Porsche 911 996 front exterior

Porsche 911 (996)

BUYER’S GUIDE

Porsche 911 (996) Review

Every 911 generation has its day and that moment may be coming at last for the unfairly maligned 996…

What Is It?

The moment the Porsche 911’s evolutionary curve suddenly steepened, and a dramatic departure from what went before in terms of both looks and engineering. Smoother, longer, wider and sleeker, it didn’t help the doubters that the 993 it replaced is, to many, the perfect intersection of 911 tradition and modernity.

A shared face with the baby Boxster, those ‘melted’ headlights, the frameless doors and more were certainly a shock to the system, the water-cooled engine likewise. But it’s still a Porsche 911. And while it’s taken the best part of quarter of a century for the shock to wear off the 996’s time may finally have come, with the window of opportunity to bag a good one while still relatively affordable narrowing by the day.

Corrosive Areas

Inner door catch body mounts

Rear inner wings and arches

Front edge of sills

Checklist

  • 996 Carrera 2 revealed at the 1997 Frankfurt show with an all-new platform and 3.4-litre, 300PS (221kW) liquid-cooled flat-six
  • Early cars with orange indicator lenses and cable-throttles (rather than by-wire) now desirable among discerning 996 buyers
  • All-wheel-drive Carrera 4 launched in 1998, with cabriolet following soon after
  • GT3 introduced in 1999 for 2000 model year with high-revving, motorsport derived ‘Mezger’ 3.6-litre engine and fixed rear wing
  • Found a suspiciously cheap GT3? It’s probably a Carrera with the optional Aerokit…
  • Second-generation GT3 from 2003, distinguished by flat-topped rear wing; more extreme RS obvious for blue or red on white graphics and colour-matched wheels
  • Turbo launched in 2000 with wide body, deployable spoiler, all-wheel drive, manual or Tiptronic transmission and coupe or cabriolet bodies
  • Original Turbo had 420PS (309kW), optional performance kit took this to 450PS (331kW)
  • Turbocharged GT2 based on Turbo but with rear-wheel drive and no driver aids; first batch produced in 2001 with 462PS (340kW) followed by another in 2003 with 483PS (355kW) and thumping 640Nm (472lb ft); both rare
  • PCCB ceramic brakes standard on GT2, optional on the Turbo and obvious by the yellow calipers; desirable for pose value but expensive to replace and many hard drivers prefer stock brakes
  • Wide-ranging update introduced in 2001 for 2002 model year with new lights, sharper front bumper and an increase to 3.6 litres on Carrera models; glass-hatched Targa introduced
  • M030 sports suspension excites many purists, though some consider it excessively harsh for road use
  • Galvanised body resists rust so any obvious corrosion could be a sign of crash damage – check for under carpets in nose compartment for tell-tale signs of repairs to front chassis members and for overspray on window seals
  • Door catch mounts on body one known rust spot, ditto dirt traps behind plastic rear arch liners and leading edges of sills exposed to stone chips from front tyres
  • Bumper mounted radiators and air-con condensers vulnerable to stone damage and corrosion if clogged with leaves and other debris, as is common
  • Rear Main Seal (or RMS) on crankshaft an oft-discussed weakness but if not leaking excessively (or already replaced) can be left until other engine-out jobs like clutch replacement
  • Weak Intermediate Shaft (IMS) bearing another much talked about issue and can wreck engine if not caught but specialists know the warning signs and most cars will by now have upgraded replacements – check history for proof
  • Crumbling cylinder liners on 3.4s and bore score on 3.6s the final known engine issue – it’s less common than thought but if not already done a pre-purchase borescope inspection can set mind at ease
  • Many cars will have been through a succession of short-term owners, who may or may not have kept up with maintenance – whatever the quantity of names on the V5, a fully documented service history with respected specialists is worth its weight in gold
  • Tiptronic autos cheaper to buy on account of being less popular so could be a bargain, though the rest of the running costs won’t be any less and they’re sluggish compared with modern PDKs
  • Handling should be crisp and precise – if it’s not then worn suspension bushings or parts like ‘coffin arm’ lower links may need replacing; this otherwise straightforward job can be made more difficult if bolts and fixings have rusted and seized

How does it drive?

