For the last few years, when people have come to me and asked what Porsche to buy, I’ve been very clear: Get a 996 Turbo. That would be the turbocharged version of the Porsche 911 that was made from 1999 to 2005 (although the Turbo model itself started production in 2001). Get a 996 Turbo. Get a 996 Turbo. I tell this to everyone. It’s been my battle cry.
Now, I’m starting to give a different answer to this question. If you can stretch your budget, forget the 996 Turbo and go straight to the 997 Turbo. It’s one of the best exotic-car bargains on the market right now.
Before I get started explaining why, let me address the whole "996" and "997" thing for people who don’t have Porsche’s model codes memorized. Here’s how it works: The Porsche 911 has been called the Porsche 911 since 1963, but it’s a little confusing because there have been several different generations of the car within the "911" name. There was the standard 911 from 1963 to 1989, then the "964" generation from 1989 to 1994, then the "993" from 1995 to 1998, then the "996" from 1999 to 2005, then the "997" from 2005 to 2012 and the "991" since 2012. Yes, they went backwards.
Of those generations, I’ve always favored the 996 primarily because most enthusiasts haven’t: The car is famous for its odd-looking headlights, which was considered unattractive, and for an engine issue that doesn’t even affect turbocharged versions. The 996 Turbo has been cheap for the performance it provides, with a decent example starting around $40,000 — not bad for a 415-horsepower turbocharged Porsche 911 that does zero to 60 in something like 4 seconds.
But now the 997 Turbo is entering the picture.
Sold from 2007 to 2012, the 997 Turbo has always been out of the realm of most enthusiast budgets, simply because it’s been too modern — and too powerful — to really depreciate to the level of the 996. But that’s starting to change.
First, let’s talk pricing. I drove a 997 Turbo that was listed for sale by Exclusive Automotive Group in the D.C. area for something like $51,000. That made it just about the cheapest 997 Turbo in the country, as the current average asking price for an early 997 Turbo listed on Autotrader is more like $70,000. And yet, even at this figure, I think this car is a bargain.
One reason is obvious: performance. The 997 Turbo had something like 480 horsepower, and it could do zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds — a truly excellent figure, even by today’s standards. Modern exotic cars, with $200,000-plus price tags, are still barely firing off 0-to-60 times that quick. And you can get that performance somewhere in the mid-$60,000 range if you get a 997 Turbo.
Then there’s the styling: It’s good. While I often struggle to convince car enthusiasts to give the 996 Turbo a chance, there’s no convincing necessary with the 997 Turbo. It’s objectively gorgeous, with just enough slight modifications over a standard 997 to stand out among people who really know. It has nice, distinctive wheels, wide rear fenders, and a different front bumper — but very little else. It’s a wonderful look, and quite possibly the most attractive 911 Turbo of all time, especially if you think (as I do) that the earlier models are starting to show their age.
And then there’s all the stuff. The 996 Turbo doesn’t have much in the way of modern conveniences given that its basic design is rooted in 1999. But the 997 Turbo … it’s a whole different ballgame. There’s nice, rich leather. There’s a navigation system — not that you’d use it. There are heated seats, and there’s power everything, and it just almost feels … modern. The 996, I will grant you, certainly doesn’t feel modern.
And when you combine all this stuff, here’s what you have: a turbocharged Porsche with excellent performance that rivals a modern car, excellent styling that rivals anything Porsche has ever made, and a well-equipped, modern interior that still looks nice … all for sixty-something thousand dollars, or less than half the price of a new one. Maybe a third of the price of a new one.
Now, I admit, there are some issues — like, for instance, the old Tiptronic transmission, which is very slow by modern standards. Either get a stick shift or get a car from 2010 or later, with Porsche’s excellent PDK. Also, yes, I’m aware that $60,000 isn’t really "cheap," like $40,000 for a 996 Turbo or even $25,000 for a decent 996. But here’s the thing: The 997 Turbo isn’t really losing much value. Spend $65,000 today, budget for taxes, and insurance, and a little maintenance, and you can probably sell it for $63,000 next year. After 10,000 miles of 0-to-60-in-3.6-seconds Porsche ownership.
The 997 Turbo is a dream car. It also happens to be a pretty good deal. Go buy it. 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.