The last of the naturally aspirated, six-cylinder Boxsters
Another month, another parts-bins special from Porsche, this time the Boxster Spyder. But when you have a parts bin like Porsche’s, that’s no bad thing. For instance, the Boxster Spyder’s engine is the naturally aspirated, 3.8-liter flat-six from the 991/1 series 911 Carrera S. The brakes are also lifted from the Carrera S. The steering is from the 911 Turbo, the suspension is the X73 passive damper sport setup available as an option on the Boxster/Cayman GTS, and the optional carbon-fiber bucket seats are lifted straight from the 918 Spyder.
Packing 375 hp and a claimed top speed of 180 mph (290 km/h), the new Spyder is the fastest, most powerful Boxster ever. It’s also the last of the line, the last Boxster to be powered by a naturally aspirated, six-cylinder engine. Porsche says all its sports cars other than the GT models—GT3 and GT4—are switching to turbocharged engines, and it has already unveiled the all-turbo 991/2 series 911s. In 2016 both the Boxster and its coupe cousin, the Cayman, will be powered by a new range of turbocharged flat-fours. They’ll also get a name change, to 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman, a nod to the iconic four-cylinder Porsche sports racers of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Parts-bin special it may be, but the 2016 Boxster Spyder could also be described as Cayman GT4-lite. It shares its engine, transmission, and front and rear fascias with Porsche’s race-face Cayman. However, it doesn’t get the 911 GT3 front suspension and brakes the Cayman GT4 does, or the strengthened rear suspension components. It rolls on narrower tires, though the 10.5-inch rear wheels are the widest fitted to any Boxster, and the 3.8-liter engine develops 10 hp less than it does in the GT4. None of this matters. The new Boxster Spyder is one of the most desirable open-top Porsches ever. With this car Porsche has gotten rid of the gadgets, stripped out the frills, cut the weight, and left little to come between you and the thrill of driving.
As with the Cayman GT4, the only transmission offered is a six-speed stick shift. To save weight—the Spyder weighs 66 pounds (30 kg) less than a Boxster GTS, says Porsche—soundproofing and insulation have been removed, the standard fuel tank is smaller—14.3 gallons versus 16.9 gallons; the larger tank is a no-cost option—and the regular Boxster soft-top has been replaced with a minimalist, do-it-yourself affair that hides under a large, flimsy aluminum cover with two prominent bubbles—streamliners, in Porsche parlance—stamped into it. There’s no air-conditioning, nor is there a radio. Both, though, are offered as no-cost options: Porsche marketers are shrewd enough to realize that, for all the macho social media chatter, this hair-shirt purist sports car thing can only be taken so far in 21st-century America, especially if you actually want to sell more than a handful of cars.
That’s why the options list also includes 18-way adjustable power seats, a high-end Burmester sound system, and a myriad of color and trim choices, including a special paint (GT Silver Metallic, yours for a mere $2,850) and a full leather interior. Throw in a few other choice extras such as those 918 bucket seats ($4,730), the PCCB carbon-ceramic brakes ($7,400) and it’s not hard to get the Boxster Spyder’s sticker to soar from its $82,100 base price to almost $125,000. Plus $995 destination charge, of course.
So what’s it like to drive? In a word, delightful. The power delivery from the 3.8-liter engine is superb, a linear surge of thrust from 1,000 rpm all the way to 7,800 rpm, though you might notice a little extra crispness, a little extra clarity to the throttle response once the tach needle swings past 4,750 rpm, where the torque peak of 309 lb-ft plateaus through to 6,000 rpm. There’s no sinister conspiracy in the fact the Spyder’s engine has been tuned to deliver 10 hp less than the identical powerplant in the Cayman GT4. That’s simply the way it’s always been, insist Porsche insiders: A Boxster gets less power than a Cayman. What was that about shrewd marketers?
The X73 suspension package is damn near perfect, allowing just the right amount of compliance to avoid overly exciting the Boxster’s impressively rigid body structure on less than perfectly smooth roads while keeping roll, dive, and squat to an absolute minimum. Riding 10mm lower than the PASM system in the Boxster GTS, and 20mm lower than the base Boxster suspension, the X73 gives, when combined with the weight savings, the Spyder the lowest center of gravity of any Boxster. This, combined with the 10 percent quicker steering afforded by the 911 Turbo rack, plus the smaller diameter steering wheel, and the bigger, stickier tires all round, makes the Boxster Spyder feel easily the most alert and agile Porsche roadster this side of a 918.
Porsche claims a 0-60-mph time of 4.3 seconds, though as we have previously noted, the factory tends to err on the conservative side when reporting acceleration numbers. And as with the Cayman GT4, that 0-60 time belies the Spyder’s real potential thanks to an absurdly long second gear that will propel it beyond 80 mph (129 km/h) before the engine nuzzles the soft limiter. With a shorter second gear, we’d bet the Spyder would come close to dipping into the 3-second bracket for the 0-60 sprint. Maybe the conspiracy theorists are right: Maybe Porsche doesn’t want a Cayman or a Boxster to humiliate too many 911 variants
There’s really no need to order Porsche’s optional, near indestructible PCCB carbon-ceramic brakes, as the 911S-sourced steel rotors are more than adequate for the job. Pedal feel is excellent, adding to the delicious sensory feast of the steering and the gearshift and the beautifully balanced chassis and that preternaturally responsive engine.
A sensory feast That’s what makes the Boxster Spyder so desirable, one of those rare cars that’s greater than the sum of its parts. There are many more explosive, expensive, extreme sports cars than the Boxster Spyder, some of which also have Porsche badges. Even its close cousin, the Cayman GT4, is unquestionably quicker, more buttoned-down, more surgically precise, more able to show it a clean pair of heels on the racetrack. But the Boxster Spyder is no less engaging, not the least because with the roof down, and the exhaust switched to Sport mode, you’re bathed in an intoxicating surround-sound replay of that iconic Porsche flat-six snarl, interspersed with a crisp snap-crackle-pop on the overrun. Even when driving down to Starbucks for a latte it’s like you’re on the way to winning the Targa Florio.
And that’s exactly how a sports car should make you feel.
|2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder|
|Vehicle Layout||Mid-engine, 2WD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible|
|Engine||3.8L/375-hp/309-lb/ft DOHC 24-valve flat-6|
|Curb Weight||2,900 lb (mfr)|
|Length x Width x Height||173.8 x 70.9 x 49.7 in|
|0-60mph||4.3 sec (mfr)|
|On Sale in U.S.||Now|