Driven: 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder
The car world keeps coming back to roadsters. Marketing people perennially argue “what moderns really want is an appliance.” Huh. Tell Saturn that. Roadsters are the opposite of an appliance car, yet they thrive. They are the essence of Car.
At Porsche, they never succumbed to the nonsense. They do not just sell sports cars, they also sell SUV’s that think they are sports cars and a luxury sedan that will take on the newcomer Cadillac at Nürburgring and give you time for a quick sippa joe while the CTS-V finishes. Fair enough. Porsches are exciting cars and we all know it, but a roadster? Isn’t that a little beneath them? We can buy a Miata for twenty grand and you can’t find enough options to get one out the door at more than thirty. On a Porsche’s option sheet, a little daydreaming adds enough in options alone to match the cost of a new Miata. Can Porsche build a roadster that could possibly be worth that much more than a Miata?
Uh… yes. That turns out to be the case. I’m talking about people that care about cars of course. If a car really is just an appliance to you, you can always find one.
Driven: 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder
Porsche and Their Options
The “base model” Boxster is in fact a wonderful car as it stands there. With no options at all, the Boxster handles like a sports car should, it sounds like one, and it lasts like all German cars did in the past. A few Porsches always become garage queens, which makes it easy to find excellent examples with the new-car-depreciation bite already taken. But just as many have smug owners with a quarter-million miles. Good cars, and you don’t have to add options to make them so, but you know you want to.
That long options list is a Porsche trademark, not something you need to create a useful car. Porsche got his namesake off the ground by selling bespoke grand touring and sport cars, adapting his basic design to match each customer. To this day you can order a Porsche any way you want it, so long as you don’t mind paying for them pulling a chassis off the production line and a team of craftsmen doing nothing else for a week or two. That ain’t cheap, but you can do it. Well… I can’t, but maybe you could.
That famous option list is a genial way to let the rest of us partake of “build your own Porsche” without selling the house to afford special stitching in the upholstery. You can turn a Porsche toward true grand touring, hard core track-days, or pamper-me-while-I-crawl-home for commuters – all just different checkmarks on the option sheet. A moderate but satisfying set of choices in any of those directions always seems to add up to about ten thousand. That’s a lot compared to a Miata, but you already began with a great car. That ten thousand makes it a custom-built car that puts the effort where you want it. A Boxster with a few “my way” option choices will follow you home for about fifty thousand. A Boxster S wants about sixty. And the Boxster Spyder we tested makes a long-term commitment at seventy thousand.
We tested a Boxster optioned to a level we would enjoy. The top was single-button convenient; The luggage room was there; Cabin space was very good; and it had great handling and ride. A car you can love.
Then we tested the Spyder. Wow.
A Spyder gives up some of the aft luggage space for the folding top, but otherwise provides all the storage of the Boxster, all the cabin space, and starts on cold mornings. That’s the last boring detail we can think of to mention. With all the track-day potential you could want with leather seats and no fire extinguisher (but it’s on that option list), our Spyder was still a delight in Southern California traffic and looked as good as it felt. Even in areas where Ferraris draw nothing but an admiring glance, people smile and wave at you in a Spyder. And on ‘interesting’ roads, the Spyder lives up to its goal of ultimate roadster.
With the light weight (2870 lbs as tested), the power-to-weight ratio matches a Porsche Carrera and it wears the same high-performance tires. Handling is pure mid-engine, which means quick turn-in, stable response through the apex, and a strong launch onto the following straight without causing the rear end to step out. All these things are true of the simple roadster as well, but in … well, simple and less dramatic ways. The light weight and higher power of the Spyder makes it shout “Yee ha!” when you point down a good road. Steering is precise in the tradition Porsche made famous and a hundred clichés come to mind, but a quick drive in a Porsche makes BMW enthusiasts keep a civil tongue about steering on their own cars’, good as it is.
The top? Oh yeah, it folds down by hand and goes back up the same way. It isn’t a big deal unless you’re looking for an appliance. It would become routine after the second time, and it won’t take long enough to matter in a sudden rain shower. It would be a conversation piece among people who get bored hearing how I drifted the Spyder through Willow’s turn eight at 110 mph and how I’m thinking about five-point belts before my next track day.
Would I buy it for a daily driver? Well, I would, but realistically it depends on your daily driving. With six hours a week in stop-and-go traffic, the other guy’s exhaust will get pretty annoying. The sketch of a roof is sports car roadster in its purest form. It makes it reasonable to drive home through rain, but it does not aspire to insulating you from the experience. The Cayman S has the same engine in a coupe configuration that will protect you from the rest of the world. If you commute, give serious attention to a Cayman instead.
Our Particular Porsche Boxster Spyder
We found three dealers within a hundred miles that offered a nicely optioned Spyder for less than $69,000. It’s all personal, so your choices will vary of course. First the PDK transmission, which we review elsewhere. The active suspension on Porsches may be the best in the world. We ordered that too. Then we checked the same leather sport seats as were on our test car, with the special soft-as-a-baby’s-butt leather (we didn’t believe the rumor about hides from cows whose career goal was to become Kobe beefsteak, but the seats kept whispering “it’s true” throughout the test. $1284 seemed about right for seats that whisper seductively). We added back the climate control that Porsche removes for lighter weight. In Southern California, especially the desert areas, that’s like removing the life-support system from an Apollo capsule. Yes, it’s lighter, but only fit for transporting roast beef while cooking. I can just about manage ten laps of a race track with the air conditioning turned off, and then I need an optional Lorelei to mop my brow with a cool cloth. Your weather will vary, but I would order the climate control.
Anything else? Oh, yes. The Porsche Sport Exhaust makes the car sound great with one button. Porsche must sell these cars in Switzerland, where the populace has very mixed feelings about internal combustion. Any brand new Porsche sounds… well, muffled. They open up nicely after a few thousand miles, which must annoy a few Swiss principalities, but as new, a Porsche sports car is a delight to sleeping villagers. I don’t live in Switzerland, and when I drive through sleepy villages the PSE has this very handy ‘off’ button that restores tranquility, while providing acoustic delights the rest of the day.
No other options for me. If I drove freeways at commuter hours I’d add back the radio… uh, the Porsche Communication Management system, but fortunately I can just sit back and enjoy the sound of my car. I prefer that when I drive a car like the Spyder that glories in being a car. If sometimes you need your tunes, the PCM includes all the interfaces you will need, including Bluetooth. We’ve found the sound system in Porsche coupés to be quite acceptable for sports car use, so they’ve probably done just as well for the roadster. Not concert hall, but halls don’t haul like a Porsche.
Wrapping It Up
The Spyder is not one of Porsche’s hyper-expensive limited models built for racing homologation or for customers with expensive and special taste like the GT3 RS. Nor is it a car you could put together from the options list of other models. This is a regular offering, but unique among Porsches, and surely meets all the design goals they scrawled on the whiteboard at Zuffenhausen a few years ago.
It is a roadster in the finest tradition of sports cars. The essence of Car.