Car shoppers seeking the Porsche name at a lower price frequently look at the Porsche Boxster. This compact, mid-engine roadster offers Porsche driving dynamics without the expense of the legendary 911. But, no car is perfect, so careful consideration is wise before putting one of these German convertibles in your driveway. With this in mind, we’ve compiled information on what Porsche Boxster years to avoid.
Read on for details about the Achilles heel of early Boxsters and a generation-by-generation overview.
What’s an IMS Bearing and Why Should I Care?
Before we dive into the essentials of each Porsche Boxster generation, we’ll cover one crucial topic that you may come across during your research. This deals with the intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing on 1997-2008 Boxsters. What’s an IMS bearing? Without getting too technical, it’s an engine component that helps transfer power from the crankshaft to the drivetrain. These years of Boxsters have a notorious reputation for IMS-bearing failure.
It’s important to understand that failure of the IMS bearing can cause catastrophic engine damage. So much, so that engine replacement is a common remedy in these situations. In older Boxsters, a new engine can cost as much as the car is worth.
Does this mean that 1997-2008 are Porsche Boxster years to avoid? In general, no. If your Porsche shopping involves these models, then look for a car that’s already been fixed. Or, build the cost of the IMS bearing repair (about $3,000) into your budget. However, some Porsche owners consider the issue to be overblown and are willing to accept the risk.
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First-Generation Porsche Boxster: 1997-2004
The first Boxster launched Porsche’s renewed efforts to offer an affordable sports car with genuine performance credentials (the 1970s-era 914 was vilified for being a glorified Volkswagen). The first-gen Boxster features an all-new engine design that it shares with the 911. This 201-horsepower six-cylinder powerplant boasts Porsche’s first use of water cooling and improved engine management technology. For 2000, Porsche introduced the more powerful Boxster S with 250 horsepower and 225 lb-ft of torque. Even the base Boxster got an 8% boost in horsepower.
According to carcomplaints,com, the most problematic first-generation Boxster is from the 2003 model year, with concern centering around engine failure and the IMS bearing issue. The 2002 Boxster also pops up with the same trouble. Electrical issues surface for these years as well. Reports of the IMS bearing problem can be seen even earlier. In addition, there are reports of casting problems with engines through the 1999 model year, so it’s best to begin your search starting with the model year 2000 or newer Boxsters. In other words, pass on 1997-1999 models.
While recalls don’t necessarily mean you should avoid an affected model year, it’s important to know about these safety issues to ensure you’re buying a corrected car. A significant recall for 1999-2003 Boxsters involved fixing the transmission to prevent the vehicle from inadvertently rolling away if the parking brake wasn’t engaged.
Second-Generation Porsche Boxster: 2005-2012
The second-gen Boxster was launched for the 2005 model year with more styling cues from the 911, like new headlights and larger air intakes. Other changes included a new manual transmission, improved braking and handling, and bigger side windows. Engine improvements were also part of the upgrade, with the base Boxster making 240 horsepower while the Boxster S producing 280 horsepower. For the first time, both Boxsters could reach 60 mph (from zero) in under six seconds. Throughout the second-gen Boxster, the car receives periodic power increases, with the Boxster S eventually offering 310 horsepower and the base Boxster making 255 horsepower.
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IMS-bearing troubles are still a problem for Boxsters through the 2008 model year, so be on the alert for this during your shopping. Data for other second-generation problems is limited, so flagging a particular year for potential pitfalls is challenging. It could mean there are few issues or that there are so few Boxsters from these years that reporting is limited. A small number of owners of 2010-2011 Boxsters detail electrical problems. But, even Consumer Reports doesn’t have enough information to predict reliability for this era of Boxster. In addition, there were no major recalls for this generation of Boxster.
Third-generation Porsche Boxster: 2013-2016
With only a few model years of production, the third-gen Boxster represents the briefest lifespan of any Boxster generation. The newest entry-level Porsche ditches a bulbous body for a crisp and modern style that befits the brand. The base Boxster gets a new 2.7-liter flat-six engine making 265 horsepower, while the Boxster S engine (a 3.4-liter flat-six) gets a modest five horsepower increase and a 0-60 mph time below five seconds.
Other than a handful of engine-related complaints (ticking noise and burning odor) for the 2016 model year, there are no major complaints about the Boxster. Consumer Reports gives the 2014-2015 models a thumbs up for reliability (no data is reported for the other years from this generation). 2014-2015 Boxsters were affected by a hood latch recall, and the 2016 Boxster was recalled for defective airbags. Overall, the third-generation Boxster is uneventful, making it difficult to specify any Porsche Boxster years to avoid.
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Fourth-Generation Porsche Boxster: 2017-Present
In addition to a new, more aggressive body, the fourth-generation Boxster features two new engines. These are turbocharged four-cylinder powerplants that say goodbye to six cylinders for the sake of efficiency. The base model gets a 2.0-liter with 300 horsepower, while the Boxster S gets a 2.5-liter offering 350 horsepower. While the loss of cylinders offers different engine sounds, the driving experience is not diminished.
