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Porsche Boxster (986) Buyers' Guide

Written by Peter Morgan

 

Model history

The auto industry model year (MY) runs from August 1 to 31 July, so a 1998 model could have been produced between 1 August 1997 and 31 July 1998.

1997 MY: All new Boxster launched with 204bhp, 2.5-litre, water cooled, flat-6 engine with 5-speed manual or 5-speed Tiptronic gearbox options. UK deliveries from early 1997.

1999 MY: Boxster production transfers to new Valmet factory in Uuisikaupunki, Finland. VIN has 'U' instead of 'S' (Stuttgart) as 11th digit.

2000 MY: Uprated 220bhp, 2.7-litre engine for Boxster with E-gas (electronic) throttle. New Boxster S with 252bhp 3.2-litre engine, 6-speed gearbox. Double skin roof (for the S, 2.7 a year later) and POSIP side impact protection introduced.

2003 MY - Boxster maximum power increased to 228bhp, with Boxster S rising to 260bhp. Glass rear window introduced. Facelifted front bumper, rear spoiler and clear indicator lenses. S has uprated gearbox and new wheels.

2004 MY- '50 years of 550 Spyder' special edition Boxster S with 266bhp and GT Silver paint.

2005 MY: 80 per cent new Type 987 Boxster introduced.

 

What's it like?

From its launch the Boxster has consistently been at the top of the sports car handling and performance league. The excellence of this classic 2-seater started with its name - a combination of 'boxer' referring to its flat-6 engine layout - and roadster.

Its design followed best practice using a mid engine location to get the all important handling balance, delivering a near ideal 47% front, 53% rear weight distribution. The all new 2.5-litre, 204bhp, flat-6 water cooled engine not only pulled all Porsche's heritage strings but delivered a silky, smooth power that was perfectly suited to everyday use. Top of the range power assisted disc brakes (with ABS) provided unmatched stopping power with a light action to all the pedals and power assisted steering.

It is fact that the Boxster shared a large proportion of its components with the new 996-model 911, but this was only ever going to benefit the Boxster. Nevertheless, while the dynamics of the Boxster were first class, the early cars do suffer from being rather bland to sit in. While the ergonomics are excellent (with spacious luggage compartments front and rear), a good option specification will lift the interior environment considerably.

For the 2000 MY, the Boxster received an engine upgrade, power delivery becoming much smoother with 220bhp and a 'fly by wire' throttle. Meeting the demands for ever more power, the 3.2-litre Boxster S was a more focused performance package. The 2.7-litre Boxster is arguably the definitive everyday Porsche - its lively throttle response and supreme road confidence are suited to a wide range of driving abilities. The 'S' was moving towards the goal of being a thoroughbred sports car, perfect as a weekend cross country tourer with more power and firmer ride.

The best 986 Boxsters are those with the glass rear window. These 2003 MY onwards cars (usually with a 53 plate onwards in mainland Britain) received a minor facelift and power upgrades to both the 2.7 and S models.

 

Which one should I get?

The Boxster is an easy car to convert to from any mid-size saloon - as mentioned the 2.7 is a great everyday driver, while the S is slightly more focused.

Most Boxsters didn't get too many factory options, so well optioned cars are sought after. Desirable options include 18-inch alloys, traction control, rear Park Assist, heated seats, cruise control and sat-nav (although the PCM1 radio/cassette is now largely obsolete). A hardtop is a great option for cars regularly street parked. Early examples can be very basic and some don't even have air conditioning.

Boxsters look great in the solid colours such as Guards Red, Speed Yellow and the various whites, but there's no doubting the conservative dark metallics blend in well in town.

The Boxster has an electrically operated convertible roof that opens in just 12 seconds. All Boxsters with the plastic rear windows inevitably suffer from splits and replacements are available. Best advice is not opening when the temperature is less than 10C and most enthusiasts would stop the process half way through to get out and palm the plastic into a smooth curve (to prevent kinking).

The Tiptronic S 5-speed offers a 2-pedal, fully automatic mode or a manual, clutchless shift mode. The 'S' designation here refers to the shift buttons on the steering wheel.

 

What are the running costs?

As with all modern Porsches, the running costs for a well sourced example should be similar to any quality saloon. Service intervals are annual or every 12K miles, whichever comes sooner.

Servicing costs vary across the country but would typically range from £300-600 + VAT (depending on whether you need a Minor or Major service and excluding items like brake fluid change, spark plugs and other wear and tear parts).

Typical clutch replacement is likely to cost £750-£1K, while an air conditioning rebuild (the condensers are in the front bumper and have a life of around 6-8 years) will cost perhaps £1.2K.

Brake wear depends on driving style, but for a manual 2.5 or 2.7-litre car, these typically should last 20-25K miles. To replace the front discs, pads and pad wear sensors is likely to cost £600 with a similar amount for the rear axle.

Replacing the plastic rear window can be inexpensive (up to £250), but many owners retrofit a glass window (approximately £5-600), to enhance the security and resale potential.

Tyres should be Porsche N-rated types and these include Michelin, Pirelli, Continental and Bridgestone. You'll see the N-number embossed on the tyre sidewall as N1, N2, N3 etc depending on the version number produced by the given manufacturer. Tyre costs depend on sizes, but typically range from £150-250 each.

 

What should I look for?

The choice of Boxster will obviously be driven by your budget but generally, the later the model, the better the car as the quality and specification improved almost continuously.

The objective should be to find the best combination of service history, mileage and condition. As noted above, try not to be too swayed by colour or option fit. Customised cars aren't as re-saleable as factory standard cars. It is almost routine for quality dealers to repaint the frontal area panels on the Boxster, as stone chipping is unsightly and can lead to superficial corrosion.

Early Boxsters did see a trend for a small number of engines to suffer unpredictable failure (cracking in the cylinder bores). Expert opinion however suggests the numbers were small and that if the car has reached 50K miles, it’s less likely to have the problem. Today, a good service history is the best insurance against the relatively small possibility of premature engine failure. If the car has had an engine rebuild by a quality specialist and has a subsequently good history, that is OK.

Another issue that again is relatively infrequent is failure of the Intermediate Shaft (IMS) bearing in the engine. This is known to be a rare failure, but stronger bearings can be fitted and these tend to make any Boxster more desirable (if only for peace of mind).

The most frequently seen engine issue is leakage past the rear main oil seal (RMS). This doesn't cause engine failure but might drip oil. Development has evolved much better seals and expert opinion would suggest only having it fixed when the clutch is changed.

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 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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