Home » Risk And Reward: 2001 Porsche Boxster vs 2004 Mazda RX-8

Risk And Reward: 2001 Porsche Boxster vs 2004 Mazda RX-8

Boxster Vs Rx8

Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown, where we fantasize financial burden. This should be the last Shitbox Showdown of the year, so I figure why not end 2022 with a bang and go way past both our typical price cap and the rational limits of reliability. First though, let’s see how our battle of sensible luxury cars from yesterday went.

Legend Vs Es300 Final

Well, the Camry is a used car yardstick and since the ES300 is fundamentally a fancy Camry, it shouldn’t be surprising to see it take the win over the Legend.

Anyway, back to today’s focus: Cars that are known for expensive and sometimes spectacular problems along with an incredible amount of driving fun. Let’s see how far you want to ride the roller coaster of risk.

2001 Porsche Boxster: $10,900

Boxster 1

Engine/drivetrain: 2.7-liter flat-six, five-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel-drive.

Location: Santa Monica, California

Odometer reading: 103,288 miles

Runs/drives? Absolutely

With good 944s costing more and more these days, the first-generation 986 Boxster is starting to make more and more sense as a reasonably-priced sports car. It’s hard to find a fairly modern, budget-oriented mid-engined sports car that isn’t a Boxster or third-generation Toyota MR2, and that MR2 has virtually zero storage space. Coincidentally, both of those cars have a reputation for engine failure, albeit with very different causes.

Boxster 2

Under the hood, this 986 Boxster seems to be exactly the sort of example you really want. Not only has the dreaded IMS bearing allegedly been replaced with an upgraded LN Engineering part roughly 10,000 miles ago, with the clutch and flywheel having been done at the same time.

Otherwise, oil changes have been frequent and the car doesn’t appear to be messed with. Sure, a 217-horsepower 2.7-liter flat-six isn’t the most potent engine in the world, but it’ll still whisk you along to 60 mph in a tad more than six seconds while making beautiful music.

Boxster 3

On the outside, this sports car looks quite well-kept and also stock. Popular modifications such as a fried egg delete using later headlights and European side markers are absent, but the black paint looks to be in great shape, as does the cabriolet roof. Kudos to whoever kept this thing looking fresh.

Boxster 4

However, this Boxster’s party piece might just be on the inside. It features the relatively rare full leather option which offers a marked improvement in materials over a base car.

Not only that, but the leather in question is an airy tan color and in pristine shape. In fact, the rest of the interior also looks to be in fairly good shape, with just an aftermarket radio and a broken cup holder affecting the otherwise showroom-ready vibe.

2004 Mazda RX-8 – $10,500

Rx8 1

Engine/drivetrain: 1.3-liter two-rotor, six-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel-drive.

Location: Santa Clarita, California

Odometer reading: 67,000 miles

Runs/drives? Indeed.

The Mazda RX-8 is one of those rare overlooked last-ever cars. It’s the last production car to drive the wheels using a rotary engine, the last four-seat coupe Mazda ever made, and the last sports coupe with rear suicide doors. It’s fantastic to drive, cheap, and comes with a smattering of apex seal jokes.

See, each rotor in the rotary engine uses apex seals to maintain compression and they wear out over time, eventually resulting in rebuild costs. Still, rotary engines are fantastic fun—when they’re working.

Rx8 2

Under the hood of this RX-8 sits an early six-port RENESIS rotary engine cranking out 238 horsepower and 159 lb.-ft. of torque. Not huge numbers, but a sky-high redline makes working for the power feel so special. Add in a precise six-speed manual shifter and rear-wheel-drive, and you get a dose of driving nirvana. Mazda’s last go with a rotary engine was one of the best-handling cars of its day, and could probably tango with a lot of modern stuff in the corners and still hold its own.

The seller of this RX-8 claims to have receipts dating back to new, a huge plus for a car like this. You know what they say, buy it nice or buy it twice.

Rx8 3

Upon first glance, it’s easy to tell that someone spent a lot of cash upgrading this RX-8 with Mazdaspeed bits. The fairly rare dealer-installed Mazdaspeed body kit has some damage to the front bumper but seems otherwise in good shape, while JDM-style clear side markers help clean up the look. Aftermarket Enkei RPF1 wheels are light and strong, while Tein coilovers help complete the stance. Proper Japanese speed bits for a proper Japanese performance car.

Rx8 4

On the inside, this RX-8 is business as unusual with triangle motifs aplomb and reasonably-sized rear buckets for such a small, low-slung car. The upholstery looks to be in decent shape, with the cloth playing nice with the southern Californian sun. Overall, the cabin of this RX-8 looks to be a fairly good place to spend some miles.

So there we are: Two very fun sports cars with fearsome reputations. One has a piston engine known for failure, one has the often-dreaded rotary. While both seem to have been well-kept, it’s up to the next owner to continue taking proper care of these things. Which one would you rather maintain?

(Photo credits: Craigslist sellers)

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61 Responses

  1. Seriously reading the comments is a joke. Majority of the people talking smack about the rotary have no clue how to maintain one. The RX is high compression race engine. It needs to spin at high RPMs. You see that redline? You push it as far as it goes. That’s how you drive a rotary.

