Here’s Everything You Need to Know About How a Boxer Engine Works

Here’s Everything You Need to Know About How a Boxer Engine Works

…and why not every flat engine is a boxer.

Compact and distinctive, the boxer engine is a car-enthusiast favorite. Today, you can find them in four-and six-cylinder form in all Subaru models—plus the Toyota 86—and the Porsche 718 and 911. But while a lot of car enthusiasts have heard the term “boxer engine” before, they might not know exactly what it means. Or that not all flat engines are actually boxers.

For that, we turn to Engineering Explained, who uses a miniature, 3D-printed Subaru engine and a 2018 WRX to explain how boxers work. Really though, there’s not much to know. Basically, each piston in a boxer engine gets its own crank pin, so the pistons opposite each other move together. The fact that these pistons move together, like a Boxer’s gloves, is what gives this engine type it’s name.

Some flat engines use shared crank pins for opposing pistons, so they move opposite of each other. This setup can technically be thought of as a 180-degree V layout. Ferrari’s flat-12 engine were technically 180-degree V12s, though the company added to the confusion by calling the first car equipped with this motor the Berlinetta Boxer.

The 3D-printed cutaway of a boxer engine is a really helpful visual aid, so even if you know how these motors work, this video is still worth a view. And, explaining people the difference between boxers and 180-degree V engines works well at parties.


To summarize:

The biggest advantage of the boxer engine is the low profile, which keeps the center of gravity low and thus reduces the amount of load transfer you have in the car during braking, cornering, or accelerating, which improves grip. With a lower center of gravity, you can also reduce body roll and choose to use softer springs. Additionally, in the event of a collision, it’s easier to position the engine so that it goes underneath the passenger compartment, rather than into the passenger compartment, for improved safety.

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