A Stunning Value Proposition: the 981 Boxster

In 1997, Porsche gave the world the Boxster.  If you squint through the prism of the past just right, it was the first completely new car from the company in 19 years, dating back to the introduction of the 928 in 1978.  The Boxster reinvigorated the brand and launched the company into 15 years (and still counting) of absolutely astronomical success.

 

Price for the original Boxster was $39,950.  For that sum, the buyer got an all-new water-cooled 2.5-liter flat six making 201hp and 181 lb-ft, mated to a five-speed manual transmission.  The car weighed in at 2,822 pounds, svelte for a ragtop with the rigidity required to back up its sporting pretensions.  “Sexy” was the term almost universally utilized to describe its look.  It raked in awards almost immediately: one of C&D’s 10Best for 1997, Automobile Magazine’s Automobile of the Year, Motorweek’s Driver’s Choice for Best Sports Car, Autocar’s Best Roadster in the World—these were just a few.

The Boxster only got better with age, and many say that it was the strong sales numbers put up by the Boxster that kept Porsche financially strong enough to continue to operate independently and free from the threat of takeover, especially in the dot-com financial boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s.  Lest we go on too long praising the Boxster, suffice it to say that the car is utterly brilliant, has by this point won over even its most strident detractors, and has firmly entrenched itself in the annals of Porsche history.

But let’s get back to the beginning.  Let’s get back to that $39,950.  For that sum, you got the sexy shape, the Porsche badge, the signature flat-six howl.  But you also got (thanks to Porsche taking tips from Toyota on parts sharing) the nose, headlights, and the doors from the forthcoming 911 Carrera (996).  Some might say this was a steal, but some might have preferred the metal from the outgoing 993.  You got a plastic rear window which tended to scratch easily.  You got an intake vent on each side, but actually the vent on the right was an exhaust.  The interior quality was less than stunning, and there was no glovebox.

I test-drove a used first-gen Boxster in fall/winter 2002, and while it was amazing to feel the car pivot around my hip bone as I dialed in steering lock, in the end I settled on a new Acura RSX Type S.  The cockpit ambiance and overall interior quality of the RSX absolutely crushed those of the Porsche.  Between that fact, the fear of high maintenance costs (we whisper here of the dreaded rear main seal failure), and the fact that the ’03 Type S made almost exactly the same peak horsepower number as the Boxster, I had to go with the Acura.  Clearly, astounding driving dynamics, great looks, and Porsche badge aside, the very first iteration of the Boxster left a few things to be desired.  Especially for $39,950.

Now, let us play a numbers game.  If we take our year-1997 $39,950 and convert it to 2012 dollars with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI Inflation Calculator, we get $57,097.88.  The base price here and now, today, for the brilliant new Boxster 981 is $49,500.   In 1997 dollars, that $49.5k amounts to a mere $34,633.95.  Put another way, if you were to carry your 2012 $49,500 back to 1997, its value would dwindle so much that the salesman at your Porsche dealer would have to steer you to the trade-ins.  But stay in 2012 with that money and you get an absolutely stunning new car.  Point: the new 981 is actually cheaper than the new 986 was.  And it is a vastly better product in every worthwhile measure.

The 981 is a truly special thing to look at, with regard to both the design and the spec sheet.  Motive force to the tune of 265hp/206lb-ft is provided by a 2.7L flat six.  Curb weight is a mere 2,888 pounds, a scant 66 more than that of its 15-year-old ancestor.  This all means you’ll scoot from 0-60 in 5.5 seconds and top out at 164mph.  The interior is a work of art, incorporating the rising center console that is the new standard across the Porsche range, and overall quite honestly putting the 20th-century slabs of plastic in the 986 completely and utterly to shame.  Both of the intake vents are now actually intake vents, and the doors are bespoke—no more hand-me-downs from big brother 911.  Finally, if you don’t think every single other automaker is scrambling to somehow copy and incorporate the “subtle mechanical rear decklid spoiler that slashes into the taillights” design touch, you just don’t know how this business works.

Trust me, this is gonna be like when Audi put LEDs on the R8.

 

This description already adds up to an extremely desirable car that doesn’t need to lean on its badge and heritage to warrant sales, and yet we have hardly scratched the surface.

With the extra dough left over from our CPI-adjusted $39.5k, we can make our new Boxster even more awesome.  Throw on the twin-clutch PDK automatic tranny and the Sport Chrono option, and you’ve got a launch mode that shaves three tenths off the 0-60 time.  But that’s not all PDK is good for—aside from spectacularly fast power-on upshifts and perfect throttle-blip downshifts, it’ll also shift itself into neutral during lazy off-brake decelerations, allowing fuel-miserly coasting.  Additionally, both the PDK and the standard six-speed manual include automatic stop-start functions that will certainly save a great deal of fuel expense, especially when the commute features heavy traffic and/or stoplights.

 

Only after tacking on the above-mentioned PDK & Sport Chrono, plus the ‘Convenience Package’ (wind deflector, 2-zone A/C, seat heaters), does the 981’s window sticker manage to draw even with the equivalent inflation-adjusted price of its ancestor, the 1997 Boxster 986.  Without doubt, this is an astounding car–an open-top, mid-engined, 2.7L flat-six twin-clutch beauty of a Porsche–that is within the reach of lots of working professionals.  In fact, I’m trying to figure out how I can own one and still bring the kids along.  I’m thinking a tow hitch and parasail with a dual harness.  Done and done.

 

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