mxandcx5 New Reader
4/14/21 9:08 a.m.

From Miata to 986 Boxster

Recently I purchased a 1999 Boxster (986) after having been curious about them for years. My fun car has always been a Miata (I still own a 1990, prev: 2000, 2006, 97) and I wanted to try something different. Early 986 Boxsters have hit what is likely the bottom of their depreciation curve and feel analog compared to the majority of cars on sale today. There was a clean 1993 Miata that had minor tasteful mods listed down the street from this Boxster for only $1k less. Porsche for NA Miata money, what could go wrong?

Quick specs: 1999, 5 speed manual, 144k, Original owner, garage kept TX car, all maintenance records, no after-market mods. Priced between $7-9,000.

First, driving Impressions:

Steering Feedback: Compared to a hydraulic assisted NA/NB Miata not as good, but not too far off. Very close to the feedback found in a NC Miata and slightly more than what I feel through the wheel of my 1990 manual rack- which is to say very good- especially compared to most modern cars I have driven (86 twins excluded though 986 beats it and I haven’t driven ND2)! It checks the enthusiast box for me. I would like a little more, but doesn’t let me down.

Steering Ratio/Speed: Not sure the exact spec, but feels on par with hydraulic assisted NA/NB Miatas. Faster than my 1990 manual rack (thank goodness). Not as quick as most modern cars on sale. I find it perfectly acceptable.

Steering Weight: Surprisingly light, could be due to the rear-midship engine design- maybe this accounts for less steering feedback than Miata as well. Different than what I am used to, but also honest compared with some of the artificial heft found in many modern cars.

Throttle Response: 1997- 1999 have a throttle cable! One of several reasons I was looking for a 1999 (gear ratios, dual row IMS bearing as well). Response is on par with NA/NB Miata (slightly better than my 2006 Miata OEM). A throttle cable isn’t a requirement for the enthusiast in me, but from the factory is certainly the way to go. (My DD is a lightly modded and tuned 2007 2.3L Mazda 3 with an electronically controlled throttle body. With the tune & CAI, throttle response is instantly perfect. Most newer cars I have driven from the factory have a purposely dulled down electronic throttle response.)

Pedal Placement: Boxster: Not the best placement I have experienced, but no complaints- good enough for heel- and- toe needs. Better than NA/NB though the pedal extensions from FM help these Miatas. If I remember correctly, I would say it edges out the NC, but it has been a while since I owned the 2006.

Brakes: Boxster: Wow, these work! Feel the best out of any car that I have owned. I’m sure the tire size and Michelin Pilot Sports help. I’ve never had a brake kit on a Miata and the brakes always felt weak on NA/NB gens.

Gear Shift: No contest, Miata by a mile. I favor the NB 5 speed (had one swapped into my NA with recent clutch) and the Boxster does not compete. My Mazda3 with the short shift kit blows this out of the water too. Now, this car has high mileage and the plastics in the shifter could be worn. My first mod dollars went to purchasing a 997 shifter from a car with 1/3 as many miles. This was the weakest point of the Boxster for me, but I knew there were options cheaply available (997, GT3, SSK). It will likely never match the NB 5 speed, but hoping it will be on par with NC generation 5/6 speed shifter feel after swapping it out.

Transmission Gear Ratios: One of the reasons I went with the 1999. You don’t have to work this car like a Miata or 86 twins, but if the legs and hp were much longer and stronger than this, it would be harder to have fun at street legal speeds. For me this relates directly to the fun factor- the sensation of speed and driver engagement outweighs outright speed in my book. I wasn’t looking to be shifting into 3rd at lock me up speeds while driving spiritedly. Highway cruising- absolutely incredible!!! I hate the NA/NB on highway, not that they belong there, but sometimes highway travel is necessary. Even with a stock exhaust on past Miatas to keep my ears from ringing, 5th gear above 60 can be brutal. I avoid highways at all costs with my 4.3 reared 1990 Miata with relatively tame RB aftermarket exhaust.

Clutch feel: Hard to say which is better, both are great. The Boxster’s has some weight and feel to it allowing for easy communication & modulation. Again, another area where it is hard to find this feel in most modern car where many are overly sprung and numb from the factory (ND, 86 twins). NA/NB/NC generations have all felt different than, but on par with Boxster.

Power: Smooth, linear flat-6 delivery with torque (cough-cough NA/NB/NC). Just enough power and torque to move with a sense of purpose. Not fast, but provides confidence- has intestinal fortitude. Again, fits my driving style. Not quite slow car fast, but slow Porsche-fast?

Room: Interior: On par with the NA/NC Miata. Slightly more than NB. I thought the Boxster would have more legroom, but is only the same as my NA with mild foamectomied NB2 seats. So just enough legroom for someone 6’0” with longer legs than torso ratio, no extra. The ND and especially ND2 win for most legroom/driver comfort (that tilt & telescoping wheel!) although it is slightly more cramped with two occupants.

Storage: The trunk and frunk combined probably equal to 3 Miata trunks. However, if you like not having a glovebox in your ND Miata, this early 986 is the car for you! No cupholders either. I slide the passenger seat forward slightly and my store sports bottle between center console and back of pass. seat.

