The Porsche Boxster is probably the only way many of us could ever afford anything that gets close to being called exotic. It comes from a company that is one of the true legends of the car world. And even though its most fabled product is the rear-engined 911, the mid-engined (and less powerful) Boxster has a talented enough chassis to engage a serious driver and enough soft-top style to satisfy the Sunday adventurer.
Porsche 986 (1996-2004)
The first-generation model, known in the factory as 986, arrived in 1996. It came with a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed 6-cylinder (a hallmark Porsche engine configuration) that made 204 horsepower and 181 lb-ft. Power goes to the rear wheels by way of a 5-speed manual transmission or a 5-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission. In 2000, the engine was boosted to 2.7 liters, 217 hp and 192 lb-ft.
The Boxster S launched that same year, initially with 250 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque from a 3.2-liter flat-6 and another ratio in its manual transmission. The differences in suspension between a regular model and the S is that the latter has stiffer springs (by 25 percent at the front, 23 percent in the rear), retuned shock-absorber damping, longer rear lower control arms and larger wheel bearings — all to improve stability during high-speed cornering.
The regular Boxster saw yet another output rise in 2003, going up to 228 hp and 192 lb-ft, while the S went up to 258 hp and 229 lb-ft. The plastic rear window was also replaced by a glass item, and the previously yellow lens over the headlamp’s turn signal was changed to a clear one.
Early 2.5 engines had issues with cylinder liners — and other things. Owners should check regularly for oil leaks because the rear main oil seal will fail. It’s not an expensive part, but accessing it means removing the rear bumper, exhaust, transmission and flywheel. So labor costs are significant, to say the least.
Then there’s the bearing on the intermediate shaft. Really early engines had a tough dual-row bearing, which was changed to a notoriously problematic single-row bearing. If, or when, that fails, it’s a possible engine rebuild. In 2005, it was changed again to a larger and more reliable single-row bearing. When it’s time to renew the clutch, get that bearing checked and replaced if necessary. Swap the main oil seal at the same time, while the car’s in the shop.
Cylinder heads have been known to crack, water pumps have occasionally failed, and the odd ignition switch has gone flaky. This all sounds daunting, but it’s not really. It’s highly likely that most of these troubles have already been fixed by previous owners. With proper maintenance, these engines can handle high mileage. Find a Porsche 986 for sale
Porsche 987 (2005-2012)
This model has the factory code 987, which might seem like a no-brainer, but Porsche doesn’t always follow logic with its internal numbering systems, and the current (third) generation is designated 981.
The second-generation model was evolutionary. The car still uses the same basic platform as the 986, but the styling is slightly different and the technology is updated. Not only is there the option of Porsche’s 7-speed double-clutch semiautomatic transmission, but the engines also benefit from direct fuel injection for greater efficiency.
The regular model first enjoyed 240 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque from its 2.7-liter engine, and the 3.2-liter unit in the S brought 280 hp and 236 lb-ft. But it wasn’t long (2007) until affairs improved to 245 hp/201 lb-ft and 295 hp/251 lb-ft respectively.
One of the things people love about Porsche is that the company doesn’t rest on its laurels, not even with its least expensive model. So no one will be shocked to learn that the engines grew even bigger in 2009 to coincide with a midcycle refresh. The regular version went up to 2.9 liters with 255 hp and 214 lb-ft of torque, and the S went up to 3.4 liters with 310 hp and 265 lb-ft.
There’s also a lighter, more powerful version called the Boxster Spyder, which makes 320 hp and 273 lb-ft, that came out in 2011. But this is quite rare and has more of a niche appeal.
Thankfully, the engine problems of the first-generation model do not carry over into the second. Apart from the usual used-car areas such as service history, accident repairs, uneven tire wear, etc., just keep an eye out for any broken suspension springs. These should be easy to spot because one corner of the car might be lower than the others or there will be a noticeable noise during the test drive. Find a Porsche 987 for sale
Porsche 981 (2013-2016)
A third-generation Boxster known internally as the 981 came out in 2013. It had styling inspired by the new (at the time) 991 and the 918 hybrid hypercar but at a more accessible price point. It boasted a 40 percent more right chassis and a longer wheelbase than its predecessor while also cutting out about 77 lbs of weight.
This was the final generation of the Boxster that came standard with a six-cylinder engine. For that reason, it’s widely preferred by Porsche purists as the most modern Boxster that still carries that character and sound of a naturally aspirated flat-six engine. These are in a sweet spot of value right now and can be found in good condition for under $30,000. Find a Porsche 981 for sale
Porsche 982 (2017-Present)
The Porsche Boxster was updated for 2017 with a new look, new engines, and even a new name. Its name changes to the Porsche 718 available as the Boxster convertible or the Cayman coupe. The 718 name is a nod to a Porsche racecar from the late 1950s. The new 718 dropped the six-cylinder engine in favor of a turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine which made the Boxster faster and more efficient than its predecessor. Despite those advantages, some enthusiasts bemoaned the loss of the more characteristic six-cylinder.
The 718 also brought with it a technological upgrade for the Boxster. The interior and infotainment system were updated to make it a more modern luxury sports car without sacrificing performance. It still offers superb driving dynamics and if the number of cylinders doesn’t matter that much to you, it’s a great buy on the used market. Used examples are starting to get under the $50,000 mark. Find a Porsche 982 for sale
What to Look Out For on a Used Porsche Boxster
Porsches are generally pricey to buy and run, although a comprehensive prepurchase inspection is a smart investment. This is especially true if it includes a laser wheel alignment that can tell if the car’s been crashed and not repaired to standards.
There should be a small Lexan windbreak between the headrests, plus a couple of roll bar inserts. These are easy to steal when the car is parked with its top down, and driving roofless without them is not pleasant. Make sure the fabric roof is in a decent condition and that its open/close mechanism functions properly. Both sets of keys should be present and correct, along with tools and manuals. All of these items are expensive to replace. Dark marks in the trunk carpet could be evidence of a possible coolant reservoir leak, and brake discs need to be renewed with every third change of the pads — they can’t be resurfaced.
Which Porsche Boxster is Right for Me?
There are no bad generations of the Porsche Boxster and which one is right for you depends on a few things. If you’re looking for a low purchase price and you’re willing to pay high maintenance costs, then the first two generations of the Boxster offer the best value. If you want something a little more modern and insist on six cylinders, then the third-generation 981 is in the sweet spot. For the most agile performer with the most modern interior and technology, then a turbocharged 982 is outstanding, but still a little pricey.
It is possible to buy a 982 Porsche Boxster through the company’s certified pre-owned (CPO) program. This means that a car has been checked thoroughly by Porsche technicians and refurbished using genuine Porsche parts. This also provides peace of mind thanks to its 2-year/50,000-mile warranty.
Otherwise, don’t skimp on the homework, and make sure you have a clear idea of pricing. Some sellers will be optimistic about their cars’ value. Also, get as much information on the car as possible. Owning and properly maintaining a Boxster requires some commitment, but it repays the effort with a great driving experience. Find a Porsche Boxster for sale