Everything You Need To Know About Boxer Engine Cars

Take a look at every Subaru that passes you on the street. The engine that powers these beautiful cars is a horizontally opposed boxer-four. Some are turbocharged, some are not, but some might wonder what makes these engines unique? Boxer engines are an alternative to the standard V and inline engine layouts. Ever since Karl Benz built the first model in 1897, boxer engines have found their way into all manner of machinery, from cars to motorcycles and airplanes.

There are many misconceptions about the boxer engine. Some may even think that all flat motors are boxer motors. Others may even believe that Subaru is the only company to use the boxer engine. Also, fans of the boxer engine are blind to the many ways there are flaws, just like the other style of combustion engines. Either way, digging into a few facts about the boxer engine brings new appreciation for the unusual machine that rivals in-line and V-shaped competitors.

Related: Here are the most unusual engines to ever hit the roads

8 In the clearing stands a boxer


Boxer engine diagram via Wikimedia Commons
Via Wikimedia Commons

A boxer engine is a unique design for an engine. Where an inline or V engine has pistons that move vertically or at an angle, a boxer engine works by pushing the pistons outward in a horizontal motion. The movement resembles two boxers preparing to train.


Diagram of Boxer engines via Wikimedia Commons
via Wikimedia Commons

The boxer-like movement is the origin of the motor nickname “boxer”. Although many engines and designs exist, the boxer still stands out in the hearts of many for the thrilling way it works!

7 Volkswagen – Boxers for the people


Volkswagen Type 1 1939 Via Commons Wikimedia
Via Wikimedia Commons

In 1938, Germany felt that the vehicle for the people should have a boxer for the people. The Volkswagen Type-1 came with a boxer-four in a rear-mounted configuration. It worked so well that Volkswagen installed the engine in the Type-2, Type-3 and Type-4.


Volkswagen Type 2 Via Wikimedia Commons
Via Wikimedia Commons

The engine was so popular that it was used until 2006. In 1984 Volkswagen replaced the usually air-cooled boxer with a liquid-cooled engine called the Wasserboxer. This horizontally opposed engine was water-cooled instead of the typical air-cooled format of a traditional boxer.

Related: The Wasp Major is a 71-litre circular engine built for power

6 Not just Subaru


S21_0774_fine
through Porsche

Although Subaru is the best-known company using the boxer engine, it is far from the only one using them. In fact, Karl Benz of Mercedes-Benz designed this invention. Also, Porsche is another well-known manufacturer that still uses the boxer.


Canepa engine
Via Canepa

Several other manufacturers made cars with boxer engines, such as Alfa Romeo, Citroen, BMW and even Ferrari, produced a few models that sported the famous boxer. And as mentioned earlier, Volkswagen was there with Subaru and Porsche with several models.


5 Not to be confused


Porsche Flat-Six engine used in the 1968 Porsche 911
Via: Mecum

The engines take many nicknames. Straight lines, for example, are sometimes called straight lines. The boxer is no different. It goes by many names, including the dish, the pancake and, of course, the boxer.


Porsche flat-six engine
Via Porsche

Although the technical name is the horizontally opposed motor, the unique names this particular motor takes on are so much fun to use instead! Despite the many names, not all flat motors are boxer motors. There’s a flat engine that takes a V-style crankshaft and spins the pistons 180 degrees, effectively making it a flat engine, but not a boxer.

Related: These are some of the most reliable car engines ever made


4 Sizes Matter


2017 Subaru Levorg 2.0 DIT Boxer Engine
By: Bing

Boxer engines generally occupy the four- and six-cylinder size range. However, there are examples of flat 12s being used in mid-engine setups. Although truly unusual, these flat-12s are quite rare. Instead, the V12 is far more popular.


V6 engine - V6 and V8 engines occupy the same space
via WhichCar

While inline engines are tall and lean, boxer engines have more room on top. Even the V-style engines are stacked higher than a boxer. Topside space comes at a cost, as boxer engines are chunky and horizontally opposed pistons take up a lot of room in the engine bay, which is why larger flat engines are almost always in a mid-engine configuration.


3 In perfect balance


Subaru WRX STI boxer engine
via Dmitri’s gallery

Boxer engines are fascinating because they are unusual – the horizontally opposed method of combustion results in an engine with opposing forces that cancel each other out. Unlike straight or inline engines, the pistons in a boxer engine oscillate together in balanced harmony.


Alfa Romeo boxer engine
By: medium

The balance allows for smooth idling thanks to the beautiful unison of the boxer engines. There’s no need for balance shafts or counterweights, and only boxer fours need rocker torque to match the offset cylinder pairs.

Related: Watch This Ford Crown Vic Turn Into A Fireball After YouTuber Swaps Engine Oil For Fuel


2 More than one use


Mighty-Boxer-Engine-1
via motospecs.co.za

Boxer engines are best known for their automotive presence. However, the flat motor is used in a variety of other applications. BMW, for example, likes to use the boxer engine in many motorcycles, from the R nineT to the R1250GS. Other manufacturers like Honda and Harley even sport a few boxers!


Cessna172-CatalinaTakeoff
Via Simple Wikipedia

Another great application of boxer engines, and by far their most widespread use, is in airplanes. The boxer engine dates back to the invention of the airplane and has many uses in the aircraft industry. In fact, the most produced aircraft, the Cessna 172, uses a flat-four to power its propeller.


1 Not perfect by any means


Porsche 959 engine compartment
Via Mecum Auctions

The boxer engine gets a lot of love – Subaru and Porsche fans champion the balanced nature and low center of mass. Although there are many advantages to a boxer engine, they are far from perfect.


Subaru SVX Engine Compartment
via classicandsportscar.com

Boxer engines are notoriously difficult to maintain. A simple spark plug swap, for example, is a difficult task that may require specialist tools depending on the car. Also, boxer engines are oil-thirsty and tend to have leaking issues. Any Subaru owner will tell you to keep a quart of oil on hand, just in case.


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