As Good as it Gets

The author reviews his four years with a 2015 Porsche Boxster.

All images (c) by the author

In an ideal world, I would report that my current 981-generation Porsche Boxster, purchased in 2016, directly replaced a previous generation (987…don’t ask) model that I owned for six years and enjoyed tremendously. Unfortunately, I strayed and had a two-month torrid but unfulfilling affair with a Jaguar F-Type convertible before coming to my senses and returning to Zuffenhausen.

The Jaguar was too large, in particular too wide, to be driven with any confidence at (safe) speeds along my favourite sinuous country roads. It also proved to be, with all due respect to those who enjoy the game, a bit too golf club for my tastes.

A dismal experience with the incompetent and dishonest Jaguar main dealer who supplied the car and two electrical faults in quick succession, admittedly fixed under warranty without fuss by my local dealership, further soured my feelings towards the F-Type, so I traded it against the car I should have bought in the first place.

My Boxster was purchased as a 5k miles, year-old Porsche Approved Used car. I didn’t view the Boxster before it was delivered, but it was in the right colour (classic Guards Red), and was highly specified, with almost all the options I might have chosen.

Porsche Glasgow was a delight to deal with. They quoted a trade-in price for the Jaguar without seeing it and were willing to haggle a bit on the small difference between this and the Boxster’s advertised price. When they delivered the Boxster and took the F-Type away, there was no nit-picking about its condition (not that there was anything to criticise). The Boxster looked pristine at first glance.

The car is a 2.7 litre base model, but fitted with a number of important and expensive options. This included PDK automatic transmission, full leather interior, heated seats, dual climate control, sports steering wheel with gearshift paddles, upgraded infotainment system, 19” Boxster S wheels, front and rear parking sensors, body-coloured rollover hoops, smoked tail lights and twin exhausts, all of which came to more than £10k new.

That sounds like a lot of money, but Porsche was pretty niggardly with its standard specification. The 17” wheels looked (deliberately?) spindly, cheap and unattractive to my eyes. The standard radio was a non-DAB unit and didn’t even have a USB port. The only significant option the car lacks is the integrated sat-nav, but I have lived happily without it.

You might have noticed that I qualified my comment about the car’s appearance on delivery. Under the bright fluorescent lights in my garage, I noticed slightly dull areas in the paintwork on the high points of the front and rear wings. This was despite the car being treated to a proprietary paint protection and polish treatment before delivery.

My friendly valeter diagnosed slight abrasion from a car cover, and a machine polish quickly eliminated the marks and brought all the paintwork up to an impressive mirror finish. According to my valeter, Porsche paintwork is just about the toughest and most durable in the business.

The car felt instantly familiar when I took it out for a drive, despite being an entirely new and different car to my previous Boxster, which was itself a heavy facelift of the original model. The flat-six normally-aspirated engine sounds unique and delivers its 261bhp of power and 280Nm of torque with beautiful linearity.

The engine is well matched to the PDK gearbox, which changes gear noticeably more quickly and seamlessly than the Tiptronic’ torque-converter unit fitted to the earlier models. There is a ‘Sport’ setting that delays upshifts, makes it kick down more readily and sharpens the throttle response. It really changes the character of the car, from a smooth GT to out-and-out sports car. It’s an absolute hoot to drive in this mode!

The only way in which, dynamically, the 981 is possibly a retrograde step from the 987 is the steering. The earlier car had hydraulic power steering that was wonderfully light, precise and communicative, allowing you to feel the road surface beneath you. It was so alive that I thought there was something wrong when first drove a 987, having just stepped out of my Mk1 Audi TT 225 Quattro, which was safe but inert, with wholly uncommunicative steering, similar to the Mk4 VW Golf on which it was based. The 981 has electric power steering which, in absolute terms, is excellent, but I think it might not be quite as feelsome as its predecessor’s, however, I’m not nearly a good enough driver to say definitively either way.

My Boxster is cosseted in that it is never driven in the wet and is always garaged when not in use, but that’s entirely out of choice, not necessity. The car is would be very practical for everyday use, with decent sized luggage compartments front and rear and a very well insulated soft-top that keeps wind noise to acceptable levels when up. Our longest unbroken drive was a seven-hour, 350 mile drag from Holyhead to our home, which took in the dreadful M6 motorway and its endless roadworks. We did this with the roof up and felt reasonably ok at the end of it.

