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Saturday, May 21, 2011

2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder, an AW Drivers Log Car Review:

EXECUTIVE EDITOR--AUTOWEEK.COM BOB GRITZINGER: I read all the poetic writings of my fellow editors last fall, both of whom painted a glorious picture of running top down along the California coast in this superbly appointed Porsche Boxster. My drive was of a different nature entirely, but equally enjoyable--maybe more so.

I dropped the Spyder's top in my driveway in suburban Detroit on a bright, sunny morning. The temp was hovering just below 50 degrees as I rolled out, my Scottish woolen cap tight on my noggin and a matching scarf tied around my neck. With the heat running warm, and the Spyder running even hotter, my 80-mile run was pure Michigan heaven. Partway through the drive, I tired of the freeway and instead shot off an exit ramp and took to the two-lane blacktop back roads for most of the trip.

Like all Boxsters, the car is a blast to drive, and this one, with its extra power and sportier suspension, is the best Porsche Boxster ever. The car positively carves up the road, with little doses of controlled four-wheel drifting thrown in, just where you'd expect to find the limit. It's also the most expensive Boxster ever, and for that, you get the privilege of removing and storing the top manually. It's easy to learn though, and I found it possible to restore the roof even after sundown, with minimal light.

One phrase I heard repeated several times during the weekend was that the Boxster has come to be known as a chick car, as the woman's Porsche. I, for one, am not ready to give up opportunities to drive Porsche's most balanced and most fun driving machine just because someone has decided to tag a label on it. Sex change? It'd have to at least be considered to avoid living the rest of your life without driving another Boxster.

EXECUTIVE EDITOR ROGER HART: I have to agree with Bob, this is the best Boxster ever. The roof on this car is merely a suggestion for keeping out the elements. It's a joke, really. You can stick your entire hand between the window and the roof--so much for security. My guess is that it would keep you mostly dry in a heavy rainstorm, but I wouldn't bet on it. This car is meant to be driven with the top stowed.

The extra power is noticeable, along with the slight weight reduction. The steering on this car is just terrific. You feel as though the steering is directly attached to your brain: think where you want the car placed, and it is there. The suspension is tight, way too tight for many of the roads on my commute. You feel every little bump and expansion joint. And the seats are great for carving up two-lanes or maybe on a track, but they're probably not the right choice for a car that is more for cruising than performance.

This is a specific tool for a specific job--like for track days. Sure, it will do other things, much like Secretariat could have also pulled a wagon, but it would have been a major-league waste of talent.

MOTORSPORTS EDITOR MAC MORRISON: I already waxed on and off about driving this car in California, so there's not much to add here. However, I know what Roger means in his comments about the roof, but it's unfair to call it a "joke." You need to look at this car in a context that applies to its intended purpose. Porsche made it like this deliberately, as a bit of a throwback to the old Speedster and Spyder. If you look at the section in the owner's manual that covers the above-mentioned roof, I believe it refers to it as a "weather screen" or "deflector" or something like that; it's made perfectly clear that the top is not meant to be kept on.

This car is made for driving with the top down, and its stiffer suspension and low ride-height are made for top-level handling, freeway comfort be damned. It's good to point these things out to the masses, but I hate to list these things as negatives, when Porsche never presented them in any sort of false light or said it delivers anything more or less than what it does. If you say to yourself, "Well jeez, this thing is cool, but I wish it were a little more comfortable and that the top were more practical when up or down," guess what? There are these two cars called the Boxster and Boxster S that meet those criteria. Go buy one of those.

That said, if you're shopping this car and your dealer doesn't give you a test drive or at least clue you in to all of this, then it is doing you a massive disservice.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: It's hard to argue with a regular Boxster for its balanced, mid-engine chassis, but this Spyder takes it up a few notches. It's the most eager Boxster I've ever driven, with its lighter curb weight, slight engine improvements and tighter suspension.

This is the lightest vehicle available in Porsche's current range, thanks to a number of things. For example, there are aluminum doors to save 33 pounds, lightweight seats to cut 26 pounds, an aluminum rear lid to shave seven pounds, and the ever-confusing two-piece manual soft top eliminates another 46 pounds. That's not to mention the other small details, like the elimination of the interior door handles in favor of cloth straps and the lightest 19-inch wheels in Porsche's lineup. All told, if you compare the Boxster S with PDK to the Spyder version, there's a weight difference of 176 pounds.

There's been a little work done to the engine. Power compared to the Boxster S increases by 10 hp and 7 lb-ft of torque. That's not much, but more important is that peak horsepower comes 800 rpms later than the S, at 7,200 for a fatter powerband.

Suspension tuning is also new, with a 0.8-inch lower ride height, standard limited-slip differential and the aforementioned lighter wheels. On top of all that, this thing looks badass. The lower side windows and rear lid with the dual bulges to hark back to the Carrera GT really make the Spyder standout.

But with any Porsche, the drive is the best part. This thing effortlessly blitzes through corners with monstrous grip and reacts to commands instantly. Steering feel and the amount of feedback you receive through your finger tips is something all sports-car makers should strive to match. Also not much of a shock are the strong brakes. It's true that the ride is harsh, and if you put any value in ride comfort, you best move along. But if you're into bombing around back roads and track days, this is the Boxster you want.

The sport seats offer support in all the right places to keep you comfortably locked down in place. They can be a chore to get in and out of, but it's worth the effort for the added benefits.

The engine's wide powerband makes spinning the engine up to its 7,500 rpm redline a joy with good throttle response. And as good as these ZF-developed dual-clutch gearboxes are, please make mine a manual (which saves another 55 pounds). Thankfully, this car had proper paddles installed on the steering, instead of those dreaded shift blocks. Of course, you have to pay $490 for those, but it's well worth the added cost.

So yes, this is the best Boxster to date. In fact, it's probably the best mass-produced roadster available today for enthusiasts.

2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder

Base Price: $62,150

As-Tested Price: $75,200

Drivetrain: 3.4-liter H6; RWD, seven-speed dual-clutch sequential manual

Output: 320 hp @ 7,200 rpm, 273 lb-ft @ 4,750 rpm

Curb Weight: 2,866 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 23/19.8 mpg

Options: Seven-speed PDK transmission ($3,420); PCM 3.0 with extended navigation ($3,110); automatic climate control ($1,760); bixenon headlights ($1,560); Sport Chrono package plus, including analog and digital chronometer, sport button ($1,320); Sound package plus, including seven loudspeakers, 185-watt output, glovebox CD storage ($700); self-dimming mirrors and rain sensor ($690); steering wheel with paddle shifters ($490)

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