Car engines come in all shapes, sizes, and arrangements. As it stands, there are more types of engines than there are types of cars in the world. It is inevitable that something radical comes out and even the best petrolheads have no idea what it is about. As far as engines go, Boxers are the ones that catch a lot of eyes. Although their premise is simple, it takes a lot of consideration before one can determine if the Boxer engine really suits a person.
Boxer engines are actually a very old design. They were invented way back in 1896 by Kar Benz. He had this great idea of putting two cylinders flat against each other. This arrangement resembled a boxer preparing his knuckles, hence the name.
Mechanically, the Boxer had the advantage of high stability. Since the pistons reciprocate opposite to each other horizontally, the net forces are highly balanced. This means vibrations and rattles are almost negligible. However, they do tend to be noisy. Just look at the Porsche 911 or the old VW Beetle. You could hear them coming from miles away. It has a particular burbly sound and you also find one in the Subaru Impreza. While these noises can get on nerves for some people, it’s always an orchestra for the ears of those who acknowledge the hard work put in by the set of pistons to generate power.
Another advantage is that these engines are compact and can fit in tight spaces. You can also place them down low for a reduced center of gravity. The presence of a boxer engine will make the vehicle handle much better than vehicles that house inline or V-shaped engines. This is the reason you see these engines in bikes like the BMW R 1250 GS In case of motorcycles especially, it also helps with the thermal efficiency because the cylinders stick out and as it moves, the air cools both the blocks.
Americans have always exhibited immense love for the Boxer engines. Even though Porsche was unsure whether or not they should continue with Boxers for their 911s, they decided to keep them since they were selling a lot in the US. It was so good that Henry Ford even considered manufacturing a Model T with the Boxer-4, but went for the inline engine instead. Even the modern Toyota 86, which has a Boxer-4 underneath its hood, seems much more fun to drive than most other sports cars that cost 3 times its price tag.
Flat-12 or (Boxer 12-cylinder) engines were used in racing cars such as the Porsche 917, and many Ferrari F-1 cars like Ferrari 1512. Flat-12’s proved incompatible with ground-effects as the cylinder heads occupied the space where the venturi tunnels needed to be. Center of gravity got really low though but Formula one cars later settled for wide-angled V because it was a perfect balance between C.O.G. it offered compact packaging.
So why are there only two mainstream manufacturers – Subaru and Porsche – that actually use Boxer engines? Well, that is because its design does have some big flaws. Number one, they don’t have much power. The Subaru BRZ with a naturally-aspirated Boxer-4 makes just 205 hp, which is way lower than any Type R Civic or VW Golf GTi. Sure, Porsche uses turbochargers to increase the power output of their engines, but that just gives way to the second issue. Porsche is so obsessed with the Boxer engine that they named their mid-level sportscar “Boxster”. An amalgamation of two words “Boxer + Roadster”.
The noise of Boxer engines may be exhilarating to hear, yet you should never let it get to your head. If you keep redlining every time you see an open road, you would eventually blow the head gasket. That is more prone to happen if you have a supercharger or turbocharger equipped with the Boxer engine. You need to constantly watch for the boost pressure and engine temperature when pushing the car hard.
So, does that mean Boxer engines are obsolete? Absolutely not. There are sports cars like the Subaru BRZ and the Porsche 911 that still have them. You can go for these cars since they have impeccable handling characteristics and the engine noise is just breathtaking. While Regular checkups and restraint on the throttle can make these boxers go a long way with you. However, if you want more power for the money and increased reliability, a big muscular V8 from a Dodge Challenger is a much better choice.