Because this edition of the Boxster is so new, there’s no significant reporting about reliability issues. Consumer Reports offers no insights either. However, the 2017 Boxster was hit with five different recalls; this is nothing unexpected given its status as an all-new car. The issues mostly involved fuel system and airbag issues. While recalls generally aren’t a single reason to avoid a particular vehicle, skipping the 2017 Boxster as the first year of a new design (and the gremlins that pop-up) may not be a bad idea.
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The Porsche Boxster and Cayman are mid-engine two-seater sports cars manufactured and marketed by German automobile manufacturer Porsche across four generations — as a 2-door, 2-seater roadster (Boxster) and a 3-door, 2-seater fastbackcoupé (Cayman).
The first generation Boxster was introduced in 1996; the second generation Boxster and the Cayman arrived in late 2005; and the third generation launched in 2012. Since the introduction of the fourth generation in 2016, the two models have been marketed as the Porsche 718 Boxster and Porsche 718 Cayman.
The nameplate Boxster is a portmanteau of boxer, a reference to its flat or boxer engine, and roadster, a reference to the body style. The nameplate Cayman is an alternative spelling of caiman, a member of the alligator family.
The Porsche Boxster is a mid-engine two-seater roadster. It was Porsche's first road vehicle to be originally designed as a roadster since the 914. The first-generation Boxster (the 986) was introduced in late 1996; it was powered by a 2.5-litre flat six-cylinder engine. The design was heavily influenced by the 1993 Boxster Concept. In 2000, the base model was upgraded to a 2.7-litre engine and a new Boxster S variant was introduced with a 3.2-litre engine. In 2003, styling and engine output was upgraded on both variants.
Production of the 986 began at the former 928 facility in Stuttgart, Germany in 1996. Valmet Automotive also manufactured Boxsters under contract to Porsche at a facility in Uusikaupunki, Finland. The Boxster was Porsche's biggest volume seller from its introduction in 1996 until the introduction of the Cayenne sport utility vehicle in 2003. As of September 2012, additional production of the Boxster started at the former Karmann-factory in Osnabrück.
In 2005, Porsche debuted the second generation of the Boxster, the type 987, with a more powerful engine and styling inspired by the Carrera GT. Engine output increased in 2007, when the Boxster models received the engines from their corresponding Cayman variants. In 2009, the Boxster models received several new cosmetic and mechanical upgrades, further increasing engine output and performance. The third generation Boxster (type 981) was launched at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show.
First launched in 2005 for the 2006 model year, the Cayman is a coupé derived from Porsche's second and third generation Boxster roadster, styled in its first iteration by Pinky Lai. All Caymans were manufactured in Finland by Valmet Automotive. As Volkswagen assumed control of Porsche AG, production of Caymans and Boxsters after 2012 began in the former Karmann plant in Osnabrück, Germany, at the time owned by Volkswagen and also used for production of the 2012 Golf (Mk6) convertible.
The car is not named after the Cayman Islands. Both the car and the islands are named after the caiman, a member of the alligator family. When the Cayman arrived at dealerships for sale, the automaker adopted four caimans at Stuttgart's Wilhelma Zoo.
Porsche brought an infringement lawsuit in 2009 against Crocs, the maker of the popular rubber shoes. At issue was the footwear company's clog name also called Cayman. An injunction was granted against Crocs Europe, a division of the Longmont, Colorado-based shoe company preventing their use in Germany of the Cayman name.
Introduced in 2016 for the 2017 model year, the Porsche Boxster and Cayman were renamed the Porsche 718 Boxster and Porsche 718 Cayman (internally called the 982), reviving the historic 718 moniker while switching engines from naturally-aspirated flat sixes to small-displacement flat-fourturbocharged units. The new 718 Cayman was also repositioned with an entry price lower than that of the 718 Boxster, in keeping with Porsche's higher pricing for roadster models.
First generation: Boxster (986) (1996–2004)
Main article: Porsche 986
Grant Larson's design, inspired by the 356 Cabriolet, Speedster, and 550 Spyder, stimulated a commercial turnaround for Porsche. Through consultation with Toyota. Porsche began widely sharing parts among models and slashed costs.
By October 1991 following a visit to the Tokyo Motor Show, Porsche in dire straits, began to devise solutions to succeed the poor selling 928 and incoming 968 (a heavy update of the 944). In February 1992, Porsche began development of a successor to the 928 (mildly updated for 1992) and recently released 968. By June 1992, out of 4 proposals based on dual collaboration between the 986 and 996 (993 successor) design teams, a proposal by Grant Larson and Pinky Lai was chosen by Harm Lagaay. In August 1992, a decision was made to develop the concept into a show vehicle, in time for the 1993 North American International Auto Show. After garnering widespread acclaim from the press and public upon presentation of the Boxster Concept in January 1993, the final production 986 production exterior design by Larson was frozen in March 1993. However, by the second half of 1993, difficulties arose with fitment of some components, resulting in lengthening of the hood and requiring another design freeze by fourth quarter of that year. Prototypes in 968 bodies were built to test the mid-engine power train of the 986 by the end of 1993, with proper prototypes surfacing in 1994. Pilot production began in the second half of 1995, ahead of series production in mid-1996.
