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2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder First Drive

California King: Porsche Celebrates the Golden State’s Great Drought with the 2016 Boxster Spyder

California King: Porsche Celebrates the Golden State’s Great Drought with the 2016 Boxster Spyder

The last-generation Porsche Boxster Spyder had a two-piece “bikini” top that took what seemed like 30 minutes to erect. It was needlessly complex as well as ridiculous. This one, the brand-new 2016 model, has a one-piece top that only eats about a minute of your life. It is still unnecessarily complex (good luck with those hidden release buttons), but compared to the last Boxster Spyder, this top is child’s play. Plus, removing all the power mechanisms and adding an aluminum cover saves a whole bunch of weight. But see, if you live in California like me, who cares? The only upside to our historic statewide drought is there’s never any rain. Leave the top dropped!

Things we care about when it comes to the latest Spyder from Porsche start and end with the six horizontally opposed pistons seated just behind your butt. The 3.8-liter boxer engine is lifted right out of the 911 Carrera S and then flipped 180 degrees. The big numbers: 375 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. Why is the power down 25 ponies and the twisting force reduced by 15 lb-ft? Because it’s harder to get air into the center of a car than it is to get it to the rear. Different intake plumbing robs power and doesn’t allow for the optional power pack kit that boosts the Carrera S up to 430 hp. However, the Spyder makes 45 more hp and 30 extra lb-ft of torque compared to the 3.4-liter boxer-six in the GTS. Porsche’s claiming a 0-60 time of 4.3 seconds, but I feel that’s oddly conservative. My guess is 4 seconds flat, or less, especially because the Carrera S can do the deed in 3.7 seconds, and the Spyder’s about 300 pounds lighter. Although as the Spyder is manual only and the 911 I’m talking about had PDK (Porsche’s lightening quick dual-clutch transmission, Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe if you’re not into that whole brevity thing), the former might not dip under the 4-second barrier. We’re just going to have to test it to find out.

Porsche claims the removal of soundproofing and insulation — along with some fairly extensive aluminum, magnesium, and plastic polymer construction — means the Spyder weighs just 2,900 pounds, which is less than the base Boxster. However, a little Porsche birdie told me that’s not actually the case — just wishful marketing. Again, when we weigh one, you’ll know. For now, know that the base 2.7-liter manual Boxster is 3,040 pounds when sitting on our scales. I guess Porsche’s 2,899-pound claim was made with no gas in the tank. Speaking of gas and tanks, the Spyder has a smaller tank than the GTS, 13.3 gallons compared to 16.9. I noticed the range on the Spyder seemed a little short for a Boxster. The smaller tank is standard to save weight, but the larger tank is a no-cost option. If you’re really worried about weight, I advise you to get the larger tank and only fill it three-quarters of the way most of the time. Have a peek at the EPA numbers: 18 city, 24 highway for the Spyder. Trust me, the bigger tank is worth the weight penalty.

The 2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder is quite the Frankenstein’s monster of Zuffenhausen. Aside from its engine, the Carrera S also contributes its steel brakes — just like it does for the GT4 — and of course carbon-ceramic discs with Porsche’s telltale yellow calipers are a pricey option. The Boxster/Cayman GTS also contributes parts to the Spyder, specifically the car’s suspension. Remember that the Cayman GT4 uses the front suspension from the GT3 and the rear setup from the GTS. The Boxster Spyder, however — and this gets a little confusing — uses the optional X73 sport suspension (basically a 20mm drop in ride height) from the GTS, though the rear spring rates have been lessened to cope with the extra power. The Spyder also uses the same gear ratios as the GTS. Like the GT4, the Spyder is manual transmission only. Oh, and one more stud in the Porsche stable contributes an ingredient to the Spyder stew. In the U.S., should you opt for the carbon-fiber bucket seats, they’re straight out of the 918 Spyder. Cool, huh?

And so? Now that the Boxster has 911 power (and a power-to-weight ratio better than the 911’s) what’s it like to drive? Intoxicating. And beastly! Ferocious and concussive, too. I’ve never before had my head bang off a Boxster’s seat while shifting gears, but here we are. The Spyder is also as balanced, poised, and neutral as this generation Boxster ever has been. The brakes (they’re also off the Carrera S) are magnificent, as potent as any sport car’s. Perfect pedal feel, for real. Forget about them carbon-ceramics. Put the $9,000 USD into high-performance track instruction. Especially because when you’re in Sport or Sport Plus modes, the traction and stability control are loosened up to where a liberal right foot results in instant, tail-out oversteer. I should say, easily correctible oversteer. Moreover, the nanny systems will eventually catch you. But the allowed degree of slippage is such that you can actually beat the computers to the punch by correcting with countersteer. Those sorts of shenanigans are the most smile-inducing.

