2003 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S (996)It is well acknowledged, if not documented, that the 1999-2004 Porsche Carrera 911 (or 996) is the ugly step-child of the 911 family.  Having been born right after the pampered darling, the 993, the much belittled 996 was intended as a leap forward in luxury and performance – a Porsche for the new age. 

In my opinion, Porsche accomplished that leap with great clarity – but we’ll get to that later…

1997 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S (993)The reason the 993 become everyone’s favorite baby is because you need to pamper it (see my earlier post for 993 babysitting instructions).  The 993 is fussy and prone to tantrums – take your eye off its’ three oil gauges for more than a month for example and you risk serious engine damage.  It always has issues that consume you (but rarely detract from the pure driving excitement), like the heater and AC controls, sunroof operation, overall electronic operation, and I had constant flat tires – although this had more to do with the tire manufacturer than anything (aside: Michelins over Bridgestones always).  It takes a considerable effort to drive.  The 993 needs you, and your constant attention, and that dependence creates a bond unlike any other vehicle.  In fact, some nights you actually go to sleep worried about its’ well-being.

Granted, the 996 is a transitional figure in the Porsche genealogy.  It’s a given, that money being no object, every sportscar enthusiast would choose the styling and performance of the current Porsche progeny, 2007 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S (997)(the 997 – 2005-present), over the 996.  But the 996 paved the way for the 997 by leaving behind the antiquated air-cooled system for a conventional “water”/radiator engine cooling system, as well as computerized driver aids.  No question, the 993 is precise in its turn-in and road-feel.  The driver aids of the 996 do take away from this precision with intentional understeer, but the 996 delivers so much more in terms of luxury, information, and comfort, without abandoning that guttural Porsche “thrill factor.”

Compare the figures (“S” versions):  1997 993 – 282HP weighing 3064lbs = a Power-To-Weight Ratio of 1:11 vs. 2003 996 – 320HP weighing 2920lbs = PTW 1:9 (the lower the ratio, the 2003 Birel Honda 125cc Shifter Kartfaster the vehicle).  If you desire an unadulterated driving experience I would suggest you purchase a 125cc Shifter Kart, which provides a Power-To-Weight Ratio of 1:4. 

The Porsche Snobs, sorry Purists, say, “It isn’t a ‘real Porsche’ unless it is air-cooled and rear-engined.”  This way of thinking leaves the 944 and the classic 928 orphaned as well.  But the general public sees, and respects, any Porsche progeny saying, “Ah, there goes a Porsche – isn’t she beautiful?”

2003 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S (996) HeadlightThen there’s the headlights.  The Porsche Purists say, “Round headlights are a 911 trademark,” following with, “Porsche turned their back on us with the introduction of the 996.”  I willfully concede on this argument.  This applies to the re-invented 996 front grill as well.  Notice how the well-received 997 made a return to a rounded, albeit oval, headlight and a more traditional front end – also notice how 993 and 997 resale values are holding steady, while 996 resale values plummeted within a couple years of their unveiling – honestly, that fact greatly added to my personal affection for the 996.  (Click here to see current 911 resale prices on Cars.com.)

1997 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S (993) InteriorBut compare the interiors of the 996 with the 993.  No comparison!  The 993 looks as if it was stillborn in the 70′s – no cup holder or right arm rest, to which the Purists like to respond, “How many racing cars have cup holders?“  Can you believe the original MSRP on the 993 was over $60,000 in 1997?  (Most final sticker prices were well over $70,000.)  The 996 is indeed a modern luxury sportscar – ergonomics, computers and all – and its original MSRP was only $5,000 more in 2003.  (Aside: the original MSRP of my 1997 C4S was $81,700 compared to my 2003 C4S of $83,560)

2003 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S (996) InteriorIn truth, I too was waiting for resale prices of the 997 to drop into my affordable range before moving out of my 993.  In fact, I’ve driven all three recent 911 generations numerous times and the 997 is without a doubt the best (especially with PDK), but 997 resale prices just haven’t dropped enough yet.  So I bit the bullet and settled for a 996.  Settled for the goofy headlights and the front-end slippage on tight turn-ins, even the second gear which is admittedly not well ratioed.  I resigned to receiving dirty looks from the Purists, rather than the friendly waves of my former 993 brotherhood.  But alas, after just one month of driving my 996, following five years fathering a 993, I have a confession…

2003 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S (996)I am confessing to the “Porsche Purists” (you know who you are), the ones who celebrate the brutish 993 with a verbose and self-righteous rhetoric, that I have grown to love my fledgling 996.   I love it as if it were my first-born.  And better yet, I trust it.  I trust it in the hand’s of my wife and other lesser-experienced 911 drivers.  Trust that it will hold its line if my attention should ever momentarily wane.  I trust that I won’t ever have to experience snap-oversteer while putting it through its paces (thanks to PSM).  Trust that I will receive an equal, if not greater, number of speeding tickets. 

