A Brief History of the Porsche Boxster and Cayman

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

Although the platform has long lived in the shadow of Porsche’s flagship 911, the Boxster and Cayman remain solid little sports cars for the more budget-minded enthusiast. Special editions such as the recent Cayman GT4 can even give big brother 911 a run for its money performance-wise, and the weight distribution offered by their mid-engine layout offer impressive driving dynamics on the street and track. The platform at this point has had nearly 30 years of history, so its staying power is undeniable. With that in mind, let’s go over the key points of the Boxster and Cayman, and see what makes them so unique.

Development on the Boxster began way back in 1991, as Porsche was looking for an entry-level model to replace the aging 944 and 928. The engineers scrapped those cars’ traditional front engine layout in favor of a new mid-engine chassis, sharing many parts with the upcoming 996 to keep production costs down. The Boxster prototype was unveiled in 1993, giving the public a pretty good idea of what the production model would be while carrying a few extra styling cues from the old 550 Spyder.

Boxster prototype (left) posed with the first generation car (right.)   Image by Porsche

Boxster prototype (left) posed with the first generation car (right.) Image by Porsche

The Boxster wasn’t Porsche’s first “cheap” mid-engine car, however. 20 years earlier came the 914, a joint venture between the automaker and Volkswagen. Most came with a fairly weak VW 411 boxer four, while a small percentage were powered by the two-liter flat six from early 911s. The cheap four cylinder 914 quickly became a hit, outselling the contemporary 911 multiple times over.

A Porsche 914 waits in the pits at a vintage racing event.

A Porsche 914 waits in the pits at a vintage racing event.

The production Boxster debuted in 1996, with a smaller displacement 2.5 liter version of the new water-cooled flat six sitting in the middle. The car’s front structure, fenders, and headlights would be identical to the upcoming 996 generation 911. This first Boxster only made 200 horsepower, but would see many displacement and power increases as the platform matured. Five and six-speed manual transmissions were available, along with the sluggish “Tiptronic” automatic gearbox. Earlier models also suffered from reliability issues akin to the 996, including the notorious IMS bearing wear that can lead to a blown engine if unaddressed. In the 2000’s, the more spritely Boxster S became available with 3.2 liters of displacement, making 258 horsepower.

2005 saw a new Carrera GT-inspired look and increased power for the platform. The standard 2.7 engine made 236 horsepower. The 3.2 in the S put out 276, but would soon be replaced with a 3.4-liter version clocking just under 300 horsepower. A year later, we got the introduction of the Cayman coupe, which is mechanically identical to the Boxster with a little added structural strength from the solid fixed roof. A 2009 re-refresh deleted the automatic transmission option and slotted in the PDK dual-clutch gearbox as a much improved replacement. At this point, Porsche said goodbye to IMS woes by removing that part from the design altogether. The S models also got some more power bumps, up to 326 on the Cayman.

The Starting Line uses this second-gen Boxster S for track demos.

The Starting Line uses this second-gen Boxster S for track demos.

2012 brought the first complete chassis overhaul to the platform. The car grew slightly in every direction, with two inches added to the wheelbase. A new base 2.7-liter was derived from the 991, getting a boost up to 260 horsepower, while the 3.4 S engine was carried over from the previous model. It wasn’t until 2015, however, that enthusiasts got the Boxster and Cayman they were waiting on for more than a decade. The limited edition Cayman GT4 and Boxster came with a 3.8 liter version of the 991’s engine, boasting an impressive 380 naturally aspirated horsepower. The track-only GT4 Clubsport was also produced at the same time. These big bore models were intended to be swansongs for the flat six engine in the platform, soon to be replaced by smaller turbocharged boxer fours.

The current “718” Boxster and Cayman debuted in 2016 with a brand new two-liter turbocharged four cylinder putting out 247 horsepower, a slight decrease from the old 2.7. The S model also came punched out to 2.5 liters with a formidable 345 ponies. The 2020 model year also saw the release 718 T, which got it’s 2.0 boosted up to 296 horsepower. While these four-cylinders offered comparable, even improved performance compared to the old models, many prospective customers complained that they didn’t have the Porsche “feel.” That the exhaust note wasn’t as refined as it should be. This feedback was loud enough to convince Porsche to pull the flat six out of mothballs.

718 Boxster followed by its progenitor

718 Boxster followed by its progenitor Image by Porsche

The GT4 and Spyder monikers returned at the tail end of 2019 with a massive four-liter six, and equally lofty 414 horsepower. Really the most power you’re going to want in a tiny 3,000 pound chassis. Also available currently is the GTS 4.0 model, which has a just so slightly de-tuned version of the GT4’s engine making 396 horses.

This new Cayman GT4 is currently for sale by The Starting Line.

This new Cayman GT4 was sold by The Starting Line.

Whether old or new, four cylinder or six, the Boxster and Cayman offer tons of fun in a tiny package.


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