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Porsche Boxster (986): Buying guide and review (1996-2004)

Porsche Boxster (986): Buying guide and review (1996-2004) Classic and Performance Car
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In the early ‘90s, Porsche was in a very difficult position. Profits were falling, and its best-selling car, the 911, could trace its roots back to a 1960s. It needed to act fast, and introduce a new range of products to revitalise the brand and bring it back to profitability.
 
Enter the Porsche Boxster, a mid-engined two seater sports car based in part on the upcoming water cooled 996 platform. Initial reception was lukewarm, with critics bemoaning the ‘fried egg’ headlight treatment and relative lack of power from its 2.5-litre engine. As with any major shift, it also took a while for the public to warm to the Boxster. A number of running changes and more powerful engines helped to turn the 986 model a huge seller, which along with the water-cooled 996 helped to secure Porsche’s future.
 
Today the Boxster is an integral part of Porsches range and the original version is still a cracking drive and exceptional bargain.
 

Which Boxster to buy?

 
Porsche has always had a policy of incrementally improving its cars throughout the production lifecycle. In the case of the first Boxster, some changes were made to address mechanical issues while others were improvements to keep the cars current with rivals’ offerings. 
 
The original 986 Boxster was launched in 1996, sharing architecture with the first water-cooled 911 and helping save Porsche in the process. Some felt it lacked the visual punch of the concept version that wowed crowds at Detroit in 1992. When it finally went into production, it lacked dynamic punch too, although that original 201bhp 2.5-litre engine was supplanted by a 217bhp 2.7 in 2000, and joined by a 250bhp 3.2-litre Boxster S. The enthusiast’s model had arrived. 
 
In 2003, outputs went up to 225 and 258bhp, and a facelift saw some minor changes to the styling – the most notable of which was the addition of clear front light units and glass rear screens. 
 
The first generation water cooled boxer engines in the Boxster and 911 have developed a reputation for leaking Rear Main Seals and IMS bearing failures. While the issue is not uncommon, it’s nowhere near as prevalent as you might think. Many specialists offer strengthened replacement parts, and generally a thorough check of the car in these vulnerable areas should be carried out for peace of mind. 
 
Earliest 2.5-litre cars can be temptingly cheap, but unless they are in perfect condition there are far more desirable models to be had. The 2.7-litre cars have enough power to put a smile on your face, but the 3.2-litre is the real performance choice. 
 
Tiptronic automatic gearboxes were offered on all models, and while they are generally less desirable, shouldn’t be dismissed if you plan on using the car regularly around town. A 50th Anniversary 550 Spyder was released in 2004 and with only 1953 produced is the rarest (and now-sought-after) of the Boxster models.
 
If you are prepared to pay good money, it’s worth searching for well looked after car from the last few years of production, preferably owned by an enthusiast. Thanks to the numerous running changes and updated exterior looks, these are by far the best cars to live with. Standard specifications were generally very basic while optional extras were not cheap, so finding a well-specced car is not always easy.
 

Performance and specs

 
2004 Porsche Boxster S
Engine 3179cc 24valve DOHC H6 
Power 256bhp @ 6200 rpm 
Torque 229lb ft @ 4600rpm
Top speed 164mph 
0-60mph 5.7 seconds 
Fuel consumption 26.9 mpg 
Insurance group 46
Gearbox six-speed manual
 

Dimensions and weight

 
Wheelbase 2415mm
Length 4320mm
Width 1780mm
Height 1780mm
Weight 1320kg
 

Common problems

 
• Parts are available from Porsche as well as numerous specialists who stock a whole host of replacement items for the entire range of Boxsters.
 
• RMS rear seal leaks and IMS bearing failures are very well documented, and any Porsche specialist should be able to diagnose these issues for you. While early cars have a higher rate of failure than face-lifted models, by now most have had upgraded replacement parts fitted, and if not there are a number of specialists who will carry out this work. The final price can be negotiated down on whether this work has been done or not.
 
• A leaking RMS seal can be replaced when the clutch needs doing next, as the gearbox has to be removed to get to the seal. 
 
