New Car Review

1998 Porsche 986 Boxster

by John Heilig


ENGINE:            2.5-liter horizontally opposed six
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 201hp @ 6,000 rpm/181 ft-lb @ 4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:      19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, 23.9 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         95.2 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    171.0  in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    50.8 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     70.1 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       2,822 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     15.3 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  9.1 cu. ft. (total)
TIRES:             205/55ZR16/225/50ZR16
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, 
                   power mirrors, air conditioner, 
                   AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, 
                   anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $43,845

It's almost like the British sports car market in the Fifties. Three German manufacturers have all come out with small sports cars, all in the $40,000 price range. Performance is similar among all three cars and the differentiation is which manufacturer you prefer and which features you prefer.

We've driven the Mercedes-Benz SLK and the four-cylinder BMW Z3 (we have a six cylinder on order). The car this week is the Porsche Boxster.

Powering the Boxster is a 2.5-liter six-cylinder engine rated at 201 horsepower. It is mid-mounted, right behind the two seats. There is quite a shock if you try to find the engine. You open the rear deck and find a trunk. Open the front and find another trunk. Total trunk capacity by the way is 9.1 cubic feet, which isn't bad for a car of this type.

In order to get to the engine you have to remove some interior carpet and panels. It must be Porsche's idea that the owner/driver doesn't really need to get to the engine. Servicing the engine is performed from underneath, so you must go to a dealer to get it serviced. All the dipsticks and fluid fillers are located in the rear trunk, so it's possible to maintain your Boxster's engine without ever seeing it. Curious.

The engine drives the rear wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. In operation, the engine has a metallic whine to it that is almost like the old air-cooled Porsche engines. However, this engine is water-cooled. It has variable camshaft control and there is a rev limiter at 6,500 rpm that we discovered one time when we accelerated to pass a truck.

Braking is typical Porsche efficiency. All four wheels have disc brakes with ABS. Stepping on the pedal is like driving into a wall of soft mush. The car just stops with no fuss.

Handling is excellent, as you might expect with a mid-engine design. We had the opportunity to drive the Boxster on some of my favorite winding roads. I was able to maintain a speed that was nearly double the posted speed limit (as long as there were no other cars on the road) with no sense of speeding. In this case the Boxster was in the same class as my other mid-engine favorite, the Acura NSX.

One of the complaints I've always had with the Porsche 911 series is that it is basically an old racing car that has been civilized for road use. The civilization process is not that good and you always get the feeling when you sit behind the wheel of a 911 that you're driving a race car.

With the Boxster, however, you feel as if you're driving a civilized car. The instruments are definitely in the modern genre. The controls are all contemporary and there is nothing to indicate that the car was designed 30 years ago, as is the case with the 911. You have a large tachometer dominating the instrument panel, with a smaller 150-mph speedometer off to the left. Fuel and water gauges are located to the right. There s a digital speedometer located just under the tachometer, though, that gives a better indication of the speed you're traveling than the analog speedometer does. Even the type face used for the numbers on the dials is different and modern.

There is an HVAC system that is modern and efficient, as well as an excellent sound system.

I loved the inside door handles, that were nicely styled and well integrated into the inside door design. Porsche has found a way to make this utilitarian necessity a beautiful part of the car design, unlike anything we've seen before.

There is a nice power top that keeps the Boxster in the same class as the competition. You unlock one latch over the rear view mirror and flip a switch and the top recedes into a compartment over where I assume the engine is located. Like the SLK, there are roll bars behind each of the seats.

The Porsche Boxster looks very much like an old Porsche race car, quite a bit like the original Boxer. So when you're driving the Porsche on the highway or look at it sitting in the driveway you get double takes. It's a very pretty car and attracted all the teenagers and adults who walked past our house. The Boxster is Porsche all the way with its horizontally opposed six and excellent handling. There were a few minor glitches, such as a rattle in the dash and the ignition switch on the left of the steering wheel, but they are ignorable.

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