There’s a whole array of happy face-making good points on the new Spyder. The sounds this thing makes, for one. I’ve driven the 911 Carrera S Cabriolet, and while the two share the same motor, they sure make radically different soundtracks. The Boxster Spyder does a pretty good Jaguar F-Type R impersonation. Not quite as devilish as the big cat, but you get buckets of badda badda bap! overrun every single time you come off the throttle. Porsche’s exhaust guys did a more than commendable job. Speaking of soundtrack, the stereo is also surprisingly good. The next time you find yourself driving between Pisa and Florence, Italy in a roadster, may the Beastie Boys’ “Check Your Head” sound as crisp and as sweet. The stereo, like the air-conditioning, is an option. And seeing as how both are no-cost options, I can’t imagine the masochist who would opt out of either. The final big smile-maker is really just a combination of everything that makes the Spyder so good; I highly recommend aiming this car toward long tunnels. What a thrill, what a screaming, high-velocity thrill. An addendum if I may — the steering wheel, which features no buttons of any sort and is wrapped in Alcantara — is the best on any Porsche.

How does the new Spyder stack up to the old Spyder? Long story short, the new one’s a much different animal. Long story long, the previous 987 Boxster Spyder is one of those cars we still whisper about. In terms of handling it was just about as ideal as production cars come, in the same vein as the old Mazda RX8 R3. Nearly anonymous, and too pure for its own good. But of course the gripe (besides the top) was that the old car was underpowered. And of course the conspiracy theorists surmised that Porsche purposely neutered the Boxster (and Cayman) to protect the 911. The new Spyder and Cayman GT4 blow that theory to hell. But I am compelled to point out that the new Boxster just isn’t as sweet to drive as the previous generation, regardless of the specification. The same is true for the Cayman. They’re more muscular now, thicker, less flexible. In NFL terms, the 981 version is more a strong safety than a free one. There’s no doubt in my mind that the new Spyder will butcher the old one on any track you can name. Speaking of which, Porsche says the new Spyder ran around the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife circuit in 7 minutes, 47 seconds. That time is bonkers quick for a car with less than 400 — let alone less than 500 — horsepower. But are Boxsters about lap times? Have they ever been?

That last part leads us to my only substantive critique of the Spyder, as well as the GTS before it. Second gear is too damn tall. At 6,500 rpm, I saw an observed 76 mph, and the snarling, barking, firecracker-hucking 3.8-liter flat-six happily revs out past 7,000 rpm. The whole point of a manual transmission is the joy you get from shifting it. Porsche has once again made a Boxster that you don’t need to shift while tackling your favorite canyon road. It’s just weird. Are they making manual cars for people compelled to purchase standard transmissions out of some sort of faux machismo but who in reality don’t want to deal with actually rowing their own? I’d say the answer is more than maybe.

Much less substantially, I don’t think the Spyder is much of a looker. The double bubble tonneau looks hefty and odd, while the slab sides make it look more like a paperweight than, say, the 718 RS60 Spyder that Porsche’s making a tenuous ancestral association to. Hey, they’re the ones that parked one smack in front of our hotel, not me. Going with that theme, all the press materials rather shamelessly mention the original 550 Spyder (the car James Dean died in) and how the 2016 model is a direct descendent. But it’s not. Look, they removed the inside door handles and replaced them with fabric straps to ostensibly save weight, yet they left both vanity mirrors on the sun visors. How hardcore is the Boxster Spyder supposed to be? After all, it’s 2015. Historically we’ll look back at this year as the one right before autonomous cars took over. Does anyone actually want an extreme sports car? Honestly? Porsche’s stating no, not really.

Still, those quibbles aside, the new Spyder is a glorious, shrieking, joy buzzer of a beast of a roadster. My advice is to stock up on sunscreen. You’re going to need it.

2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder
BASE PRICE $83,095
VEHICLE LAYOUT Mid-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door, convertible
ENGINE 3.8L/375-hp/310-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve flat-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT 2,900 lb (mfr est)
WHEELBASE 97.4 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 173.8 x 70.9 x 49.7 in
0-60 MPH 4.0 sec MT est
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 18/24/20 mpg (est)
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 187/140 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.96 lb/mile (est)
ON SALE IN U.S. August, 2015