Porsche first used the Spyder name for a sports roadster in 1953, when it introduced the 550 Spyder (the car that, famously, James Dean was driving when he died). For over half a century, the name has only been used for very special models such as the 909 Bergspyder, 718 RSK Spyder and the RS Spyder Le Mans Prototype race car, and now it has been given to a special edition of its “entry-level” mid-engined roadster, the Boxster. But is Porsche indulging in a marketing-inspired devaluation, or is the Boxster Spyder really special enough to justify using a name so steeped in heritage?
Key to the performance of the Boxster Spyder is the fact that Porsche has stripped 80kg from the Boxster S that forms the basis of the car. This means that it weighs in at just 1,275kg, making it the lightest car in Porsche’s model range. In addition to being lighter, the 3.4-litre engine now supplies the same 320bhp it does when fitted in the Cayman S, which means a 0-62mph time of 5.1 seconds – or 4.8 seconds if fitted with Porsche’s PDK automatic gearbox and the Sports Chrono package – and a top speed of 166mph (124mph with the soft-top hood attached). It sounds great too, especially if you go for the optional Sports exhaust that makes the sound from the tailpipes louder when you press a button on the centre console. The Boxster Spyder is certainly quicker than you could ever legally drive it on the road, but arguably it could have been a little bit faster to give it the kind of special character associated with a Porsche Spyder.
The Boxster Spyder’s marginal improvement in power and speed is bettered by an even more significant change in its handling. Porsche has tweaked the standard Boxster chassis by widening the Spyder’s track at the front (by 4mm) and rear (8mm), upgrading the suspension (lowered by 20mm and with modified anti-roll bars and stiffer spring/damper units), and adding a new limited slip diff to the rear. On the road, these changes make the Spyder an even better drive than the standard Boxster S, which is already a class-leader. So, for example, its lightweight nature makes the steering feel sharper and more direct, which is perfectly combined with the car’s superb balance, taut body control and the fantastic levels of grip. Even more surprising though, is that the stiffer suspension hasn’t unduly affected the ride quality, which is still pretty forgiving: even with 19-inch wheels, there’s no crashiness, even on the scarred, pothole-ridden roads we tested the car on.
Porsche has a well-earned reputation for building cars of high quality – which is what you’d expect when buying a premium sports car. Everything is sturdy and well screwed together – including the new, lighter rear deck and doors, both of which are made from aluminium as part of Porsche’s mission to make the Boxster Spyder as light as possible. The cabin is also excellent, with high quality materials (such as leather, Alcantara and carbon-fibre) used throughout. Everything has been stripped back in the quest for lightness, but buyers can add it all back in thanks to the long options list. In terms of its mechanical reliability, Porsche also has an excellent record of building cars that rarely go wrong. The company is placed in eighth place in the most recent JD Power customer satisfaction survey’s league table of manufacturers (models don’t sell in sufficient volume to show up in the UK survey).
Porsche models sell in relatively low volumes, so they’re not required to be crash-tested by Euro NCAP. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that Porsches are sufficiently robust to survive accidents at least as well as rival sports cars in the premium segment. In terms of this particular model, the standard Boxster has twin front, side and curtain airbags, which have all been retained by the Spyder variant to ensure that the occupants are sufficiently protected in the event of a crash. There are also plenty of active safety features, including ABS anti-lock brakes, plus stability and traction control to help owners avoid accidents in the first place. Buyers also get a half-day Driving Experience Programme at Porsche’s special facility at Silverstone, which can include tuition in car control to help them improve their technique and help them become safer drivers. For security purposes, there are deadlocks, an immobilizer and an alarm.
You don’t buy a lightweight, special-edition Boxster if you’re looking for a practical car. Indeed, Porsche is pitching the Spyder as a second, or even third car for owners, so you’ll need something else for trips to Ikea. The cabin is certainly spacious enough for two, with plenty of legroom and fully adjustable seats and steering wheel (reach and rake). Visibility is pretty good with the hood off, but is more restricted if attached. And on the subject of the detachable hood, it’s certainly not as convenient as the electrically folding roof in the standard Boxster, but that’s the price you pay for losing 21kg. It folds and fits neatly under the rear lid, but it does take a couple of minutes to attach – not ideal if it starts to rain suddenly. Luggage space isn’t that bad for a roadster, with a compartment at each end of the car that will be enough for a couple of largish weekend bags.
With a purchase price of £46,387, the Boxster Spyder isn’t cheap: in fact, it’s about £6,000 more than the Boxster S model it’s based on. On top of that, there’s a fairly extensive options list that can add back in some of the features that have been taken out (air con, radio, sat nav, etc), plus the likes of ceramic brakes (£5,349,) PDK automatic gearbox (£1,962) and sports seats (£2,049) that will quickly rack up the price of the car. Indeed, initial buyers are spending £56,000-57,000 speccing their cars. It won’t be exactly cheap to run, either, despite Porsche managing to increase efficiency due to weight loss: official fuel consumption on the combined cycle is 29.1mpg with the manual gearbox or 30.4mpg with the PDK; CO2 emissions are 228g/km (manual) or 218g/km (PDK), so road tax will cost £405 or £215 a year. However, the relatively exclusive nature of the car (fewer than 100 will be sold each year in the UK) means that demand for used versions should be pretty high, which should mean very good residuals.
Submitted: 26/04/2010 09:23:53
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