How to Buy a Boxster
A primer on Porsche’s mid-engined roadsters—the best convertibles for the money on the market today
By Bob Purgason
If you are looking to buy a good, reasonably priced Boxster with lots of features, the 2003 and 2004 years would be good choices, particularly this well equipped 2004 550 Spyder 50th Anniversary Edition.
Since its introduction at the Detroit Auto Show in 1993, the Porsche Boxster has received universal acclaim from the automotive press for its styling, performance, quality, and value. Its heritage and legacy as a true Porsche have never been questioned- even by the most discerning of Porschephiles. With a mid-engine design that can be traced back to the very first Porsche car made, 356-001, the Boxster’s near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution makes it a fabulous handling car for spirited driving on suitable roads, or even on track. Boasting timeless looks and an enviable record of reliability, it is arguably the best convertible for the money on the market today. Its solid construction and amenities give it a well-deserved reputation as a sports car for all seasons and all climes. It is a perfect weekend fun car for a leisurely drive on a warm sunny day or, conversely, performing as a daily driver in varying weather conditions with the optional removable aluminum hard top.
The Boxster has always represented tremendous value for the money. It has been and continues to be on the cutting edge of Porsche’s engineering technology and provides its owners the type of electronic gadgetry and appointments one would expect to find on much more expensive cars—and all for a more affordable price. The base price for a new 2009 Boxster starts around $46,000, so it’s still quite a buy. The current market value of pre-owned Boxsters make them great entry-level cars—either as an enthusiast’s first Porsche or for someone looking to buy a nice convertible for daily transportation.
So what year and model Boxster to buy? 1997-2000
Porsche introduced the Boxster to American show rooms as a 1997 model at a base cost of under $40,000. Although slightly different in design from the Detroit show car prototype, the new car did not disappoint the many enthusiasts who plunked down deposits even before the car went into full production. The 1997 model had a 2.5-liter water-cooled, aluminum block engine rated at 201 horsepower. This newly designed engine, designated the M96, had overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, and was teamed with a five-speed manual or an optional Tiptronic five-speed transmission. Braking was by way of disc brakes at all four corners, with anti-lock braking control standard.
The 1997 to 2000 model year Boxsters are nice cars for the money; check to make sure any engine issues were addressed under warranty.
The following two model years saw very few changes. Side airbags were standard equipment in 1998, and 18-inch wheels were optional, necessitating minor changes to rear suspension components. Upgraded Litronic headlights became an option in 1999 along with minor improvements to passenger storage compartments.
Porsche increased engine displacement for the 2000 model year Boxster to 2.7 liters, bumping output to 220 horsepower. Suspension upgrades and a drive-by-wire throttle system were notable upgrades and complemented the engine change. The real story in 2000, however, was the introduction of the Boxster S with its potent 3.2 liter 250-hp engine, six-speed manual transmission, larger brakes with red calipers, twin exhaust tailpipes, a multi-padded convertible top lining, a three-spoke steering wheel with colored crest, and larger 17” wheels—all as standard equipment. The Tiptronic transmission remained an option for both models.
The glass rear window with defroster was introduced in 2003 and is a very desirable feature.
Market values for a nice 1997 to 2000 model year Boxster with standard equipment range from around $14,000-19,000. They’re nice cars for the money. Notably, however, some early 1997/1998 Boxsters had a history of engine problems due in large part to structural problems with their casings. Fortunately, these problems revealed themselves early in the life of the cars, and the factory replaced most under warranty. If you are considering buying an earlier Boxster from these years, check with your local dealership to determine if the engine was replaced. Boxsters of that era also featured a new design engine referred to by Porsche as the M96. While the M96 had many mechanically desirable engine features, time has shown that the M96 family of engines is not without problems, much like previous Porsche engines. With M96 engines, a particular issue has been intermediate shaft failure, usually referred to as “IMS” failure. Generally it is not known how many of these IMS failures have occurred, nor are there any statistics available on how many engines have been replaced because of it. Engine failures from this issue are thought to be a relatively low number overall. Unfortunately, there is no entirely accurate currently available test that will predict a failure. According to available technical information and those knowledgeable with this issue, Porsche did make some internal engine component changes throughout the manufacturing process of the M96 (and later M97) engines, making this specific issue less likely to occur. The informed prospective buyer will want to thoroughly check out all available resources including the PCA Tech Q&A section on the PCA website, any other technical articles available, and perhaps talk with other knowledgeable Porsche owners or your local Porsche dealership service departments.