Convertible top operation: Miata…proven winner...NA/NB/Def NC/ Especially ND. Simple is better! Simple is lighter! Simple doesn’t break two weeks after purchase!!! I’ll get to that in another thread..

Convertible top-down feel: With the windows up on the highway: Boxster all day. The perfect amount of wind jostling in my hair, not too much buffeting, my tinnitus isn’t making my eyes bleed as it does after a highway trip in the NA. Overall a very mature and serene experience. Top-down, windows down, in the twisties: samsies.

Structural Rigidity: Boxster (Yes, considerable weight difference compared to NA/NB/NC). It just feels so solid. The ND has a fighting chance, I would have to spend more time in one over rough roads. The 86 twins would take this category (but hardtop of course).

Exhaust note: Stock NA Miatas win this one. Boxster is a close to a tie with stock NB/NC as it is pretty muted. I read so much about the growl of a flat-6 Porsche engine and wish the Boxster exhaust note was a little louder. Maybe my expectations were just let down by delivery. However..

Mechanical German engine noise coming from just over your shoulder: A benefit of a muted exhaust is hearing this engine at work and it is quite the experience. It sounds special. It’s only a Boxster, but it is as close to a Carrera GT as I will ever get.

Dynamics: Tie: It’s impossible to go wrong with either for spirited back road jaunts. You can almost feel the Boxster pivot around its low CG and rear-midship engine layout. The Miata offers playful traditional roadster characteristics. Different for certain and immediately apparent.

Overall Capability: From the factory, the Boxster feels much more capable than the NA/NB generations (no surprise). It feels closest to a PRHT NC3 Miata with Sport Suspension on summer tires that I spent time in. The Boxster’s engine, 5speed transmission gearing and dynamics give it the edge over that NC3 in my book. The ND1 Miata certainly felt less planted and stable than that NC3 & Boxster, but around the track likely proves otherwise empirically (even more true of ND2). If the current 86 twins were not let down by the character of their 2.0L, I may give that car the win. The chassis and suspension tuning certainly feels slightly more capable than the Boxster- GR 86 don’t let me down!

Cost of consumables & repairs: Miata of course.

Reliability: I don’t see how the Miata could lose this one. So far, the power top has broken on the Boxster in my first month of ownership and I’ve spent hours troubleshooting it. If I can’t solve it myself, it will be costly. What will be next? In my many years of Miata ownership, I can’t remember anything breaking besides a sun visor in my NC. I will say the Porsche has been easy to work one, but not as easy as the Miata (does it get any easier?). And troubleshooting necessary repairs on a Porsche is much more difficult than servicing maintenance items on the Miata. Driving > wrenching- always. Putting reliability concerns asides, let me see if I can wrap this up.

Fun Factor/Driver Engagement/ The Wrap-Up!:

In researching comparisons of these cars before making my decision the best summary I found went something like “The Boxster is the car you will have fun driving to the Tail of the Dragon, but the Miata is the car you want to slay the dragon with”- well said.

The NA/NB Miata is more engaging. Yes, at times the Miata feels gutless, perhaps teeth rattling with an after-market suspension meant to improve performance and on the verge of shaking into loose pile of bolts without all the structural bracing possible, BUT it is absolutely the more fun & engaging drivers’ car. All of its deficits contribute to the sensation of speed and ask the driver to be more engaged.

The Miata’s lack of power is an excuse to drive 8/10s around town and to shift through the sublime gearbox as the front wheels transmit a spidey-sense to your fingertips. The lightweight Miata feels alive no matter the speed, whether driving at 4/10s or 8. It doesn’t hide the sensation of speed- it amplifies it.  The front-engine RWD layout provides a choose your own adventure of just how playful you want to be and the exhaust note is tuned to be taken to redline! Is there anything better?

Well, maybe. Within the first two minutes of driving the 986 Boxster I was left wondering, is this car from the factory what so many of us are chasing with endless modifications to the Miata? It has power, poise, rigidity and grace, in a combination unlikely to be replicated in a modified Miata. Yes, the limits may not be as approachable on public roads and it certainly hides the sensation of speed more. It may not be as light, engaging or fun, But it does offer all of those elements with far less compromises. Maybe picking a winner between these cars is best determined by where the driver falls on a compromise spectrum. Or maybe, just maybe, there is justification to own both? Time (and reliability concerns) will tell..

CAinCA Reader
4/14/21 12:45 p.m.

Nice write up. Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts.


docwyte PowerDork
4/14/21 3:15 p.m.

This is easy for me, I don't fit in a miata worth a damn and the power is totally underwhelming.  I fit in a boxster and it has way more performance.  So for me, boxster all the way.

racerdave600 UltraDork
4/14/21 3:24 p.m.

Nice write up!  I have an '01 S and have owned various Miatas in the past.  My feelings are very similar.  Another way to put it is, the Miata is a better slow speed car, the Porsche a better high speed car.  Around town the Miata is definitely more fun.  Mountain back roads through are where the Porsche shines.  It has massive grip and is so stable.  Plus you get that flat six wail.  The steering feels alive instead of heavy, and it just works.  Those are moments you are glad it is in the garage, not the stop and go heading to work or Publix.

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