Let’s be honest here, deep down inside everyone loves the Porsche 911. How can you not? It has everything anyone could possibly want from a drivers car, and then some. They look good, sound good, and drive incredible. They even have back seats. Okay, you might not actually use them for people, but it does lend to some usability that you don’t typically have in a performance based car. The only real problem with the 911 is the insane prices they demand. And that’s really where the 996 generation comes into play.
Maybe you haven’t heard, but the 996 generation of the 911 that was produced from 1998 to 2004 is commonly recognized as the worst 911 Porsche has ever built. It was considered to be a smack in the face to the 911 lineage that predates it. Yet in my opinion, the hate isn’t at all warranted. At least not to the degree that the 996 receives. Yes, I do think the 993, 964 and original 911 are better cars, albeit that’s probably just bias because of their history and styling. Yet the 996 deserves to stand proudly next to its ancestors, because without it the 911 name would likely have died off.
What I am referring too is the well-known fact that the 996 is the very first 911 Porsche to come with a water-cooled flat-six engine. Many folks are quick to point this fact out yet fail to realize every first generation ANYTHING tends to have some serious issues. It’s part of the cruel R&D process. The caveat here is that Porsche did kind of screw over the people that bought the 996 new when it came to warranty claims and repairs. But hey that’s in the past now, right? Right… Even still with a few minor tweaks like repairing the IMS bearing, the 996 goes from a grenade with the pin pulled to a relatively reliable drivers car. The repairs are anything but cheap, yet that shouldn’t be a surprise with that Porsche emblem being a dead giveaway. Even so, the most costly are only a couple thousand dollars now, which is much better than when Porsche originally wanted over $15,000 to fix a known issue.
This generation is singlehandedly the biggest design change that Porsche has ever put into the 911. Everything was radically different, a sign of things to come. It wasn’t perfect, but a lot of those very things are still in play today. So it couldn’t have been all bad. Matter of fact I would venture to say that majority of 996 was a success, with a few small details that have been heavily over criticized.
Now you are probably saying to yourself, ‘we get it, Mike, the 996 has been given a bad wrap. WE. GET IT.’ If you are thinking that let me put your mind at ease because I’m not really even close to being done. Seriously, it’s because people like to bitch about so much more than just the few mechanical faux pas that the 996 suffers from. No, people love to hate on styling, especially on something that has a history like the 911. Humans, by nature, are creatures of habit. So when you radically change something most of the time you will find that people don’t care for it at first. If ever. And that’s what Porsche attempted with the 996. First up, headlights. Oh man, people hate these headlights. Sure, I will admit I’m not a huge fan either, but I don’t hate them. It’s also worth considering that because of these headlights the 996 doesn’t look like any 911 before it, but still manages to be instantly recognizable. That’s not really an easy feat. Yet even with that unique quality, it gets roasted like a marshmallow over a flame. I just don’t get it.
The headlights aren’t the only sore spot for most folks, the interior is definitely next up to the plate. If you ask a purist about the interior of a 996 you will likely get spit on while they bitterly tell you about the cheap materials used. They will get so manic it will throw off the rest of their golf game, resulting in a club or two being thrown your direction. And yet it’s another complaint based solely off of skewed perception. Yes, the materials were cheap plastic bits. But guess what, that was essentially 90% of the cars built in this era. Have you seen the interior of a C5 Corvette? It’s hideous. Yet we don’t harp on it like it’s the bastard child of a royal family. Really the only cars that I think of that offer similar performance but have a much nicer interior would be the BMW M3 and M5, and the Ferrari 360. The latter being much more expensive and the former being a BMW. It’s not quite a fair comparison.
And all the while the Porsche purists are bashing the 996 interior while driving an archaic design that evolved little to not at all since the early 70’s. Pot, meet kettle. While your 993 may be considered the pinnacle of air cooled 911’s, its cabin is anything but lavish. Continuing with the trend the 996 was a massive step in the right direction, taking the 911 into the modern age of technology. The styling still reflects this shift with the newest 991, a sign that it couldn’t have been all bad.
Even with all of this the thing that makes the 996 possibly the best 911 is the fact that because of all this universal hate it has become surprisingly affordable. With vintage 911 prices currently skyrocketing, and the 991 starting at $91,000 USD, it can be hard to justify the purchase. Yet a low mileage 996 can be had in the mid to low $20’s, if you’re diligent with your search. If you have a gambling problem you can easily get your fix and bet on a high mileage unit that has dipped into the teens. Personally, I would pick up a mid mileage 996 with a service record that reflects having the necessary parts replaced. For under 30 grand that’s not just one hell of a buy, it’s downright affordable.
The argument of which 911 is the all time the greatest driving machine will likely go on forever. Collectively though, I think we can agree that the 996 isn’t the lump of coal its made out to be. In today’s market, it may very well be the best bang for the buck 911, and that is a testament to how good it really is.