Other issues associated with the 1997-2000 model year range include malfunctioning air bag lights, balky convertible top cables, and quirky ignition switches. Again, the factory was quick to redress these issues under warranty, and most should not reappear on these cars. Remember though, that these cars have the plastic rear window that deteriorates over time and a convertible top that did not see additional padding until the 2000 S models appeared. But even with a replacement engine and the earlier tops, these first versions are worthy of consideration for their value and drivability.
The follow-on models offered dramatic improvements. As Porsche continued to refine the Boxster each year with more horsepower, better ergonomics and improved safety features, the car became an icon of manufacturing excellence. Let’s now look at this later range of cars, which are probably the best bang for your buck.
The 2001 and 2002 Boxster models offered buyers the three-spoke steering wheel, electronic front and rear trunk releases and a newly designed seat belt system as standard equipment. All Boxsters now featured the padded convertible top which first appeared on the 2000 S models. Porsche Stability Management (PSM) was optional as was an upgraded audio system. 18-inch Turbo-look alloy wheels became an option in 2002. And for those of us who had complained about having to forego morning coffee or afternoon Big Gulps while driving their Boxster with the top down, 2002 was a godsend—Porsche finally heard our prayers and installed in-dash cup holders.
In terms of Boxster evolution and development, 2003 was a red-letter year. Porsche tweaked the engines on both cars—the base model came in at 225 hp while the S increased to a very potent 258. Both saw redesigned interior features, completely revised wheels and bumpers, and a big item for many—a glass rear window with defroster to replace the earlier plastic window.
The 2004 model year Boxsters remained largely unchanged from 2003. The big news for 2004 was the first Boxster special edition, which celebrated the introduction of the 550, Porsche’s legendary mid-engine race car that appeared in race trim at Le Mans in 1953. Porsche’s commemorative Boxster model was called the 550 Spyder 50th Anniversary Edition. Only 1,953 of these cars were built—making them imminently collectible. As is their tradition with limited edition cars, Porsche fully loaded the 550 50th Edition. GT Silver Metallic paint, special cocoa full leather interior, a cocoa convertible top, 18-inch Carrera wheels with gray spokes and colored center crests, silver brake calipers, heated seats, sports suspension, wheel spacers, a 3.2-liter engine tweaked to 260 hp, and many other goodies were all part of the package.
You can pick up a nice 2001 to 2004 model year standard Boxster for between $20,000 and $29,000. In the 2000 to 2003 “S” model category, they should be in the same general range of around low-$20s to high-$20s; with a 2004 S model in the low to mid-$30s. Creature comforts and performance improvements separate these cars from their earlier counterparts. The glass rear window with defroster introduced in 2003 is a very desirable feature for many as is the remote key access for both the front and rear trunks that initially appeared in 2001. If you are looking to buy a good, reasonably priced Boxster with lots of features, the 2003 or 2004 years would be one of my first choices, especially the well equipped 2004 550 Spyder 50th Anniversary Edition.
The 2005 Boxster is larger and faster than its predecessors with a roomier interior and a stiffer body.
Although similar in appearance to its predecessors, the 2005 Boxster was a completely new design. Keeping with tradition, Porsche marked the change by assigning this second generation series a new model code: 987 versus the number 986 that had become an alternative name for the 1997-2004 cars. The 2005 Boxster was larger and faster than its predecessors with a roomier interior and a stiffer body. These 987 cars can easily be differentiated from their 986 cousins by their wider track, reshaped headlights, new bumper and roll bar designs, larger and redesigned side air intakes, and new 17-inch Boxster II wheels. Eighteen-inch wheels were standard on the S cars, with 19s optional. And speaking of wheels, Porsche replaced the front trunk mounted spare tire with an emergency tire repair kit. Weight saving aluminum front and rear trunk lids were standard as was a rear spoiler that extended at speeds above 75 mph. The 2.7-liter engine in the standard model now produced 240 hp, and the 3.2-liter in the S model Boxster was up to 280 hp, both managed by the advanced Motronic ME 7.8 engine management system. Optional on both cars were Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) and the very cool Sports Chrono package. Also optional on the non-S Boxster was a six-speed manual transmission, which was standard equipment on the S model. (The six-speed S model was now a 5.2 second 0 to 60 car that was good for just under 30 mpg!)
How do you improve on an “almost” perfect car? Tough to do, so Porsche kept the 2006 Boxster and Boxster S virtually the same as the 2005 models. Optional Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) and an improved NAV system were about the only additional items from the 2005. If within your budget, give serious consideration to a 2005 or 2006 Boxster or Boxster S—they’re terrific cars.
