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Model Guide: The 996-generation 911 — Part I

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Article by Damon Lowney
Sidebar by Bill Burris
Photos courtesy Porsche

We maintain that a front-engined, four-cylinder, water-cooled model is the least-expensive way into Porsche ownership, but we know there are those who may only be able to stomach one of those descriptors in their own Porsche. They should take a good look at the 1999-05 911.

Following the path of the 1997 Boxster, the successor to the 993-generation 911 was equipped with a flat six whose temperature was regulated by radiators and coolant. With the arrival of this 996-generation 911 for the 1999 model year, Porsche no longer made air-cooled engines.

Porsche was for the first time exploring extensive parts commonality between model lines, and as a result the 996 shared much with the lower-priced mid-engined Boxster. In particular, most of the front end ahead of the doors was the same. New, streamlined production methods learned from another Japanese auto manufacturer ensured the 996 was a modern volume-produced sports car, with less of the hand-built quality of past 911s.

In spite of water cooling, the sound of the new 3.4-liter mill “did a pretty good job” of imitating that of an air-cooled six, Porsche Panorama said (Nov. 1997), and in all other respects it had better performance. The gains weren’t huge on paper — 296 horsepower (+24), 258 lb-ft of torque (+15) — but the engine was also paired with a car lighter by 120 pounds. Despite the weight loss, the 996 was slightly bigger in nearly every way, most notably in length and wheelbase. Panorama noted the overall result in a comparison of the 996 and 993 (July 1998): “As evolved and nailed-tailed as the older car is, it is no match for the newest 911. The staccato steering wheel corrections necessary to keep the 993 looking good on the race track give way to a more set-it-and-forget-it approach in the newer car.”

It was also quick. Both Road & Track and Car and Driver clocked the new car from a stop to 60 miles per hour in 4.6 seconds.

The Type M96 flat six eventually grew to 3.6 liters, 320 hp, and 273 lb-ft in 2002 and was shared across all of the Carrera and Targa models. At the same time, the front end received a largely welcome update: 911 Turbo headlights and a revised front end, further differentiating Porsche’s rear-engined flagship from the Boxster.

Model year 2002 and newer Cabriolet models benefited from a new heated glass window in the folding soft top. It is considered a vast upgrade over the more problematic plastic window used from 1999-01.

Porsche sold more 996s than any other 911 before it, which means there are plenty to choose from in the used-car market. In this model guide, we’re covering part of the 996 line: 911 Carrera, 911 Carrera 4, 911 Carrera 4S, and 911 Targa. Expect prices to start around $15,000 for a rough but drivable early Carrera and go up from there. We’ll cover the 911 Turbo and GT cars in the second installment on the 996.

The information presented below is meant to be an overview of 996 generation 911s — excluding the GT3 and turbocharged models — and key features that make them unique, not a complete buyer’s guide. Be prepared to do more research on the model(s) that speaks to you most. To get you started, PCA 996 Tech Expert Bill Burris has graciously shared some of his wisdom on the IMS bearing “issue,” DIY-friendliness of the 996, and more. Head below the model overview to read it.

PCA has a great Tech Q&A forum to research common issues with these Porsches and their remedies. Tech Q&A is open to primary and co-members as well as Test Drive members. Other online forums, such as Rennlist and Pelican Parts, can be excellent resources where you can find information covering ownership experiences, DIY projects, and quirks and intricacies of the cars. And remember; always take your prospective Porsche to a qualified technician for a pre-purchase inspection. Finally, a great place to start looking for a 996 is in our very own Mart.

1999-04 911 Carrera

The 911 Carrera came in two flavors when it launched, coupe or Cabriolet, and it lasted through model year 2004, receiving myriad updates along the way. The two-wheel-drive Carrera coupe was the lightest of all the 996s, with early manual cars weighing in around 2,900 pounds and never exceeding 3,000 in later years (sans weight-adding options, that is).

Above: Carrera coupe (top) and Carrera Cabriolet.