The fit and finish of the exterior and interior is first-class. Ergonomics are just about perfect, apart from the inevitable dashboard-mounted handbrake, an unintuitive push-pull switch that requires me to think pull-off every time I first use it. It will disengage automatically, but that requires slightly more engine revs than I like to use in the close confines of our garage. The upgraded sound system is pretty good, but I think the Bose branded system in my previous Boxster had better bass delivery.

The car blotted its copybook only once, shortly after I took delivery. On my way home after a short trip, I got an urgent warning message along the lines of Engine oil below minimum level. Stop as soon as possible. I did so, pulling into the forecourt of a filling station. The car has no dipstick, but does an oil level check every time you start up and was full before I set out. There was no oil under the car, so I was sure it was a sensor failure. Porsche Assistance, however, advised me that I would drive it further at my own risk so I had wait four hours for the car to be recovered and taken to Porsche Cambridge, where the faulty sensor was duly diagnosed and replaced.

One important aspect of the flat-six engine is that it doesn’t like repeated short trips where the oil doesn’t get fully up to temperature, which takes about twenty minutes. Frequent short trips can cause premature engine wear. I make a point of avoiding such trips and will go the long way around to give it a proper run at least once a fortnight*. It’s something to consider if you’re looking to buy a low-mileage Boxster, Cayman or 911: two 25-mile runs a week is fine, ten five-mile runs (to and from the railway station, for example) is not so good.

Porsche servicing is not cheap, but low-mileage cars like mine only need servicing every two years, alternating major and minor services that average out at about £300 per year. A good independent specialist (like the one in Norwich that used to service my 987) will probably charge about 60% to 70% of the Porsche hourly labour rate. Some will say that bi-annual oil changes are too infrequent, even on a low mileage car, but I defer to Porsche’s expertise in this regard.

I’ve only fitted two aftermarket extras to my Boxster. One is a toughened glass wind deflector between the rollover hoops, replacing the standard framed net item to improve rear visibility. The other is a set of grilles that fit within the two front air intakes, to protect the air-con condensers and radiators from being blocked up with leaf debris and, more importantly, being damaged by stones flung up from the road. I learnt about this risk the hard way on my previous Boxster.

It’s very annoying that Porsche does not fit such grilles as standard, and outrageous that any car so fitted will fail the Porsche 111-point check that is required to extend the manufacturer’s warranty!

So, in summary, the Boxster is beautifully built, a brilliant drive and surprisingly practical. Sadly, the only road-focused Boxster now available with the sublime flat-six engine is the range-topping GTS, starting from around £66k. Lesser models have to make do with a turbocharged flat-four engine, which is very powerful, but lacks the flat-six’s linearity and wonderful engine note.

Interestingly, used prices of late flat-six models like mine are remarkably strong, to the extent that I’ve pretty much recovered the £5k notional loss I suffered when I traded in the F-Type. This reflects the expectation that the flat-six will never return to the lower order Boxsters, which is very sad for those of us who regard it as the car’s finest feature.

* This report was written before the imposition of the current lockdown. Sadly but necessarily, the Boxster hasn’t moved from the garage for the past seven weeks. A trickle charger keeps the battery in shape.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

20 thoughts on “As Good as it Gets”

  1. A close friend had one of the first Boxsters when the model was new.
    It was fun to drive but made from nasty materials and had innumerable faults.
    When driven in the rain it killed the engine’s air mass sensor because water was sucked through it, lots of trouble with the roof (noise and water ingress) and the strangest fault was an ignition lock that would start the engine without the key being turned. When he went to a factory owned Porsche centre to show them this fault the workshop manager reached through the open door window and wiggled on the ignition key – the engine started and the car crashed into the wall. When the engine developed the notorious fault with the intermediate shaft bearing the car was sold after less than a year.

    1. Good morning, Dave. Yes, the original 986 generation Boxsters had a couple of serious engine oil leak issues with the Intermediate Shaft and Rear Main Seal that were very expensive to fix. These issues were carried over to the 987 and only properly cured in late 2005. That said, my 2006 987 always had a ‘damp’ RMS, but it never dripped, so didn’t need attention. Porsche seems to struggle with keeping engine oil in its place: my 981 needed a new sump gasket fitted under warranty at its first service.

      I never heard of that ignition problem though. It sounds expensive!

