Stiff, stripped down and pricey: 2016 Porsche Boxster Spy­der a purist’s dream car

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Harper

IN terms of stress re­lief, there’s noth­ing like a crisp fall day, with the sun shin­ing and the leaves chang­ing, to make you want to jump into your con­vert­ible, flip back the top and go for a cruise, maybe even a couple of hun­dred kilo­me­tres or so.

But what if it’s a grey day, the fo­liage is stub­bornly hold­ing on to its green­ness and drop­ping the top is a six-step, one-minute pro­ce­dure that re­quires you get­ting in and out of the car and fid­dling?

When you have only 48 hours with Porsche’s oth­er­wise de­lec­ta­ble Boxster Spy­der sports car, you suck it up, si­lently (or not) curse the engi­neer­ing trolls who de­vised such a lid, slide that sucker into the rear hatch and revel in Zuf­fen­hausen’s most en­gag­ing cre­ation. Then you think about the pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion Spy­der and laugh be­cause as te­dious as it is to stow the top on the new 2016 model, it’s an ab­so­lute walk in the park com­pared to the older version. (I still con­tem­plate a spe­cial level of hell for the guys who rigged that con­trap­tion.)

Nat­u­rally, one can forego all this angst and just buy a reg­u­lar Boxster, re­plete with power top. But Porsche be­ing Porsche, with all of its iconic mod­els and mo­tor­sport history, feels the Spy­der — what the com­pany calls a “purist” road­ster — of­fers the “ut­most driv­ing plea­sure.”

Manda­tory ret­ro­spec­tive here: Porsche in­tro­duced its first Spy­der, the 550, in Oc­to­ber 1953. That twoseater was the first sports car from the au­tomaker to be de­vel­oped specif­i­cally for rac­ing; how­ever, a streetle­gal version was also pro­duced. In sub­se­quent years, the Spy­der, weigh­ing just 550 kilo­grams, gar­nered nu­mer­ous road-rac­ing vic­to­ries.

It would be next to im­pos­si­ble to build a street-le­gal sports car that flimsy to­day, but at 1,215 kg, this Spy­der is the light­est model in the Boxster range. Its weight re­duc­tion is achieved through the man­u­ally op­er­ated light­weight top, the use of alu­minum, mag­ne­sium, poly­mers and re­duced in­su­la­tion, and the dele­tion of ra­dio and air con­di­tion­ing (which can be added at no charge). Com­bine that with the most pow­er­ful en­gine to be found in the model range and you get a power-to-weight ra­tio of one horse­power per 3.5 kg, giv­ing the Spy­der the ac­cel­er­a­tion of a higher-pow­ered sports car and the moves of a cat.

Oh, yes, sit­ting be­hind your head and bel­low­ing into your ears is the six-cylin­der from the 911 Car­rera S, a 3.8-litre direct-in­jec­tion en­gine that also drives the Cay­man GT4. In the mid-en­gine Spy­der, the power plant de­liv­ers 375 hp at 6,700 r.p.m., 45 horses more than the 3.4-L boxer six in the Boxster GTS.

Pro­duc­ing 310 pound-feet of torque be­tween 4,750 and 6,000 r.p.m. — 30 lb-ft more than the GTS — the Spy­der, Porsche says, will scream its way to 100 km/h in 4.5 sec­onds. Go­ing to 120 km/h from 80 in fifth gear takes 5.5 sec­onds. And, be­cause the Porsche faith­ful will riot if this factoid is not in­cluded, it runs on the North Loop of the famed Nür­burg ring race­track pro­duced a lap time of 7:47, eight sec­onds faster than the GTS.

So the Spy­der is fast and, with four-wheel vented discs, it stops on a dime; that much is a given. But a car clearly built for the Porsche tra­di­tion­al­ist is full of com­pro­mises. How liv­able is it?

Well, it’s stiff, for one thing. Not stiff as in firm, the way sports car sus­pen­sions are sup­posed to be, but stiff as in any de­cent stretch of mod­er­ately bad road will pul­ver­ize your kid­neys into Pablum in no time, and that’s with­out touch­ing the Sport or Sport-Plus but­tons, which tighten up all man­ner of things and make the lit­tle two-seater into even more of a screamer.

That in­cludes am­pli­fy­ing the ex­haust sound into a snarling, crack­ling aria of evil in­tent — which causes cheers and shout-outs from kids in school yards and death stares from geezers out­side re­tire­ment homes.

The six-speed man­ual (no PDK trans­mis­sion is of­fered) is a model of pre­ci­sion, with short throws and de­fined gates, though both the stubby shifter and clutch pedal re­quire a lit­tle mus­cle. (I jumped into my Mazda Mi­ata min­utes af­ter driv­ing the Spy­der and just about put my left foot through the floor­board.)

The Spy­der is a ca­coph­ony of noise when un­der throt­tle, en­gine bark mixed with the wind rush­ing over, around and through the cabin. As dorky as it looks, it’s good to have the door win­dows up at any­thing ap­proach­ing high­way speeds; they keep the noise level down to a dull roar.

The in­te­rior setup is sim­ple, with min­i­mal adorn­ment or ex­tra­ne­ous con­tent: three large in­stru­ment gauges in the bin­na­cle, thick-rimmed steer­ing wheel trimmed in Al­can­tara, chrome shifter and var­i­ous and sundry knobs and but­tons for the heat­ing/air con­di­tion­ing, au­dio sys­tem, roof op­er­a­tion and sport func­tions. The sport seats are thickly bol­stered and hugely com­fort­able, sup­port­ing the body in all the right places — es­pe­cially when hooning the twisty bits — though those with big butts will find them a tight squeeze.

There are a couple of safety items lack­ing from the car’s list of stan­dard fea­tures, how­ever, that should be manda­tory, in­clud­ing a blind-spot mon­i­tor and a backup cam­era, or at least front and rear backup as­sists. Even with the top down, rear vis­i­bil­ity is not the great­est, com­pro­mised by the “stream­lin­ers” that stretch from be­hind the head re­straints over the trunk lid (an es­thetic nod to the 718 Spy­der of the 1960s). With the top up, there might as well be a brick wall be­hind your head.

De­spite the down­sides, I ab­so­lutely love the vis­ceral plea­sure of pound­ing this lit­tle beastie into cor­ners and pow­er­ing out of them with a roar and a gig­gle (the lat­ter com­ing from me). If I were 20 years younger, I would be all over it. But age has a mel­low­ing in­flu­ence, and I find the near-$100K Spy­der a lit­tle too hard­core for my tastes and much too pricey for its min­i­mal­ist na­ture. The Boxster re­mains a dream ve­hi­cle, but it’s the S version I’ll covet.

At 1,215 kilo­grams, the Spy­der is the light­est model in the Boxster range. Weight re­duc­tion is thanks to a man­u­ally op­er­ated top and the re­moval of the ra­dio and air con­di­tion­ing (which can be added at no charge).

The in­te­rior is fairly min­i­mal and fea­tures a thick-rimmed steer­ing wheel trimmed in

Al­can­tara and a nice offering of chrome, in­clud­ing on the shifter.

There is a deep cargo area be­hind the 375-horse­power 3.8-litre di­rect­in­jec­tion en­gine, which is buried

within the mid­dle of the car.

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