Spyder Sense

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Inside, folding sport bucket seats trim weight. Fabric-loop door releases from the GT3 RS recall those in RSs 964 and 993. Their fabric matches the seatbelts (red or black depending on interior color), their plastic housings mounted by a single exposed screw. They look a bit cheap, but so did the Fiat pulls that Porsche’s Sport Purposes department used in the 1970s. A gimmick? No. Engineers say each shaves 2.2 pounds in a good spot.

The gauges still wear too-cute Boxster fonts, but their faces are all-business black rather than silver and their hood is gone. In place of the missing cupholder’s multi-piece door is a plastic strip that, like the other dash trim strips, is body color. The center console between the seats is, too, and the plastic doorsill finishers have been re­placed by model name stickers.

The top says it all, though. To all who see the Spyder, be they car nuts or tree huggers or both, it screams “minimalist!” and backs it up by weighing 12 pounds. Inside, a stamped-steel claw fastens a carbon-fiber front top bow that’s nice but not overly polished. The two-piece top stows over the engine, fitting in a black styrofoam receptacle accessed by opening the huge, one-piece decklid. No gas struts help you lift the latter, and you prop it up with an aluminum stick, RS-style. The lid is only heavy if you discount its size, and swings on decidedly unproduction-like aluminum hinges under the humps.

Any nagging thoughts that the Spyder is a parts-bin exercise fade as I speak to Maurice van de Weerd. Fairly new to Por­sche, he’s the suspension man be­hind VW’s brilliant Mk. V GTI, a car hailed as the return of the proper GTI. One would suspect he had more fun starting with a mid-engined car. He’s quick to say that he had help from another Weissach engineer — one he considers a friend and one who works on GT2s and GT3s.

The Spyder sits 20 mm lower than a Boxster S and 10 mm lower than a PASM-equipped one — but not on mere lowering springs with mildly increased rates. “Compared to the standard Boxster S, we increased the stiffness front and rear,” says van de Weerd. “In front, by ten percent and in the rear by 30 percent. We changed the spring balance significantly, so we have different body motions. The front anti-roll bar is a little stiffer, the rear is the same.” So were the dampers simply retuned to match the new spring rates?

“No, it’s more than that,” he says. “The philosophy behind the damper tuning is new and that’s due to the extreme focus on driving fun and performance aspects. And because the car is lighter with lighter wheels, we had more freedom to find another compromise between comfort and the performance side — it helped me as a chassis guy to fulfill this compromise. We changed the damper forces quite significantly, reducing the rebound side and increasing the compression.”

Since the Spyder is lighter, the revised spring rates are effectively even higher. Van de Weerd says no bushings were changed, but camber settings have been altered. Asked why electronically variable PASM dampers aren’t available, he gives two reasons: “First, we wanted to make more of a purist’s car, one without, as much as possible, electronics. So it was decided to get the maximum puristic performance and fun-to-drive with conventional dampers. Then, if you look at overall production, it doesn’t make sense to make an optional suspension available. The amount of cars is just too low.”

Low and light suits us. Leav­ing sleepy, one-story downtown Car­mel Valley, the Spyder’s rear end is a bit bouncy as it rolls over mild bumps at 25 mph. It’s never brittle, though. There are no sharp shocks; each imperfection’s edge is edited into something you no­tice rather than something you’re annoyed by.

The road out of town leads right then left, feeding into more rights and lefts as it trades buildings for mysterious driveways and, eventually, raw California. The 3.4-liter flat six is a match for the Cayman S’s 320-hp unit thanks to electronic tuning. The ten horses over a Box­ster S isn’t noticeable, but the exhaust note from the optional sport exhaust is. When engaged, there’s more than enough noise from the twin tips. Still, we’re left wishing for more intake noise — like the original Box­ster 2.5’s howl as it passed 5000 rpm.

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