The looks and engineering may have been a huge step but the 996 is still, unmistakeably, a 911 to drive. Feel to the surprisingly large steering wheel is light but a lesson in perfectly weighted assistance and feedback, Porsche’s signature attention to detail apparent in the harmonised response in pedals and shifter alike.

Best appreciated in ‘basic’ rear-wheel-drive manual Carrera form, the 996 is refreshingly delicate and light on its feet compared to newer 911s while still modern in feel but with that traditional light-nosed balance. As always the secret is to manage corner entry speed in the first instance, wait for the front axle to bite and then enjoy the rear digging in as you introduce the throttle.

All-wheel-drive Carrera 4s have greater wet weather traction, Turbos more of everything (a lot more) and each their fans but the extra horsepower and rubber arguably just put more distance between you and the fundamental joy of a well-sorted Carrera 2.

 What’s good?

See above for starters! The 996’s break from 911s of old may have dismayed traditionalists but as a liveable modern classic it’s a perfect blend of practicality, usability and fun, with welcome extra space inside and more conventional controls.

Refined on a cruise, entertaining on a blast and with that ever-present flat-six howl behind you it’s a Porsche you can enjoy with a clean conscience, the vast and knowledgeable community of specialists geared up to support you every step of the way whether you want to keep it stock or enjoy the interchangeability of parts and tuning potential to spice things up.

All things relative it’s still reasonably affordable as well, and while supplies of good ones are drying up and driving prices with them, the ongoing desirability of its 997 successor should – hopefully – keep a ceiling on values.

What’s bad?

The looks get better with age and the driving experience is brilliant but there’s no escaping the 996 will always be the ugly duckling of the 911 lineage. That swoopy ‘90s interior hasn’t dated so well either, and the quality of some of the fixtures and fittings is undeniably cheaper than what came before and followed.

Affordability is a double-edged sword as well, and while desirability is increasing many cars will have been through the hands of multiple owners more interested in ticking the Porsche ownership box than proper maintenance. You’ll have to wade through a lot of Tiptronics, Targas and cabrios to find the kind of 996 you’d really want to own as well, and accept the promise of a ‘cheap’ 911 becomes more fleeting as you hone your selection.

Some well-documented mechanical foibles like the intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing and scored cylinder bores will always cast a shadow over the 996 as well, even if most surviving cars will, by now, have had them addressed.

Which model to choose?

Money no object it would have to be a GT3 or GT3 RS for the thrilling blend of howling race engine, sharper handling and track-based cred, or a GT2 for rarity and the sheer intimidation factor. Turbos, meanwhile, offer a very different flavour of performance that appeals for the still formidable thrust, all-weather usability and more in the way of creature comforts and luxury. Though it comes at extra cost and complexity.

Carrera 4s have their fans, the Turbo-bodied C4S with its signature full-width rear lights especially popular. Cabrios, Targas and Tiptronics offer an affordable entry point to 911 ownership, though running costs will be the same so it may prove a false economy. Leading, inexorably, to the purest and most desirable 996 of the lot – a base-spec Carrera 2 with a manual gearbox.

Our money? It would be on one of the earliest 3.4s, with the original orange indicators and cable throttle, though any rear-driven stickshift coupe would do nicely.   

Specifications – 996 Carrera 2 Coupe

Engine

3.4-litre six-cylinder petrol

Power

300PS (221kW) @ 6,800rpm

Torque

350Nm (258lb ft) @ 4,600rpm

Transmission

Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,320kg

0-62mph

5.2 seconds

Top speed

174mph

Production dates

1998-2005 (all variants)

Get an online quote now
Get an online quote in minutes or call us
Monday to Friday from 09:00 - 19:00
Saturday from 09:00 - 14:00
Sunday from 10:00 - 14:00
or Arrange a call back.

Get an Online Quote Now

Arrange a Call Back