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Porsche Boxster (981) Buyer’s Guide

Written by Peter Morgan

Model history/Timeline

The auto industry model year (MY) runs from August 1 to 31 July, so a 2012 model could have been produced between 1 August 2011 and 31 July 2012.

2012 MY: New Type 981 Boxster introduced (7th generation) with 265bhp 2.7-litre or 315bhp 3.4-litre (S) flat-6, direct fuel injection engines. 6-speed manual or optional 7-speed PDK (dual clutch) auto gearbox. First complete remodelling of roadster bodyshell for 18 years - lighter (25-35kgs) and longer wheelbase, plus greatly improved ergonomics and mechanics. Electro-mechanical steering and electric handbrake standard. Options include Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), dynamic engine mounts (DEM) and Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV).

2015 MY: Boxster Spyder model introduced with 3.8-litre 375bhp engine from 991, lightweight specification and better folding roof. Manual only, stripped of radio and aircon (although available as no-cost options).

2016 MY: Boxster and Cayman 718 introduced with 4-cylinder turbo engine replacing 6-cylinder normally aspirated engine.


What's it like?

Together, the Boxster and Cayman have long held the top position as the world's best mid-priced sports cars and the 981s extended that superiority. The visual impression is inspired by the 918 supercar. While the 981 has grown in physical size, it has a refinement level - quality, ergonomics, standard equipment and options - that wasn't previously seen. These are arguably the best everyday Porsches you can buy and are easy to drive.

The 6-cylinder (Gen 2) engines have shrugged off all the trending issues of the earlier 987 models. The new engines are more efficient than before and there are auto stop-start and electrical recuperation systems. The double clutch PDK variant has become the most sought after choice in the UK - helped by a small road tax break (see below).

The 2.7 is such a good all round and sporting package that you wonder why bother considering the S. The PDK version will run to 62mph in 5.4sec and return maybe 35-37mpg driven carefully. The S is quicker as an everyday car (PDK: 0 to 62mph in 4.7sec) and tauter in ride and driving dynamics. The GTS and Spyder variants are more driver focused and deliver envelope stretching performance.

The collectability of the 981 models is assured as these Boxsters and Caymans are the last of the 6-cylinder models, as they were superseded by 4-cylinder engined '718' cars in 2016.


Which one should I get?

Like all modern Porsches there is a wide performance spread to choose from. The two everyday models - the 2.7 and the S are easy to drive and will slot into your lifestyle seamlessly. It is worth remembering that the Boxster is strictly a 2-seater, although they do have useful luggage areas front and back.

There is a small Vehicle Excise Duty tax break for having the PDK gearbox with the 2.7 PDK currently costing £230 a year (manual £270) and the 3.4S PDK costing £270 (£295). However, PDK was a £1900 option when new and these cars carry a premium in the used marketplace. The GTS is rated the same as the S, but unfortunately the Spyder's road tax costs £500 a year.
Compared to a Cayman, the Boxster is a more relaxed driver. It comes across as a bigger car and this gives it more gravitas than the earlier roadsters. But there is all the performance you'll need and it will do most of what you ask. The electrically operated roof is quiet, fast and robust.

These are cars where less is more can apply in terms of options. Nonetheless, nice to have options include Porsche Communications Management (PCM, sat-nav) with bluetooth, cruise, rear Park Assist and electric fully adjustable seats. With Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), the optional 20-inch wheels might be worth considering, but if you suffer from a bad back, the ride is better with 18-inch and 19-inch wheel choices.

If you struggle at night, it might be worth considering the Porsche Dynamic Light System (PDLS), which is a speed sensitive light range function. There are a wealth of performance options, but ask yourself if they are really necessary for an everyday 2.7 or S. All models have Porsche Stability Management (PSM), which is a combined traction and differential braking control system.

As with every mainstream Porsche, it is the conservative metallic colours that help a car retain its value. Avoid the solid colours for the 2.7 or S.


What are the running costs?

Correct servicing is a critical requirement on all 981 models. There are two options for servicing and maintenance. Generally, if the car is under either a new car warranty or an extended warranty, it will be necessary to have the car maintained by the official network (Official Porsche Centres or OPCs).

