Porsche is among few automakers that can successfully charge more for a model with fewer features than a less-expensive model with more features.
One of the classic Porsches is the 1950s Speedster, which was a bare-bones soft-top. It was fairly inexpensive (for a Porsche) to attract more American buyers. And its lighter weight helped it win races.
The 1950s Porsche 550 Spyder was even more bare-bones, but was a successful competition car not really designed for comfortable road driving. Actor James Dean raced a Speedster and later got killed on a rural California road while driving his new 550 Spyder to a race in which he was to compete.
Now we have the 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder, a throwback to the 1950s Speedster (although it’s the most costly Boxster) than that decade’s 550 Spyder.
The new two-seat Spyder is designed to save weight and thus increase speed and enhance handling. For instance, there are no inside door handles, just fabric pull straps, to save a few pounds. And a power convertible top has been sacrificed for a lighter, rather cumbersome manual two-piece soft top.
The mid-engine Spyder also has aluminum, not heavier steel, doors and an aluminum top cover with two sexy looking fairings behind each seat — like those put on classic racing Porsches. Side windows are shorter, and unique spoked alloy wheels are lighter. Light thin-shell sport bucket seats provide good grip, but are manually operated and only slide fore and aft.
Addition of weight-adding options, however, seems to rather defeat the purpose of the Spyder. To Porsche, every pound lost with this car means a performance gain.
Options also add to the cost, and Porsche isn’t shy about charging a lot for some of them. The base Spyder price is $61,200, but options and a $950 destination charge raised my test Spyder’s price to $70,930. You don’t even want to know the cost of the optional carbon-ceramic brakes, which weren’t on my test car.
No wonder an unoptioned Boxster Spyder is the lightest car in Porsche’s line, at 2,810 pounds. It’s about 176 pounds lighter than a Boxster S, the next most expensive, and better-equipped, model. There’s also a base Boxster. Both are more comfortable than the Spyder, but not as much fun—at least to hard-core driving enthusiasts.
Horsepower from the Spyder’s 3.4-liter “flat” six-cylinder jumps to 320 from 310 for the Boxster S, allowing a 0-60 mph time of 4.4 seconds.
Estimated fuel economy is 19 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. It has delightful short throws and works with a moderate-effort, but long-throw, clutch. Also offered is a 7-speed automated manual PDK transmission.
The Spyder has shorter, stiffer springs, harder shock absorber settings and uprated anti-sway bars. All this helps lower the car’s height and center of gravity.
The result: The Spyder is a blast to drive. Handling is terrific, as are the quick, nicely weighed, steering and strong, easily modulated brakes. The extra-wide tires also help out.
However, the solidly built car’s ride is stiffer, compared to other Boxster models, and wasn’t comfortable on poorly paved suburban streets in my neighborhood.
Despite large outside door handles, getting in and out can be a hassle. It’s one of those “drop-in” and “climb-out” cars. Once inside,though, the gauges are easy to quickly read in the functional, no-nonsense interior—like that of the 1950s Speedster.
There is a small, usefully shaped rear trunk behind the engine, with a heavy lid. It had a slender broken prop rod in my test car — not a good sign for longevity. There’s also a larger front cargo area with dual struts holding up the hood.
It’s a mystery why Porsche spells out its name on the lower part of the Spyder’s doors. If anyone can’t tell the Boxster Spyder is a Porsche, they couldn’t tell a Chevy Corvette from a Ferrari.
Dan Jedlicka is the former automotive writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. To read more articles, visit his web site: www.danjedlicka.com.