Porsche increased the 2007 model Boxster’s output to 245 hp for the standard model and 295 hp for the S model. A faster shifting Tiptronic transmission increased performance if you ordered the optional Sports Chrono package. Access to the engine changed in the model year. Porsche improved the Boxster’s rear trunk room by moving the oil and coolant caps inside the body. And for those who lamented the loss of the spare tire in 2005, Porsche saw fit to eliminate the venerable dipstick and replace it with electronic monitoring of oil levels.
In 2008, 1,960 Boxster RS 50 Spyder Limited Edition cars were produced. These were all Boxster S models with horsepower uprated to 303.
Two Limited Edition Boxsters returned in 2008: a Limited Edition Boxster clad in the GT3 RS orange with black trim and a RS 60 Spyder Limited Edition Boxster. The Limited Edition GT3 RS orange Boxster cars were available in both standard and S models, and featured black wheels, black side mirrors, black vent covers, a black top, and black Boxster script on the rear trunk lid. The special Boxster RS 60 Spyder Limited Edition model, built to honor the 1960 Sebring 12 Hour winning RS 718, was available in S model trim only. Only 1,960 of these cars were made, and all came with more horsepower (303 hp), PASM standard, Sport Design front bumper, 19-inch Sport Design wheels and wheel spacers. Buyers could order their RS 60 edition with either a Carrera red interior and top or in a more subtle shade of gray. Both limited edition models are very distinctive cars, with stunning looks and special appeal.
Visual changes characterize the 2009 model year. Front bumpers on these cars have larger air intakes that house new LED running lights, while the rear bumper has a revised diffuser integrated into the bumper. The 2009 Boxster S models have a 3.4-liter engine with direct fuel injection (DFI), upping horsepower to 310. The standard Boxster continues with port injection, but engine capacity increased from 2.7-liters to 2.9-liters, bumping the car from 245 to 255 horsepower. Thanks to ingenious fuel management technology, both cars have improved gas mileage ratings over their predecessors. The Tiptronic transmission is no longer available as an option, replaced by the highly touted Porsche seven-speed PDK double clutch transmission. Drivers now have the option of using the automatic mode on the console or by using paddle shifters on the steering wheel. PDK makes driving in traffic incredibly easy; and by all reports from those who opted for it, it is very quick on the highway or track.
2010, and into the future
For 2010, Porsche seemed to be content with the previous models as few changes were made for either the Boxster or Boxster S 2010 models. When you get as good as these models have become, it’s difficult to make huge improvements. Base prices for these two models start at $47,600 and $58,000 respectively. The big news came at the Los Angeles Auto Show in December 2009. Making their debut were the 2011 Boxster Spyders, and did they ever make an impression to most all. Porsche stepped up their game considerably with these new Boxsters. Less weight and a very cool new look were the overriding qualities of these cars. While the deleted air conditioning and radio were among the weight saving items that all add up to approximately 175 pounds, the most extreme new feature is a single layer, manually operated fabric top. The rear trunk lid “humps” give this Boxster an entirely new profile and it’s exciting for many. There are newly designed lightweight 19-inch wheels, aluminum doors, and lightweight sport bucket seats. Instead of the standard interior door openers, you will find fabric door pulls instead. With the permanent trunk spoiler, a horsepower boost to 320, and lower suspension, it all adds up to one of the coolest Boxsters ever. It is not a limited edition, but an addition to the existing line up of Boxster, Boxster S, and now, Boxster Spyder. Base price for a Boxster Spyder is $61,200. Do not fret over the loss of the air conditioning and radio. If you don’t mind having the extra weight, these can be added back in at the factory.
Kudos to Porsche for keeping a fresh and exciting look to the Boxster line up. You will not mistake these new Boxster Spyders for a regular Boxster or Boxster S when you see one for the first time. Quite exciting!
In summary, the new generation 987 series cars have many desirable features and improvements: new headlights, new and larger side vents, more front trunk space, new engine management systems, roomier cabin space, and more airbag protection. All of these features are wonderful, and the market prices reflect this. Current market values for 2005/2006 standard Boxsters will be around the low to high-$30s. The 2007/2008 standard models range from the high-$30s to high-$40s. The 2007/2008 S models go from the high-$40s to high-$50s. To me, the 2005 standard or S models are the true bargain in this group—they have most all of these desirable features, but are more reasonably priced for many budgets.
