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2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder: Lightweight model recalls seminal Porsches

  • Written by  Jim Kenzie
2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder

CARMEL VALLEY, Calif.–The 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder proves that the ghosts of the founders of the Porsche car company are still patrolling the hallowed ground of its facilities in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.

Yes, the company is still building three-tonne trucks.

But the new Boxster Spyder, due in Canada next March starting at $72,900, suggests that the principles of light weight, efficient power and nimble handling that defined such iconic Porsches as the very first 356 (1948), the 550 Spyder race car (1955), the RS 60 Spyder (1960) and the 909 `Bergspyder' (1968) still hold sway.

Now, "lightweight" is a relative term. The RS 60, for example, weighed just 548 kg, and its 160 horsepower engine gave it a weight-to-power ratio of 3.4 kg per horsepower.

The new Boxster Spyder, relatively speaking, tips the scales right over at 1275 kg, and needs all of its 320 horsepower to deliver a comparable ratio of 3.95 kg/hp.

Then again, you can crash a new Boxster Spyder into a brick wall at 60 km/h and live to tell about it; the RS 60 would fold up like a wet Kleenex box.

Getting weight out of modern cars is a very difficult business. But Porsche has managed to shave 80 kg out of the Boxster S roadster upon which the Spyder variant is based.

The biggest single chunk, 21 kg, comes from replacing the electrically-powered folding soft-top with a two-piece manually-installed – well, "tent fly" is probably the best way to describe it – canvas "sun shade" with carbon fibre supports held in place by a variety of clips and snaps.

A separate piece with a plastic window fits in behind the roll hoops to provide a semblance of weather protection.

It takes about five minutes for one person to assemble or disassemble, so learn how to predict the rain or keep a close eye out for overpasses if it looks chancy.

The engine cover and rear luggage compartment lid are both replaced by a one-piece aluminum lid with twin convex fairings behind the roll hoops, which constitutes the major visual difference in the new car.

Other weight savings stem from aluminum door skins, lighter non-power seats and those new alloy wheels, smaller fuel tank and battery, and the omission of both a radio and air conditioning from the standard equipment list.

These latter deletions must have caused fits in the marketing department, but there's an extensive array of optional extras.

In Canada, a radio and cup holders will be no-cost options.

You may also have heard elsewhere about an optional lithium-ion battery that chops another 10 kg out of the car.

It looks cool as heck, and weighs almost nothing (comparatively speaking) but costs some 2000 euros ($3,200 Canadian) in Germany, and won't be offered in Canada because it doesn't like cold weather much.

I mean, who does?

The Spyder adopts the Cayman S version of the 3.4 litre flat-six engine, with the as-noted 320 horsepower and 370 Newton-metres (273 lb.-ft.) of torque, both 10 units more than in the Boxster S.

Six-speed manual and seven-speed double-clutch (PDK) transmissions are offered.

The car is fastest with the PDK and the optional Sport Chrono Plus package, knocking off the 0-to-100 km/h sprint in 4.8 seconds. The manual car may be more engaging to drive, but it is a few ticks slower.

A locking differential improves traction on low-grip surfaces and when approaching the cornering limits of the car.

One technical feature the Spyder does not offer is Porsche's Active Suspension Management system with variable rate dampers; it has to get by with a single set-up.

This task was assigned to Maurice van der Weerd, whose CV includes the current and immediately previous Volkswagen GTIs. If you've driven either of those cars, you know that this man clearly knows from dampers.

Springs are firmer by 10 per cent front, 30 per cent rear, with the aim of reducing understeer without strangling the car with too-stiff anti-roll bars.

The car also rides 20 mm lower than the Boxster S.

The dampers are relatively soft in jounce (wheels moving down) which allows the wheels to follow dips in the surface, but relatively stiff in rebound (wheels moving up) to keep the car from hopping around too much.

Van der Weerd's explanation that "the tires have to be kept on the pavement as much as possible to get good handling'' sounds intuitively obvious, except few suspension designers seem to really get it right.

The lighter weight allows specification of tire pressures a few p.s.i. lower than the Boxster S, again to help the tread follow the contours of the pavement, while also reducing impact harshness to improve ride quality.

From its inception, the Boxster has always been a delight to drive. The telepathic steering, smooth responsive engine, perfect clutch take-up and slick gearbox make any driver feel more skilled than he likely is.

The mid-engine layout makes the car very agile, yet if you make a mistake, it isn't likely to kill you.

The Boxster Spyder is all of that, and more. Or less, depending on how you look at it.

Steering response and turn-in are even sharper. The engine sings. The gearbox snicks. The wind whistles through your hair.

It is a truly lovely thing.

The sports seats are distinctly more hugging; you might have to go on a bit of a diet too, to fit into them. I found them comfortable enough, but you don't have the range of adjustment you get in the other members of this family.

In the interests of journalistic integrity and completeness, I should have tried the car with the roof in place.

Aw, c'mon – the sun was shining, the serpentine roads of Carmel Valley beckoned, the bus to the airport was leaving soon, I didn't have time to futz around with that.

I'll take various colleagues' word for it that it remains decently snug at super-extra-illegal speeds (Porsche suggests a maximum of 200 km/h top up).

The Spyder clearly is a more focused car than the Boxster S. It isn't for everyone, certainly not for a northern resident who intends to drive it year-round (unless they're really tough).

It is primarily a top-down car for clement weather, which for us means maybe April to – well, this year – right now, but more likely early October. Porsche is generally reticent about sales predictions, especially in the current market.

But they think Spyder might account for about 10 per cent of Boxster sales.

Travel was provided to freelance Jim Kenzie by the automaker.

Jim Kenzie
www.wheels.ca



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Last modified on Tuesday, 09 November 2010 20:26

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