2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder Review

Consider the Spyder Porsche’s version of a Boxster GT3

2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder Review

On a narrow offshoot of a road somewhere near Carmel Valley Road in Monterey, CA, I’m absolutely hammering on the Porsche Boxster Spyder and simply couldn’t be having more fun. In town for the Pebble Beach festivities, my weekend is spent in everything from a Corvette Grand Sport, to a Porsche Turbo S to a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera. And yet this Porsche delivers the most smiles and is the one that I find myself gushing about to anyone who will listen.

FAST FACTS

1. A direct-injection 3.4L flat-six makes 320-hp, 10-hp more than the Boxster S.

2. Standard with a 6-speed manual, an optional PDK dual clutch setup and Sports Chrono Package will deliver a 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds.

3. With a 2,811 lb curb weigh, the Spyder is 176 lbs lighter than the Boxster S.

My tales of lateral g forces and smiles as wide as the choppy asphalt I’m riding on are met with the same skepticism by everyone. “The Boxster? Really?” they say, my comments so incongruous with their preconceived notions of the soft-top poseur Porsche that they simply refuse to accept my tales of canyon carving grandeur.

But from behind the wheel and on these lonely roads the Spyder is as far from the standard Boxster as the GT3 is from the Carrera. And that’s saying a lot, as apart from the Boxster’s perception, it’s as well-balanced and dynamic a drive as they come.

LIGHTER AND MORE POWERFUL

Weighing 176-lbs less than the standard Boxster S and with 10 extra horsepower, it’s as though Porsche decided to start building Lotuses. The difference, however, is the engine and transmission in this car. Instead of using donor parts from Toyota, it’s pure Porsche and it shows. The shifts are smooth and precise, the powerband is broad and yet perfectly linear in the way that only a naturally aspirated engine can be.

All 320 horses come on at 7200 rpm, which is 950 rpm higher than in the Boxster S and the added revs make for added fun. Also important in invigorating the driving experience is the Sports Chrono Package that includes a Sport button on the dash that delivers more sensitive throttle response. Those who opt for the PDK and Sports Chrono Plus package will get a Sport Plus button that not only offers improved throttle response, but also adds quicker shift times and new shift points.

The sound is also intoxicating with enough resonance from the raspy growling flat-six coming into the cabin to really let you know the engine is right behind you.

CUSHY AND COMFORTABLE IT IS NOT

After my thrilling joyride I informed a Porsche rep of my Lotus analogy, to which he responded that the Porsche, unlike a Lotus, is also comfortable. As he said this my train of thought came to a halt with the force of some carbon ceramic rotors. Comfortable it is not.

Sure, it’s not brutalizing, but the stiffer and lower (0.8-inch lower) suspension is seriously firm and you’ll feel everything from suspension joints to hairline fractures in the pavement.

Compounding the interior experience are racing seats with a lower structure that isn’t just stiff, but solid. My 34-inch waist fits with only minimal room to spare and those with less-than sleek frames should be weary. Surprisingly, they’re actually incredibly comfortable and the lower and side bolstering is certainly necessary for the sort of driving you’ll do once behind the wheel.

With leather sides, grippy Alcantara seat inserts and bright red seat belts, the car’s race-inspired theme is obvious. Also of note is the three-spoke steering wheel and red door pulls rather than door handles.

Outside, the Spyder gets numerous unique design cues inspired not just by the classic 1953 550 Spyder, but also the Carrera GT. Most notable are the rear bulges on the decklid. And helping make the roadster look longer and larger than it is are shorter side windows.

THRILLING ACCELERATION AND HANDLING

And the Spyder’s fun factor isn’t just limited to the twisties. Straight line acceleration is brisk. Sure with “only” 320-hp from it’s direct-injection 3.4-liter flat-six it’s no ferocious exotic, but it goes nonetheless with a 0-62 mph time of just 4.6 seconds when equipped with the optional PDK dual-clutch transmission and Sports Chrono Package. My test model was fitted with an old fashioned 6-speed manual transmission (delivering a 4.9 second 0-60 mph time) and as much as I love and respect Porsche’s PDK, I wouldn’t have this car any other way.

Combining the balanced chassis, stiff suspension, precise steering and perfectly sensitive throttle with a real stick and pedal makes for a classic motoring experience that’ll deliver the most smiles. Plus, while it might not be the most efficient, a properly executed heel-toe will have you feeling fully in control of this masterful piece of German engineering. It’s the sort of feeling that let’s you know you didn’t just earn this Porsche, but that you deserve it.

On the canyon roads with the Sport button pressed, the car reacts perfectly to each and every input while a new program for the Porsche Stability Management (PSM) allows just a little extra slip. The stiffer suspension, limited slip differential, reduced curb weight and lower center of gravity accentuate the Boxster’s already well-balanced dynamics. Possibly even more amazing is that with such a firm spring and shock combo the car still grips the rippled and pot-marked road that’s a far cry from the glass smooth surface of a racetrack.

The solitary complaint we have about the Spyder’s driving experience is in the braking department. The brakes themselves did actually operate admirably, but initial bite was lacking.

SILLY SOFT-TOP, BUT IT’S WORTH IT

Then there’s that soft top – which has drawn criticism from other writers and even caused some to discount the Spyder as a foolish vehicle altogether. Not comfortable referring to it as a convertible roof, Porsche instead says it’s merely a sun shade, hinting that it’s only designed to keep your leather seats from baking in the sun.

Tales of its absurd complexity to operate are accurate. While a Porsche rep said an owner who’s familiar with the setup should be able to assemble the contraption in a minute, newbs will certainly look foolish fumbling with the many tie-downs, clasps and tensioners. And the time it takes to install will feel exponentially longer if you’re caught fumbling in the rain while everyone else runs inside the Starbucks chuckle at your misfortune.

The reason for this ridiculous setup is to keep the vehicle’s weight down. With it there’s no heavy folding top mechanism and Porsche even went so far as to make the piece that connects to the windscreen surround out of carbon fiber.

THE VERDICT

But it’s all worth it for a Porsche that’s this light and this raw. And the criticisms are mostly irrelevant anyway as it’s highly unlikely anyone who purchases this car will use it exclusively as transportation.

Pricing is set at $61,200 – a very reasonable $3,200 premium over the Boxster S. But the models almost can’t be compared as the Boxster S is significantly more functional (not to mention vastly more comfortable) as a daily driver.

The Boxster Spyder is a toy, pure and simple. It’s designed for drivers and meant to be driven. Will it hold two weekend bags for you and the wife? Who cares? You’re not going to want to share the Boxster Spyder with anyone anyway and the way it’ll possess you to drive will ensure no one will want to be your passenger twice.

LOVE IT

  • Lower weight
  • Exceptional handling
  • Minimal price increase

LEAVE IT

  • Soft-top is frustratingly useless
  • Seats may be a hindrance to some
  • Brakes need more initial bite

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