Porsche's new slimline Boxster is still full of beans
Sunday 07 March 2010
You may have read before on this page that less is often more, that the basic version of a car is often purer, more rounded, more at ease with itself, than a grander version with a more powerful engine or lashings of glitzy, superfluous trim and gadgetry. Usually, too, the "less" part also refers to the price.
Sometimes, though, it does not. And those times tend to be when a Porsche is involved. Take away the trinkets, give the buyer a hard-core driving experience, charge more for the privilege. People go along with it, too, because a Porsche is about little if not the joy of driving it.
What, then, should we make of the new Boxster Spyder? It's dearer than a normal Boxster S, inevitably (it costs £44,643 against £40,388), even though Porsche makes no attempt to hide the new car's stripped-down nature in its advertising. Quite the opposite, in fact: that's the point.
However, there's a twist. A regular Boxster is cheaper than its solid-roofed blood-brother, the Cayman, even though open cars usually cost more than their coupé siblings. Market positioning is why, and it's too late to change that now. So the fact that the Spyder is only slightly more expensive than the top Cayman, the S model whose engine it shares, is perhaps not too hard to bear.
Besides, if you're a lover of Porsches the ideas behind the Spyder are hard to resist. It's full of references to a glamorous past, without being overtly retro. There's a bit of a Fifties 550 Spyder in here. Those black side stripes with the Porsche lettering shout 1960s Le Mans racer to those of a certain age, too, while common to both glances in the temporal rear-view mirror and this latest Spyder are its light weight, a mid-mounted engine, and a taste for twists taken at big speeds.
What's missing, then? A powered soft-top, for a start. In its place is a simple fabric canopy unrolled from a storage bag and stretched over a DIY carbonfibre frame. Ideally, you won't be using this roof because you'll then be missing the point of the Spyder.
So, what other parts have been jettisoned on the altar of lightness? Part of the petrol tank: it's now smaller. A heavy battery: no need when the power-hungry air-con and stereo have vanished. The doors are aluminium, the wider wheels are more skeletal, the seats are lightweight racing items unable to recline. It's all sounding very bracing, and 80 kilos have been magicked off of the bodyweight.
Ah yes, sound. The Spyder's engine is allowed to reach 7,500rpm, and the power peak of 320bhp arrives at 7,200rpm. Up here at these rarefied revs the Spyder sounds magnificent, crisp-edged yet simultaneously granular and creamy. And metering just the right amount of engine effort is an unusually satisfying process, because every control moves with perfect weighting and precision. You are in charge of a finely-honed moving machine, and it's a joy.
It is best if the sun is shining and the landscape, too, is in sharp focus. Thus driven, the Spyder makes you a precisely-defined part of the roadscape and soundscape, heightening the sense of reality. It helps that it sits down hard in the road, taut and toned like no Boxster before it: this is a soft-edged sports car no longer, thanks to the weight loss and lower, firmer suspension. But all is not quite pure in the vision. Trip-wires lurk in the options list.
For the correct sound effects you must pay extra for the Sport exhaust system, and for the optimum eagerness of response you need the Sports Chrono Pack which also lets you loosen the strictures of the stability system (which you can turn right off with or without the SCP). These should both be standard. Don't bother with the Sports Shifter, though, which shortens the gear lever's movements so that you trade slickness for stiffness. And avoid the PDK double-clutch transmission, which has no place in a car as pure as this.
My test car also had optional air-con and a stereo with sat-nav, suggesting a loss of hair-shirt nerve, but that's your choice. Specify it correctly, though, and you could have yourself the purest open sports car that Porsche has made in decades. You'll love it. I did.
Audi TT RS Roadster: £46,130.
More luxurious than Spyder, slightly quicker and more powerful, tuneful too with its five-cylinder engine. Four-wheel drive but oddly unsatisfying.
Lotus Elise SC: from £32,950.
Supercharged 1.8-litre Elise has 221bhp but accelerates faster than Spyder thanks to minimal weight. Great fun and as pure as they come.
Nissan 370Z Roadster with GT pack: £33,200.
Front-engine, rear-wheel drive with 328bhp V6, but a lot of weight to pull. Fast, fun, but throttle-blip on downshift is a gimmick.
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