    2. In Porsche’s defence, the company was very strapped for funds when the 986 was developed. That also explains the rather cheap and nasty dashboard, shared with the 996 generation 911.

    3. Having experienced a major engine failure while bring driven in an early 996 at 220 kph two decades ago, I feel I’m in a good position to comment on the quality of that car and hence its closely related Boxster sibling. It was, in short, a disgrace, ranging from offensively low levels of perceived quality (the cabin was simply nasty) to underdeveloped basic components (the wipers would squeak regularly) and, finally, the engine blowing up after barely 20.000 kilometres of use.

      That Porsche and Wendelin Wiedeking got away with these cars speaks volumes about the power of the Porsche brand – the 996 was this marque’s W210 in terms of quality deficits, the difference being that Mercedes didn’t cut corners because they were more or less broke, but because someone had to pay for the ‘integrierte Technologiekonzern’.

      All that being said, the 996 was still such a fine drive that my relative went on to buy a 997, after all. And that car was probably the most reliable, trouble-free motor he ever owned.

    4. The 986 / 996 generation Boxster and 911 were the quality nadir for Porsche and, consequently, are relatively cheap now. Either one, with its oil retention issues properly sorted out, can be a good buy now, as long as you can live with the rather flaccid styling, ‘fried egg’ headlamps and very 90’s plastic dashboard.

    5. The Boxster I was talking about was a very early example which when driven in heavy rain sucked water from the ventilation hole in the rear wing directly onto the air cleaner which either soaked and then choked the engine or it dissolved in the water and let the water flow onto the air mass sensor which was killed by the water shock. Later cars had a labyrinth system in the air box that prevented water hitting the filter.
      The faulty ignition lock was funny. You just had to insert the key without turning it, just wiggling the key started the engine. The workshop manager at the Porsche centre was told about it and was warned that the car was parked in gear. He nevertheless tried it out with very expensive consequences.

  2. Very nice. A nerdy question – I guess you take the grilles off when it has its checks?

    Also, do you have any idea what you’ll replace it with, or are you keeping it?

    You have my sympathy about the F-Type – it’s a dreadful feeling when you realise that a car isn’t for you.

    1. Hi Charles. I didn’t bother to extend the warranty, which is the only circumstance when the 111-point check would be carried out on an owner’s car. As I recall, the extended warranty cost the thick end of £2k for two years, and given the very low mileage I do, it didn’t seem worth it (and wasn’t needed). Had I gone for it, I would have to have taken the grilles off for the check then put them back on again. It’s actually a fiddly job because there are six separate pieces and they each had to be fettled slightly to fit snugly.

      The check is carried out on Approved Used cars, so if I was to trade it in against another Porsche, the grilles would be taken off before it was sold on, which is nuts!

      Regarding a replacement, there’s nothing I can think of that would suit me better. Given the low mileage I do and the fact that the car is garaged, it should remain in excellent condition more or less indefinitely. I might consider an electric Boxster when it appears, but this could be the last ICE car I own.

  3. Here’s the F-Type mentioned in the piece:

    Lovely looking, but not a sports car.

  4. Lovely Boxster. You are so lucky with cheap cars over there. In the Netherlands a 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 starts at € 139,300. Also over here the PDK is in some cases cheaper than a manual because it produces less CO2. As a consequence you pay less tax on the car. Needless to say PDK is pretty much the standard here. I’d have a manual in this car, but on the secondhand market they’re hard to find.

    The 981 is in my opinion a much better car than the F-type. I prefer the engine, gearbox, steering, brakes and pretty much everything else over the too wide and too heavy F-type. Ergonomics is another area where the Jag falls short. I’ve sat in both coupe and roadster F-types and finding an acceptable driving position is impossible for me (187 cm tall). This issue is not unique to Jaguar, though, I had the same problem with a DB9, but even worse.

    As far as I know the IMS problem is mainly with car that are driven for short distances where the engine oil doesn’t heat up to a proper level and roughly 10% of cars are affected.

    1. Interesting that you couldn’t get comfortable in the F-Type, Freerk. I’m 180cm tall, but long legged and short in the body. I always felt I was sitting too low, even with the seat on the highest setting, and felt the car was swallowing me, which is not ideal when you’re trying to place it accurately on the road.