The Boxster was released ahead of the 996. The 986 Boxster had the same bonnet, front wings, headlights, interior and engine architecture as the 996.
All 986 and 987 Boxsters use the M96, a water-cooled, horizontally opposed ("flat"), six-cylinder engine. It was Porsche's first water-cooled non-front engine. In the Boxster, it is placed in a mid-engine layout, while in the 911, the classic rear-engine layout was used. The mid-engine layout provides a low center of gravity, a near-perfect weight distribution, and neutral handling.
The M96 engines had a number of failures, resulting in cracked or slipped cylinder liners, which were resolved by a minor redesign and better control of the casting process in late 1999. A failure for these early engines was a spate of porous engine blocks, as the manufacturer had difficulty in the casting process. In addition to causing problems with coolant and oil systems mingling fluids, it also resulted in Porsche's decision to repair faulty engines by boring out the cast sleeves on the cylinders where defects were noted in production and inserting new sleeves rather than scrapping the engine block. Normally, the cylinder walls are cast at the same time as the rest of the engine, this being the reason for adopting the casting technology.
The model received a minor facelift in 2002. The plastic rear window was replaced by a smaller glass window. The interior received a glove compartment, new electro-mechanical hood and trunk release mechanism (with an electronic emergency release in the fuse box panel) and an updated steering wheel. Porsche installed a reworked exhaust pipe and air intake. In addition, the front headlight's amber indicators were replaced with clear indicators. The rear light cluster was also changed with translucent grey turn signals replacing the amber ones. The side marker lights on the front wings were changed as well from amber to clear, except on American market cars where they remained amber. The bumpers were also changed slightly for a more defined, chiseled appearance, and new wheel designs were made available.
Second generation: Boxster/Cayman (987) (2005–2012)
Main article: Porsche 987
The second generation of the Boxster debuted at the 2004 Paris Motor Show with the (997) 911 and became available for sale in 2005.
Revised styling included modified headlights, larger side intake vents and enlarged wheel arches to allow wheels up to 19 inches in diameter. Interior revisions included a more prominent circular theme for the instrument cluster and cooling vents. The base engine is a 2.7-litre 176 kW (239 PS; 236 hp) flat-sixboxer engine, with the Boxster S getting a 3.2-litre 206 kW (280 PS; 276 hp) engine. For 2007, the base Boxster received a revised engine featuring VarioCam Plus and the Boxster S engine was upgraded from 3.2-litre to 3.4-litre. These upgrades made the Boxster series and the Cayman series equivalent in terms of power. The 987 is the last generation of the Boxster and Cayman series with hydraulic steering.
The Cayman S fastback coupé (987c) was first unveiled and went on sale in late 2005. The base Cayman followed in July 2006.
Both the Cayman and second generation Boxster roadster share their mid-engine platform and many components, including the front fenders and trunk lid, doors, headlights, taillights, and forward portion of the interior. Styling incorporates cues from the 356/1, the 550 Coupé and the 904 Coupé. The Cayman's hatchback enables access to luggage areas on top of and in the back of the engine cover. The suspension design is fundamentally the same as that of the Boxster with revised settings due to the stiffer chassis with the car's fixed roof.
The Cayman S was powered by a 3.4-litre flat-six mated to a 6-speed manualtransaxle, a 2.7-litre engine with a 5-speed transmission was standard for the base model. An electronically controlled 5-speed automatic (Tiptronic) was also available on the S and base models.
The Boxster and Boxster S models received a facelift in 2008. Changes included an increase in engine displacement to 2.9-litre for the Boxster, incorporation of Direct Fuel Injection (DFI) for the Boxster S. Both models now came standard with a new 6-speed manual gearbox and were available with a 7-speed Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) dual clutch gearbox. Cosmetic changes included new head and tail lights, larger front air intakes with incorporated day time running lights, and an altered lower rear end flanked by twin diffusers.
A facelift of the Porsche Cayman followed in February 2009. As with the Boxster, the base Cayman's engine displacement was increased to 2.9-litre while the Cayman S gained direct injection. Both the Cayman and Cayman S maintained a 7 kW (10 PS; 9 hp) power advantage over their roadster sibling, the Boxster. A limited slip differential was now a factory option.
Third generation: Boxster/Cayman (981) (2012–2016)
Main article: Porsche 981
The third-generation Boxster (internally known as the 981) was announced on 13 March 2012 at the Geneva Motor Show with sales starting in early summer 2012. The 981 Boxster reflects the new design language from the 911 (991) and 918, and features new and revised engine and transmission specifications. Together with a new body, the type 981 Boxster features a new, 40 per cent more torsionally rigid chassis, the front track is 40 mm (2 in) wider, the rear 18 mm (1 in) wider and the wheelbase extended by 60 mm (2 in), but with a small weight reduction of up to 35 kg (77 lb) compared to the previous type 987 Boxster.