If the car's component warranty status has lapsed, having the car serviced at a leading independent specialist can often be a cheaper and more convenient option. Nevertheless, the independent route does require some research to establish that the business has the expertise to look after your car. The better specialists will only employ ex-OPC mechanics and they will have the latest dedicated Porsche diagnostic equipment (known as PIWIS). Once a car is say, 4-5 years old, a top independent specialist's stamp in the service book carries the same respect as an OPC. For reviews on a given specialist, try asking a question on the PCGB forums.

The 981 has a two year or 20,000 miles service interval (whichever comes sooner). The first service will be an Intermediate service, which typically will cost around £500 (inc VAT) from an OPC and £350 from a top independent. This covers an oil/filter change, plus pollen filter and a basic visual inspection check. The Maintenance service occurs after 4 years/40K miles and costs about £625 (OPC) or £450 (indy).

Extra work here would include air filter change and a more comprehensive check. Spark plugs and the polyrib accessory drive belt would normally require changing from four and six years respectively. Typically brake fluid is changed every two years and might cost £100-150.

Otherwise the main costs will be normal wear and tear. For a 2.7, a set of front discs/pads will cost around £650 with the rears around £550 (both from an indy).
Front brakes should last around 25K miles on a 2.7 (say 20K on an S), with rears going to 30K (but it does depend on how the brakes are used and whether they become rusty from lack of use).

Aircon systems tend to need regassing after three to four years and condensers replaced after seven to eight years. Clutches should last 50-60K miles and would cost around £1100 to replace. The PDK transmission fluids should be changed every six years and will cost from £800.

To date there haven't been any trending issues noted on the 981, in the same way that we saw with the Gen 1 987s, but wear and tear on the cars, plus their significantly increased complexity, may result in some unexpected costs once the cars pass 5 years or 50K miles.

Tyre costs depend on sizes, but typically range from £150-250 each.


What should I look for?

Before you begin visiting dealers or private sellers, do your homework. Understand the various models, what they cost to run and what you want out of the car. Very often it's the basic spec cars that offer the best value.

If you are at all handy, equip yourself with a torch, so you can look at the disc brakes (shouldn't have edge lips of more than 1mm or be rusty or corregated) and brake pads (should have more than 3mm friction material). Look closely at all the tyres to ensure they are a quality brand and carry the Porsche N-rating (will be embossed as N1, N2, N3 etc on the sidewall). Tread depth should be better than 3mm, which is about the width of a £1 coin and there should be no sidewall damage.

Make a point of running a finger around every wheel rim to check for damage. There should be no corrosion showing on the wheel alloy. Wheel refurbishment costs typically £100-150 per wheel depending on size and condition.

From a distance of about one metre, walk around the car to check all the panels are the same colour, that the panel gaps are the same and that there aren't any scratches or other defects visible. Many dealers will repaint the front bumpers to eliminate unsightly stone chips. This is OK as long as the paint match is good. A paint thickness gauge does help to identify legacies of panel damage.

Check the roof is undamaged and works correctly. In the cabin and each of the compartments check for trim damage. A musty smell can suggest a water leak. The driver's seat can be prone to heavy wear and tear. Seats can be restored, assuming the leather isn't perforated.

Avoid aftermarket customised cars as they can be difficult to resell.

A Porsche PIWIS computer on the digital motor electronics (DME) system will reveal data such as active fault codes, over-revs and compare the DME mileage with that shown on the dash. This latter is important as dash mileage adjustment is not uncommon.

If you can, get under the car to check for grounding damage and fluid leaks. The exhaust shouldn't require replacement on cars less than 10 years old.

Always try to drive the car before you buy. There is no substitute for taking a short run and appreciating whether the car is easy to live with. If you sense anything isn't quite right, it probably isn't. Always switch PASM from Normal to Sport (and Sport Plus if fitted) to sense the change in ride. Similarly try out all the accessories, particularly the air con, windows, cruise control (if fitted) and sat-nav.

If you don't have the experience to check the car out yourself, get a pre-purchase inspection expert to look at the car. They will advise on all aspects of the car's condition, what needs replacing now and in the short term and whether the car is valued correctly.


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