The Porsche Boxster was the first midengine Porsche since the 914 of the 1970s.
Crowds loved it, reassuring company planners that they were on the right track. Even so, reporters noted that the concept had no top, little luggage space, and no obvious provision for meeting U.S. crash standards, all of which implied that the production version would be a visual disappointment.
Though some road-testers did have aesthetic quibbles, mostly with the cabin, the Porsche Boxster bowed in late 1996 to boffo notices.
"[T]his car looks, feels and sounds like a proper Porsche," said AutoWeek correspondent Greg Kable. "It is enormous fun to drive. That's the real achievement. The Boxster is finally here, and it's for real."
Car and Driver put the Boxster on its "Ten Best List" for 1998 and again for 1999. "As a do-it-all sports car for the end of the century, the Boxster formula has immense appeal."
As the new entry-level Porsche, the Boxster replaced the Porsche 968, the last of the front-engine four-cylinder line begun with the 924 in the 1970s. Everything about it was new except for a horizontally opposed engine "located somewhere behind the cockpit," as one journalist put it.
Other scribes mentioned that because it was a Porsche, the Boxster shared nothing with a mass-market model, unlike the rival BMW Z3 and Mercedes SLK (though future Porsche 911s would inherit much from the Boxster, per Porsche's "two-for-one" model plan).
In keeping with its affordability mandate, the Porsche Boxster might have been designed for a four-cylinder engine. But Porsche decided the car deserved a six. Besides, a four would have increased engine manufacturing cost and complexity, seeing that future Porsche 911 sixes would use the same basic design.
Regardless, the Boxster was the first production Porsche with water cooling, deemed necessary to meet upcoming emissions standards and noise regulations. The engine, designated M96, was also Porsche's first production unit with twin overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder.
Per tradition, the block and heads were made of aluminum to save weight, and engineers worked to keep the engine physically compact to allow for a low mounting point behind the cockpit and ahead of the rear wheels, all the better for handling.
Premium engineering abounded in the M96. The crankshaft, for example, was forged, not cast, and ran in seven main bearings. Cylinder walls were etched with silicon by the new Lokasil process, thus eliminating the need for heavy iron liners as a wearing surface. Porsche's Varioram resonance intake system, carried over from the last air-cooled 911s, insured more complete combustion and thus lower emissions.
Engineers chose "oversquare" bore/stroke dimensions of 3.37 x 2.83 inches (85.5 x 72.0 mm), but left plenty of room to enlarge them for future 911s. Total displacement came to 2.5 liters/151 cubic inches. Thanks in part to unusually high 11:1 compression, horsepower totaled 201 at 6000 rpm. Torque was 181 pound-feet peaking at 4500, but Porsche said 147 pound-feet was available from just 1750 rpm.
A standard five-speed manual gearbox sat behind the engine as a transaxle over the rear-wheel centerline. Optional, at a steep $3150, was a new five-speed version of Porsche's Tiptronic automatic, which could be shifted manually from buttons on the steering wheel.
There was just one thing wrong with the Boxster engine: you couldn't show it off. Thanks to clever packaging, the powertrain was hidden, tucked low in the unibody structure to leave room above for top storage and a rear trunk. Of course, there was another trunk in the nose, which also housed the radiator and spare tire. Combined cargo volume was excellent for a two-seater at some 11 cubic feet, though using it to the fullest required creative packing.
OK, but how to service a hidden engine? Porsche said tuneups were all but eliminated by long-life sparkplugs, electronic engine controls, self-tensioning fanbelts and other modern marvels. Most everything else could be done from underneath, though an owner could check and replenish coolant and engine oil from ports in the rear trunk.
Body side vents fed air to Boxster's engine, which was virtually hidden from view.
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