The standard Boxster was fitted with a new 2.7-litre flat-6 engine, and the Boxster S was fitted with the existing 3.4-litre engine but with revised performance. Both engines are equipped with a 6-speed manual gearbox and an optional 7-speed reworked PDK. Both manual and automatic models were available with several technical options including Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) and a Sport Chrono Package that includes active transmission mounts, and makes the PDK-equipped model even faster. Porsche claimed that the new generation Boxster provides fuel savings of 15% over the outgoing model.
The range was expanded in March 2014 with the addition of the GTS derivative, with slightly altered front and rear bumpers and an additional 11 kW (15 PS; 15 hp) from the 3.4-litre engine.
The second generation Cayman was unveiled at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show. The production version of the 981 Cayman was released as a 2014 model in the spring of 2013. The new car was available in both the standard trim with a 2.7-litre engine, and in the S trim with a 3.4-litre engine. Both versions are available with either a 6-speed manual or a dual-clutch 7-speed PDK transmission.
The 981 Cayman features upgrades including a new body, a longer wheelbase, a wider front track, electric steering, and a redesigned interior that matches the firm's contemporary 911 models.
The new model gained acclaim in the motoring press as one of the best handling sports cars at any price, due to its-mid engine layout and driving dynamics. The Cayman S benefits from the same engine and running gear as Porsche's latest 3.4-litre version of the 911. 
Fourth generation: 718 Boxster/Cayman (982) (2016–present)
Main article: Porsche 982
With the new 982-generation, the marketing designation of the Boxster and Cayman was changed to Porsche 718, a nod to Porsche's racing heritage that won the Targa Florio race in 1959 and 1960. Because the 718 Cayman / Boxster has lost two cylinders, going from a naturally aspirated flat-6 engine to a turbocharged flat-4 engine, the name is meant to evoke a racing series that was won by a light car which outmaneuvered the cars with more powerful engines.
The timeline of the 718 release started in 2016, with first model availability scheduled for June. The 718 base models featured two new horizontally-opposed flat-4 turbocharged engines of 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre displacements with increased torque and horsepower along with lower fuel consumption. The S model's turbocharger utilises Variable Turbine Geometry (VTG) technology. The Boxster S could accelerate from 0–97 km/h (60 mph) in 4.1 seconds, and the Cayman S in 3.9 seconds. In October 2017, the GTS models were announced with their 2.5-litre engines upgraded to 272 kW (370 PS; 365 hp).
In 2020, the GTS 4.0 model of both the Boxster and the Cayman was released with a new engine, a slightly de-tuned version of the 4.0-litre naturally aspirated six-cylinder boxer engine found in the GT4. In the GTS 4.0 trim the engine is rated at 294 kW (400 PS; 394 hp) and 420 N⋅m (310 lb⋅ft) of torque. The GTS comes standard with a six-speed manual gearbox and a mechanical limited slip differential.
The exterior of the 718 Boxster and Cayman is very similar to the third generation, in fact more of an evolution than a redesign. The most notable changes are to the rear of the car, which now has a long black-trim bar across the rear connecting the two taillights. The headlights and bumper are also heavily reworked. On the sides, the mirrors have been redesigned, taking cue from the SportDesign mirrors on the GT3. Porsche also began offering additional exterior color options including Miami Blue, Chalk, and Graphite Blue Metallic.
The interior remains very similar to the 981 Cayman / Boxster and the 991.2 generation of the Porsche 911. The main change is the new PCM 4.0 infotainment system, which replaces the PCM 3.1. The steering wheel comes with a mode selector switch that includes a selection of Sports and Sports Plus driving modes, resulting in snappier throttle response at the cost of fuel efficiency. Overall, the most prominent design features of the 981 Cayman / Boxster remain, including large air induction ports on the side, and the prominent horizontal aluminum piece used for adding oil and coolant in the trunk.
Despite the loss of two cylinders, the 718 Cayman / Boxster are mechanically superior to the 981 model; acceleration is faster and steering is improved according to Top Gear and Motor Trend. In spite of the view of some that the new engine "cheapens the experience", the 718 Cayman was declared Motor Trend's 2nd best Drivers car in 2017, which praised the car's handling and throttle response. Giving the award, Miguel Cortina noted, "The suspension is just what you want to feel in a car like this—stiff, sporty, rigid. You get a very good sense of what is happening on the road."
- Jack Baldwin of GTSport Racing campaigns a Porsche Cayman S in the Pirelli World Challenge. GTSport Racing is the world's most successful Cayman program as Baldwin has scored 8 wins and over a dozen podium finishes in his Porsche Cayman S campaign, including two second place Championship finishes (2013, 2014) and one third place Championship finish (2012).
- Ernie Jakubowski won race 10 of the 2010 SCCA World Challenge event at Virginia International Raceway in the GTS class.
- One-make Cayman Cup club racing championships are run in France and Italy.
- BGB Motorsports entered two Caymans in the 2010 Continental Challenge season.