Lastly, I trust that I made the best decision, for the money, of which pre-owned Porsche Carrera 911 to buy.

Written by Perry & Co. Denver Real Estate Professionals’ COO & Director of Relocation Services Jon Larrance.

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16 Responses to “Confessions Of A Porsche 996 Driver (1999-2004 Carrera 911)”  

  1. 1 993C4S


    While I love some Porsches (993, 914, 930, etc.) and like all others (including the Cayenne and the Panamera) I still like the raw, visceral, seat of the pants driving that comes with the older air-cooled cars (all generations and models). There was something that was/is lost with the newer electronics. In fact, at times, I think my ’97 C4S would be better off without the “4″. It might be just a “bit” more fun, but only a bit. But I digress…

    I think the 996 gets a bad rep, not so much from aesthetics (although that is definitely a factor for many) but more from the mechanical failings experienced by so many in the first few years of production (RMS, etc.). Fortunately, Porsche solved the problem with the introduction of the ’02s and quietly fixed many of the earlier cars. Your particular choice, the ’03 C4S is one that I would be happy to have in my garage and have, in fact, been discussing an ’04 C4S cab as the next possible neighbor for my 993 (blasphemy, right?).

    Lastly, I think the true test of any sports car is how you feel about it a couple of years down the road once you have some miles under your belt. I look forward to reading more about your experiences with your 996 and hope they remain positive.

    John (aka 993C4S)

  2. 2 Perry & Co. Real Estate Professionals

    Thanks for the comment John!
    Obviously, not all Porsche Purists are snobs. The one fact that maybe doesn’t come through in this post (but hopefully does in my earlier one) is that I did adore my ’97 993 C4S and it’s “raw, visceral, seat of the pants driving.” I think that the C4, or C4S (All Wheel Drives), are the ways to go regardless of the 911 generation you choose – being a rear-engined car, when accelerating through a sharp corner the C2′s (Rear Wheel Drive) tend to slip out mid-corner, a different feel than under-steer.

    You bring up an excellent point that I had intended on touching upon in my post – that being the issue of the Rear Main Seals (RMS) leaking on models prior to 2003. My experience when shopping for a 996 was that near 100% of those for sale built 1999-2002 had a prior history of RMS repairs, and I’ve been told that it can be a recurring issue. I don’t remember exactly but I believe the RMS fix runs well into the thousands of dollars, thus if you are intent on buying one of those years, make sure the RMS fix has already been completed.

    But my recommendation when shopping for a pre-owned 996 is that you only look at those built 2003-2004. Another reason is because of PSM, or Porsche Stability Management, Porsche’s system for reducing under-steer and over-steer in all driving conditions, which became standard (Note: it can be switched off when desired).

    See you down the road!

  3. 3 Raphael Bertolus

    Well put as an undervalued Porsche. But don’t pitch it too much or “they” will discover this hidden treasure.
    My recommendation (and my ride) is an ’04 GT3 with round headlight covers (by Tech-Art) and a ’73 RS rear deck lid (by M.A. Shaw).
    Retro looking, dead reliable and absolutely a purist delight!

  4. 4 Paul Eves

    I think you meant purists (like me) feel it’s not a Porsche unless it’s rear-engined and AIR cooled. I like to apply this to just 911s. 911s must be air-cooled. Can you imagine a water cooled 356? Same thing. I bought my 993 Targa because I love the sound of the engine, the feel of the road, and the all glass retractable roof! Does life get any better? My girlfriend has a 2003 996 cab which I enjoy driving but they are SO different it’s hard to call them both 911s. Yes the headlights are non-purist but I always use the front fog lights at night to give it a more unique look.

