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AutoTrader.com Used Car Review: 1997-2004 Porsche Boxster

Porsche's Entry-Level Sports Car

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Used 2003 Porsche Boxster
Used 2003 Porsche Boxster
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Used 2004 Porsche Boxster
Used 2004 Porsche Boxster
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author photo by John Rettie April 2007

Without a doubt, a Porsche is one of the most desirable sports cars on the market. There can be few car enthusiasts that haven't at one time or another dreamed of owning a Porsche.

What's more, compared to other exotics, such as Ferrari or Aston Martin, Porsches are relatively inexpensive. On the other hand they are more than a cut or two above a low-cost sports car such as a Mazda Miata or Honda S2000.

Since 1965 the Porsche 911 has been the mainstay of the Porsche family. However every decade or so Porsche introduces an "entry-level" model that is more affordable than the 911. Between 1975 and 1995 the 924/944/968 fulfilled this position in Porsche's lineup.

Few would disagree that the Boxster has admirably fulfilled this role since being first introduced in 1996 as a 1997 model.

Porsche created quite a sensation when it displayed its Boxster concept car at the Detroit Auto Show in 1993. It was a modern retro-look car harking back to the famous 550 Spyder from the 1950s. The Boxster gets its name from a combination of the classic Porsche horizontally-opposed six-cylinder boxer engine and its roadster body. Four years later the production version was introduced as Porsche's first all-new model in two decades. The production Boxster was fairly close in design to the concept.

From 1997 through 1999 there was one model on sale with a 2.5-liter dohc six-cylinder engine producing 201 hp. It was available with a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic with Tiptronic. Porsche has a history of continuously upgrading its models without changing the basic looks or altering their character, and the Boxster is no exception.

In 2000 the base Boxster got a more powerful 2.7-liter engine producing 217 hp. A more powerful Boxster S with a 3.2-liter engine, six-speed manual transmission and 18-inch wheels was introduced as an addition to the line. It also featured upgraded brakes and suspension. In 2001 an optional stability management system was offered.

The next significant upgrades came in 2003 with power output increased by 11 horsepower for the base model and 8 horsepower for the S engine. The rear plastic window was also replaced with a glass one.

The second generation Boxster hit the market in 2005. Although Porsche said it was more than 80% different from the previous model, it looked so similar that only Porsche aficionados could tell them apart. The major difference was a more refined interior and further increases in performance.

In 2007 the engines in the two models featured the VarioCam Plus giving another power boost for the base Boxster, taking it to 245 hp. Meanwhile the engine in the S was increased to 3.4-liters in capacity, upping its output to 295 horsepower. Incidentally, these latest specifications of the Boxster pretty closely match those of the Cayman, which was introduced in 2006 as a coupe version of the Boxster.

The Boxster continues as Porsche's entry-level model ,and yet it is regarded as one of the best all-round roadsters on the road, comparable to ones costing a lot more.

Test Drives
1. 1999 Porsche Boxster, Manual, 25,223 miles. Asking price: $24,500 (Dec. 2005)

Jeff is a 6 ft 2 in tall guy, in his late 50s, who recently retired after selling a computer company. He'd owned this Boxster since buying it new in 1999. The only reason for selling it was because he needed a small, easy to drive car for his mother-in-law, and he no longer needed a daily commuter car. Yes, that's right he used the Boxster as a commuter car, which just goes to show how the car is reliable and easy to drive. Fortunately he lives on a hillside with incredibly winding roads to and from his house — sports car territory if ever there was one.

With only just over 25,000 miles on it, the six-year-old car had a low mileage. Yet there were signs of wear and scuff marks on the leather near the roll bar and on the seat edges. The canvas top was slightly faded and the plastic rear window was turning opaque. The bodywork was in fine shape save for a couple of small dings.

A brief drive in the car with the top down on a 80-degree day confirmed this is still a fun car to drive. The roar from the totally hidden engine encouraged me to shift through gears in the ever-so-sweet gearbox at any opportunity. It reconfirmed my impressions from when I first drove a Boxster in 1996 — it's a delight to drive and an ideal car for anyone looking for a real sports car.

Overall Jeff was extremely happy with the car and enjoyed the driving experience most of all. He praised the car for having a decent amount of storage space for a two-seater. His major complaint was tire wear, and the only problem that had occurred during the six years of ownership was a completely seized engine at 11,000 miles. That sounds bad, which it was at the time, but Porsche replaced it with an all-new engine under warranty, as there were some problems with a few engines during that time period. He says the experience left him with a good feeling about Porsche's service and the company's commitment in ensuring he'd continue as a satisfied owner.

