I think it’s time to address one of those automotive things that everyone is wrong about, like the midengine Corvette, or when people spell it "Camero." But this one is a little more controversial, so bear with me: I think the "996" Porsche 911 is the best 911 you can buy.
For those of you who aren’t up on your Porsche 911 generations, here’s a little refresher. The original 911 was simply called the 911, and it lasted from 1963 to 1989, albeit with major changes over the years. In the late 1970s, they came out with a turbocharged model called the 930. From 1991 to 1994, you had the "964" version, which is sort of forgotten, followed by the "993" from 1995 to 1998. Everyone loves the 993. Porsche owners talk about the 993 as if it’s their own child, and many of them would have a hard time deciding whether to give up their child or their 993 if things really came to that.
Then there’s the 996. The 996 was sold from 1999 to 2004, and it’s been maligned ever since then, largely due to its headlights. The headlights are ugly. They look like fried eggs. They aren’t round. There were other criticisms, too, mainly centered around the fact that the 996 was the first Porsche model to switch to engine water cooling instead of old-school air cooling — and the 996’s subsequent engine problems, mainly centered around its "exploding" IMS bearing, which could grenade the entire engine with little warning.
Following the 996, Porsche went more traditional from 2005 to 2012 with the 997, and then in 2012 they debuted the 991, which remains the current 911 today.
Every single Porsche model, aside from the 996, is loved. And yet, the 996 is the one that should be loved most. So I’m going to start this by addressing some criticisms of the 996, and then I’m going to give you all the reasons why it shouldn’t be criticized by anyone who has any idea what they’re talking about.
CRITICISM 1: THE HEADLIGHTS
OK, let’s talk about the headlights for a second. No, they aren’t round. (Porsche owner response: WAAH WAAAH WAAAAH WAAAH WHY AREN’T THEY ROUND!?!?!?) But so freakin’ what? I realize I’m alone in this opinion, but I actually like the way the headlights look in the 996. I don’t like them relative to other cars, or think they’re "sort of OK," or think they look good "for the price" or "for the time period." I actually, truly, legitimately LIKE the headlights.
But forget about the headlights for a second and go around back. The 996 I drove in the above video is a wide-body Carrera 4S model, and looking at this car from the rear is a wonderful feast for your eyes. I truly believe that the wide-body 996, when viewed from the rear, is the most attractive 911 ever made — and I think, if it weren’t for those headlights, most people would agree it’s a gorgeous car.
CRITICISM 2: THE INTERIOR
The 996 often gets criticized for having a "cheap" interior, which I truly believe is the most hilarious complaint about this car in the entire history of automotive complaints. The reason I say this: Earlier Porsche models — usually the ones owned by the people complaining about the 996 — have even worse interiors!
I’m serious. Have you ever sat in a Porsche 993? Yes, the quality of materials is generally good — but the entire dashboard design is two straight lines heading away from the steering wheel. The climate control is side-by-side with the stereo, which looks idiotic, and the center console features precisely three buttons, one of which has an exclamation point on it. The 993’s interior is simple, yes, but absolutely NOT attractive.
Now, I admit, the 996 doesn’t have a great interior — but neither does any other Porsche from that era. And, truthfully, anyone who owns one of those horizontal-line steering wheels, as shown in the video, has absolutely no room to complain about ANY automotive interior, let alone that of the 996.
CRITICISM 3: THE IMS
The only legitimate criticism leveled at the 996, in my mind, relates to its engine design. Some 996 models made after 1999 have a flaw in the engine at the "intermediate shaft," which can explode and destroy the entire motor. This is bad.
The whole thing about the IMS is that it can largely be solved before it explodes. A replacement is available, and it costs around two grand — so you have to factor that into the purchase price when you’re buying a 996, assuming it hasn’t had the IMS replaced already. But that two grand allows you to stick a new, sturdier IMS on there, and then you can drive around with total peace of mind. Suddenly, the IMS issue is neutralized.
And when the IMS issue is no longer an issue, and when you’ve given up on the stupid complaints about the interior and the exterior, you start to realize something about the 996: it’s a truly great car. And it’s a truly great deal.
The best thing about the 996 is that in spite of all the criticism it’s gotten over the years, nobody ever really criticizes its driving experience. When you get out on the road, and you ignore all the purist-speak from guys on Porsche internet forums with more posts than miles on their Porsches, and you actually throw the 996 into some curves, and accelerate through corners, and get on some twisty roads with elevation changes, you’re reminded of something: It’s still a 911. It drives exactly how you’d expect a 911 to drive, which is sweet, and smooth, and totally controllable, and just powerful enough that you have to work for the really strong acceleration, or you can be happy with a half-throttle stab.
On the road, behind the wheel, away from the criticisms, I love the 996. It’s truly one of the most enjoyable cars to drive — and I really think it was the last "tossable" 911, before the 997 debuted as more of a grand touring car than a sports car. The 997 is great, don’t get me wrong — but the 996 can still be thrown around, hammered and mistreated, precisely as a sports car should. The 997 just feels a little too big, a little too luxurious, and a little too … nice … to do those things.
And this brings me to my last point about the 996, which is that it’s a freaking steal. The average 996 is currently listed on Autotrader right now for $30,600. The average 993 is $81,400. That isn’t a typo: You pay two-and-a-half times as much to get less power, circular headlights and a simpler interior. Or you could get a 997: The average asking price for one of those is $64,000.
The simple truth is this: The 996 is the black sheep of the 911 family, all because a few Porsche purists don’t like some stupid cosmetic things. Forget them. Go buy a 996. Get out on the road, leave the purists to the internet forums and enjoy your car. And laugh about how you saved $50,000. Find a used Porsche 911 for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.