The 1999 model was the only 996 to have a throttle cable connecting the gas pedal to the engine — perhaps a desirable feature for some shoppers. Go with a 2000 model or later and you’re treated to e-gas, and possibly Porsche Stability Management (PSM) on cars so optioned. PSM is an electronic traction/stability control system tuned for maximizing performance, not necessarily recovering lost traction in bad weather — though it certainly will do just that. The transition to e-gas saw a four-horsepower increase to 300 for 2000 and 2001 models. In 2002, all Carreras received a larger 3.6-liter flat six, now with 320 hp.

1999-01 911 Carrera 4 coupe & 1999-04 911 Carrera 4 Cabriolet

Since 1989, the rear-wheel-drive Carrera has always been accompanied by an all-wheel-drive Carrera 4, and the 996 was no different. This time around, however, the convertible top and its stowage were well thought out, leading Panorama (October 1998) to note, “[The 996 Cabriolet is] probably the best looking top-down 911 that Porsche has ever manufactured, largely because of the mechanism that allows the partially rigid, fabric-covered top to be stored without the unsightly fabric bustle of pre-996 cars.”

The all-wheel-drive system provides between 5-40% of torque to the front wheels depending on the situation, and of course the extra weight slightly differentiates its handling characteristics from the two-wheel drive car. Without PSM, “the C4 is still behaviorally unique compared to the standard 996, with a bit less oversteer and somewhat heavier, but more direct, steering input on sweepers.”

The Carrera 4 coupe’s last year was 2001, and was replaced by the Carrera 4S for 2002-04. The Carrera 4 Cabriolet, continued on through 2004, receiving the same updates as the Carrera, including the 3.6-liter engine.

2002-05 911 Carrera 4S

Perhaps the oddest 996 Porsche produced was the Carrera 4S, though we’re sure glad it did. The C4S was an aggressive-looking machine, with the wide body and many of the gaping vents and slats of the 911 Turbo. Sporting intentions, to be sure. At the rear, a Carrera-style spoiler gave the C4S away, as well as a distinctive red reflector strip between the taillights.

Above: 911 Carrera 4S

But it was saddled with all-wheel drive, and for whatever reason Porsche didn’t produce an S version of the two-wheel-drive Carrera. As Panorama found out in testing, however, the weight resulting from four driven wheels didn’t seem to affect performance. According to the magazine (January 2002), the suspension was “said to be stiffer than Porsche’s optional sport package, but not as stiff as the Turbo’s, [which] undoubtedly contributes to the C4S’s superior handling." Motor Trend even went as far to say the car was the best 911 available when it came out: "The ’02 Porsche C4S may be the best Porsche 911 of the current crop of eight variants, which would then suggest that it’s the best 911 in almost 40 years of 911s. Yes, there are two 911 models that accelerate harder, but one costs nearly twice as much."

Above: 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet became available as a 2004 model

With Turbo looks, sporty suspension, all-wheel drive, and more power and torque from the 3.6-liter flat six, the Carrera 4S is remembered for looking and performing better than the Carrera on many fronts.

The C4S was available only as a coupe in 2002 and 2003, while in 2004 a Cabriolet was introduced alongside the coupe.

2002-04 911 Targa

The first 911 Targa was Porsche’s newest offering in 1967, a novel way to offer open motoring with the added protection of a roll bar behind the front seats. All drivers had to do was remove the roof panel and unzip the soft plastic rear window if so equipped (glass rear windows are far more common). While the model has survived on and off since then, the Targa “mechanism” has changed.

During the 996 generation, a Targa model became available in 2002. Instead of a removable roof panel, the top was a huge glass sunroof that would slide back and behind the rear glass (a la 993). The rear window also doubled as a hatch opening with pneumatic struts — quite a useful feature that wasn’t available on any other 911.

“This Targa with its roof closed is as quiet as a coupe; with the glass section racked back, wind noise is about the same as a regular open sunroof,” Panorama (Dec. 2001) said. A word of caution for tall people: “Headroom per se is no particular problem for a six-footer, but those four or so inches taller might want to try the Targa for size before buying.”

[UPDATE: This article previously stated the 911 Carrera 4S was available from 2002-04. A small number of them sold as 2005 models. The article has been updated.]

