2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder Quick Drive
No, this Porsche is not everybody's darling.
The Porsche Boxster Spyder, which follows hot on the heels of the limited-edition Cayman GT4, marks the final evolution of the mid-engined Porsche family prior to the launch of the heavily revised "718" at next year's Geneva auto show. And like the Cayman GT4 and the 911 GT3, the Spyder is in more ways than one a back-to-the-roots car.
In addition to the classic go-faster ingredients -- high-revving normally-aspirated engine, chassis on steroids, fat tires, and mean make-up -- the Spyder is fitted with a manually-operated bikini top which looks rather nice, can be put risk-free through an automatic car wash, will tolerate 180 mph without coming loose, and weighs 33 pounds less than the push-button job.
That's the good news.
The bad news concerns the top's not exactly intuitive modus operandi; even an expert surgeon with fingers of steel might find it a little tricky. True, the latching and unlatching mechanism is electric, but lifting the large upper rear body panel, folding the soft-top to a compact stack, and learning how to unclick and tuck away the two fabric fins would be a challenge even for Gyro Gearloose. That the headgear constructed for the 911 Speedster and the first-gen Boxster Spyder ate knucklebones at an even faster rate is pretty cold comfort when every sudden weather change can throw you into panic.
So what exactly makes the 2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder potentially more desirable than a Boxster GTS which costs about eight grand less and comes free of charge with air conditioning, radio, and motorized awning? Once again, the extra dash of emotion is Porsche's trump card. That's emotion as in, more noise, more purity, more drama, more involvement. The beefed up engine may play almost the same tune as the lesser GTS unit, but because of the unpadded single-layer hoodie it is much louder, rawer and more intense from a driver's perspective.
Like the original 1989 911 Speedster, the Spyder virtualy anaesthetizes your ears above 120 mph. The snug-fitting black cowl, although it does ruffle its feathers on the approach to the 180-mph top speed, never turns into a brake parachute, original Viper-style. While the small rear window is unheated perspex, the available wind deflector comes in the shape of a lightweight gauze inset. You sit closer to the road in body-hugging sports seats which can, at a price, be swapped for single-piece buckets Leopold von Sacher-Masoch would be proud of. With the top up, the Spyder feels like a potent cocoon on the prowl. With the top down, its flashiness alone increases your heart rate over any other Boxster.
However, if you think the Boxster Spyder is a Cayman GT4 with a different roof treatment, think again. The GT4 wants to be an even sharper tool that mixes Carrera and GT3 elements with the extrovert stance of a would-be competition car. It boasts its own suspension, brakes and steering. In contrast, the Spyder merely tweaks the underlying whole of the Boxster GTS. Tipping the scales at 2,899 pounds, it is the lightest incarnation of the breed, and with 375 horsepower it musters only ten fewer horses than the top-notch Cayman coupé.
The chassis, however, is more GTS than GT3. Modifications include a slightly lower ride height, bespoke springs and dampers, quicker steering inspired by the 911 Turbo, the same size brakes as the Carrera S, and more substantial 20-inch wheels shod with 235/35 and 265/35 tires. While the only transmission on offer is a six-speed manual, you can specify carbon ceramic brakes -- hideously expensive, as always, but eminently capable.
Compared to the 3.4-liter GTS, the 3.8-liter Spyder engine boosts power by 45 to 375 hp, and torque by 36 to 309 lb-ft. For maximum performance, we suggest you keep the revs between 4,500 and 7,000 rpm, where urge, thrust, and throttle response are at their peak. In this car, launch control is conducted simply by both feet -- and one finger which may want to stab the traction-/stability-control button.
Dropping the clutch at 5,000 rpm produces just enough wheelspin to conjure a broad grin. When conditions are right, the sprint from 0 to 60 mph takes 4.3 seconds, which is a mere tenth less impressive than the GT4's claimed acceleration. Against the stopwatch, the ultimate Boxster is a half-second quicker than the Boxster S, and 0.4-second quicker than the GTS. That is a significant gap in drag-racing terms if not real-world relevance, and the same applies to the price. At $83,095, the Spyder undercuts the Cayman GT4 by $2,500, but it costs $18,200 more than the Boxster S which is, especially in combination with the PDK gearbox, the better everyday car.
But today is special. Today, we practice rain-or-shine until lowering and raising the roof is no longer a five-minute long public embarrassment. Today, we are going to try the boulevards of Stuttgart for street cred (5 out of 10), the autobahn for high-speed stability and overtaking prestige (8 out of 10), and the twisties of the Swabian Alb for dynamic prowess (9 out of 10).
Porsche spared no expense in our test car, and we marveled at miles of yellow stitching, acres of yellow in-cockpit applications, and a pair of yellow seatbelts. Furthermore, we took note of the charming vintage sat-nav system, the old-school telephone, and the disturbed ergonomics. Assistance systems? A couple of proximity beepers and a rear-view camera. Nothing else, but plenty of conventional aids like brakes designed in heaven, super sensitive steering, and an undercarriage which fuses grip, traction, and roadholding with five-star finesse.
The key difference between Spyder and GTS is of course the extra-eager drivetrain. The engine has more bite, punch, and a rare congenital desire to rev its lungs out. It must work much harder than a turbo motor to pump up the power, but its response is more prompt, throttle modulation could hardly be sweeter, the running characteristics are turbine-like smooth, and the signature soundtrack evolves like a high-mech rap version of Ravel's Bolero.
Mated to this remarkable flat-six engine is a quick and slick manual transmission staged to vroom you through the speed range with perfectly timed enthusiasm. When the twist action reaches the rear wheels, it is channeled through a mechanical differential lock which works chip in hand with the electronic torque vectoring device. Even before PSM interferes, ABS will momentarily decelerate the inner rear wheel to pull the car back in line. With stability control switched off, however, the spicy Spyder can't wait to reel off the same sensational slide show as the Cayman GT4.
No, this Porsche is not everybody's darling. For a start, it does not quite match the even costlier GT4 for poise and panache; its go-faster outfit highlighted by the two retrostyle power domes on the rear is an acquired taste, and a similar verdict also applies to the beautifully shaped but not particularly pragmatic soft-top. Thus compromised in equipment and execution, the Spyder aims at a relatively narrow target audience. At the end of the day, it all boils down to the eternal conflict between convenience and emotion. Those who seek a decontented, lightweight, no-frills driving machine are perhaps better off with the GT4 or the rumored GT4 RS. Those who enjoy open-top motoring and are not track-day regulars should probably zoom in on the Boxster S/GTS.
Which leaves to the 2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder a small and fairly exclusive market, a niche carved out for purists who fall for this quaint mix of naked 1960s-style street-racer and class-leading contemporary sports car.