- The 2013 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, Caymans took the podiums in the GX class, where it placed 1, 2 and 3. This competition was the Cayman platform's first endurance race in the U.S., the race was won by car number 16 of Napleton Racing, driven by David Donohue, Shane Lewis, Jim Norman, and Nelson Canache. Bullet Racing finished second and third place went to BGB. It gave Porsche its 75th class victory and the title of the marque with the most wins in the series.
- PROsport Performance campaigned multiple Cayman PRO4s (previously called Cayman SP) in the GT4 European Series, winning the Driver's and Teams' championship titles in 2016. PROsport Performance also won the C (GT4) class at the 2017 Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour. The final evolution of the PROsport Performance Cayman PRO4 GT4 is based on the 981 Cayman S, equipped with a PDK transmission, added 981 Cayman GT4 side air scoops, and spliced with the front end of the 991 Porsche GT3 Cup chassis. The car produced approximately 380 hp with a 3.4 L engine. This car competed as another Porsche with the 981 Cayman GT4 Clubsport in the GT4 class of various motorsports competitions.
- The Cayman GT4 Clubsport has raced since 2016 in the GT4 European Series, British GT Championship GT4-class, Dunlop Britcar Endurance Championship, the Italian GT Championship in the Cayman-class, the Cayman GT4 Trophy by Manthey-Racing at the Nürburgring Nordschleife as part of the VLN endurance championship, the 24 Hours Nürburgring, the Pirelli World Challenge GTS-class, the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge GS-class, the 24H Series, and since 2017 in the FFSA GT Championship, Blancpain GT Series Asia GT4-class and Bathurst 12 Hour.
- For the 2021 Trans-Am Series, a modified 2016 Porsche Cayman GT4 was entered by Kryptauri Racing with Rob Crocker as the driver. Featuring a 3.8-liter 911 Carrera GTS engine complete with Porsche's OEM X51 power package upgrades, this modified Cayman GT4 produces approximately 400 horsepower to the rear wheels. It was built to compete in Trans-Am's Super GT category.
The Boxster and Cayman received a number of international and regional awards:
- Autocar: Best Roadster in the World, Five Star Car for the Boxster GT4 in 2016
- Auto Express: 2007 & 2006 Greatest Drives & Best Sporting Car, 2012 Roadster of the Year
- Automobile: All Stars Award nine times including 2007, 2010 and 2012
- Autoweek: 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show Editors' Best in Show
- Car and Driver: On the 10Best list 21 times, from 1998 through 2003, and 2006 through 2020.
- evo: Magazine's recommended buy in the Sports Car category since the model's introduction. Included in the lists (without order) Best performance cars 2014, Best sportscars 2017. Winner evo Car of the Year 2015 (Cayman GT4).
- J.D. Power: Highest ranked in Compact Premium Sporty Car, Initial Quality Study 2006, 2007, 2013, 2014, 2015, and Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016
- Motor Authority – Best Car To Buy 2014
- Motor Trend: 2009 Best Driver's Car
- Playboy Magazine: 2006 Car of the Year
- Scottish Car of the Year: 2012 Best Drop Top
- South African Car of the Year: 2013, 2014
- Top Gear – 2016 Sports Car of the Year.
- What Car?: 2015 Sports Car of the Year
- World Car of the Year: World Performance Car in 2006, 2013 and 2017.
Mechanical issues and lawsuit
Boxster models manufactured between 4 May 2001 and 21 February 2005 have suffered engine failure due to a fault with the intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing, which resulted in a class action lawsuit against Porsche Cars North America (referred to as Eisen v. Porsche Cars North America). A settlement was agreed in March 2013, subject to court approval. Some say IMS bearing failure issues are not limited to the model years covered in the settlement, or to the Boxster.
On March 5, 2019, Porsche issued a recall on 14,388 718 Caymans and Boxsters, due to a luggage compartment bracket that could puncture the fuel tank in certain collision instances.
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(Pictured above: the original Porsche Boxster clay model in all its painted glory.)
This past December, Porsche unleashed a surprising and somewhat befuddling announcement upon the car world: In addition to changing the name of its mid-engine roadster to the 718 Boxster, the company revealed that the car's naturally aspirated flat-sixes would be replaced with turbocharged fours. The expected hand wringing and hair pulling ensued: A turbocharged four?! What is this, a Saab?
But once the initial shock subsided, the changes made sense. Increasingly strict emissions and fuel economy standards have pushed Porsche, like so many others, toward turbocharging across its lineup. The plumbing for the new turbocharged six developed for the 911 won't fit into the Boxster's engine bay, so running six cylinders in both cars as Porsche has done in the past is out. A blown four does fit, however, and it recalls one of the earliest Porsche racing models.
The mid-engine, four-cylinder Porsche 718 RSK racers from the late 1950s and early 60s captured numerous podium finishes and class wins on circuits such as Le Mans and Sebring, as well as an overall victory at the 1959 Targa Florio—ahead of Ferrari's V12s. With a lineage traceable to the first days of Porsche's illustrious motorsports history, the 718 name connects Porsche's storied four-cylinder past with the Boxster's four-cylinder future. And in that regard, with this year being the 20th anniversary of the Boxster, the changes seem a fitting transition out of the first two decades of the sports car responsible for saving the brand.
