If you think ‘real’ Porsche’s have their engines hanging over the back axle then chances are you won’t consider Boxsters genuine Porsches. If this is that case then I probably shouldn’t mention the ‘C’ word (Cayenne), or broach the topic of the sedan-come-hatch that starts with a ‘P’ and ends in an ‘anamera’. If you’re a true-blooded traditionalist then you probably still think Porsche should be using air to cool their flat-sixes too. But in much the same way as today’s enthusiast bemoans the demise of the manual gearbox, the times and the technology it brings with it change; sometimes for the better.
In 1996 when Porsche introduced the Boxster the company was in the middle of a financial predicament brought about by the fact that no one was actually buying their cars. Over the years however, the Boxster has been partially credited for saving Porsche from acquisition and the dark days of the recession strapped 90’s. Released slightly before its 911 (996) sibling the two shared interior parts, engine architecture and styling which isn’t generally considered to be Porsche’s finest work. The model featured here is a 1997 986, powered by Porsche’s M96 water-cooled flat-six, which drives the rear wheels through a five speed manual transaxle and an open differential. The M96 in this guise sits in front of the little roadster’s rear wheels and displaces 2.5 litres. From these 2.5 litres a respectable 150kW at 6,400rpm and 260Nm at a relatively high 4,750rpm is produced, which is not bad even by today’s standards. Especially when you consider it only weighs 1,250kgs.
It’s these last few points that bring me to the Boxster’s strengths over a ‘real’ Porsche, or 911 as some would say. Situated in the middle of the car the Boxster did away with many engineering and handling issues that plague the rear engine 911. The combination of relatively stiff chassis, for a convertible, low centre of gravity and mid-engine configuration mean that the Boxster’s weight distribution of 47/53 per cent front-to-rear (compared to 39/61 per cent for similar a vintage 911) is more akin to conventional sports cars. Something that’s also more like a conventional sports car is the little roadster’s handling. Driving this car predominately in Canberra the plethora of roundabouts that plague the average driver are a constant source of enjoyment in this car. The five speed gearbox (six speed in later models) is buttery smooth, but has surprisingly long throws between its gears. It manages to be precise and deliberate and heel-toeing is far easier in the Boxster than older 911’s, which you can pick up for similar money, due to their counterintuitive floor-mounted pedals. Originally optioned with sports suspension in 1997 this Boxster sits lower than others on slightly stiffer springs and dampers, which after 160,000kms could probably do with a re-fresh.
While entry into a Boxster is relatively affordable, you’re still buying a Porsche which means you have to maintain it too. Much like a wedding, as soon as you say the word ‘Porsche’ the price tends to increase three-fold. Simple things like oil and coolant changes become an expensive exercise when you realise that the little flat-six is lubricated by 8.5 litres of oil and cooled by around 17 litres of coolant. Don’t even mention the price of refreshing those previously mentioned suspension components. At the end of the day it’s only money though, right? And when you hear the induction noise of the M96 from 3,000rpm up to its 6,500rpm redline you’ll soon realise that your money was well spent. There’s always going to be the traditionalists who scoff at the fact that the ‘engine’s in the wrong spot’ or that water cooling is the work of the devil, but at the end of the day it was Porsche’s diversification that saved them from an impending financial doom. This diversification gave the world the Boxster that would eventually spawn cars like the Cayman and its GT4 offshoot, and if you think that this is a bad thing then you probably wouldn’t have read this far.