• The IMS Bearing was upgraded a number of times during production however they are a weak point in the design and some specialists have developed replacements that last a lot longer than the original items.
 
• Cracked cylinder liners affected some of the earlier cars but a running modification in 2000 resolved this issue. 
 
• Coolant expansion tanks can crack leaking water into the boot. Coolant radiators and the air-con condenser are situated in the front of the car and can get blocked by leaves and road debris.
 
• Gearboxes are robust and should change gears smoothly; six-speed ‘boxes can jump out of second gear, which points to it needing an expensive rebuild.
 
• The suspension does not have any major issues, other than lower arm bushes and rose joints on the trailing arms wearing out. Check that the car tracks straight and no creaking noises emanate when turning.
 
• Rust is not a common issue however blocked drainage channels may allow water to pool behind the seats and some cars can develop rust bubbles around the arches over time. The nose and flanks are prone to road rash, so poor paintwork can be a good bargaining point.
 
• Interior trim got stronger with successive facelifts. Of early cars, only the best-kept avoid scruffiness inside. Make sure the roof mechanism and electrical fixtures work.
 

Model history

 
1996: Porsche Boxster launched with 201bhp 2.5-litre six-cylinder engine
2000: Base engine size increased to 2.7-litres, with power up to 217bhp. Boxster S introduced with 3.2-litre 250bhp engine and standard six-speed gearbox
2001: Optional PSM anti-skid system introduced
2003: Facelift carried out including glass window replacing rear plastic item, front indicator units were made translucent and new wheel and colour options were introduced. Vario-Ram intake system increases engine outputs incrementally with 2.7-litre up 11bhp and 3.2-litre up by 8bhp
2004: Special edition 550 Spyder released with 1953 cars built. Last Boxster rolls off the production line with over 160,000 cars built 
 

Owners clubs, forums and websites

 
• www.porscheclubgb.com
• 986forum.com/forums
• www.boxsterregister.org
 

Summary and prices


For a while it’s been possible to get into a Boxster for £6000 and even less. The money will buy you an enjoyable drive, but you’ll be talking a ratty high-miles 986. Autos are less desirable than manuals. Better to weigh in around £9000 for a smart, serviced, low-mileage late-model manual 3.2S. And we can’t imagine those getting much cheaper.
At the top end are the £15k minters, but at this money it’s really worth considering a later 987 Boxster, especially with the option of PDK for those seeking two pedal models. For a really special Boxster, the 550 Spyder special edition is difficult to beat, but with low mileage cars commanding upwards of £30k, you really have to want one to justify paying the premium. 
 
The first generation Boxster is a great sports car that can double as a weekend toy and daily transport if required. With prices not likely to get much lower, now might just be the time to invest in one of these great sports cars.
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Last updated: 28th Feb 2017
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  • Porsche Boxster

    £31,993 £31,993

    Variant name:24V PDK ,Derivative:981 ,Variant: 2.7 24V PDK Convertible, One Owner, Only 8000 Miles, 19 Inch Alloys, Heated Seats

    • Year: 2014
    • Mileage: 7917 mi
    • Engine size: 2.7
    For sale
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    Furness Park-Furness Park
    01229 833676 View contact number
  • 2013 PORSCHE BOXSTER 2.7 24V 2DR Manual

    £32,950 £32,950

    Finished in basalt black metallic with full black leather,last of the aspirated engines with the important manual gearbox.Supplied with 2 sets of wheels and tyres,19"silver factory porsche alloys and a set of bespoke multi spoke alloys with new winter tyres.porsche sports steering wheel,wind deflector,upgrade porsche hifi with usb.Full porsche main dealer service history with all the invoices,recent main service just completed by porsche kendal.Must be viewed looks stunning.Full main dealer facilities finance,px,card facilities,warranties,for more info please call scott james on 07831440991

