff sport suspension with independent MacPherson struts in each corner does translate into minimal roll and plenty of feedback through the sport bucket seats. And this is fine on smooth streets or on track surfaces, but hit some rough freeways patches for a few miles and it becomes apparent that this vehicle a specific mission in life, and that of a daily, high-mileage commuter car isn’t it. To its credit the Boxster has ample room, relative to the overall size of the car, in the front and rear truck space. Interior space is at a premium, and anything larger than an envelope needs to find a home elsewhere.
Unlike the roof of the other Boxster models, this doesn’t have the quick acting power top that retracts or erects in 12-seconds while on the fly. Nope, this is something entirely different. This has a two-piece canvas top that snaps, hooks, clamps, and uses pins to set it into place. A nice carbon-fiber header, which the canvas is affixed to, attaches to the top of the windshield and then the other parts hang on it. This involves not just ample time (about five minutes for rookies like myself), but the ability to remember exactly how this assembles. Otherwise, bad things happen, especially at high speeds. Porsche states that the top speed with the top up in the Spyder is just 125 mph. I know the car can do about forty miles per hour better, but then this would in effect become a permanent roadster. So, before starting out it’s best to consider the weather conditions, as an unexpected downpour can really put a damper in one’s day. Similarly, if avoiding the mid-day sun and heat is an issue, plan ahead. The canvas top is just that, no sound or weather insulation, just the single layer of canvas. This really is just about as primitive as can be. If you add it all up, the package as a whole begins to make sense. Less than comfortable race buckets that don’t recline at all, no radio or a/c (unless optioned back on), and a top that’s a throw-back to the 60’s seals the deal. This is made for the track. Yep, I can drive it all day long up and down the coast, but this isn’t where the Spyder wants to be. This brings me full circle to the 550 Spyder, and of course James Dean. The Boxster Spyder is a spiritual successor to his car in many ways, but this still offers the most updated of safety equipment. It comes with side impact protection, thorax airbags in the seats, airbags in doors (6), seat belt pretensioners and force limiters. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think of James Dean while darting around. At 2,811 pounds this won’t stand a chance against many of the over-sized SUVs that the Boxster shares the road with. Sadly, after all these decades we still have an infatuation with massive, ineffective tanks and land yachts. This isn’t meant to be a jack of all trades, this is a specialist, and this does one thing and it does it superbly. This is an uncompromising sports car. Cruising past two parked convertible Lamborghini Gallardos at a beachside restaurant I don’t feel like this Porsche is second tier. Au contraire, this feels like an exceptional value. If sheer utility isn’t an issue, this is really hard to argue with, especially compared to sports cars that cost two or three times as much.
This does provide a quality interior. Fit and materials are not lacking on any level, and even the placement of the side armrest is appreciated. This is especially important as the relatively narrow cabin means coming in close contact with the door panels. Overall, there is a distinct absence of low quality plastic. The steering wheel is void of any fingertip controls. Again, this is meant to focus on performance driving. Details abound that make this special. Very obvious are the cloth straps used in place of typical interior door handles, which reduce weight as well. A little less easy to spot are the stainless steel billet roll bars that sit just under the truck panel. Those are nicely done, but most won’t even catch a glimpse of those, and hopefully they won’t have to find out just how effective they are. There is one exception to the otherwise nicely appointed interior. I would like to see the plastic used on the steering wheel look a little less cheap than the existing satin-silver paint treatment. It just looks sorely out of place. The optional audio-system did exhibit what seemed to be a worn out speaker. Additionally, this well flogged press vehicle did have some miles on the odometer and a couple of squeaks are becoming apparent. However, the Porsche Boxster is receiving top marks in quality aside from the aforementioned problems. I’m positive any of these issues can be resolved under warranty. While weight is pared down in this model, there are still plenty of features included to make life bearable like Homelink, self dimming mirrors (optional), rain sensor (optional), Bluetooth, cruise control, multifunction trip control, three power sockets, bi-xenon headlights (optional), and a height and reach adjustable steering wheel. Many cars have marketing campaigns that create expectations that are hard to live up to. The Boxster Spyder exceeded any preconceived ideas that I had, and those inferred by the dramatic styling. How nice is it when a company has a reputation, but doesn’t have to rely on it to entice buyers. SUMMARY JUDGMENT This Boxster variant is a near exotic, with few compromises, at value pricing. For more info go to Porsche.com/usa
SPECIFICATIONS Price: Base $61,200, as tested $67,820 EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 19/27 Engine type: 3.4 liter, flat 6-cylinder, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, direct fuel injection, VarioCam Plus variable valve timing and lift, 2 stage resonance induction system, aluminum block and head, water cooled Horsepower: 320 @ 7,200 rpm Torque: 273 lb.-ft @ 4,750 rpm Drive configuration: Mid-rear engine / rear wheel drive Transmission type: 6-speed manual, dual mass flywheel Suspension Front: Independent MacPherson struts with aluminum control arms, coil springs, stabilizer bar and negative steering-roll radius Rear: Independent MacPherson struts with aluminum control arms and stabilizer bar; toe-angle control Porsche Stability Management (PSM), Engine Drag Torque Control (EDTC) Brakes: Front: Four-piston monoblock, aluminum fixed calipers disc, internally vented and cross-drilled, 12.52” diameter Rear: Four-piston monoblock, aluminum fixed calipers disc, internally vented and cross-drilled 11.77” diameter Automatic Brake Differential (ABD) Wheels and tires: Front: 19 x 8.5 alloy, 235 x 35 x ZR19 Rear: 19 x 10 alloy, 265 x 35 x ZR19 Dimensions Overall length: 172.1” Overall width: 70.9” Overall height: 48.5” Curb weight (lb.): 2,811 Performance 0-60 mph: 4.6 Top Speed, mph: 166 Top Open / 125 Top Closed