November marks 20 years since the launch of the controversial Porsche Boxster. Love or hate the soft-top Porsche, there’s no denying that Porsche would be where it is today without it.
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Back in the early 1990s, the German car manufacturer was in the doldrums, suffering from falling sales and what looked like an inability to ride out the global recession. To say a lot was resting on the shoulders of the Boxster would be underplaying things. For Porsche, the Boxster was not only a game-changer, it was a life-saver.
The Boxster first appeared as a concept at the 1993 Detroit Motor Show. It totally stole the limelight, evoking memories of the stunning 550 Spyder. Its name was a combination of Boxer, a reference to its engine layout, and Speedster, a nod in the direction of the iconic 356. Such was the car’s reception, Porsche had little option but to push forward with production.
To save costs, the Boxster – internal designation 986 – was developed alongside the new Porsche 911 (996). Porsche looked to Japan – and in particular, Toyota – to learn new production methods, with the outcome being a leaner and fitter organisation. A change was required. In 1986, Porsche sold 30,471 cars in the United States. By 1993 that number had fallen to 3,728. Put simply, Porsche was in a mess.
When the Boxster was finally unveiled in 1996, it’s fair to say there was a momentary sigh of disappointment. Gone was the svelte and sculpted styling of the concept, with the production car looking more bulbous and slab-sided. Of course, the majority of changes were required for mechanical purposes, but we certainly missed the curved doors, low side air intakes and front grille.
But the Boxster was critical to the firm’s long term future. Sure, in the 911 it could boast a global icon, but that was hardly the answer for a company looking to beat the recession. No, what Porsche needed was something more affordable. A car for those who aspired to 911 ownership but didn’t have the means to achieve their dream. The Boxster would go head-to-head with the Mercedes-Benz SLK and BMW Z3…
Crucially, the Boxster would trounce the opposition. The hints of 911 made it an easy target for armchair critics, but dynamically speaking the Boxster was in a different league to the Z3 and SLK. Forget the ridiculous tags of ‘poor man’s Porsche 911’ and ‘hairdresser’s car’, the Boxster was – and still is – the real deal.
In its basic form, the Porsche Boxster offered seats with Alcantara centres, 16-inch alloy wheels and no air conditioning. But naturally, Boxster owners were keen to tick a few option boxes, with leather, sports seats, climate control, heated seats, premium audio, a wind deflector, xenon headlights and Porsche Stability Management (PSM) among the options. Porsche was also the first carmaker to offer cabrio-suitable side airbags with head protection.
In the UK at least, the hard-top was a popular option. Squint hard and this could pass as a Porsche 911, which would only add fuel to the ‘poor man’s 911’ fire. And let’s not get started on the ‘looks the same from the front as it does from the back’ argument. The fact is, customers voted with their deposits. Such was the demand, Porsche opened a second assembly line in Finland.
In 2000, the Porsche Boxster came of age when the 201hp 2.5-litre engine was replaced by the 217hp 2.7-litre unit. The additional power and torque proved what many onlookers had been saying since 1996: that the Porsche Boxster’s chassis could handle more power.
But the 2.7-litre engine wasn’t the only big news of 2000. In the same year, Porsche launched the Boxster S, complete with a 250hp 3.2-litre engine. Although subtly different, the S could be spotted by its 17-inch rims, red brake calipers, S badges, titanium-effect trim and – the real giveaway – twin tailpipes.
The Boxster range was facelifted in 2003, with the plastic rear window replaced by a smaller glass window. In addition, the universally disliked ‘fried egg’ indicators were replaced with clear glass indicators. In 2004, Porsche launched the Boxster S 550 Anniversary, built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original 550 Spyder. Only 1,953 cars were built, each one painted in the same silver metallic paint found on the Carrera GT.
Porsche Boxster 987
The long-awaited second-generation Boxster, known as the 987, was unveiled at the 2004 Paris Motor Show, before going on sale in 2005. The big changes were a new headlight design, larger wheelarches and an improved and harder-wearing interior. The Boxster 987 also spawned a coupe version, known as the Cayman.
A number of special editions followed, including the Design Edition 2. It featured a freer-flowing exhaust, which nudged the power from 291hp to 299hp. Only 500 were made.
Milestones came and went, with the Boxster notching up 200,000 sales by 2006. This was followed in 2008 with a facelifted 987, featuring cosmetic and performance upgrades. But these were nothing compared to the impact of the Boxster Spyder. It was launched at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show and at the time it was the lightest production Porsche you could buy. It also sat one inch lower and featured a pair of signature humps. It was an instant classic.
Today, we’re all a tad excited about the prospect of the Porsche Mission E going into production, but back in 2011 the Boxster E was the most electrifying news to come out of Stuttgart. The four-wheel-drive Boxster E ditched its petrol engine for an electric motor, helping it to accelerate to 62mph in just 5.5 seconds. Sadly, an electric Boxster hasn’t made it into production. Yet.
New generation Porsche Boxster 981
The third generation Porsche Boxster – internal designation 981 – was unveiled at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show, powered by either a 261hp 2.7-litre engine or a 311hp 3.4-litre unit. The 981 is wider and longer than the previous Boxster, but is 35kg lighter. Crucially, in this age where economy rules, Porsche claims the Boxster is 15% more efficient than before.
In 2014, the Boxster range was extended to include a GTS model, the first time the badge had been seen on Porsche’s entry-level sports car. It’s powered by a 330hp 3.4-litre engine which, when mated to the PDK transmission, helps the Boxster GTS sprint to 62mph in 4.9 seconds (4.7 seconds in Sport+ mode).
An even more extreme version of the 981 Boxster followed in 2015, revealed at the New York Auto Show. Powered by a mildly detuned version of the 3.8-litre flat-six found in the Cayman GT4 and 911 Carrera S, the Spyder was the most powerful Boxster ever sold, producing 375hp. With a twin-hump rear deck and manually folding canvas roof, it looked the part, too.
The original design team of Grant Larson and Stefan Stark deserve huge credit for nailing the Boxster from the start. That the first and second generation cars stayed true to the original formula is a testament to getting it right first time. This is the Black Edition, a special edition that majors on a host of black upgrades. There’s also a small increase in power.
2016 Porsche 718 Boxster
And that bring us today, with the new 718 Boxster currently on sale. Powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, many complain that it lacks the character of its predecessors. But with the Boxster S producing 375hp, hitting 62mph in 4.6 seconds yet returning a combined 34.9mpg, there’s a lot to like about the 718. It’s a new chapter for the Boxster, but one we’re happy to embrace. Bring on the next 20 years.