The 996 Porsche 911 is an underrated driving machine and used marvel
The ultimate case of 'you shouldn't judge a Porsche by its headlights'
Unloved, outcasted and abandoned, the 1997 - 2006 Porsche 911 (996) was a Porsche purist's worst nightmare as it was radically different to its legendary predecessor. A water-cooled engine over an air-cooled engine boiled the ancient blood of enthusiasts, the Boxster-sourced parts sparked outraged and the 'runny egg' headlights were considered ghastly. This is all without mentioning the infamous reliability, which we will later discuss. Today in a world of silver and gray consumer vehicles governed by emissions and safety regulations, the 996 stands out as a semi-affordable driving machine that is worth considering.
Enhanced Image / 911 Carrera 4S / Credit: Nakhon100 via Wikimedia Commons
Unmistakably a 911 to the untrained eye... almost
This rear-engined German icon screams the 90s with its smooth design language and relatively smaller size; it's from an entirely different universe to the current 991 and 992 generations. The pre-facelift Carrera models shared headlights with the Boxster, which was not ideal when you were spending bigger bills to stand apart from the Boxster crowd. Porsche tried to satisfy its elite customer base by giving the 2002 facelift model a set of new headlights amongst many other changes, which unfortunately did not reduce the number of complaints. The 996 may stand out like an adopted child in the 911 family lineup but the charm and beauty can be found in its uniqueness. If you are truly bothered, aftermarket headlight covers are available.
The rest of the 996's design is conventional Porsche and fitting of a 90s sports car. The array of available alloys are distinctly Porsche whilst the curves along the doors and rear fenders are elegant. The award for the coolest design element goes to the red reflector on the rear, which is the Carrera 4S' signature piece and requires a Porsche history lesson of its own. The exhaust pipes finish a close second as they are real and fully functional; no modern fakery-dakery here.
911 Carrera 4S / Credit: Toni V. via Wikimedia Commons
Excitement and handling is more important than sheer speed
One does not buy a Porsche to master the drag strip or race between the lights. Instead, it's a tool for conquering the tightest of corners at the highest of speeds. I have not had the incredible opportunity to experience a 996 myself but you have no reason to doubt the word of countless credible automotive journalists and owners, including Matt Watson. It's no modern 991 but that is the allure. It's a back-to-basics driver's car with minimal driver aids and flashy gadgetry.
The entry-level Carrera initially received a 3.4L naturally-aspirated flat-six that produced 296hp and 258lb-ft (350Nm) of torque. Combined with RWD and a kerb weight of 2900lbs (1315kg), this lightweight coupe crushes the 0-62mph sprint in 5.2 seconds. Facelift models received a 15hp more powerful 3.6L engine. Packaged with a limited-slip differential and a 6-speed manual transmission, the 996 fits the recipe of the ultimate Sunday driver.
Credit: Larz Anderson via Flickr
There is a variant for everyone, including you
Want an affordable, used driver's car? Get the Carrera. Want something a bit more sporty and cooler? Try the Targa or Carrera 4S. Need to reach the other end of the Autobahn? Get the Turbo. If you are a track enthusiast with a deep pocket, the rare GT3 and GT2 variants are also available. Whether you are in love with Sally from Pixar's Cars film or want a taste of supercar driving dynamics, there is a 996 for everyone.
The cabin is a nice place to be even by modern standards. The extended leather upholstery is plush and the seating position is comfortable... assuming the leather has been well taken care of. If you are interested, it's the stunning Nephrite Green interior you want. The tachometer as the centre gauge reminds you at the dawn of every journey to drive like there is no tomorrow (speed limits apply, DriveTribe is not liable for tickets). The centre console is anything but timeless, however, retrofit infotainment upgrades are available.
Carrera 4 Cabriolet Interior / Credit: Porsche Press Database
Blah blah blah, what is the catch?
The 996 generation is infamous for having an intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing problem, which would result in catastrophic engine failure if not addressed. Chances are that if someone is still driving their 911 without a rebuilt engine, they have likely replaced the bearing. As for the rest of the car, you get what you pay for. Find yourself a well documented example with reasonable wear on the clutch and most of the electronics intact. Prices are very fair with examples around 100,000 miles in the US and UK being sold for under $20,000 USD and £15,000 respectively. Unlike the 991 onwards, the engine bay is accessible from above to allow your hands to get greasy with ease.