Porsche’s engineers refer to it – the 2016 Boxster Spyder — as a “pure sports car,” one that accurately defines the heart and soul of Porsche today.
The first part, absolutely. The other half, the “heart and soul” bit? We’ll get to that later.
First, let’s dwell on the sports car piece. From the pavement up, from the massive 20-inch wheels wrapped in fat, grippy rubber (235/35 ZR 20 front, 265/35 ZR 20 rear), to all gurgling 375 horsepower spun up by the 3.8-litre six-cylinder engine from the 911 Carrera S (top speed of 290 km/hour, 0-100 km/h in 4.5 seconds), to the snug-fitting and hard-as-nails racing buckets (climb down and into them), to the reinvented manual top, this roadster is a wicked joy and a delightful terror.
The Spyder not only performs, it looks the part. You who know your Porsches can see the obvious and intentional likeness with the 550 Spyder of 1953. Squint and you’ll also see design elements harkening to the 718 Spyder from the 1960s, too.
The bulges behind the headrests taper like fins down the full length of the rear lid that houses both a small trunk and the roof. Superb.
The front and rear end portions are borrowed from the GT4, too, but the Spyder is not an homage to past Porsche greatness. It’s more than that. It truly is a “pure sports car” with its own modern presence.
Twist the key and a symphony of nasty barks and growls comes to life, offering proof of life here. The rapid-fire explosions ignite the high-octane passions of anyone with gasoline running through the veins.
Okay, then. We’re done with all the admiring and imagining. It’s time to drive a Boxster lowered by 20mm and armed with all manner of 911 chassis bits, from steering to brakes to engine.
This is a big, lean cat of a car, what chassis chief Joachim Meyer argues is an excellent synthesis of man, machine and road. All true, though the car demands skill to wring the best out of its spectacularly precise responses – brakes, steering, throttle, gearbox.
A warning: poseurs will be overwhelmed; you will only like this car if you have the skills to drive it and the resources to afford it. Yes, yes, this is $93,700 Boxster, one that can easily climb above $100,000 if you tick a few boxes: full leather seat/interior trim ($2,470), satin black wheels ($1,130) and so on. And it’s unforgiving if you make mistakes behind the wheel.
This Spyder, then, is aimed at the 0.01 per cent of very wealthy, passionate drivers who own a dozen cars, but who insist on owning an open-air roadster that is as authentic as it is unusual in a world where most buyers worry more about Bluetooth syncing than nailing an apex.
From 30,000 feet this seems a bit odd, actually. Here is Porsche, devoting all manner of energy and resources to making a two-seat roadster, this roadster, just right. Yet Porsche long ago ceased to be a sports car company. It is in 2016 an SUV (sport-utility vehicle) company that happens to make a few sports cars on the side.
So we are left to see the Spyder as validation, to show the world there’s a Boxster Spyder in every Porsche SUV. This is serious brand-building business.
Remember, Porsche is the second-biggest contributor to parent Volkswagen Group’s profit. Last year Porsche sold more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time, most of them SUVs with the hero of the lineup being the Macan compact SUV.
Looking ahead, Porsche’s product pipeline is not filled with more like the Boxster Spyder. Various reports say Porsche will have a plug-in hybrid of every model in its lineup, even the Cayman, soon to be Porsche’s entry-level model. Porsche’s future is in electrification, not gasoline.
Thus, if you love Porsches, if you’re a devoted fan, you’ll embrace the Boxster Spyder and worry for the future of what was once a pure sports car brand. The future? Porsche says it will present a complete strategy review of the brand in the middle of 2016.
Indeed, we’ve heard that Porsche plans to introduce plug-in hybrids all the way down to its entry model, which will soon be the Cayman. True?
Detlev von Platen, the global sales boss, says future powertrains will include plug-ins and battery electric vehicles.
“We believe the time has arrived for the technology,” he told Automotive News Europe. “We recently green lighted a 1 billion euro investment to build the Mission E by the end of the decade in our Stuttgart plant. But we don’t want to make just another electric car: the Mission E represents a new era for sports cars.”
That new era also includes a switch to turbocharged four-cylinder engines from six-cylinder units in its mid-engine cars, the Boxster and Cayman. Details about 718 nomenclature for the Boxster and Cayman nameplates were shared recently in Geneva.
What are we to make of this? More brand building. The 718 has links to the racing heritage of four-cylinder, mid-engine Porsche 718s of the 1950s and 1960s. The heart of the new model series, says Porsche, is a four-cylinder flat engine with turbocharging.
So even as we fall rapt to the joys of the 2016 Boxster Spyder, Porsche is signaling its end. Enjoy this Boxster Spyder while you can. One era is bowing out as another takes the stage.
THE LOOK: The Spyder is 20mm lower than the normal Boxster, which along with design hood lowers the car’s center of gravity and gives the roadster a characteristic design. Two striking elements, known as “streamliners”, that stretch from behind the head restraints over the long trunk lid are reminiscent of the 718 Spyder of the 1960s.
THE DRIVE: Intelligent and generous use of lightweight materials along with the use of lightweight polymers and less insulation have cut weight to 1,315 kilograms. So it’s nimble and tossable. The 3.8-liter six-cylinder engine from the 911 Carrera S with 375 hp gives it a top speed of 290 km/hour and 0-100 km/h in 4.5 seconds.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS: You are looking at a 911 in Boxster Spyder guise. There is a classic mechanical differential at the rear to control torque between the two wheels, but the lock is part of the Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) system. PTV, the engineers say, uses careful braking at the rear wheel inside a curve to improve steering response and precision. The electro-mechanical power steering is adapted from the 911 Turbo and the brake calipers and rotors come from the 911 Carrera S.
THE CABIN/STORAGE: At first glance it seems you should be prepared for discomfort. But that’s not the case. Once you’ve climbed down and in, the cockpit is relatively spacious and the layout of instruments and controls is notably simple and clean. The aluminum hood at the rear covers the top, the part of the mid-engine and a cargo space large enough to hold two small duffles, perhaps one golf bag sans fairway woods/metals.
THE BRAND: Porsche is iconic, a sports car brand that has evolved into an SUV company that uses heritage to infuse mainstream models with pizzazz and joy. Quality, meanwhile, is outstanding.
WHY BUYS? The Boxster Spyder is for only the most energetic and skilled driving enthusiast.
Engine: 3.8-litre six-cylinder (375 hp/310 lb-ft of torque).
Transmission: six-speed manual.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.2 city/7.5 highway using premium fuel.
Comparables: Alfa Romeo 4C, Audi TTS, BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG.