Celebrating 20 years of the Porsche Boxster
Monday, February 13, 2017
This year marks the 20th year of production of the Porsche Boxster. Over time, the mid-engined roadster has evolved into quite a machine, but let's go back to the beginning and take a closer look at its transformation.
It all began in 1993 — four years before the Boxster's model year debut.
The Boxster first appeared at the 1993 Detroit Auto Show in concept form. The Boxster concept resembles the first-generation car quite a bit, but elements like the side air-intakes and seats and some of the lines were changed for the production car. Still, it does look like the final 1997 product.
The styling of the Boxster was to bring back memories of the legendary 550 Spyder. Like the Porsche 550 Spyder, the Boxster is a mid-engined roadster. Unlike the 550, the Boxster features modern creature comforts, radiators and a flat-six engine. Still, there was a family resemblance between the two vehicles, which gave the Boxster an undeniably Porsche look.
When the Boxster first appeared, it replaced the 924/944/968 front-engined cars of the late '70s, '80s and '90s. Those cars had unique styling, and — outside of the 968 — didn't feature the flowing high fender arches that most Porsche road cars have incorporated.
From the front all the way to the A pillars, the 986 Boxster resembled the 996 generation 911 that would be released a few years later. This helped give the entry-level sports car a similar look (at least from the front) to that of its big brother.
For 1997, the 986 generation Boxster had a 201 horsepower 2.5-liter, flat-six engine sitting in the middle. For the manual transmission model, Porsche quoted the 0-60 mph time as 6.7 seconds, but magazines of the time managed times as good a 6 seconds flat.
While the straight-line speed was good for the time, the Boxster really shows its value in the corners. Thanks to the natural balance of the mid-engined layout, cornering with a lateral force of up to 0.94 g was possible.
For 1997, the 986 generation Boxster had a 201 horsepower 2.5-liter, flat-six engine sitting in the middle. (Image: David Hurth)
While already a good performer, the 986 generation released the more potent S model for the 2000 model year. The horsepower of the S model went up to 250, with displacement of the flat-six going up to 3.2 liters.
Beyond more power, the Boxster S received brake and suspension upgrades as well as a six-speed transmission for the manual car. The 0-60 mph time for the S model went down to 5.8 seconds, and the top speed went all the way to 161 mph — well over the 149 mph in the previous year's Boxster.
The 986 saw improvements through the rest of its development, such as a rear glass window replacing the plastic window, revised head and taillights and interior improvements. In 2000, the standard Boxster saw its engine grow from 2.5 liters to 2.7 liters, which resulted in a slight horsepower bump to 217 horses.
The 987 generation hit showrooms for the 2005 model year. From the outside, the 987 looked largely the same as the previous generation, with the most noticeable exterior changes being the larger side air vents and the reshaped headlights. While the headlights of the 986 were not always popular, the new lights had a shape similar to the Porsche Carrera GT.
Inside were bigger changes, as elements such as the dash and center console underwent a full redesign. Where many had criticized the 986 interior for having too much visible plastic trim, inside the 987 the driver found a more upscale feel.
By the time the 987 Boxster made its way to showrooms, the standard 2.7-liter car now produced 240 horsepower, and the 3.2-liter S was at 280 horses. The result was a 0-60 mph time of 6.2 seconds for the standard model, and the S could launch from 0-60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. For the 2007 model year, the 987 S power plant grew to 3.4 liters, which helped lower the 0-60 mph time down to 5.4 seconds from the horsepower increase to 291 mph.
By the time the 987 Boxster made its way to showrooms, the standard 2.7-liter car now produced 240 horsepower, and the 3.2-liter S was at 280 horses. (Image: Porsche)
The 987 received a facelift for the 2008 model year. The Boxster S engine now featured direct fuel injection (DFI), which raised the available horsepower to 310. The standard car grew in displacement to 2.9 liters with 255 horses on tap.
The Boxster could now be ordered with the PDK seven-speed dual clutch transmission for even faster shifts than the manual transmission. Where the outgoing Tiptronic automatic transmission made the 0-60 mph time about a second slower than the manual, the PDK was a few tenths of a second faster than the six-speed manual.
The facelift wasn't just under the skin; it also got reworked headlights and taillights and now came with daytime running lights. The front fascia now included larger air intakes, and the lower rear end was flanked by twin diffusers.
The Boxster had matured into a quick machine on both the straights and corners, but the Boxster Spyder was the best 987 you could buy. Styling stood out from the standard Boxster and Boxster S thanks to the two rear power domes and the unique top.
The 987 Boxster Spyder was all about lightness. It was as pure a car as money could buy with no frills — just you and the road. Things like the stereo and air conditioning were removed (although they could be added back), and the top was a manual job to remove the need for a power motor. Even the door handle was replaced by a fabric strap.
Power for the Spyder was increased slightly, putting the available power up to 320 horses. What made the Boxster Spyder so special was not any one change; it was the sum of the changes. The result was a car that was sharp and pure, and little else felt like it on the road.
The Boxster had matured into a quick machine on both the straights and corners, but the Boxster Spyder was the best 987 you could buy. (Image: Porsche)
With the 987 generation, the Cayman was also introduced. The hard-top mid-engined Porsche sat above the Boxster in the model lineup, but below the 911. While the Boxster and Cayman had some differences, in the mind of most they were closely related.
In 2012, the 981 generation Boxster hit showrooms. The new Boxster went under the knife with some major styling changes. The most noticeable were the large air intakes behind the front doors and the ducktail style spoiler. The front fascia and rear diffuser were reworked as were the fender lines and the lights.
Compared to previous generations, the Boxster now looked more masculine and purposeful. While it always looked special, it now had a more exotic feel.
