Long overlooked, the Boxster deserves your respect.
Porsche may be one of the most successful sports car manufacturers of all time, but back in the 1990s, it was unclear if the company would even survive. Affordable models like the 924 and 944 helped keep Porsche afloat during the '80s, but it needed a hit to avoid bankruptcy in the following decade. Many credit the Cayenne with keeping Porsche alive, it was actually the humble Boxster that stopped the company from going belly up.
Once maligned as "the car you'd get if you couldn't afford a 911," we think the time has finally come to appreciate the original 986 generation Boxster. If you are in the market for a relatively affordable classic sports car with analog feel, the 986 Boxster needs to be on your shopping list.
Though it's still the "entry-level" sports car in Porsche's lineup, the modern-day Boxster is not what we'd call affordable. A base 2022 Porsche 718 Boxster starts at $63,950 for the 2.0-liter four-cylinder model producing 300 horsepower. If you want the 2.5-liter S model with 350 hp, it starts at $75,950. Oh, you want options? Get ready to pay nearly $100,000. There's another issue, too; to get a Boxster with a normally aspirated flat-six engine, you need to spend $90,850 on the GTS 4.0 model. Though we think the turbocharged Boxster sounds fine, some purists prefer the naturally aspirated character and exhaust note.
The original 986 Boxster would be obliterated in a race with a new 718 model, but at least it offers a pure driving experience at a fraction of the price. Used Porsche prices are skyrocketing lately, and even classically unloved 911 models like the 996 generation are rising in value. Despite this, the 986 Boxster is still relatively affordable, and it gets you pretty darn close to the 911 experience of that era.
You can not discuss this generation Boxster without mentioning the Intermediate Shaft (IMS) bearing. Porsche originally used a dual-row bearing with an extremely low failure rate but later switched to a weaker single-row unit. This infamous part on the flywheel end of the motor is known to fail, destroying an engine. It may sound like a major issue, but it's believed just 1% of dual-row bearings tend to fail and even the "problematic" single-row bearing only has an 8% failure rate. These cars are now old enough that pretty much all information regarding the IMS issue is readily available on the internet, including noticeable warning signs that the IMS is about to go bad. For peace of mind, many Boxster owners fix the IMS when replacing the clutch.
Another less problematic complaint of the original Boxster is the "egg yolk" headlights. Shared with the 996 911, these headlights are considered ugly by many and an afront to Porsche's classically round headlights. If anything, we think the original Boxster has aged like a fine wine, and the design looks like a perfect blend between retro and modern. Plus, Porsche used these lights on the legendary 911 GT1 Strassenversion, possibly the company's coolest car of all time.
Prices for the 986 Boxster range drastically depending on the year, mileage, condition, transmission, and service history. As a general rule, you should expect to pay less than $8,000 for a high-mileage early example with the unloved automatic transmission, up to the mid-$20,000 range for a later, low-mileage Boxster S. Porsche sold more than 120,000 986s during its eight-year run, which is why they are so affordable today. Parts are readily available. Some things to consider when shopping, Porsche made several improvements during the 986's life cycle to make it better, making the later cars more desirable.
From 1997 to 1999, the Boxster was only available with a 2.5-liter flat-six engine. In 2000, Porsche upped the base engine to a 2.7-liter and introduced a Boxster S with a larger 3.2-liter engine and an available six-speed manual transmission. The car received a facelift for 2003, deleting the amber lights, replacing the plastic rear window with a glass unit, and improving the interior. During this facelift, both engines saw a slight power bump.
When it first debuted, the Boxster's 2.5-liter flat-six engine produced just 201 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque. But with only 2,800 pounds to lug around, the car could hit 60 mph in only 6.1 seconds max out at 149 mph. With the increase to a 2.7-liter engine, the figures increased to 217 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. The 3.2-liter Boxster S was the most powerful, producing 250 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque, hitting 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. In 2003, the 2.7 grew to 225 hp and the 3.2-liter increased to 258 hp.
All Boxsters were available with a five-speed Tiptronic automatic that we advise avoiding. This car is best enjoyed with a manual. While the five-speed manual in the base Boxster is fun, the six-speed is regarded to be superior. Unlike the 911, which mounts its engine at the back, the Boxster mounts its flat-six in the middle, creating a nearly 50-50 weight distribution.
Generally, a weak point for Porsche in the early 2000s, the Boxster's interior feels rather cheap compared to a modern 718. Many of these cars haven't lived pampered lives, and the plastics used during this era aren't great at standing up to abuse. Finding an early Boxster with a mint interior is tricky but not impossible. We love the Boxster's raw simplicity, especially the three analog gauges with the tachometer in the middle. Porsche offered a factory navigation system, but if you want a modern experience, the company offers a cool Classic Communication Management system that looks OEM but bundles Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Since the Boxster mounts its flat engine in the middle, it has two trunks. The rear trunk is pretty shallow but has just enough room to squeeze some golf clubs. A larger suitcase will sit perfectly in the frunk, which is surprisingly deep. Inside, the Boxster features many usable storage areas, including behind the seats and in the door pockets. Later 2003 and 2004 models receive a glovebox, which was absent on earlier cars. For being a two-decade-old sports car, fuel economy isn't horrendous with 19/27 mpg city/highway.
It's time to abandon the disdain for the original Porsche Boxster. This is a fantastic driving experience, and even Porsche collectors are starting to catch on. With 996 prices slowly creeping above the $30,000 range, the Boxster has become an outstanding deal at around half the price. This is certainly more than half the fun of a 911, so we'd quickly get over any preconceived notions people have about it. We can't say for sure if Boxster prices will climb like other classic Porsche models, but it is getting harder to find a nice one, so certain models could command high prices in the future.
In the case of this Smart Buy, we didn't just write about the car, we put our money where our mouths are and bought one, a 2001 Boxster 2.7 with only 48,000 miles and the IMS replaced. We recommend spending up for the Boxster S if you can find a good one, but ending up with the standard car doesn't feel like settling.