For the 2009 model year, the Boxster S offers a 3.4 liter engine with direct fuel injection and optional PDK double clutch suspension.
Doing your homework
A prospective buyer should consider multiple factors before making a commitment to purchase a pre-owned Boxster. The Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI) is by far the single most important. Seek out a competent facility that has a reputation for Porsche service excellence and has the requisite electronic diagnostic equipment to check all on-board systems. A good technician performing the PPI should examine the car for oil leaks, signs of recent damage or repairs, ill fitting or broken components, suspension problems, brake components that need attention, exhaust problems and other significant issues. If possible, accompany the PPI technician when he’s going through the car. He/she should be able to give you invaluable feedback on the car that will weigh heavily on your decision to purchase.
Service records are the next most important item to look at. A properly maintained, dealer serviced Boxster will likely have complete service records for you to inspect. If the car was serviced at a Porsche dealer; you can request and in most cases receive a copy of any dealership work from PCNA’s database. Regular oil changes, scheduled brake fluid changes, and servicing the car at recommended service intervals are all part of what should be in those records. Look ahead for any upcoming major services, and use those as “bargaining chips” when negotiating the price you are willing to pay the seller.
In fairness to potential buyers, careful thought should be given to those who insist on doing all their own work. The Boxster’s mid engine design makes it difficult to access and perform routine maintenance on key components such as the oil drain plug and etc. However, there are those savvy Boxster owners out there with access to proper lift equipment and skills that can do any and all work on their cars. Having access to adequate lift equipment is desirable for owners wanting to do their own routine maintenance, and that should be a consideration for new buyers.
Performing your own inspection or having a knowledgeable PCA member assist you with this inspection will give you a very good feel for the car. If at all possible, try to put the car safely up on a lift. Viewing the undercarriage is crucial because it will provide telltale evidence of the condition of the car and how it was driven and maintained. A car that shows visible neglect, top or bottom, should be avoided. Salt residue underneath will be obvious if the car was used in severe winter weather. Check the engine belt. Nothing will leave you stranded on the highway quicker than a broken belt. While underneath, inspect the condition of the insides of the tires. Confirm the date of tire manufacture; it is recommended not to use tires that are more than six years old. The technician doing the PPI should be able to help you check those numbers. Purchase of new tires can always be a good bargaining chip. Look for any signs of damage that may have been repaired on the top portion of the car; but are still visible on the undercarriage of the car. Always check for signs of oil leakage under and around the engine itself. The rear main seal (RMS) leak is a well-documented problem with Boxster engines. To check for this, look between the engine crankcase and the gearbox. RMS leaks are expensive to repair, and if the car has a carry-over warranty, Porsche Cars North America (PCNA) may turn out to be your very best friend if a warranty issue such as a RMS arises.
Making your Boxster Purchase
PCA’s Senior Technical Advisor, Bruce Anderson, always recommends buying the “newest” Boxster model you can afford. That’s sound advice, especially if warranty coverage is important to you. The Porsche Certified Pre Owned (CPO) warranty, available through authorized Porsche dealerships, may provide the best extended coverage for a used Boxster. It will increase the selling price, but may pay back dividends if ever needed. Obtaining the CPO limited warranty coverage under the CPO program depends on whether the car is still under the original factory new car limited warranty or not, and passes a rigorous 100+ point inspection. CPOs can extend the original coverage up to an additional two years or 50,000 miles over the original warranty. If the new car warranty has expired, the coverage can be for up to two years from current date of sale, or an additional 50,000 miles, whichever comes first. Roadside assistance during coverage period is a feature of the CPO warranty. Various other company warranties may be available, but be sure to read the contract in its entirety and to fully understand the conditions for warranty.
Please keep in mind that the price ranges discussed in this article are general retail estimates. Prices will vary based upon time of year, geographic location, and/or condition of any specific car. Other factors impacting price include mileage and cars with special options or equipment. Private party sales can usually be expected to be less than retail. The PCA Mart, either online or in print, is an excellent source to find a private party sale. Kelley Blue Book; is usually a good source for comparing new and used auto prices.
In summary, the Porsche Boxster and Boxster S, and now the Boxster Spyder all offer great power, great handling, great looks, great quality, and the Porsche name, all at a great price. So what’s not to like!
Bob Purgason is a long time member of PCA and a retired official with the Commonwealth of Virginia. He and his wife Joanie have owned a total of nine Porsches, including their current 2007 Boxster S. Bob appreciates any and all things Porsche. He is the PCA Boxster Advocate.
This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Porsche Panorama, and is copyrighted