Only Porsche Can Get Away With a Car Like This: Jason H. Harper

Porsche Boxster Spyder
The Porsche Boxster Spyder. Porsche offers a range of model options, from the sprighty mid-engine Boxster (255 hp, $47,600) to the 911 Turbo S Cabriolet (530 hp, $170,200). Source: Porsche SE via Bloomberg

After a day pinging around in the fabulous yet confounding Porsche Boxster Spyder, I’ve come to a conclusion: Only Porsche can get away with a car like this.

The $62,150 Spyder is a new version of the popular $58,950 Boxster S roadster. The mid-engine Boxster has been around since the mid-1990s and, except for increasing horsepower and small aesthetic tweaks, it’s similar to the car as first presented.

Porsche’s strategy for putting new energy into the model? Take out the air conditioner and then charge you extra for it.

That’s an oversimplification, but not by much. Lighter cars handle better, so Stuttgart’s minions whittled away at the roadster, deleting delirious modern excesses like the radio and that aforementioned A/C.

If you believe the wind is nature’s cooling system and the sound of the engine is the best music, this baby is for you.

The Spyder weighs 176 pounds less than the Boxster S, putting it at a sinewy 2,811 pounds. By comparison, a 911 S weighs 3,131; the big-boned Porsche Cayenne S 4,553.

Since the Boxster already dipped and dove into twisty mountain lanes like a duck takes to water, the results are very good.

At Monticello Motor Club, my home track, I drove the Spyder back to back with an S model. The Spyder’s turn-in was crisper, the braking better, the corner-carving exploits even more hair raising. On the track’s suspension-challenging, quickie turns, the roadster was more balanced than any car I’ve driven here.

Back Roads

But the Spyder experience is most meaningful on back roads. Top down and with no itinerary, it’s a purist’s delight. I defy you to not enjoy yourself.

Unless of course you live in any state which isn’t California. Or in Canada. Then it might rain. Or the temperature might rise above 75. Then, Porsche connoisseur, you’re screwed.

Because the Spyder also lost its automated roof in the name of weight savings.

Don’t accuse me of laziness. I grew up with rotary phones and televisions that only changed channels when you got off the couch and clicked a knob -- I know hardships. A manual roof like the old Mazda Miata’s was fine.

The Spyder’s canvas contraption is something else. To put the top up, you remove two separate pieces from the trunk, unroll them, and then begin attaching various bars, hooks and snaps. Imagine putting a bra on a three-breasted cubist figure by Picasso.

Rep Demo

I watched a Porsche rep put the roof on. It took him more than 3 minutes and he’d been crisscrossing the country in the Spyder for months.

I’m neither mechanical nor methodical. I make a mess of refolding maps and I cram dollar bills into pockets rather than folding them into a wallet. I tested the Spyder on a clear sunny day with little humidity. We’ve had about two of those in the Northeast this summer, so a higher power must have been with me.

If it had started to rain, I would have pulled under an underpass and waited it out with the motorcyclists. No way I could get that thing on in duress. If I owned the Spyder I’d spend all day on Saturday thinking about tomorrow’s Sunday drive -- and then be up all night worrying about the weather.

However, all is not lost. What Porsche taketh away, Porsche also giveth back -- for a little extra money. If you want a radio it’ll cost you $700. That air conditioner runs a cool $1,750. Bear in mind that the Spyder, which isn’t a limited edition by the way, is already $3,200 more than the Boxster S, which has an auto roof.

I asked a dealer if he’d sold a single Spyder sans A/C and radio. He said he didn’t even have one like that on the lot.

In fairness, the Spyder comes standard with 19-inch lightweight wheels and has 10 more horsepower, taking it to 320. I tested both the standard six-speed manual and the PDK automated double-clutch, a $3,420 option. Both had the $960 Sport Chrono package, which makes it faster and which I recommend.

With the PDK transmission and a few other items, my Spyder was more than $70,000.

Think of it this way: Porsche is basically the Apple Inc. of the automotive world. No other companies maintain such die-hard customers while charging take-it-or-leave-it premiums. (Floor mats have finally become standard on Porsche’s 2011 models.)

Yet, what other two companies regularly come out with such design-driven, passion-arousing, drool-on-yourself products? My pricy aluminum MacBook Pro looks way cooler than a Dell. So it goes for the Spyder.

In addition to the weight savings, it gets super-sexy design elements like the twin curvaceous humps on the rear deck just behind the driver. It’s a cue reminiscent of the Porsche Carrera GT supercar and it transforms the entire vehicle.

It looks great, drives great and is undeniably desirable. And oh would I like one -- if only I lived in California.

The 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder at a Glance

Engine: 3.4-liter six-cylinder with 320 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque.

Transmission: Six-speed manual standard or optional automated seven-speed double-clutch.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds with manual; 4.6 seconds with Sport Chrono package.

Gas mileage per gallon: 19 city, 27 highway with the manual; 20, 29 automated.

Price as tested: $70,090.

Best features: Looks even sexier and makes the Boxster novel again.

Worst feature: The complicated roof.

Target buyer: The Californian.

(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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