Porsche Boxster 987 front exterior

Porsche Boxster (987)

BUYER’S GUIDE

Porsche Boxster (987) review

Sharper looks, more power and stronger engines make the second-generation Boxster a modern-classic Porsche for switched-on buyers…

What Is It?

Inspired by Porsche’s 1948 356 ‘No. 1’ Roadster and the 1950s 550 and 718 racing cars, the original 986-generation Boxster launched in 1996 and was an instant hit for its combination of 911 engineering, mid-engined handling and relative affordability.

The 987 that replaced it in 2004 is the car we’re looking at here and, arguably, the sweet spot in the Boxster story, given it stayed true to the formula but updated it with more performance, improved driveability and some major reliability issues addressed. Purists will also appreciate it’s the last Boxster with more natural feeling hydraulically assisted steering, the 981 and four-cylinder 718s that followed it perhaps lacking that final per cent of connection.

Alongside new tech like PASM adjustable dampers and ceramic brakes – not to mention some very appealing limited editions – the 987 generation also saw the introduction of Porsche’s double-clutch PDK transmission, and with it an automatic option able to do justice to the car’s fabulous handling and performance.

Checklist

  • There are three main engine generations to consider: launch models featuring improved versions of the 2.7 and 3.2-litre motors from the previous 986 Boxster and Boxster S; these were updated in 2006 with the 3.2 going to 3.4 and the introduction of VarioCam Plus for a small increase in power in both; the bigger change came in the 2009 model year with the new 2.9 and 3.4-litre direct-injection engines and PDK gearbox
  • A five-speed manual gearbox featured on early Boxsters but most were sold with the optional six-speed that was standard on the S
  • Pre-PDK the automatic option was the more traditional Tiptronic S; given it adds quite a bit of weight and blunts the edge of the power delivery it’s probably the least appealing 987 configuration, but if you want a two-pedal car that relative lack of desirability could play in your favour in price terms
  • Bearing failure for the RMS (Rear Main Seal) and IMS (Intermediate Shaft) are well-documented worries on Porsches of this era; while potentially something to consider on early 987s in reality it’s much less of a worry given any post-2006 cars will have the updates introduced to cure the issues and later direct-injection cars aren’t affected
  • Also much discussed, bore score is less common than many would have you believe but if present can manifest as low oil, a rattle at tickover, smoke or excessive soot on the exhaust tips – if you have any doubts Porsche specialists will be able to perform an endoscope inspection of the cylinders for full peace of mind
  • The radiator and air conditioning condensers are in a vulnerable position in the lower front bumper; corrosion can appear behind leaf mulch and other debris if not cleared out regularly while stone chips can also cause leaks – check the air con works properly as it’s an expensive fix
  • Check roof drain holes aren’t blocked and there’s no dampness behind the seats or on the carpets – water build-up can result in expensive electrical issues
  • Broken springs aren’t unusual so check the car sits level and there are no bangs or rattles from the suspension while on the test drive
  • Bushing and suspension joints can also wear – a Boxster should drive with the precision you’d expect of a Porsche so sloppiness or clonks could hint at worn parts
  • Alignment is also important for handling and tyre wear – check the inside edges of the rubber if possible
  • Corrosion shouldn’t be an issue but high-mileage cars will likely have had front end resprays to repair stone chip damage, while any hint of rust on panels could suggest accident damage and a poor repair
  • Kerbed wheels aren’t just ugly and indicative of a hard life – if left unrepaired they can lead to corrosion and deeper damage

How does it drive?

As brilliantly as you would hope. While the 911’s inherent handling quirks are uniquely rewarding in the right hands the Boxster is a fundamentally better-balanced car, with all the expected Porsche traits like lovely steering feel, strong brakes and brilliantly harmonised controls.

All the engines share the same character as well, natural smoothness and that gorgeous flat-six howl key to the experience. In traditional naturally-aspirated style they need revs to perform their best, with a decisive shift around 4,000rpm beyond which they really take off and pull hard all the way to the redline. S models are faster and more flexible from low revs, and some consider standard Boxsters to be a little underpowered. It’s more down to taste, though, and others prefer the revviness of the smaller engines and invitation to work them a little harder for the same thrills.

Adjustable PASM suspension was a popular upgrade and offers a stiffer setting for track or really pressing on but any Boxster should handle sharply. The smaller wheels are less fashionable but better for ride quality.

 What’s good?

Given you’re getting 911 engineering at a much more affordable price the Boxster has always felt a bit of a steal, the lack of rear seats compensated for by dual luggage compartments and surprising practicality. So, you won’t have to pack light for that extended European road trip.

Excellent refinement means the boring motorway miles will fly by in comfort as well, the ability to drop the roof and let rip once you’re at the more interesting roads meaning it’s really all the sportscar you need. The 987 feels brilliantly engineered as well, with the high-quality vibe you’d hope for from a Porsche. As accommodating of less confident drivers as it is rewarding for experienced ones, the Boxster also has a huge bandwidth of ability that makes it just as viable as a daily as it is a weekend plaything.

All are good but by the time you get to post-2009 S models with 300PS-plus, 0-62mph in about five seconds and a top speed of 170mph you have to question just how much more performance you need to get your pulse racing.  

What’s bad?

While many of the potentially scary mechanical problems afflicting other Porsches of this era were addressed for the 987 you need to buy a Boxster with realistic expectations for upkeep. These are, after all, precision instruments that flourish with the proper care but can throw up issues if neglected. So, when buying scrutinise both condition and history with due care and attention, and if neither add up move on to the next one.

There are plenty to choose from, so you can afford to be fussy. Common issues to be aware of include faulty air conditioning due to blocked or damaged condensers (their position in the front bumper leaves them vulnerable), which is an expensive fix. Tyres and suspension need staying on top of if the car is to perform as it should, but not all owners will have bothered and rattly bushings and broken springs aren’t unusual.

Blocked hood drains can cause expensive electrical issues and clutch changes (beware noisy gearboxes or stiff shifting) are costly but do provide opportunity to check and replace the RMS and the IMS bearing if it’s a pre-2006 car where either could yet be an issue.

Which model to choose?

While there are no bad choices in the 987 Boxster range we’d probably avoid Tiptronic autos, on the basis they feel somewhat sluggish and the performance takes a big hit. Good news? If you want an automatic car the later PDK is excellent, with smooth, fast shifts and no apologies necessary for choosing a two-pedal Porsche.

Saying that, a manual would always be the first choice, given it really dials you into the car and is a delight to use. Over-long gearing is the only real issue here. While pre-2009 cars are great the later direct-injection models are faster, revvier and more robust. A base spec Boxster 2.9 manual would be lovely, a 3.4 S both faster and more flexible.

The ultimate? That has to be the rare-groove Boxster Spyder launched in 2010. Its ‘shower cap’ roof is a limitation but, stripped of 80kg, with power boosted to 320PS (235kW), a standard limited-slip diff and that chop top styling it’s a truly special thing and, arguably, one of the best street cars Porsche has built in living memory. 911 GT3s included. Don’t worry if you can’t stretch to one though – a well-specced S may be less exotic but is pretty much as fun to drive.

Specifications – 987 Boxster S gen two

Engine

3.4-litre six-cylinder, petrol

Power

310PS (228kW) @7,200rpm

Torque

360Nm (265lb ft) @4,750rpm

Transmission

Six-speed manual/seven-speed PDK dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,355kg DIN

0-62mph

5.3 seconds (PDK 5.2 seconds)

Top speed

170mph (PDK 169mph)

Production dates

2004-2011 (entire production run)

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