When life hands you one of the finest driving machines ever built, you go for a drive. Last year, I had an opportunity to take Porsche’s new Cayman for a drive, and although I enjoyed it immensely throughout my week in the slinky little coupe, a rainy weekend killed the mood on a free day for an extended drive and photo shoot. I’ve regretted it ever since.
This time around, I was going no matter what, and the weather had no choice but to cooperate. And thank goodness the weather did not change mid day, because it takes at least 15 minutes to get the top up on the chariot of this year’s Muskoka day trip: the 2011 Porsche Spyder Boxster.
It’s not often we get to pick a car from a vehicle’s archives, but in the interests of highlighting their Porsche Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicle program, the Canadian press fleet included this rare and delectable treat, the swan song for this first generation of Boxster, and a future collectible.
Our schedule was clear and there was nothing to do but drive. Yes, it was going to be a good day.
In order to fully appreciate its signature engagement and driving character, we set out from the GTA and went looking for some of Ontario’s finest roads in the Muskoka region. The bright sunshine and perfect temperatures were a perfect setting in which to test this roadster’s reputation for transcendent handling.
The day started on a quiet morning in suburbia, where I took some time to appreciate the curves of the Boxster, and the clean flowing lines of this convertible.
Those signature aero humps in the aluminum tonneau (covering the trunk and roof storage compartment) create a unique profile for the Spyder, and it draws attention as something special from bystanders and respect from those in the know.
We quickly got comfortable, in the warm inviting interior, trimmed in Special Cocoa Leather, with contrasting stitching on the leather-covered dash and seats making it feel even more special. These power adjustable seats were an option that eliminated the lightweight, but less padded and less adjustable seats that came stock with the Spyder.
More dear to enthusiasts than power seats are the measures Porsche took to reduce weight, including cloth door handles, a manual cloth soft top, lighter wheels, aluminum doors and panels and elimination of various features – many of which have been added back to this example as options. In total, a base Spyder weighed in at 1,275 kg, 80 kg lighter than the Boxster S equivalent.
We set out for the parts of our province where the roads curve and undulate and the backdrops refresh the soul. Our schedule was clear and there was nothing to do but drive. Yes, it was going to be a good day.
The Boxster Spyder stands 20 mm lower than the S, its centre of gravity likewise 25 mm lower thanks to the lower stance and removal of significant weight up top in the convertible roof and mechanism. It rides on a firmer performance suspension and features standard limited slip differential, the better to hold its own when our favourite driving roads in the province start throwing curve after curve.
Although on this day, the journey itself was the goal, we did still have a destination in mind: Huntsville, where we stopped in for lunch at 3 Guys and a Stove, then popped across the street to the Farmer’s Daughter to pick up some fresh berries and butter tarts. Delicious, sweet delectable butter tarts. If you want more information on butter tart destinations, visit Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour page. Hey, some people ski, some people go antiquing, we go eating….
Anyhow, the Boxster already had a delectable rear end, but with the Spyder’s aero humps above that small fixed spoiler, it has all sorts of curves that might draw quite a few lingering, hungry stares. The central twin exhausts and underbody diffuser hint at the serious performance.
For this special edition, Porsche not only improved the handling, they bumped power from the 3.4L flat-six power plant by 10 hp thanks to remapping and direct injection (the latter shared with the S). The Spyder makes its 320 peak hp at 7,200 rpm, with a redline of 7,500 rpm, and with the optional sport exhaust system on this car, it will fill the air with a heady, wailing scream and sharp metallic undertones.
Sure, we are spoiled by 500+ hp cars at every turn, but with minimal weight and 273 lb-ft of torque to go along with the 320 hp, the Boxster Spyder gets off the line as quickly as traction permits, and has been clocked doing the 0-60 mph (0-96 km/h) in as little as 4.1 seconds and quarter-mile in 12.7 by Car & Driver.
I can’t say that I wasn’t a little (and by little, I mean a lot) disappointed to see that it was equipped with Porsche’s untranslatable Doppelkupplung (PDK)… okay, actually it translates into double clutch, to denote the two clutches in the automated transmission that are ready to engage the next gear, making for sharp, quick cog swaps. With seven gears, it aids in that fierce acceleration, but its intense performance focus means that the engine revs a bit high at highway speeds, leading to a fair amount of noise in the cabin, heard even over and above the rush of wind. What I found most surprising was that even this first generation of the PDK was still so competent, unobtrusive when just driving around town, but right on the performance curve when called upon.