Yes, saving the brand.
To the Brink and Back
Given Porsche's high-flying success today, it's easy to forget the company was on the verge of bankruptcy back in the early 1990s. In fact, Porsche's annual sales had fallen from over 50,000 units in 1986 to 14,000 in 1993, and only 3000 of those sales were in the U.S. Among the chief causes for this decline were a faltering U.S. economy and Porsche's bloated production process. The latter of which was steadily driving prices higher at the worst possible time.
To turn things around, Porsche needed a new, affordable model to replace the aging 924/944/968 platform. For inspiration, it looked to the success Mazda was having with the Miata. Introduced in 1989, Mazda's sports car had proven there was a strong market for two-seat roadsters. So Stuttgart decided to do something similar—but with a Porsche twist. This new car would be a mid-engine roadster recalling the 550 Spyder of the 1950s.
Hans-Juergen Woehler is a 31-year veteran of Porsche who served as lead development engineer for the original Boxster. "The mid-engine concept offered a high potential for optimal dynamic performance and is typical for sports cars—hence, it was a good fit for Porsche," Woehler said in an email. "The segment for roadsters was growing when the 986 (Boxster's internal model designation) was conceived and developed, so it proved to be an opportune time to enter it."
While the management team at Porsche agreed that a relatively inexpensive roadster was what the company needed, it knew it had to find a more efficient way to build the car. In 1992, Porsche turned to former Toyota engineers to help implement the Japanese company's "just-in-time" production method. Dictating the complete elimination of waste, the philosophy promotes building only what is needed, when it's needed, and in the exact amount needed. This includes parts procurement as well. Following these guidelines, Toyota had eliminated inconsistencies and inefficiencies, resulting in better productivity and lower costs.
At the time, Porsche's manufacturing process was a complete mess. According to a 1996 New York Times story, engineers would have to sift through parts bins and climb ladders to search shelves while building a single car. The impact of the Toyota team was swift and evident. After instituting leaner production methods, Porsche said it had reduced the assembly time for one car from 120 hours to 72, and the number of errors per car had fallen an astounding 50 percent.
"The suggestions we received from Toyota and the improvements we made streamlining the production process led to significant advantages," Woehler said. "They also helped improve our competitiveness in the industry."
Porsche's embracing of cost-conscious production measures raised red flags for purists.
But Porsche's embracing of cost-conscious production measures raised red flags for purists. Further fueling this apprehension was the fact that these efforts also meant the 986 and the 996, the first of the liquid-cooled 911s, were co-developed. The car's engines were largely the same, save displacement, and to the casual observer, the 986 and 996 were virtually identical from the nose to the dash. Most notable among the derided similarities are the "fried-egg" headlights abhorred by many Porsche enthusiasts. While Porsche thought this synergy gave the Boxster more legitimacy, traditionalists viewed the Boxster as the cheap car responsible for dumbing down the 911. Of course, Woehler disagrees with these sentiments.
"Yes, the 986 and 996 were designed at the same time and were engineered together," Woehler said. "However, key components were different. For example, the 986 had three primary instruments instead of the five the 996 had. Furthermore, the front fascias were different, and the 996's windshield was larger."
The 996 was also considerably more powerful. After all, Porsche couldn't have its upstart sports car blowing away its highly revered (and more expensive) older sibling. Considering the handling advantages of the Boxster's mid-engine platform over the 911's rear-engine design, with sufficient power this could have been entirely possible. Because of this, throughout most of the Boxster's lifetime, Porsche has had to make a special effort to keep the roadster in its proper place within the company's lineup. So, behind the 911.
Despite all of this, the Boxster was a runaway success. Between 1996 and 2003, the Boxster was Porsche's best-selling model until the Cayenne came along. And by 2007, buoyed by a growing lineup, Porsche had become the most profitable automobile manufacturer in the industry on a per-unit basis. So, love it or hate it, the Boxster got the job done, and it did so while maintaining Porsche's core principles.
"My key goals were to provide a maximum amount of emotion, driving pleasure, and performance," Woehler said. "That the Boxster is regarded as the benchmark in its segment in these areas and has received many international awards is very gratifying."
The Evolution of the Boxster
The Porsche Boxster concept made its debut at the 1993 Detroit Auto Show. Designed by Harm Lagaay, the car was reminiscent of the 550 Spyder (from which the 718 RSK was developed) and reflected the evolutionary nature of Porsche's styling. A conjunction of the words "boxer" (for the engine configuration) and "roadster" (as it was a two-seat convertible), the Boxster immediately fired enthusiast's imaginations. Fanning those flames into an all-out conflagration, Porsche's reps promised to bring it to market with the concept's styling largely intact.
Three years later, the production Boxster made its official European debut with only minor detail changes. The first new model from Porsche in 18 years, the 986 was only the sixth in the entire history of the company (following the 356, 911, 914, 924, and 928). Americans had to wait until 1997 to get our turn behind the wheel, but when the Boxster finally arrived, it was met with waves of adulation, including from Road & Track.