Along with the new look, a new chassis replaced the already good one used by previous Boxsters. The result was a lighter chassis that was also 40 percent more rigid. The front track was 40mm wider and the rear 18mm wider. The wheelbase was also extended by 60mm.
The 987 generation may have ended with a 2.9-liter flat-six engine for the standard car, but the 981 generation went back to the 2.7-liter power plant. In standard form, it offered 261 horsepower. The S model retained the 3.4-liter engine with power raising to 315 horses.
The 987 generation may have ended with a 2.9-liter flat-six engine for the standard car, but the 981 generation went back to the 2.7-liter power plant. (Image: Porsche)
For the 981 generation, the wizardry known as "torque vectoring" was available as an option, as was the Sports Chrono Package. Either engine could be mated to a six-speed manual or the seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission.
All of this gave the standard Boxster a 0-60 mph time of 5.2 seconds, and the Boxster S could do it in just 4.5 seconds when the PDK transmission was optioned along with the Sport Chrono Package.
2014 was the first time a GTS model was available for the mid-engined roadster. The GTS came with a plusher interior that had plenty of leather and Alcanatara accent trim and seat inserts. The outside of the Boxster GTS was more purposeful looking with design elements like the darkened headlights and taillights.
Arguably the most fun thing about the GTS was sitting right in the middle. The 3.4-liter engine came with 330 horsepower. This allowed it to rocket from 0-60 mph in just 4.4 seconds when matched with the PDK transmission.
The Boxster GTS featured a 3.4-liter engine with 330 horsepower. This allowed it to rocket from 0-60 mph in just 4.4 seconds when matched with the PDK transmission. (Image: Porsche)
While the GTS was exciting, possibly the most invigorating Boxster ever made (at least so far) was the 981 generation Boxster Spyder. The styling of the new Boxster Spyder was all business. The 981 Spyder's front fascia looked similar to that of the 911 GT3 and Cayman GT4. With the large air intakes behind the front door and the power domes on the rear, the Spyder looked much like a miniature Carrera GT.
While it didn't include the track oriented suspension components from the GT3 as the GT4 did, this made it easier to live with on most roads and it still was no slouch on the track.
The 981 Boxster Spyder continued the lightweight philosophy of the previous generation Spyder, but without the hard-to-use top. While the newer Spyder still had a manual top, it was designed to be much easier to put on and could be done easily by one person in a few seconds.
All this made the 981 Spyder desirable, but it was the 3.8-liter flat-six sourced from the 911 Carrera S that was the big news. The slightly detuned engine offered 375 horsepower — according to Porsche this was largely due to the Boxster's shorter intake — but thanks to the light weight of the Spyder, this was more than enough to get into big trouble. Porsche claimed a 0-60 mph time of 4.3 seconds with the six-speed manual, which was the only option for the transmission.
For the 981 Spyder, the 0-60 mph is good, but it is slowed down a bit due to the long second gear that can take the car beyond 80 mph before hitting the limiter. Had a shorter second gear been used, potentially three-tenths of a second could have been cut off of the 0-60 mph time. However, the long second gear makes taking fast corners on the track easier.
The 981 Spyder had a 3.8-liter flat-six sourced from the 911 Carrera S that offered 375 horsepower. (Image: Porsche)
In 2016, the latest generation of the Boxster hit showrooms, and it featured some huge changes. The first was that Porsche decided to resurrect the 718 name for the Boxster and Cayman. Unlike the 981 name that was internal only, the 718 number is the public designation for the sports car, similar to the 911 and 918.
In the change, the Boxster and Cayman are now officially known as the same model, and they get the same specifications, just as a 911 Carrera and 911 Carrera Cabriolet have the same power outputs and available options.
Since its inception, the Boxster was the entry-level model for Porsche. However, with the change to the 718 designation, the Boxster now sits above the Cayman in the model lineup, just as the 911's Cabriolet models sit above the similar Coupe models.
The change to the 718 designation was also to denote the most major change, which sat at the heart of both the 718 Boxster and Cayman. Where the Boxster had always had a naturally aspirated flat-six powering it, the 718 Boxster uses a smaller displacement flat-four engine that was turbocharged. Just as the classic 718 was powered by a flat-four engine, it was fitting to use the name to denote the major change.
The standard Porsche 718 Boxster had the power plant go down to a 2.0-liter flat-four engine. However, thanks to the turbocharger, the output went up to 300 horsepower with a 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds. The 718 Boxster S received a 2.5-liter flat-four engine — the same displacement as the first Boxster. Power output jumped to 350 horses, and the Boxster S could sprint from 0-60 mph in just 4.4 seconds.
The move to a smaller engine that implemented turbochargers was partly due to stricter government fuel economy and emission restrictions in several important markets. While many Boxster fans miss the naturally aspirated flat-six, the better performance and good handling package still makes it an exciting driving machine.
Styling of the 718 Boxster is fairly similar to the earlier naturally aspirated 981 Boxster, but with a few changes.
Among these are the active aerodynamics that are incorporated into the front fascia. The rear end was reworked with a bar between the taillights featuring the Porsche name and highlighting the rear spoiler. The side air intakes have also been reworked with multiple center fins.
Inside the car stayed much the same as the previous Boxster with one of the most noticeable changes being the steering wheel. The wheel now featured a mode selector similar to that used on the Porsche 918 Spyder.
The 718 Boxster S received a 2.5-liter flat-four engine — the same displacement as the first Boxster. (Image: Porsche)
From the early 986 generation Boxster to the latest 718 Boxster, Porsche's mid-engined roadster has come a long way. It all started with a great-handling car that was quick, especially in the corners. 20 years later it has become a more mature sports car that is fast in both a straight line and once it gets into the turns.
Let's see just how much better the Boxster can get as it continues to evolve over the next 20 years.
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