Stripped for pure driving pleasure - Porsche Boxster Spyder
You'd imagine that most manufacturers would think twice about conjuring a new car which automatically evokes thoughts of mangled metal and sudden death. But then, Porsche isn't most manufacturers and, with the new Boxster Spyder, seems entirely content to rekindle memories of the 1954 550 Spyder in which silver screen legend James Dean lost his life. He called it the “little bastard”, with good reason as it turned out.
However, in its 2010 iteration, the Spyder has – with the possible exception of an hilariously complex DIY roof mechanism, which we'll come to – absolutely nothing of the bastard about it whatsoever. Unless, that is, you consider paying rather more for almost entirely less to be something of an affront. The more includes a price tag of £44,643 – which makes the Spyder the most expensive Boxster variant you can buy – and a modest performance hike. The 3.4 litre flat-six is the same capacity as that of the Boxster S, but boasts an additional 10bhp, now delivering 320bhp at a peak of 7200rpm, 950rpm higher than the regular car. Maximum torque is also boosted, from 266 lb ft to 273lb ft at 4750rpm.
The less, most significantly, concerns weight and ride height. By dint of aluminium doors and a one-piece rear deck, a folding canvas and carbon-fibre frame roof that weighs just 11kg, carbon-backed bucket seats, the lightest set of 19” inch allow wheels the company makes, and the deletion of every creature comfort including the stereo, air conditioning, door pockets, cup holders, the cowl over the instrument binnacle and even the door handles (replaced with fabric pull straps), Porsche has shaved some 80kg from the Boxster S weight. At just 1275kg, this is the lightest car rolling out of Stuttgart. A new sports suspension incorporates shorter, stiffer springs, firmer dampers and new front and rear anti-roll bars. Thanks to a 20mm drop in ride height and the lack of bulk from the lightweight roof, the Spyder's centre of gravity is 25mm lower than that of a Boxster S.
Ironically, the less also relates to performance. Though the Spyder will yell to 62mph from a standstill in 5.1 seconds (a frankly imperceptible 0.2 seconds faster than a Boxster S) and on to 163mph, you'll only be able to manage that with the roof removed. Roof in place, top speed is limited to 124mph, thereafter the complex fabric construction presumably making a decent fist of offering itself up to the slipstream, piece by piece, unaided.
Roof in place, the Spyder looks good enough. The body side graphics are coolly retro, and it's lower, meaner and a whisker less effeminate than a standard Boxster. As with all convertibles, however, it's designed to look at its best with the roof stowed and, indeed, the transformation is dramatic; from good enough to absolutely fantastic.
Trouble is, you have to take the roof – or as Porsche variously refers to it, ‘sunsail' or ‘cap' – off first…
Strict adherence to the family motto – If All Else Fails Read the Instructions – allied to an entirely misguided whiff of intuition saw me start by undoing the windscreen-head lever. Wrong, of course. This is actually the last step in the process, and almost impossible to rectify once released out of sequence.
Happily, Porsche provided a laminated card of roof removal and replacement instructions to avoid excessive rummaging through a phone book-thick glove box manual. Unhappily, this took the form of a 16-panel cartoon featuring more directional arrows than a Day Three map of Operation Overlord and 20 individually numbered actions for roof removal, yet, bizarrely, only 17 for replacement.
Mercifully, youthful years of Airfix-sponsored locating tab A on to lug B while ensuring no glue attaches to pin E in order to ensure the free rotation of propeller F came to the rescue. So it only took me about 20 feverish minutes to open the rear deck to free the tension on the rear roof straps, unclip them from the red steel fixing hoops that remain a cheeky, on-display detail thereafter, fold the canvas forward, unfasten the five, old-fashioned poppers that hold the second, rear screen-incorporating canvas in place, release the Big Red tensioning lever in the boot, unhook the steel cable, lift the roof bracing bar off the roll-over hoops, finally undo the windscreen head lever and bundle the whole lot together for surprisingly tidy storage in a bespoke boot space rebate atop the engine bay.
And then it promptly rained. Well, actually, it didn't, but I confess that thoughts of being caught out by a sudden shower and the realisation that I was unlikely to top 124mph in the Cotswolds did make me resolutely recalcitrant about ‘popping' the lid off thereafter.
Roof finally off, the Spyder's svelte shape really comes into its own, the only disappointing glitch being the spanning of the twin fairing humps that roll across the boot lid like a surfacing Loch Ness Monster with a clumsy bar containing a third stop light for myopic Americans.
On board, I was surprised to notice that Porsche had re-equipped this particular Spyder with the sat nav, air conditioning and stereo initially removed in the raison d'etre interests of what erstwhile Lotus genius Colin Chapman termed “added lightness”. You can, in fact, have a radio and, um, the cupholders re-instated at no extra cost, but I'd probably just settle for a somewhat less extreme seat.
The standard, fixed-back bucket offerings may provide track day levels of lateral support, but there's no lumbar support on offer at all and, after half a hour or so spent folded up like the victim of a giant, ravenous glove puppet, my back began to seriously protest.
In truth, the protest actually began much earlier, but I was so utterly absorbed in what rapidly became a major, flies-on-teeth hoon that it's a credit to the Spyder's abilities that I forgot about it for so long…
There remains nothing quite like a Porsche for plugging the driver right into the heart of the machine. Your relationship with all the major controls is perfect, the levels of tactility not far adrift from what's available in a respectable racing car. The steering offers near perfect feel, feedback and accuracy, guidance more a matter of thought than physical input. With every Porsche required to return to a standstill faster than it will accelerate to 60mph, unerringly powerful, progressive brake performance is a given. And nothing flatters the driver quite like Porsche pedal placement; even the most ham-footed quickly finding themselves the master of heel-and-toe approaches to tighter corners and roundabouts.
I mention this because it's amazing how many alleged sports cars there are out there a million miles from getting this right; too much brake pedal travel allied to a feeble throttle response and an unbridgeable canyon between pedals determining that, after just one roundabout, you either call the whole thing off, or call a tow truck.
Irritatingly expensive optional sports exhaust adding a deliciously rasping character boost, the Spyder's combination of lowered, tuned suspension and Weightwatchers bodywork awards it incredible agility, and it darts about like a minnow being pursued by a pike. Better yet, although it has terrific responses and unerring poise, it still rides surprisingly sweetly for one ostensibly stripped for action; sufficiently compliant to preserve body control without destroying your dentistry.
In all, then, an exceptionally fine car, and more fun than a clown on fire. Especially if you are lucky enough to own the garage that obviates the ecstasy of fumbling associated with frequent roof removal and replacement. That aside, the only possible gripe concerns the hefty amount you could easily find yourself spending on the options list, and the added heft this will inevitably add to the Spyder's overall kerb weight, somewhat defeating the object of the exercise.
Those hell bent on reintroducing motoring life's little luxuries should probably stick to the everyday practicality of the Boxster S. Those who can't resist the Spyder's more striking packaging should spend £1,249 on the sports exhaust – made all the more audible by that fabric roof – and every other available penny on fuel.