"I love the car's lines and the fact its look is reminiscent of the 550 Spyder and the Porsche RSK," Joe Rusz, R&T's then editor-at-large and resident Porschephile, wrote in the March 1997 issue. Declaring the torque curve "as flat as year-old beer," Rusz marveled at the way the liquid-cooled engine somehow even sounded like Porsche's air-cooled, horizontally opposed six. He also praised the Boxster's handling. "Pitch this Porsche into a corner and you'll discover why proper racing cars have the engine in the middle, or at least behind the driver and ahead of the rear axle for balance, optimal grip, and the ability to overlook a driver error or two."
With a curb weight of 2756 pounds, the original Boxster featured a 201-hp, 2.5-liter aluminum engine delivering 181 lb-ft of torque. Redline was 6700 rpm. It ran double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and a dry-sump oil-circulation system. A five-speed manual transmission was standard equipment; Porsche's five-speed Tiptronic S automatic with shift buttons on the steering wheel was an option.
In 2000, the Boxster got its first upgrades. Responding to enthusiasts clamoring for more power, the engineering team upped engine displacement to 2.7 liters, delivering 217 horses. More importantly, torque output was increased to 192 lb-ft, giving the Boxster better tractability at low revs.
The same year brought the debut of the Boxster S, an even sportier version of the base model. Paired with a six-speed manual transmission, the car's 3.2-liter engine made 250 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque. With its upgraded suspension system and a set of 17-inch wheels from the 996, the Boxster S clipped apexes with considerably more resolve. Braking was also improved with larger cross-drilled brakes from the Carrera. The bigger engine required additional cooling, so a third radiator was added, necessitating the signature opening in the lower front fascia. A set of twin tailpipes further distinguished the design.
"There's a great oneness between driver and machine with the Boxster S, even at the trailing edge of its handling envelope," wrote Douglas Kott, then R&T's former executive editor, in the September 2000 issue. "You're never compensating for an inadequacy, or wrestling with a shortcoming; you're just guiding it, pure and simple."
By 2003, Porsche had sold more than 120,000 copies of the Boxster, and accolades were near universal.
By 2003, Porsche had sold more than 120,000 copies of the Boxster, and accolades were near universal. But competition in the segment had heated up significantly. To fend off the Mercedes-Benz SLK and BMW Z3, Porsche upgraded the standard Boxster's 2.7-liter engine to 225 horsepower, and bumped the S to 258. Fuel consumption was reduced by two percent for both engines. To improve handling, the base car borrowed the Boxster S's springs and shocks, which meant that the S now needed longer and thicker stabilizer bars to help maintain some distance between the two models. Both cars also got lighter wheels.
To close out the first generation of the Boxster, Porsche offered a 264-hp 550 Spyder 50th Anniversary car for 2004. Based on the Boxster S, 1953 cars (reflecting the year the 550 Spyder was shown at the Paris Motor Show) were outfitted in GT silver metallic paint with cocoa brown full-leather interiors, a sport exhaust system, and Porsche's M030 suspension package.
Fittingly, the second-generation Boxster, designated 987, was shown at the Paris Motor Show in 2004. Introduced as a 2005 model, it was upgraded in every way. The look was more assertive , with larger air intakes to accommodate the power increases and pronounced fender lines borrowed from the Carerra GT supercar. The base model 987 made 240 horsepower from its 2.7-liter flat-six, while the 3.2-liter engine in the S was increased to 280 horsepower. A variety of suspension upgrades, including the first application of Porsche Active Suspension Management to the Boxster, improved handling.
At this point, the Boxster was considered a success, but some of the earlier cost-cutting and efficiency measures had come back to bite Porsche. One issue was that early versions of the shared M96 engine in both the 986 and the 996 had an uncommon but particularly disastrous bearing failure, plaguing both car's reputations. Customers were also complaining about the Boxster's interior quality. Handsome enough at first glance, after some time, the price-conscious plastics did not live up to the quality expected of Porsche. This discontent was quelled by the 987's revised passenger compartment. Prominent elements included a more premium-looking dash treatment with oval HVAC outlets, a three-spoke steering wheel, a revised center console, and a set of 911-style seats.
"This is a wonderful sports car, now with a bit more style and power," wroteR&T editor-in-chief emeritus Thomas L. Bryant of the 2005 Boxster S. "The engine winds beautifully, pulls strongly through the rev band, and the gearbox is excellent."
A year later, following the second-generation Boxster's success, Porsche debuted the roadster's hardtop Cayman S sibling with a 295-hp, 3.4-liter flat-six featuring variable valve timing (VarioCam Plus in Porsche-speak). This engine would make its way into the 2007 Boxster S. The same year, VarioCam was applied to the standard Boxster's 2.7-liter engine, raising its output to 245 horsepower.