Top problems that should make a buyer walk away from a 996 (and more)

By Bill Burris

Top three problems that should make prospective buyer walk away from a 996

  1. The top reason why you should cast a wary eye at a 996 – or any Porsche for that matter – would be undocumented service history.  You’d be amazed at the number of cars sold through even semi-reputable dealers where they know absolutely nothing about how the car has been serviced.  At the very least you’ll want to know about oil change history and whether or not fundamental repairs have been performed.
  2. Accident damage is another red flag.  Even when the body shop does excellent work there can be issues – particularly related to paint – that take a while to rear their ugly head.  Then it’s too late.  Even used-car managers taking units in on trade will use a paint thickness gauge to determine if the car has original paint or has been refinished – and will value the car accordingly.
  3. Anything leaking from the bottom of the engine/transmission area should prompt you to run in the opposite direction.  Just a little coolant leak?  No such thing as ‘just a little’ when we know water pumps are prone to failure.  Just a little oil?  Where from, the intermediate shaft bearing cover?  The crankshaft seal?  The transmission main shaft?  Everything is costly to repair, not to mention the time and hassle you have to commit to getting it back to where it should be.

The reality of the IMS bearing issue

The truth is that 9 out of 10 original intermediate shaft bearings will never have a problem.  It’s also the truth that 9 out of 10 buyers will always have a problem with the original intermediate shaft bearing.  This is a strange case where the reality is radically different than the perceived risk but it doesn’t matter because the market can do whatever it perceives, and at this point it perceives that original IMS bearings are too risky not to address.  I personally disagree and have run my personal car on the original single-row bearing with a smile on my face. Stay on top of the oil change interval and drive it the way Ferry Porsche intended – you’ll be glad you did.  Not quite that risk tolerant?  Install an early warning device like an IMS Guardian.

Other common issues to look out for that may not be grounds to walk away

Maybe the air/oil separator has been changed and maybe not, but you should be mindful that sooner or later the original part is likely to give you a nice trail of blue smoke from excessive oil getting sucked into the intake.  Unlike the IMS issue where a failure can leave you stranded on the side of the road, a failing air/oil separator is merely bothersome.  Bothersome until you get to the qualified Porsche service facility and they explain to you that the device is so buried in the bowels of the engine compartment and you’re looking at an expensive repair.  Youch.  Better to know up front if the car you’re buying has had updated parts installed – which is a common add-on to a clutch job since the engine will be out and the separator is more accessible.

DIY-friendliness of 996

In terms of maintenance, you might start by asking what can I do by myself and what should I leave to the dealer / competent Porsche repair facility.  The first thing on most everyone’s list is usually a basic oil change, and the 996 is a perfect candidate.  Porsche has done a good job at what the auto industry calls “service engineering,” which means that the car is designed with the concept of serviceability in mind.  Is the oil filter easy to get to?  Check.  Is the drain plug easy to get to?  Check.  Is the oil filler obvious?  Check.  On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being hard, this job rates a 2 - and that’s only because you’ve got to get the car lifted high enough to get a drain pan under it (word to the wise:  Make sure the pan is deep enough to hold ALL the oil).  If you do your own oil changes and keep the pressure in the tires up to snuff, that’s going to be about it.  Top up your fluids and leave the rest to the professionals.

Bill’s favorite model of 996 and why

Excluding the GT3’s, which are great for the track but difficult to live with the rest of the week, my favorite 996 is the 40th Anniversary edition, sold only in model year 2004 in a limited production run of 1963 units (to commemorate the first year of the 911 in Germany).  What’s so great about the car is that it had just about everything an enthusiast would want in the car already installed from the factory – inside and out.  The car features a more aggressive turbo nose in the front and polished tips in the back.  All the best options (wheels, X51 power) are included in the package, which made it something special. And special it was at $90,565 MSRP.

[UPDATE: The paragraph above previously stated "X50 power," regarding the powerkit option. The X50 powerkit was a 996 Turbo option. X51 was the powerkit for the 40th Anniversary 911 and an option on 2004 models.]

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