Another week, another Porsche that’s going to be bothering the fifth star of the verdict panel. This is the Boxster Spyder, and you might remember the previous one: it was a faster, lighter, more powerful, special Boxster that had a manually operated, emergency-style hood that was difficult to remove; unless you were doing 120mph, at which point it apparently removed itself with impressive vigour.
The thinking, this time, is in part the same, only there’s more power. Quite a lot more. Instead of a Cayman S engine, which raised the power to not a lot more than a Boxster S last time, this time the Porsche has taken its cue from the recent Cayman GT4 and given the Spyder the 3.8-litre engine from the Porsche 911 Carrera S.
It makes 370bhp, rather than the 380bhp of the GT4, but that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker when you consider that the Spyder is 25kg lighter than the GT4. That’s despite the fact that the hood, this time, shaves only 10 kilos from the regular Boxster’s weight, because it’s a rather more serious affair than before.
It still requires manual dexterity – and a jog around the rear of the car – to lower or raise it, but it only takes a minute or two, rather than five or 10. It’s also fine in an automatic car wash, and can cope with the car’s full performance, of which there is plenty: a 180mph maximum speed and a 0-62mph time of 4.5sec.
Underneath, the Spyder’s suspension is more GTS than GT4. The only difference from the Boxster GTS is a tweaked rear anti-roll bar, to cope with the various demands of a slightly heavier engine, marginally lighter body, quite a lot more power and wider, 265-section rear tyres.
What that extra power gives the Spyder is more accessible performance than in the GTS, with which it shares its gearing. You still have to work it – 310lb ft of peak torque arrives at 4570rpm and peak power not until 6700rpm – but there’s enough power from low revs to punch the 1315kg Spyder down the road in higher gears with decent vigour.
To get into the real meat of the naturally aspirated engine’s range you’ll need revs, so you can find yourself travelling a gear or two lower than usual. Unsettling the tail for the cornering shots you see here required first gear. But, hey, this is a sports car, after all, and there’s a shorter-throw gearlever, with one of the crispest, cleanest shifts around to make best effect of it. Swapping ratios is one of the purest driving pleasures there is.
It’s coupled to other similarly precise controls. The steering rack, faster than a normal Boxster’s, comes from a 911 Turbo. Our test car came with five grand’s worth of carbon ceramic brakes, too. These are lighter than standard steel brakes and, whatever the effect on stopping power (you’re unlikely to trouble the steels except on a track on a warm day), carbon ceramics tend to benefit steering; it becomes that bit lighter, more delicate, but no less intuitive or feelsome.
Brake pedal feel, clutch feel, throttle weight and response: they’re all the same; first class. The Spyder – far from the only Porsche that feels like this – gives you the impression that proper drivers have spent hour after hour on test tracks, honing control weights and responses until they’re absolutely just so. So that when you ask: you get. It’s the sort of thing that makes the Spyder satisfying at any speed.
At lower speeds, that satisfaction comes with less jarring than you’d expect, given the 235/35 ZR20 front and 265/35 ZR20 rear tyres. With less shake, too: in most convertibles, you can detect a little rear-view mirror shimmy across dodgy surfaces. Not so in the Boxster.
At higher speeds the ride settles nicely, control responses stay as linear and predictable as any manufacturer this side of Caterham or Ariel currently makes them, and the handling is as you’d expect. In the wet, at least, there’s a smidgeon of understeer.
Despite it having a limited-slip differential and a deal more power than a Boxster GTS, you have to be fairly tanking along or in a ridiculously low gear, to unsettle the car beyond that.
But if you do, you’ll like what you find: a sharp, predictable, adjustable and ultimately trustworthy cornering companion, with far keener feedback and engagement than pretty much any other convertible this side of the aforementioned lightweights.
There isn’t quite all the focus and rawness of a Cayman GT4 here, but it would be unreasonable to expect that and the Boxster Spyder is not as far away as you’d think. Often, on the road, it’s equally as rewarding, anyway – Porsche makes a few track-focused specials; the Boxster Spyder’s specialness comes out on the road.
So much so I’m trying hard to think of good reasons not to award the Spyder the full gamut of stars. That a GT4 and GT3 RS have recently nabbed similar is the best reason I can think of. Which isn’t a good enough one at all.