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Model Guide: 2013-2016 Porsche Boxster and Cayman

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Above: 2015 Boxster GTS (left) and Cayman GTS

Article by Damon Lowney
Photos courtesy Porsche

When Porsche needed an ace to survive, it drew one in the form of the mid-engined Boxster sports car in 1997. Since then, its success has spawned three more generations as well as a coupe version called the Cayman. We’re here to talk about the third-generation Boxster and Cayman, known internally as the 981, the last of Porsche’s mid-engined sports cars to use a naturally aspirated flat six in all model variations.

2013 Porsche Boxster

Car and Driver called the manual Boxster “a squirming bundle of wondrous joy.” Edmunds reported the manual Cayman “attacks apexes as if laser-guided.” Jalopnik said the Boxster S was “one of the best cars you can buy today.” The automotive press had mostly great things to say about the 981 upon its launch, and as the model line expanded to include GTS models, the exquisite Cayman GT4 street-legal track weapon, and stripped-down and powered-up Boxster Spyder, consumers had what seemed like endless choices to pick a 981 that suited their needs best. And then there’s the naturally aspirated flat-six. That’ll be enough to sway some shoppers to purchase a 981 used as opposed to a newer four-cylinder 718 Boxster or 718 Cayman (whose internal type number, confusingly, is actually 982).

We realize navigating Porsche model hierarchies and year-to-year updates can be daunting, so we hope this guide removes a good chunk of the mystery in your search for a 981.

2013 Cayman S (European model)

The 981 was launched in 2012 as a 2013 model and included the base Boxster and Boxster S. The Cayman and Cayman S came to the US a year later as 2014 models. It was a totally new car, unlike the 987 that came before it, which was basically a refined, facelifted version of the 986 Boxster. A new aluminum and steel unibody plus extensive use of aluminum in the doors, hood, and decklid lowered weight and increased structural rigidity by 40%, according to Porsche. All that metal was shaped into a distinct, new form that is still instantly recognizable as a Boxster/Cayman.

Cutaway showing where different materials are used on the 2013 Boxster.

Though the 981 was similar in size to the 987 (it was one-and-a-quarter inches longer, same width, slightly lower), Porsche was able to reduce weight by roughly 50-100 pounds, depending on the variant. A 2.36-inch longer wheelbase (2.7-in. longer in the case of the Cayman GT4) and a 36-mm wider front track gave the new Boxster more surefooted and “mature” handling.

The 3.4-liter direct-fuel-injected (DFI) flat-six found in the 987 S was carried over to the 981, making 325 horsepower at 7400 rpm in the Cayman S and 315 hp at 6700 rpm in the Boxster S, an intentional decision by Porsche to separate the cars’ performance. The power increase for both cars was just 5 hp more than the previous generation. The bigger news was the switch from the 2.9-liter unit in the 987 Cayman and Boxster to a smaller 2.7-liter flat-six, which was now based on the larger 3.4-liter engine. In spite of the smaller displacement, the 2.7 gained 10 hp over the 2.9 for a total of 265 hp at 6700 rpm in the Boxster and 275 hp at 7400 rpm in the Cayman, both representing 10-hp gains. This was achieved largely through the use of direct fuel injection and a higher 12.5:1 compression ratio.

Interior of 2013 Boxster S

The interior was redesigned and took cues from the 991-generation 911 released the year before, which itself took inspiration from the Carrera GT with its gently sloping center console. Overall interior quality was improved as well.

The 2014 model year didn’t bring any significant updates to the 981 besides the aforementioned introduction of the Cayman to the US market. For 2015, the GTS variant was introduced. In modern Porsche speak, any model with the GTS moniker attached to it means it has a high level of standard equipment, from performance goodies to cosmetic enhancements. This standard equipment is not normally unique to the GTS, but instead a discounted amalgam of options that can be added to other models for more money. In a world of high-dollar Porsches, the GTS is a relative bargain.

2015 Boxster GTS

Here’s what you get with the 981 GTS: an increase in horsepower, from 315/325 hp in the Boxster S/Cayman S to 330/340; PASM, the active, electronically controlled suspension; Sport Chrono package, which adds features such as launch control (in PDK cars), a lap timer, and more; PDLS, or headlights that swivel based on steering input; and, of course, tons of Alcantara on the inside.

2015 Cayman GTS

Though potent, the GTS was not the final word for the 981. That went to the 2016 Boxster Spyder and 2016 Cayman GT4, both lightweight specials powered by the 3.8-liter flat-six from the 911 Carrera S, which made 375 hp in the Spyder and 385 hp in the GT4. Besides the big flat-six and requisite six-speed manual transmission, Porsche took vastly different approaches in the development of these cars, honing the GT4 into a street-legal track car and the Spyder into a slightly more relaxed back road bomber.

2016 Cayman GT4

The GT4 gains the 911 GT3’s front suspension, while the rear suspension is reinforced and a bit different from lesser Caymans — which is why its wheelbase is about a half-inch longer than all other 981s. 245/35-20 tires wrap the front, while 295/30-20s are at the rear. The level of adjustment available on the GT4 comes close to the GT3, with the ability to remove aero flaps under the front of the car, tune the rear spoiler, and harden or soften the anti-roll bars.

The Spyder, on the other hand, does not get the trick suspension of the GT4, and it rides on narrower rear tires sized 265/35-20. The cumbersome, manual convertible soft top of the 987-generation Spyder was replaced with a more user-friendly manually operated design.

2016 Boxster Spyder

Rounding out the 981 generation are the model year 2016 Black Editions, which are base Caymans and Boxsters that feature higher levels of standard equipment and are available only with a black exterior and interior.

Going into this article, we were expecting to have a list of common problems and things to look out for when purchasing a 981, but PCA Tech Expert Peter Smith, a Porsche dealership technician, says he has not seen any major problems with the cars. The most common problem, he says, is an infotainment system that turns on and off randomly while driving, or whose navigation stops working. The second most common problem he's seen is regarding the convertible top on early 981s, in which the stitching could come undone where it folds. Both of these problems are covered by Porsche if the warranty is still in effect. A very small percentage of 981s have also experienced a problem with the high-pressure fuel pump, in which it will lose pressure and put the car into limp mode. If this happens, the car can be driven, but it's recommended to get a tow to be on the safe side.

So the biggest takeaway when purchasing a 981 is to find the model variant you like most that's within your price range, and be sure to get a pre-purchase inspection to ensure none of the aforementioned problems catch you by surprise.

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