Of course, the Boxster’s defining quality isn’t its power or acceleration but rather its balance, achieved by installing that flat-six engine ahead of the rear axle, behind the seats (approximately where rear seats would normally go. This mid-engine layout, centres the bulk of its weight longitudinally and keeps it low in the vehicle, and minimizes the physical forces that push and pull the front and rear of the car away from your intended line.
With such fierce acceleration and cornering grip, the Boxster needs braking to match, and the original owner of this Spyder specified the carbon-ceramic brake option (12.5-inch rotors in front, 11.8-inch rears, four-piston calipers front and rear), so the binders pulled the car down from speed quickly and consistently all day long. Edmunds.com measured its braking at a “superb” 102 feet (31 m) from 60 mph (96 km/h). And on this hot summer day, the Goodyear Eagle F1 tires on 19-inch alloys (8.5-inch wide in front with 235/35ZR19, 10-inch rears with 265/35ZR19) stuck every landing.
...throw away the top, drive it only in warm sunny weather and track days, and keep it in a nice cozy garage the rest of the time.
The Spyder model, acclaimed for reducing weight at all costs, was notorious for eliminating even such amenities as door handles, cupholders, stereo, air conditioning and more. This one was a more balanced compromise, with a stereo and climate control for a less strictly performance-oriented owner.
Taking a break from the performance aspects, a note about the Spyder’s weight-saving roof, which you won’t see in any of these pictures, since I kept it off almost the entire time I had it. It is a two-piece fabric top that hooks onto the roof and anchors on the rear decklid. It is a royal PITA to install and even removing it is a bit tedious if you plan to store it in the trunk. A better solution is to throw away the top, drive it only in warm sunny weather and track days, and keep it in a nice cozy garage the rest of the time. However, I can report that it kept me dry when driving in a torrential downpour I experienced one night.
However, that makes for some bizarre packaging, with two trunks, one in the rear over the engine bay, and one in front between the wheels. Unfortunately, neither space is very large, but should be sufficient for a weekend trip for a couple that travels light and doesn’t do much antiquing.
After our lunch stop and some time to snap some photos in Gravenhurst on the southern tip of Lake Muskoka, we returned to the serious business of driving. While it’s a commitment of several hours to get to, it’s one of the few roads I’ve encountered in Ontario that provides more than your typical theme park coaster series of turns.
With the car in Sport Plus, exhaust mode opened up for a throaty rumble, the road was mostly free but for a few rare vehicles. It’s a lonely, unpopulated road, and because of all the tight curves, and even driven within reason, it is a challenging and fulfilling road.
With dozens of curves in a short distance, it’s a flowing road that has you constantly loading and unloading the suspension, repeatedly experiencing Porsche’s and the Boxster’s legendary road feel. And with such tight roads, the PDK was on its toes, using only a handful of the middle gears, but working them diligently to keep us in the right power spot. I occasionally used the paddle shifters to handpick my gears, but rarely did the PDK miss a step when left to its own devices.
The Boxster, while giving up power, prestige and heritage to the 911, is every bit the equal in terms of steering feel. Response isn’t, perhaps, as quick as the current generation, and there may be a bit more give in the tension of the wheel, but it’s an unending stream of feedback writing out the story of the road underneath, parsing every corner and bump, drawing you into the experience. But it doesn’t end with the steering – the whole car is vibrant with communication, the taut suspension chattering through the chassis and chair, the engine and exhaust singing in the open air, and the unobstructed view from the topless cockpit.
There is no question that the Boxster Spyder makes no compromises when it comes to performance, and that suspension is as firm as Porsche could take it without breaking the car. Some rough roads jostle and buck occupants, but Porsche also dials in a speedy recovery from those impacts to maintain traction and control. On devastated urban roads, there is little reward, but out here where the curves come with bumps, it is just enough forgiveness to maintain pace rather than being knocked around and thrown off line.
While there are better roads elsewhere in the world, none were within my reach that day or week, but this road and this day were pure perfection to demonstrate all of the Boxster’s best traits, and almost none of its drawbacks. The fact that it was an instant classic like the Spyder only made it more special, a visual and visceral pleasure that a very few lucky individuals will get to experience more regularly.
Pricing: 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder
Base Price (Spyder): $72,900
Options: Special Leather Cocoa $3,840, carbon ceramic brakes $11,110, automatic climate control $2,400, sport chrono package $1,800, 6-disc CD changer $890, bi-xenon headlamps with dynamic corner system $2,130, sport exhaust system $3,410, seat belts in silver grey $470, 7-speed Porsche Doppelkupplung (double clutch) $4,660, SportDesign steering wheel $670
Price as tested (new): $104,280
Price as tested (CPO): $74,980