2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder First Drive
Less is more, more or less.
Now that Porsche is finally over its 911/Cayman/Boxster hierarchy hang-up, wondrous things are happening in Zuffenhausen. Namely, the unfettered hot-rodding of its mid-engine platform, which has forever nipped at the heels of the company's rear-engine icon.
In the case of the new 2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder, "unfettered" is a bit of an overstatement, at least compared to its obscenely dialed-in stable mate, the Cayman GT4. While the Spyder's suspension setup is akin to a Cayman GTS's -- pleasingly low and tight -- its bespoilered hardtop alter ego packs adjustable suspension parts plucked directly from the 911 GT3. For some lap-time context, the Boxster Spyder logs a Nürburgring time of 7:47, 8 seconds quicker than the GTS but 7 seconds behind the GT4.
911 Power, Equipment Starvation Diet
Despite its less exotic suspension, the stripped down ragtop claims its own share of sharp-edged corners to appease the faithful and limit its real-world practicality -- fertile ground for the inner edges of the Porschephile cognoscenti.
The Boxster Spyder yanks the 3.8-liter flat-six from the 911 Carrera S, producing 375 horsepower and 309 lb-ft of torque in this application. For those keeping score, that's 35 hp and 29 lb-ft more than the Cayman GTS, but 10 hp shy of the GT4 (which is 56 pounds heavier). The flyweight roadster can hit 60 mph in a claimed 4.3 seconds, a tenth behind the GT4 but four-tenths quicker than the GTS, and it can reach a terminal velocity of 180 mph.
Though not as ruthlessly trimmed down as the previous-gen Spyder (which was an impressive 176 pounds lighter than the Boxster S), the new open-air Spyder also lacks its predecessor's fussy, flimsy bikini top, which ruled out car washes and limited closed-roof terminal velocity to 120 mph. At 66 pounds lighter than a manual-equipped Boxster GTS, the new Spyder saves 24 of those pounds by ditching its hydraulic top in favor of a manually folding, unlined lid with an unheated polymer rear window and a magnesium, aluminum, and plastic frame. Air-conditioning and an audio system are jettisoned but can be ordered as no-cost add-ons. Tiny touches such as nylon door pulls save an additional 1.2 pounds. Tipping the scales at 2,899 (and the wallet at $83,095, a $7,500 premium over the Boxster GTS), the Spyder claims the lowest center of gravity of any Boxster and the greatest power-to-weight ratio (7.7 pounds for every horsepower).
A standard Sport Chrono package includes dynamic transmission mounts and Porsche's torque-vectoring system with a mechanical differential lock. The electromechanical steering rack comes from from the 911 Turbo, and the brake calipers and rotors come from the 911 Carrera S. Luddites rejoice: You can have the Spyder with any gearbox as long as it's a six-speed manual, Porsche's reluctant but resounding response to PDK haters everywhere.
Driving the Spyder in the (Sort of) Real World
Our testing grounds for the Porsche Boxster Spyder are the pristinely paved, lunarly scenic roads of the Big Island of Hawaii, one of the finer places on the planet to lower the lid on a performance-focused two-seat convertible. For the 2016 Spyder, the UV-introducing ritual now takes less than a minute (versus three minutes for the previous-gen model) and involves less than half the number of steps. As such, open-air driving requires pushing a button to electrically unlatch the top, detaching and tucking twin fins (which form pseudo buttresses when attached), opening the rear trunklid, and stowing the top before snapping the right and left flaps shut.
Twist the left-hand ignition key to awaken the flat-six, and the engine comes to life with a tympanic membrane-tickling rush of naturally aspirated air. Especially with the Sport Exhaust button depressed (which also activates in Sport and Sport Plus modes), the 3.8-liter engine proves itself a honey of a mill, revving freely to 8,200 rpm with a sonorous yet deliciously menacing melody of pops, crackles, and burbles. Though the march of turbocharged progress will undoubtedly press on (as it already has with the new batch of 911 models), we'll miss the analog delights of this free-breathing powerplant. The short-throw shifter engages with a reassuringly positive click, and the clutch is progressive enough to make the most novice three-pedal driver feel at ease behind the wheel.
Despite the potent power-to-weight ratio, the Spyder doesn't feel especially punchy or spunky below about 4,000 rpm, due in part to the six-speed's relatively tall gearing. But when the engine winds into the second half of its powerband, a smooth rush of g-forces sets you back in your seat, accompanied by an annoy-the-locals exhaust note. Lest you doubt the emotional powers of the flat-six's song, consider the message imparted by Hawaii's finest, who gave us a nice red and blue light show on the Akoni Pule Highway: "We're pulling you over because we've had reports of several Porsches speeding loudly through town." That could not possibly have been us, sir.
Because the engine's sweet spot resides in its upper registers (and our chances of running into another Officer Friendly were greatly reduced once we left town), we waited to exercise the Spyder's passing capabilities on the open stretches of highway of the island's undeveloped central region. Drop one more gear than you think you need at cruising speed, and the Spyder leaps ahead with alacrity, passing dawdling tourists and mellow locals with ease. The gear-dropping routine flirts with perfection in Sport Plus mode, which matches revs by blipping the throttle as you shove down the left pedal.
Whatever few road imperfections we found on Hawaii's otherwise glassy asphalt surfaces revealed a firm but compliant ride, one that lends the Spyder reassuring levels of grip with the surface below. Partial credit for the lateral stability goes to the Spyder-specific 10.5-inch rear wheels, which deliver a 0.5-inch width advantage over the next-best Boxster model. There's also a wonderfully communicative chassis, which assumes a commanding grasp of the road and transfers just the right amount of information through the seat of the pants and the Alcantara-lined steering wheel.
Nowhere else on the island does this become more apparent than on Saddle Road, a wildly twisting, cambering ribbon of two-lane highway complete with sine wave-like undulations and stomach-sinking drop-offs. It's here that the Spyder shows its true mettle, clinging tenaciously to pavement at speeds that would unsettle many a lesser sports car. Sure, there's a sliver of perceptible slack in the suspension you won't find in the GT4, but there's also a great deal more usability and flexibility that make it a willing accomplice along pothole-ridden boulevards. The Spyder is a comfortable long-distance cruiser despite the wind noise and valvetrain sound that makes its way into the cabin when the top is up.
Lively, responsive, and richly rewarding to drive at speed, the 2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder proves a vastly more usable specimen than its bare-bones predecessor. Under blue skies and balmy 70-degree weather in December, the tiny roadster felt like a kindred mechanical spirit to Hawaii's aura of tropical ease. Seductively usable when driven fast, this low-slung two-seater has more in common with a well-mixed mai tai than you might think. Though pleasant and inviting in its open-air guise, beneath its surface the Spyder hums with a potent edge, like the dizzying rum and triple sec that lurk beyond the inviting pineapple slice and amber hue.
There are those who believe the late, great predecessor is the paragon for all Spyders, an uncompromised expression of Porsche purity. To that, we suggest considering the new model a reformulation that works for the real world: Sure, it may have a stronger top note of sugar, but beneath that sweetness is an undercurrent that deals an intoxicating buzz.
2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder Specifications
- On Sale: Now
- Price: $83,095 (base)
- Engine: 3.8L DOHC 24-valve flat-6/375 hp @ 6,700 rpm, 309 lb-ft @ 4,750-6,000 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Layout: 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD convertible
- EPA Mileage: 18/24 mpg (city/hwy)
- L x W x H: 173.4 x 70.9 x 49.7 in
- Wheelbase: 97.4. in
- Weight: 2,899 lb
- 4.3 sec
- Top Speed: 180 mph