    There’s a stigma of how rotaries are bad engines. Well they are if you don’t know how drive/take care of one. when the rx-8 was marketed and sold, the people selling them sold them without any knowledge of how they work.. They didn’t tell the buyers to check their oil and cooling levels. They didnt tell them that the rotary needs to redline. They didn’t tell them this isn’t a car you drive like grandma to get the best mpg.
    They didn’t tell them that the car needs a little more attention than a normal Toyota Camry. Driving a rotary like a normal car is basically a ticking time bomb.

    I have a 2008 GT at 62k miles. Coils/ignition upgraded. BHR midpipe/Borla exhaust. Premix with idemitsu. I redline every gear like a bat out of hell. I spit flames on the downshift.

    The rotary is a race engine. You need to drive it like you stole it. This car is all about smiles per gallon.

  2. So here’s the thing… RX-8 reliability problems are so overblown (ha!) but seriously just check the compression and you’ll know if its good. I know, you need a special tool, or you can build one in an hour with a mini arduino (https://www.instructables.com/TR-01-DIY-Rotary-Engine-Compression-Tester/) like I did. If its good, the car will just need to be treated to regular oil changes with nonsynthetic and premix the fuel with some two stroke. All that being said I voted for the porsche, and here’s why:

    That p-car is priced better (compared to similar cars), the documentation on the p-car is better, and the ims bearing is done. Whereas that RX may have a cool body kit and wheels and some mazda speed bits, a closer look causes me some concern. It’s missing grills, the license plate is barely hanging on out front, and I question anyone selling an RX for top dollar and isn’t offering to show compression figures, especially on a modified car (they clearly like to tinker).

    ouch… that really hurt me to say. Anyways, I really liked building the compression tester and I’m happy to say that at least my ocho is nice and healthy at 75,000 miles with absolutely zero engine issues to date.

    1. I admit I have never owned one, but I considered an RX8 for a daily driver for a long time, shopped and drove a few. Loved driving them, love the package. But if you were looking in the early teens it seemed like half the cars or more were on a replacement motor, and even heard of a few going on their third. My nephew bought one and the engine quit just out of (extended) warranty. Mazda covered it, but not that far down the road the second motor started losing compression.

      My understanding is the later cars had some tweaks to make them better, and there are things you can do to make the cars less likely to, well, not explode, but not decompress.

      Prices seem to be rising the last few years. I love rotaries, had an 85 RX7, would love an FD (I know they have their issues too, but I don’t care). Anyway, could never quite bring myself to pull the trigger. If I did I would look for a later car. I know they are harder to find as sales dropped off.

      Anyway, agree on these two particular cars, the RX is priced a little high, but both the Boxers and the RXs are going up. My brother got a good running driving Boxster about 5 years ago for $3500. Haven’t seen any that cheap for a while. Same with the RX8.

  3. I literally just bought a 986 Boxster 2.7 manual, also for 10.9k! Mine has 20k fewer miles but no IMS upgrade though… Best driving car I have ever owned, a revelation compared to my NA6 Miata and fox body Mustang.

  4. Lots of different opinions here. I have driven both, and owned both of these cars predecessors. I think the RX8 is the better driving car, but the IMS bearing scares me a lot less than the RX8s apex seal half life. I was looking for an RX8 pretty seriously 7-8 years ago, I swear half on the market were on their second motor and some on their third. There is a local sort of half used car lot half boneyard in town, they have about eight or ten dead RX8s out of the 100 or so cars there.

    I would love to take the RX8, but if I just don’t trust them.

  5. I’ve owned a 2000 986 S 6-speed since 2009, and still love it, so I voted Boxster. This car looks to be pretty nice. One thing though: it is definitely NOT a full leather interior car. If it were, the dash and door panels would be leather covered…and they are not. The seats have been reupholstered too – the black suede insert is not original. If the car actually has the M030 sport chassis option (as the Craigslist ad says), that’s a good thing: stiffer spring rates, damping, and sway bars than the standard car.

  6. I’m a Mazda guy, but I have to go with the Porsche. I’m not a huge fan of how rotaries sound and I’m not a big fan of the RX-8 body style. Plus I’ve been wanting a Boxster for a while anyway.

  7. Gimme the Rx8. I’d just plan to tear it down and rebuild it anyway then premix in the fuel until I soldit on to the next person. Of course I know I’m odd in that I often budget for a rebuild of either motor or tranny when I go car hunting.

  8. I’d take the RX-8 but it’s $4k over where it should be so I had to vote Boxter.

    As others have said premix the RX-8 or even better switch to a separate tank for two stroke oil and then you can run full synthetic oil. The other RX8 problem that never seems to get addressed is heat management. The factory battery location and intake block 2/3 of the radiator. Put on an AEM intake and move the battery to the trunk. This will keep everything under the hood MUCH happier.

  9. I have thought it would be interesting to swap a turbo’d NC Miata engine into an RX8. It’s basically the same chassis, so as long as you bring over the NC’s engine management and trans, it should pretty much plug and play. You can get 300hp at the crank out of that engine pretty reliably. More if you go to a 2.5 block.

  10. Great choices for the shootout/showdown today. Don’t know if you read my comments about these things being much better if the cars are slime yet different–but I will pretend you did and go to sleep tonight thinking the internet is a slightly better place for it.

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