If you've been reading closely, by now you might have noticed that a limited edition Boxster S typically foreshadowed significant revisions. In this case, the 2008 Boxster RS 60 Spyder marked a turning point in the 987's run. The first Boxster to cross the 300-hp threshold, its GT silver paint was accompanied by a full red leather interior treatment, 19-inch wheels, Porsche Active Suspension Management, and a freer flowing exhaust system. Output was 303 horsepower.
For 2009, with competitors like Nissan's 350Z delivering 300-plus horsepower for considerably less money, Porsche had to up the Boxster's swagger yet again. Direct fuel injection, the first 987 application of Porsche's seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automated manual gearbox, and a displacement increase to 2.9 liters for the base car brought the 2009 Porsche Boxster models to market with significantly more muscle. At 255 horsepower, the standard Boxster surpassed the original Boxster S in terms of output for the first time. Meanwhile, the 2009 Boxster S (which stayed at 3.4 liters) was up to 310 horsepower.
"The new car has even more grip, speed and stability, and the ultra-fast PDK gearbox makes the S a superb track-capable machine for drivers of all levels of experience," wrote R&T's then senior technical editor, Patrick Hong, in our first drive review of the 2009 Boxster S.
Having taken the 987's platform just about as far as it could go, Porsche showed a lightweight 320-hp Spyder at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show. Officially introduced in 2011, the 987 Spyder was significantly pared down, losing its top mechanism, audio system, interior door handles, glove box, and storage compartments. Further weight reductions were accomplished through the use of aluminum door skins, an aluminum rear deck, carbon fiber seats, and lightweight wheels. Unlike previous Spyder editions however, this Boxster Spyder was considered a regular production model. But once again, change was coming.
The 2013 Porsche Boxster was launched under the 981 model designation. Improvements included better fuel economy, less weight, revised suspension systems, and updated styling inside and out. The car got new engines and transmissions too. While the standard 981 saw a displacement decrease to 2.7-liters, output increased to 265 horsepower. It also received a six-speed manual transmission for the first time. For Boxster S, a revised 3.4-liter flat-six produced 315 horsepower and a singularly addictive sound.
"The 2013 Boxster S is sweet and viceless, but the powertrain is the heart of the package," wroteR&T contributor Steven Cole Smith after testing the car. "There are a lot of 'variables' in this engine—among them VarioCam Plus variable valve timing and lift, and the Variable Resonance intake manifold. At full acceleration, the exhaust note is intoxicating, as all of these variables line up to create a yowl reminiscent of something far more exotic."
Completely eclipsing the competition, an even faster Boxster GTS arrived two years later with a 330-hp version of the 3.4-liter engine. Front and rear fascias with blacked-out elements, 20-inch wheels, and an upgraded interior treatment distinguished its appearance. Even with this extra potency, the underlying nature of the platform shined. "It has that characteristic mid-engine balance, and it places a powerful and pleasant-sounding flat-six behind you," observed former R&T editor David Gluckman.
Finally, just when it seemed the world had seen the ultimate Boxster, Porsche delivered the 981 Spyder. In addition to incorporating the weight-saving strategies of the 987 Spyder from 2011, the 981 got the 3.8-liter engine from the Carrera S—the largest displacement powerplant ever fitted to a Boxster. This gave the Spyder 375 hp and a 180-mph top speed. The suspension system was substantially upgraded, the steering was yanked from the 911 Turbo, and the Carrera S also chipped in its brakes. The Boxster faithful had long asked for 911-levels of power, and for what turned out to be six-cylinder Boxster's swan song, Porsche delivered—hugely.
"The Spyder is compliant, balanced and moves beautifully," wrote former R&T editor Max Prince, "It's also fluid, and hugely forgiving without feeling too sanitized. Hot-rodding is easy, and a pumped-up Boxster is great. But one that's had each needless pound, every malignant ounce, carefully extracted? That's an archetype for the ages."
Which brings us back to the upcoming 2017 Porsche 718 Boxsters. The flat-sixes are done, replaced by horizontally opposed fours. The base model 718 makes 300 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque from 2.0 liters. The 718 Boxster S puts out 350 horsepower and 309 lb-ft from 2.5 liters. In addition to a 100-hp increase over the original Boxster S and nearly as much over the original standard Boxster, both turbo fours make 35 horsepower more than the six-cylinder engines they replace.
There's no question the Boxster's screaming flat-six will be missed, but our first experience with the growling turbocharged 718s has us intrigued rather than worried about Porsche's newest mid-engine roadster. More its own car than ever before, the 718 will likely prove excellent in the new configuration, though the Boxster's importance to Porsche's bottom line has certainly diminished.
Ironically enough, once the car tasked with saving the company, the Boxster is now one of Porsche's lowest volume sellers. Shifts in consumer demands and industry trends has seen it far surpassed in sales by the Cayenne—the vehicle now largely responsible for fueling the Porsche engine—and even its 911 sibling. Big people movers are what's selling, and interest in roadsters is waning. But Porsche as a whole is thriving, a far cry from the company once on the brink of bankruptcy, when it decided that maybe an affordable, mid-engine roadster could help turn the company around.
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