2. 2002 Porsche Boxster, Automatic, 24,773 miles. Approx. value: $27,000 (Mar. 2006)

"It's the ideal family car — once your kids have grown up and left home." That's what Jose, the 55+ owner of this Boxster, told me when I briefly test-drove his car. He bought the car new and says he's had absolutely no problems with the car. "Oil changes are pricey at $250, though."

He loves the top, as it is so easy to put up and down at the touch of a button, though he says the car is noisier than he'd like with the top up or down. He finds the power more than sufficient and has no complaints about the Tiptronic automatic transmission, as he does not feel it detracts from the car's performance. Like other Boxster owners, Jose is satisfied with the amount of storage space.

I found the car was fine to drive, although I'd far prefer a Boxster with a manual transmission. The tires were in need of balancing even though it looked as if they had half their tread left. There was also a slight squeak coming form the engine cover. Overall the car was in good condition though it could have done with a good cleaning — something it would need if it were for sale.

3. 2000 Porsche Boxster S, Manual, 56,834 miles. Approx. value: $26,000 (Dec 2006)

"I'm tall — 5ft 11 ½ ins and I can fit in it." Yes, Kim is another tall person who loves her Boxster. "It's a Porsche how can you not love a Porsche?" She goes on to describe how she enjoys driving her Boxster as "it sticks to the road like a go-kart" and "it's great having a convertible in California." She's more than happy that her car has a six-speed manual transmission. In fact she thinks "it's a travesty to buy a Porsche with an automatic."

Kim (37 yrs old) has owned her Boxster S for three years and says the only problem she's had was a bad air sensor that needed replacing. She says maintenance costs are higher than she'd like, but is not surprised.

The car is her daily driver, and she is pleased at how much room there is in the trunk at the rear and in the space under the hood up front. The lack of cupholders does not bother her as she feels they are not an important thing for a sports car. About her only complaint is a wish that her car had the glass rear window that was installed in the Boxster from 2003 on. When she buys her next Porsche she says she'll also avoid a black car again as it's so hard to keep clean.

This was certainly one nice car — despite being six years old, it was in excellent condition with no signs of wear, and it drove well with no squeaks or rattles.

Market Overview
The Porsche Boxster was an immediate hit after its introduction in 1996. Not surprisingly it also immediately started garnering numerous "car of the year" type awards from publications — ones that varied from car enthusiast magazines such as Automobile and Car and Driver, to mainstream ones like Newsweek and Business Week. Indeed, in recognition of its continuing "classic" appeal, the Boxster is one of only a handful of cars that has remained on Car and Driver's annual Ten Best list in most years since it's introduction.

Industry analysts credit the sales success of the Boxster in turning Porsche's fortunes around. The company was in financial problems at the beginning of the 1990s, and it desperately needed a successful car to complement sales of the iconic 911. In the US, sales of the Boxster ran about 1,000 per month outselling the 911 two to one during the first five years or so after the car was on the market. Since the introduction of the Cayenne and updated 911 models, the Boxster's sales have fallen. The addition of the Cayman in 2006 also caused demand for the Boxster to fall.

Apart from some serious engine and transmission problems that were largely taken care of under recalls in the first couple of years after the Boxster was introduced the car has turned in good ratings in the numerous quality satisfaction surveys. Indeed, in the prestigious J.D. Power and Associates surveys the Boxster has finished consistently among the best in its class in most years.

There is a demand for pre-owned Boxsters; consequently the rate of depreciation is not as great as that of other cars in the same price range.

The Porsche Boxster has to be high on the shopping list for anyone who dreams of owning a true sports car. Its mid-mounted engine helps it grip the road making it a fun car to drive along twisty roads, especially on warm days when the top can be lowered. Ideally it should be one with a manual transmission.

It is far from being a temperamental car, which makes it ideal for many uses including daily commuting, where it makes far more sense than an SUV, for example. Although it has a surprising amount of storage space in its two trunks, it's certainly not a family car.

On the downside, maintenance and repairs can be more costly than an ordinary sedan. In particular the Boxster is a difficult car for regular maintenance because the engine is buried in the middle of the car making access difficult. Fortunately, Boxsters manufactured since 1999 appear to have an above average record of reliability. As always a careful check of maintenance records and a thorough check of possible accident repairs should be made before investing in a sports car like the Boxster.

In the long run a future collectible classic car such as the Boxster will tend to hold its value much better than an ordinary car that will be scrapped rather than restored when it reaches the end of its natural life.

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Used 2003 Porsche Boxster
Used 2003 Porsche Boxster
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Used 2004 Porsche Boxster
Used 2004 Porsche Boxster
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
AutoTrader.com Used Car Review: 1997-2004 Porsche Boxster - Autotrader