      Regarding the pdk transmission, you can, of course, drive it in Manual mode and change gears using the paddles. It takes a little getting used to but the change is super-quick. I tend not to use the paddles and just drive it in Auto or Sport-Auto because I’m too lazy and inept to change gear as efficiently as the pdk!

    1. Wow, well spotted, Freerk. I’ve never seen one in the metal, and probably never will. Are they as enormous as I think?

      (I’ve taken the liberty of amending your post to display the photo directly. I hope that’s ok with you.)

    2. I saw one many years ago in Cork. What it was doing there (diplomat maybe?) I’ve no idea.

  5. I find interesting the fact of the added grilles invalidating a warranty, because this is an improvement which should have been made by Porsche.
    It is a fact that now the cooling openings in front of the cars are unnecessarily huge, and moreover they do not have any protection, so that expensive damages can arise very easily.
    After having had an enormous bug, or a little stone, crashing directly into the radiator with damages to the radiator fins, in my last cars I (well…I ask the bodyshop mechanic to) put an easily tailored metal mesh behind the grilles.
    The necessary cooling area is not so big, one can just have a look at a Citröen DS and its small openings in the sheet metal under the front bumper, which through a textile tunnel convoy cooling air to the radiator, and the similarly small, mesh-equipped openings on the inferior surfaces of the same bumper for the air conditioning system.
    This means that the minimal reduction in the oversized front grille area due to the added mesh does not influence the working temperatures and the heat exchange ratio of the various radiators.
    Therefore it appears to be only a design-related problem: apparently at the moment we need unprotected, oversized, zoomorphic voracious mouths or nostrils in the front of the cars.
    With regard to the protection a beautiful technical solution was that applied in the W201, W124 and W140 series, a grille with strips inclined at 45°: the air passage area remains the same, but stones and bugs impact the strips and stay away from delicate cooling surfaces.
    This cleverly engineered solution was clearly the product of an intelligent approach to the problem, which solved it without any expense.
    Better said, this means that the problem of maintaining the integrity of the radiator was recognised, the solution coming easily thereafter.
    No battered radiators for those cars, no accumulation of dead flies worsening the heat exchange and therefore a constant way of operating through time and kilometers.
    Another clue of how Mercedes worked in those years; unfortunately it is not zoomorphic…

  6. Sure, Daniel, no problem. I just spotted it driving by, the air-cooled V8 sounds distinctive. It’s such a rare occasion to see these on the road, hope you don’t mind me posting it here.

    I first saw this very car at the concours d’elegance at Paleis het Loo in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, on June 23rd 2012. If I remember correctly this car was owned by the minister of agriculture during the Erich Honecker period. My camera broke down and phone ran out of charge during the event, so I have no photos of the car from that event. Today is only the second time I saw it and I was able to take a quick photo. The photo is a bit crappy, but it’s better than no photo at all. The owner of this T613 also has a T603 and T87, according to the Dutch Tatra Register.

    I think this Tatra T613 is about as long as a current generation Mercedes S-class, definitely narrower by at least 10 centimeters and maybe a bit higher. I think the longest Tatra was the T77, but these are super rare. There is one in the Netherlands, so maybe one day…

  7. Great review of the Boxster, though I confess to some sadness at your comments upon the F-Type: A car I so much want to like…

    1. Thanks, Chris, and sorry to disappoint you regarding the F-Type. Still, look at it this way: I bought one, so you don’t have to…but you might still want to!

      Seriously, if your driving consisted mainly long-distance runs on Motorways and wide A-roads, then the width wouldn’t be the problem it was for me. My F-type was the non-S version with the supercharged 3.0L 335bhp V6, and the acceleration was awesome. The build quality looked good, although I did have two minor electrical issues with the central locking in the two months I owned it. While it was a beautiful looking car, the interior quality was not up to expectations. The F-Type’s indicator stalk had a nasty, sticky action and felt like it came out of a 1980 Austin Metro. (It may well have done.) The electric window switches looked to be poundshop quality and there was a nasty raw edge to the centre console trim behind the gear lever. The audio and cruise buttons on the steering wheel felt flimsy too and the volume one worked erratically.

      Horses for courses though, and the early F-Types are getting temptingly cheap now, from about £23k for a 2014 66k miles convertible. That’s about the same as the cheapest 981 Boxster, a 2013 example with similar miles, but the F-Type was at least £10k more expensive new, so has depreciated much more heavily.

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