Anyone who's driven the previous, very radical Porsche Boxster Spyder is likely a big fan. With that in mind, we should start this review of the '16 version with some advice: Recalibrate your expectations. This is a completely different car than the one that came before. If you're buying it to evoke the seemingly minimalist driving experience of its predecessor, you might find yourself disappointed. And we would say shop around, but the fact is, you just aren't going to find that experience anywhere in a new car anymore. But if you can put that last car behind you and judge the new Boxster Spyder on its own merits, you'll find that you're left with an extremely capable convertible, one that will run rings around the previous car.
What's maddening about the '16 Boxster Spyder is how it fails to live up to the last car, while being better in pretty much every tangible aspect. Built upon the current 981 Boxster GTS, the '16 Spyder gains the 3.8L flat-six from the 911 Carrera S. According to Porsche, a packaging issue with the intake from the Carrera S necessitates a switch to the version from the Boxster/Cayman—reducing horsepower to 375 versus the 400 you'll get from the 911. It's still good for a 45hp bump over the Boxster GTS, and 55 more than the 987-era Boxster Spyder. A six-speed manual transmission is your only option, and the suspension is the Sport Chrono Package (optional on the Boxster GTS), including Porsche Torque Vectoring with a mechanical limited-slip differential. The new car pulls higher g's with faster lap times on the cliched 14-point-something-mile circuit of choice. It's quicker, with a higher top speed, which you can hit with the top up or down (unlike the 987 Spyder). It looks better, too, with its front and rear fasciae taken from the Cayman GT4, but that's subjective. It's a better, faster, more capable car.
That said, the '16 Boxster Spyder just doesn't have the "it" factor that its predecessor had in spades. There was a delicate "man and machine" dance that you could do so effortlessly with the 2011 car. With the '16 Spyder, you trade that connection, like you do in so many modern machines, for ultimate capability. So for all of its improvements and advances, why isn't the new Boxster Spyder as good as the last one? We dare not point fingers at the obvious offender—the electric power steering—right off the bat. It's no longer cool to bag on such systems: We're supposed to accept them now as par for the course and admonish naysayers that they're "here to stay," "not going anywhere," and any other such disclaimers our colleagues are so eager to make.
But let's say we were going to complain about electric steering; is this not the one car we should be allowed the gripe with? At the same time, it's understandable—it's an ever-changing world. Maybe, if we were around when journalists complained about the hydraulic power steering we now so favor replacing manual racks in sports cars... oh, we digress. The rub is that the car does exactly what you want it to; it just doesn't necessarily tell you about it like the previous car did. There's nary a millimeter of play in that steering rack—taken from the 911 Turbo and not only quicker than the 987 Spyder, but the rest of the current Boxster and Cayman lineups as well—and variable, for greater stability at higher speeds. You can be the slowest wheelman on planet earth and still catch the back end if you've pushed too hard. Or you can let the incredible electronics sort it all out for you—did you want five degrees of slip angle? Eight? It's just a button push away.
The suspension on the '16 Boxster Spyder is excellent. It's not the hard-core assembly of the Cayman GT4, which makes sense—it's just where you want it to be for a car you're going take out to cars and coffee on a Sunday morning and then go for a spirited drive. The Cayman GT4, by contrast, is more suited for the racetrack fresh out of the factory. The Boxster Spyder's suspension philosophy reaches out to affect everything, like the transmission: Automatic rev matching is a cool technology. We get why you might want it. We don't want it necessarily, but we get it. What we don't get is why it happens in Sport Plus (the most extreme driving mode) and not in Sport, or normal. We want to have to rev-match downshifts all by ourselves in the most extreme drive setting—that's part of the fun, right? And we're not even questioning whether a "purist" car should include a computer that matches your downshifts for you in the first place (pensive pause)—just if that tech is best applied in the driving mode that should give you the greatest sense of connection with the car and the road.
Again, I can't stress it enough—the car is awesome, supremely capable with steering that isn't jittery or vague and an engine that's full of power. And the engine noise... oh, that noise! Porsche has mastered the sound of a (very) sporty exhaust. The new Boxster Spyder sounds like a 911 now—and we wouldn't normally credit ourselves with being able to tell the difference between 0.4 liters. You'll know it when you hear it, though—familiar, in a good way. The six-speed transmission is the same as the one in the 987 Spyder, with the same gear ratios, yet we can't help but feel like it's a little long despite seeming to rev high in sixth on the highway. Second gear especially appears inexplicably so. Those gears are combined with an engine that seems to need a while to build up some steam—we know, we feel ridiculous typing it ourselves, but it's true. The car loves revs, and it doesn't feel like it's in the powerband for long once you get it there. And yet when you look at the curve compared to the previous car, there's nothing to suggest this should be the case.
Perhaps the '16 Boxster Spyder's greatest sin is that where the previous iteration was a purist car, this one comes across as more of a marketing exercise. The "Spyder" logos on the plastic flaps that secure the roof in place tell the tale: The roof still has the wings of the previous car (by that we're referring to the means by which the canopy was "strapped down" in the rear), but they don't actually need to be there. The Spyder's roof is another case where the thing in question, like the acceleration or the lateral g's, is better at doing its job than the 987 model. The roof is much easier to operate; Porsche touts the fewer number of steps needed to put the top down and back up versus the previous car, the Boxster's top speed being unaffected with the top down, and it being able to go through car washes without a leak. Basically, it's a trimmed-down version of a standard Boxster top without all of the electronic elements. The wings on the new Boxster Spyder are there as a deliberate inconvenience—an attempt to make you feel you're in a Spartan roadster, in which compromises must be made for the sake of driving purity! In practice, it comes off as condescension, a means to make a connection between the new car and the last one. It doesn't quite work.
The Boxster/Cayman line has changed since its last iteration. No longer are the Boxster Spyder and the Cayman R (GT4 for this generation) two peas in a pod. Nor is the Spyder a tightened-and-lightened Boxster S—the 911 Carrera S engine makes sure of that. The changes are significant enough to warrant the cars having the unrelated last names that they do, and the move will surely win over a wider audience. The new Boxster Spyder is, without question, more capable than the previous one, but in doing that it loses what it's supposed to do so well. And herein lies the irony: It's a purist car, right? So why sacrifice road feel for the benefit of ultimate performance? It seems like that's just what you have to do these days to keep up the pace (witness automatics/DSGs replacing manuals everywhere), but in this car specifically, that's where you lose the plot a little bit. This thing should be all about the smile factor; everything else is secondary.
So in order to appreciate the new Boxster Spyder, you have to accept that the last one was an automotive anomaly—that rare perfection that happens almost accidentally every now and then with a capable automaker. And that the era of feel being synonymous with performance is long gone; not coming back. There is inherently nothing wrong with that: Advancements in performance, safety, and efficiency are all good things. Keep a "what is past is prologue" type of philosophy, where everything sets the stage for what comes next—otherwise, you find yourself dwelling on what's lost rather than how far things have come. So much of life is lost in the moments, and when it's gone, it's gone. The 987 Spyder was so, so good; on the short list of the best driver's cars of the modern era. The new Boxster Spyder is great, and anyone who hasn't driven a 987 Spyder will find so much to love unsullied by the memories of what came before. But the beautiful thing is that if the 981 Spyder just doesn't do it for you, you can try to find a 987 Spyder on the used market—and likely at a decent price now that its successor is becoming available.