"Only the gentle are ever really strong." — James Dean
The 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder would make James Dean proud. Its strength is evident in every aspect of the roadster's drivetrain and performance. The midmounted flat-6 engine growls with 320 horsepower and launches this lightest of Porsches to extralegal speeds in under 5 seconds. The Spyder's weight is balanced with a 53 percent rear bias to reward accomplished drivers with racecar handling. Strength? The Boxster Spyder's got it.
The Spyder also exhibits a certain level of gentleness. This Porsche is still a Boxster at its core after all, and as such, delivers a high level of comfort and upmarket appointments to accompany its athletic performance. The Spyder won't punish you with an unyielding suspension, hard plastic and bare metal interior elements the way a Lotus Elise would. Yet the Boxster Spyder meets or beats the Lotus in every performance metric.
Porsche went about unseating the poster child for canyon carving by borrowing a page from Lotus' own playbook: add lightness. The Boxster Spyder weighs only 2,908 pounds, which is 176 pounds less than a Boxster S. The Spyder also rides 0.8 inch lower than the S, drops its center of gravity by an inch and includes a limited-slip differential. Engine output is also increased by 10 hp.
With specs like these, the 2011 Porsche Boxster has few competitors. Other roadsters like the BMW Z4 and Corvette Grand Sport can be had for a similar price, but lack the Porsche's light and lithe nature. If James Dean were alive today, perhaps the Boxster Spyder would be his weapon of choice — Platinum Silver with Carrera Red leather, of course.
Powering the 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder is a 3.4-liter flat-6 engine mounted just behind the cabin. It's mechanically identical to the Boxster S motor but makes an additional 10 hp from revised electronic engine management for a total of 320 hp and 273 pound-feet of torque. Our test vehicle came with a six-speed manual transmission, but a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission is available as an option.
The Spyder's stout engine output in a lightweight 2,908-pound package results in some fairly impressive performance numbers. From a standstill, this über Boxster reaches 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and crosses the quarter-mile in 12.8 seconds at 109.4 mph. Braking from 60 mph requires a very short 102.5 feet and Porsche tells us the top speed is 166 mph. Even more impressive than the straight-line performance is the ability of the Spyder to change direction, as it slaloms through the cones at 72.3 mph and pulls 0.99g on the skid pad.
Not only does the Boxster Spyder throw down the numbers, but it backs them up with the kind of poise on the road that instills confidence. Faced with a tangled spaghetti ribbon of pavement, the Spyder is well balanced, enabling it to knife through turns with precision. There's enough power under your right boot to break the rear tires loose and get the hood pointed just where you want, and you can modulate the throttle easily to keep it there. Even as you approach the limits of good sense, midcorner bumps don't deflect the car from the path you've chosen.
Driver controls have a direct and immediate feel. The steering effort is well weighted and transmits plenty of feedback from the front tires. In parking lots, the power assist makes tight maneuvering easy. The brake pedal is firm and consistent, yet delicate enough for trail braking down to an apex for seamless transitions from brake to throttle. The throws of the shift linkage are short and the gear engagement is positive.
As with the standard 2011 Porsche Boxster, the Spyder makes it easy to transition from pedestrian to pilot without having to resort to any kind of contortions or acrobatics. Taller occupants are accommodated without feeling cramped, but wider posteriors might find the special seats too narrow. These seats feature pronounced hip and side bolsters to keep driver and passenger firmly in place during hard cornering, aided by grippy microfiber-suede inserts. Those of average build will likely find these seats as comfortable as they are supportive, which is surprising because the seatback angle is not adjustable.
comfort is commendable considering the Spyder's focus on performance. According to Porsche, the Boxster Spyder is intended for open-air driving, with a soft top included in the event of inclement weather. With the top stowed, the cabin is remarkably calm, with buffeting reduced to levels low enough to hold a conversation without shouting. With the top in place, there is a noticeable amount of whistling coming from gaps, but on the whole, it provides a decent amount of isolation from the elements.
We were also impressed by the Spyder's ride quality. Unlike some other high-performance roadsters, the Spyder doesn't punish you with an unyielding suspension. Ruts and bumps are met with just enough suspension compliance to reduce jarring jolts to a well-attenuated thud.
Despite Porsche's claim that the Spyder's unique, lightweight soft top is intended for occasional use only, we're inclined to think owners will utilize it more often. And this may be problematic for some, because the top requires a fair amount of assembly. Installation involves propping open the hard tonneau cover, removing the top and latching it to the top of the windshield. Then another frame piece must be attached to the rollover hoops. The trailing buttresses are then attached to a metal tab on the rear cowl and closing the tonneau cover pulls the top tight, completing assembly.
With quite a bit of practice, one person could erect the top in under a minute if they hustle from front to back and side to side. Stowing the top will likely take about the same amount of time, as the storage space under the rear deck lid just barely fits the folded mass of fabric, carbon fiber and metal.
Other than the peculiar soft top, the 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder is not so different from the standard Boxster. Thin A-pillars do little to obstruct the outward view through curves, and the rear view is largely unobstructed. With the top up, the side view is narrowed but the rear view is significantly obstructed with sizable blind spots. All controls are logically placed within short reach, while gauges and displays are well within the driver's sight lines.
Cargo space is also identical to the regular Boxster, with small trunks in the nose and tail of the car, measuring 9.9 cubic feet combined — enough for a weekend's worth of luggage for two, but golf clubs will likely have to stay at home.
Design/Fit and Finish
Top down (as this car's designers have intended), the most notable difference between the Spyder and its Boxster counterpart is the dual-hump rear cowl that extends from the headrests to the tail. Just as with Porsche RS racecars of the late 1950s, these cowls are beautifully integrated into the Boxster's existing lines. The side Porsche decal and stripes are also tasteful nods to the company's heritage.
On the inside, the Boxster Spyder's supportive racing-style seats are the first elements to catch your attention. Another notable cue is the interior door handle, or rather lack thereof. In the interest of reducing weight, the standard alloy latch is replaced by a nylon strap, the same type of door panel and mechanism found in the 911 GT3 RS. Otherwise the Spyder's cabin is essentially identical to the Boxster, balancing between classy and racy with top-notch materials that have been expertly assembled.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder is a more serious interpretation of the more accessible standard Boxster. Enthusiasts only need apply, since the fussy top operation and stiff-legged ride would likely deter all but the ultra dedicated. On the other hand, the Spyder should also find appeal with those considering the more raucous Lotus Elise, but would rather not sacrifice as much comfort and convenience.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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