For many Porsche aficionados, the “Boxer” engine is a big part of the luxury car maker’s identity. Often, the presence or otherwise of the Boxer engine dictates whether a model is a “true” Porsche or not. While this may seem strange to others, Porsche purists have shown that they will not have it any other way.
The Boxer engine, also known as the flat engine, gets its name from the movement of the engine pistons. The horizontally opposed pistons move inwards and outwards simultaneously, creating the appearance of two professional boxers trading punches and counter-punches. Porsche has used Boxer engines extensively over the years in the design of its cars.
Doe all Porsches have Boxer engines?
The Boxer engine is most effective for small vehicles. That’s why you find it in Porsche sports cars. Bigger models like the Cayenne SUV and Panamera sedan typically use in-line engines or V6/V8 engines.
What Is So Special About Boxer Engines?
Porsche experts believe the Boxer engine is the best thing to happen to cars since Karl Benz made his first car. Others think there is nothing spectacular about these engines at all, and that any engine will do.
So, which side is correct in its assertion?
Boxer engines power some of the most legendary sports cars ever made. Among them is the first Porsche model, the 356, which won the famous 24-Hours Le Mans Endurance Race. Then, there is the Porsche 550 Spyder, which won the prestigious Targa Florio race in 1956.
Another famous sports car with the Boxer engine configuration is the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS that won the Targa Florio race in 1964. The list is endless.
We understand that race wins do not automatically crown the Boxer, the King of engines. However, some of the greatest sports cars in history used this motor, which shows that this engine is special.
For the doubters, here are reasons carmakers like Porsche and Subaru continue to use flat engines:
Balance & Stability
The Boxer engine has a compact length, giving it a reduced center of gravity compared to other engines. Reduced center of gravity gives the car more stability as it firmly places the tires on the road, increasing the car’s roadway grip.
The unique layout of the Boxer engine gives the driver sportier handling capability and seamless cornering experiences. In addition, the reduced COG decreases the body roll of the vehicle when cornering.
This is perfect for sports cars as they often have to turn sharp corners at high speeds. Higher body roll will cause the cars to flip when cornering and can cause crashes.
When the engine is running, the pistons move together in tandem and cancel each other’s momentum. Because of this, it reduces vibrations, allowing for smoother and fluid rotations. This makes the driving experience fun and enjoyable.
The opposing pistons balance each other out, removing the need for bigger crankshaft counterweights and vibration dampeners. The result is a lightweight engine that reduces the overall weight of the car and delivers increased fuel savings.
Good rotational balance encourages lower levels of vibration and harshness, reducing engine wear and tear. This enhances durability/reliability and reduces ownership costs.
Excellent Safety Records
In frontal crashes, the front part of the car often crumples. The engine is forced backward and can penetrate the passenger compartment, causing injuries to front-seat occupants.
In contrast, the Boxer engine’s flat layout means it can be mounted in a lower position in the engine bay. This way, during a frontal crash, the engine will slide beneath the passenger cabin, instead of penetrating. Thus, the chances of injury to the front-seat occupants are reduced.
Flat engines are easy to cool owing to their spread-out design. In fact, many of the earliest flat engines used simple air-cooling to prevent overheating. Even modern-day water-cooled engines offer the same easy cooling capability.
Because of the spread-out design, oil and coolant liquids can spread across the engine evenly. This is unlike typical v6/V8 configurations where the coolant/oil sinks to the bottom.
Sports cars need balance, stability, and precise handling for safe and improved performance. Without these things, driving sports cars at high speeds will be dangerous. The Boxer engines offer these and more, making them perfect for Porsche’s sports cars.
What Other Cars Have Boxer Engines?
Aside from Porsche, other carmakers use the Boxer engine configurations on their vehicles for different reasons.
German rival Subaru has been using Boxer engines in its cars for years.
The first Subaru car to use the Boxer motor was the Subaru 1000, which was released in 1966. Other popular Subaru vehicles with the Boxer engine configuration include the Subaru Impreza, Subaru WRX STI, and Subaru Legacy.
Ferrari is another sports car brand that uses the Boxer engine. The Ferrari Testarossa is arguably the most popular of all Ferrari cars with a flat engine.
Also part of the lineup is the legendary Berlinetta Boxer model and the Mythos concept car. However, Ferrari does not use the Boxer engine anymore.
Since Boxer engines take more time and money to produce, car companies do not use them anymore. However, Porsche, Subaru, and a few lesser-known models still use them.
Is The Boxer Engine Reliable Compared To Others?
Boxer engines have lesser vibrations, reducing wear and tear. This means you can worry less about the health of your car’s motor.
However, some individuals believe the Boxer engine is unreliable compared to other engine configurations like the V8 or the V6. Here are some issues with the Boxer engine:
Boxer engines are significantly harder to repair, unlike standard engines. Mechanics say the profile and layout of the flat engine make working on them difficult.
For example, the cylinder heads are pushed up against the engine bay and complicate repairs. In fact, a simple task such as swapping out spark plugs can be a complex and time-consuming process.
This may translate to higher maintenance costs, especially when you have to take the car to the repair shop.
Imagine that you have a fault on your Boxer engine. The mechanic charges $100-$200 per hour, and he has to spend around six hours on the problem. If you calculate the total costs, you may end up paying an oppressive $600-$1200 in repair costs.
The width of the Boxer engine can cause it to obstruct airflow in the engine area, increasing its chances of failing at high speeds.
More Components and Parts
Another problem with Boxer engines is that they require more parts and components than other engines.
For design reasons, boxer engines always have two cylinder heads. As a result, the number of components in the engine doubles. You need to buy cooling jackets, head components, and valve-train components in twos.
Extra components mean two things:
- You will have more components to replace if the engine develops a fault.
- Maintenance may be difficult since there are so many components to check (you may skip over some components if you are not paying enough attention).
When Did Porsche Start Using The Boxer Engine System?
The Boxer engine has always been associated with the Porsche brand throughout its history. In fact, Porsche’s founder, Ferdinand Porsche, designed the Volkswagen Beetle’s boxer-four engine before leaving to found Porsche AG.
Porsche’s first car, the 1948-1965 model, had an air-cooled boxer-four engine similar to the engine of the VW Beetle.
Most of the sports cars produced by Porsche since its inception in 1948 have used the flat-four engine or its sister variant, the flat-six engine. The Boxster and Cayman models use the flat-four boxer engine while the 911 models have the flat-six engines. Surprisingly, the 911 models have used no other engine configuration asides the flat-six since Porsche started production of 911 models in 1964.
At other times, Porsche has developed variants of the Boxer engine for different purposes. There were the flat-eight engines that the company produced for its racing teams during the 1960s. Some cars that used the boxer engine variable include the Porsche 904 Formula One car and the Porsche 908 sports car.
The Porsche 917 sports car, which was in production during 1969-1973, had a flat-twelve boxer engine.
Do All Porsche Models Have The Motor In The Back?
Not all Porsche vehicles have the engines in the rear. One of the most recognizable parts of the Porsche design philosophy is the rear engine design. The design allows for better traction, easier steering, and improved handling in cars.
However, while Porsche’s best-known models like the 911 have a rear-engine design, not all Porsche vehicles have rear motors. Records show that early racecar models like the Porsche 550 Spyder, Porsche 718, and Porsche 904 Carrera GTS had their engines placed in the middle of the car.
Modern sports cars like the Porsche Cayman GT4 and Porsche Carrera GT all have mid-engine designs.
The other Porsche vehicles that do not have rear engines are the new-generation SUVs and sedans (Cayenne, Macan, and Panamera). These vehicles adopt a mix of front-engine and mid-engine designs instead.