    • Year: 2013
    For sale
    £32,950 £32,950
  • Porsche Boxster 2.7 PDK

    POA POA

    Finance Example Deposit Balance Fees Total Payable Term Fixed Rate Representative APR 1st Payment Monthly Payment Final Payment HP £3,190 £28,710 £199* £36,623 48 3.79% 7.9% £692 £692 £891 PCP £3,190 £28,710 £1* £38,381 48 4.09% 7.9% £480 £480 £12,156 Residual backed products are available on this vehicle upon application. Please call to discuss your requirements *Fees are already accounted for within the payments displayed and are also included within the total amount payable. Finance available subject to status. Indemnities may be required. Other finance offers may be available but cannot be used in conjunction with this offer. We work with a number of carefully selected credit providers who may be able to offer you finance for your purchase. We are only able to offer finance products from these providers. Postal Address: Crown Way, Rushden, Northamptonshire NN10 6BS The Porsche Boxster is the market leading sports roadster with unrivalled handling due to it's mid-engine and real wheel drive set-up. In 2012 Porsche released the third generation of this hugely popular model, the 981. Fitted with a new enigine and transmission, as well as a new body, giving you increased performanc

    • Year: 2013
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  • Porsche Boxster 2.7 PDK

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    Finance Example Deposit Balance Fees Total Payable Term Fixed Rate Representative APR 1st Payment Monthly Payment Final Payment HP £2,745 £24,705 £199* £31,526 48 3.75% 7.92% £595 £595 £794 Residual backed products are available on this vehicle upon application. Please call to discuss your requirements *Fees are already accounted for within the payments displayed and are also included within the total amount payable. Finance available subject to status. Indemnities may be required. Other finance offers may be available but cannot be used in conjunction with this offer. We work with a number of carefully selected credit providers who may be able to offer you finance for your purchase. We are only able to offer finance products from these providers. Postal Address: Crown Way, Rushden, Northamptonshire NN10 6BS The Porsche Boxster is the market leading sports roadster with unrivalled handling due to it's mid-engine and real wheel drive set-up. In 2012 Porsche released the third generation of this hugely popular model, the 981. Fitted with a new enigine and transmission, as well as a new body, giving you increased performance and fuel economy. This particular car also benefits from a f

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  • Porsche Boxster

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    Service history 16In Alloy Wheels,Front Head Restraints,Alarm,Anti-Lock Brakes,Driver, Passenger And Front Side Air Bags,Driver/Passenger Seat Height Adjustment,Electric/Heated Door Mirrors,Front Electric Windows,Immobiliser,Power-Assisted Steering,Remote Central Door Locking,Spare Wheel,Radio/CD,Reach Adjustable Steering Column/Wheel,Two Speakers,Leather interior, Call us today about the finance options on this vehicle. Part exchanges welcome.

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  • Porsche Boxster 2.7 2dr PDK, Full Porsche Service History, 20" Turbo Alloy Wheels, Bluetooth, Heated Seats, Rear Park Assist, Wind Deflector, Floor Mats,Auto Lights, LED Daytime Running Lights, Roll over hoops in White.

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    Multi award-winning prestige car dealership John Holland is delighted to offer for sale this beautiful Porsche Boxster 2.7 PDK. Finished in the most desirable colour combination on the market today of Carrara White with Black Roof, Contrasting Black Leather and Alcantara Upholstery and finished with Chrome Interior Inlays. This Stunning vehicle comes with a fantastic specification to include 20" Turbo Alloy Wheels, Bluetooth, Heated Seats, Rear Park Assist, Wind Deflector, Floor Mats,Auto Lights, LED Daytime Running Lights, Roll over hoops in White plus much more. This Stunning Vehicle also benefits from a Full Porsche Service History completed by Porsche Sheffield on 22/06/17 at 5686Miles. Supplied with two keys and all its original owners manuals and wallet. John Holland Sales has been established for over 40 years supplying a premium level of service in the sale of sports, prestige and collectors cars. We have a team of experienced buyers who hand pick our cars from all parts of the UK so you can buy with confidence all vehicles are HPI Clear and prepared to the highest standard, full dealer facilities available call the sales team for further information.

    • Year: 2015
    • Mileage: 6142 mi
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