Would you hate a Porsche 911? According to a late narrative, the 996 is the Porsche to hate. It’s the 911 that lived in infamy as one of the worst cars of the Brand, an unreliable and awful car that doesn’t deserve to be respected. Water cooled and doomed by its damn IMS bearing failures and occasional engine blow-ups, it never entered the Olympus of greatness of its siblings. While many fail to consider is that the 996 was a landmark vehicle for Porsche: the 911 of new millennium was a car which was a remarkable departure from its predecessor. The mid-late nineties were a grim time for Porsche as sales weren’t good at all. However, the end of the Transaxle-era with the discontinuation of the 968 led to the build of a more rational and interesting model, later known as the Boxster. Shown as a static prototype at the 1993 Detroit Auto Show it immediately got great amount of success entering in production in 1996.
The first generation 986 Boxster was by all means a revolutionary car: not only it offered a rational mid-mounted liquid cooled 2.5 litre Boxer engine, but it helped Porsche achieve a major sales success. What not many know was that it shared many components with the 996 911: all the frontal section to the doors was shared as the result of a formidable economization process. What many do not know is that during development two teams worked in close contact and with the same suppliers in order to have the most shared parts between the two models. Whether you like it or not, these two models, alongside the advent of the Cayenne suv in 2001 allowed Porsche to gain the upper hand on the market. The engineers who worked on the 996 had the difficult task to improve an iconic sportscar and they had to maintain it as 911 as possible. As a complete departure from the 993, the new car had to be lighter, stiffer, roomier, more comfortable and remarkably Porsche. The final result was a car that was 18.4 cm longer, 30% stiffer and 50 kg lighter (with liquids) than the old 993. More aerodynamic efficient and advanced the 996 was perhaps the best Porsche engineers could offer for a sportscar of the new Millennium.
The new M96/01 engine was completely new and developed from zero. The overall height was reduced by 120mm thanks to the elimination of the fan and had four valves per cylinder and the new Vario Cam system, which led to 300 hp and a 280 kph top speed. A characteristic that set this engine apart from the competition was the Lockasil engine block, which allowed less production phases than the ordinary aluminium – silicium units used in the past. The 996 was all new and promising but its engine failures led to a bad reputation: consider it as Porsche’s own Maserati Biturbo. But problems aside… how is to drive? Is it worth our desires or not? Is it worth the trouble of ownership? First, it’s poised and characterful as a proper Gran Turismo should be. You do not want to drive it with the knife between the teeth and aggressively, but rather be gentle, take your time and enjoy the ride. What is surprising is that from the first meters you have the sensation that you’ve driven a 996 your entire life. It’s easy, friendly and reassuring: in a way, it’s the kind of car you always wanted to drive daily. It’s functional, comfortable and enjoyable at any speed: the steering is properly weighted and the gear changes are consistent and precise while the engine is at its happiest when kept between 3 and 5.000 rpm. Its ideal road is a fast-two lane interstate that will take you through some great sceneries. Interesting note is the layout of the pedal board, which unlike other Porsches, doesn’t have the annoyingly high brake and low throttle pedals, resulting in an effective disposition for heel and toe.
The 996 power delivery is more aggressive than the 993, which was perhaps a little too mild for being a sportscar, and allows for brilliant acceleration at any speed. Balance is the word that comes in mind when driving this 911. There’s a consistency between the quality of the interior, the power of the engine and the rational but highly satisfyingly behavior on the road. It’s exactly what a classic sports-GT should be: brilliant and exhilarating to drive, while docile and easy for everyone. This example, a 1999 Carrera 2 with only 41.000km and painted in the captivating Speed Gelb colour is a joy to drive and a throwback to 20 years ago. It’s small in size and compact, while its clean lines privilege purity over ostentatious design, so popular in these days: equilibrium is surely a quality.
The 996 is competent in many areas and does not privilege any of its aspects in favor of another: it’s a 911, a proper one. Like every Porsche, it offers more under the skin than it’s visible to the naked eye. So what’s the verdict then? Let us answer with the question that has been bugging our minds since we last drove this car: why didn’t we just bought one, when they were incredibly cheap?