I’m not normally the guy who will say that a car is completely faultless in the way that it drives. I like to pick things apart, try to find a flaw, no matter how hard it may be to do so. I do it because I know nothing’s perfect and I’d rather not blow sunshine up anything’s rear end without reservation. But, Porsche’s Boxster Spyder was so good, that I gave up looking.
First, it has some surface nits. It’s expensive, and it doesn’t come with some things. It’s got no door handles inside—instead, it’s got pull straps. The seats are thin, air conditioning is optional, and the radio isn’t really fitting for the price. But, take a look under the bodywork, and it becomes clear. Porsche dumped the A/C and lightened the car everywhere possible to drop the car’s weight by over 150 pounds, and found 10 more horsepower under the engine cover. The roof is replaced with a two-piece fabric cover, designed for occasional use if it rains (I’d rather just drive faster). The whole car, as a result, is a pretty serious machine—for $70K, it’s the right stuff.
I shut the door and gave the car a quick once-over. The seats were thin, but fit like a glove. The pull straps that I thought were stupid worked just fine. I didn’t feel stuck in a stripped out road car—I felt stuck in something extremely interesting and cool. A twist of the key, and the flat six a few feet behind my right ear rumbled to life. “Boy, am I in for a treat.” I thought. This being my first drive of a Porsche, I wasn’t expecting anything good or bad, for the sake of surprise. I’d also picked the Spyder due to the weather in Carmel, which was nothing short of perfect.
After pulling out of the parking lot, I left the Spyder in “Comfort” mode, to see how it did under normal situations. The engine is surprisingly docile at this point in Automatic. Despite my fears of a dual-clutch, the PDK ‘box changed gears smoothly when in Drive. So, when it’s not a sports car, it’s a pretty reasonable two-seater with pull straps. Once out on the open road, my co-driver suggested I put the suspension in Sport-Plus, and the transmission in Manual. The PDK is a lot more than meets the eye—in Manual, the paddles do indeed work just as well as I expected, but if you forget to change gear, it will change up at redline (but never before it). Downshifts occur at a speed unbeknownst to the laws of physics, as do upshifts.
The engine, while only lightly upgraded from the Boxster S, is a hugely impressive object. At low RPM, it sounds civil and obedient, but has an exhaust note that constantly says, “Listen to me. It’s good for you.” I, of course, listened, and then asked it a question by downshifting—the tach spun to about 4800RPM, and the engine answered with a bark that sings to the point of beauty. 320HP is plenty for the little Spyder, and when it’s in the powerband, it pulls hard enough to break one’s neck. I was in heaven, and never felt that it needed more power. In a straight line, this little roadster builds speed without drama, and the noise simply intoxicated me to keep going faster until I cracked 100.
The chassis, though, is what Porsche emphasized with this car in particular. The ride is comfortable even in Sport-Plus, and the firmness is absolutely manageable. Kudos to Porsche for balancing ride/handling so well. It grips with authority, and the mid-engine layout is just what the doctor ordered. The steering is quick, well-weighted, and easy to modulate, with feedback coming through the wheel on a consistent basis. The brake pedal engages early and evenly; ceramic discs were optional, but I don’t consider them necessary. As a package, this car works extremely well. Everything is exactly placed for the driver—the paddle shifters are metal and spaced right behind the wheel for a perfect grab, the brake is positioned to be right alongside the gas, and the suspension switch is an easy reach from the steering wheel, but not so close to the shift lever that you make a mistake.
The interior, being a Porsche, was fitting for its price. I wasn’t expecting wood trim or expensive stuff, since this is pretty much the driver’s choice (as if Porsches are anything but that…). Everything in the interior felt hefty and well-honed, whether it was leather, carbon, or just plastic. Even the door pulls felt right (Inside door handles? Who needs ‘em?). The top may be a waste of space (I seem to recall the 550A Spyder not having one), but at least I had one (not that I needed it) for emergencies. It may cost 70K, but I think it’s worth the money, for the fact that everything in the car, seat-of-the-pants-wise, is just a little bit better than the normal Boxster S.
For all of this, though, I still have to say that there is the pull of the S. It’s got a proper power top (with a glass window, which is easier to clean and to see out of), costs a heck of a lot less, and is easier to obtain. Keep in mind that the Spyder is a limited edition vehicle, and is therefore a much harder-to-find item as well. The S is also only down 10hp and up by a bit over 150 pounds, so to most normal drivers, the differences may not be as discernable. I’d recommend the Spyder to a hardcore enthusiast, but because I happen to like having a substantial convertible roof, and because of the potential cost savings, I’d probably buy the Boxster S as a daily driver.