  5. 5 Mattman

    1) I always think of round headlights as VW Beetle lights. Besides, the 993 headlights aren’t round. They are ovals. They are only round when viewed on-axis from a front cross-section. My dad’s 912 had round headlights. And no oil cooling to detract from the “really pure real Porsche” which is just air cooled, not oil. hah. :-)

    2) I like my 996 headlights. Seriously. I think the 997 is too retro. My favorite headlights are on the Cayman. That’s a great car, BTW, but I like engine in the tail where I can swing it around… heh

    3) Dad’s ’95 993 is not tempermental like you mention. And I don’t think it’s harder to drive, really. street/ax/track. I can push my 996 harder but it’s familiarity not because of the car… (and the R-comps… LOL)

    4) I disagree about the resale values. 993 prices are about the same as 996 prices. But local markets vary a lot.

    5) PSM is a joy on the street (saved my ass in the rain when the car was new and I didn’t realize how awesome it was), I flip it off for AX (for nutty tail out action), and it doesn’t engage on the track, even when I 4-wheel drift it through a horseshoe turn at 80… fun fun!

    I love my 996. Can’t imagine selling it. (Need more garage space, I do!)

  6. 6 Geo.

    Bravo and well said!
    Unless I am misconstruing what I read above I think that what the purists actually say is “It isn’t a ‘real Porsche’ unless it is AIR-cooled and rear-engined.” Too bad – I loved the 944s that others let me sample and coveted a 928S4.
    That being said I love my 2002 Carrera Cabriolet AND its unique headlights (what a stupid thing to obsess over!). I have had my issues with flat tires too and actually prefer my new Bridgestones to the OEM Continentals the car came with having had bad experiences with Michelin Pilot Sports on BMWs.
    I have already experienced the coolant tank failure issue that many 996 owners encounter and my clutch started slipping last summer at 33K. As the original owner put the first 25K on the car, I blame them for that failure as I have been driving manual boxes since 1972 and have NEVER killed a clutch. I did the RMS and the clutch at that time and Paul Miller Porsche put in the upgraded version of the seal so I feel OK on that score now. I have seen some discussion of issues with failure of the IMS on the 996 online forums but not enough to worry me into doing something proactive and expensive about it.
    I might be more concerned if I had chipped the car or was doing track days.
    Dollar for dollar, I can’t imagine that I could be any happier with either a 993 or a 997.

  7. 7 Perry & Co. Real Estate Professionals

    Thanks Geo.
    I love your last line, “Dollar for dollar, I can’t imagine that I could be any happier with either a 993 or a 997.” However, have you driven a 997? I think you would jump at the chance to own a 997 for the same expenditure as a 996. Regardless, the 996 is a great car and it sounds like you’ve worked out all the issues that seem to plague the 1999, 2000, 2001 & 2002 models.

  8. 8 Andy

    Came to this website for Battery info and am surprised to here all the ‘to-do’ about 996′s. I would hope the the 997 is a better car given it’s a newer revision! However, price is a huge consideration. First, though, I have a red 2003 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S with black interior, and I get compliments every WEEK about the car, at the Starbucks, the Gas Station, etc. So, I don’t know about those headlights, but every one loves my car. Maybe it’s the red color and turbo body. Now for price- I got mine with 35K miles from a Porsche dealer with a 2 year CPO warranty for about $40K. An early 997 C4S goes for $60K-$65K in my part of the Country. That’s a huge price difference. I’ve driven the car for a year and a half without a single issue except killing the battery (drive it every third day or so and didn’t have a trickle charger on it). And the car is a thrill. I also own a 2006 E55, and if the 996 is too refined, I just wouldn’t want to commute in a 993.

  9. 9 Perry & Co. Real Estate Professionals

    For those of you with tire questions. Here is a great evaluation done by Car & Driver. Click here to see comparisons of nine high performance tires.

  10. 10 Perry & Co. Real Estate Professionals

    Nearing 10,000 reads, my Porsche Carrera 911 996 “Dead Battery & Locked Hood” Solution blog post is Porsche Club of America’s Fifth Most Popular Story: http://multibriefs.com/briefs/pca/index.php
    Thanks PCA members!

  11. 11 Werner

    Hi Jon
    Having sold my 2006 Cayman S I am looking at a 2003 996 4S with 31 000 miles on the clock. Car = clean + history + being sold by my local Porsche agent. I have convinced myself that, that sexy butt makes up for the goofy lights (they’ve actually started growing on me).
    I was just wondering, now nearly a year down the line; are you still happy with the car?

  12. 12 Perry & Co. Real Estate Professionals

    Hi Werner,
    Love it. Although I might feel a little different if I didn’t have the CPO warranty. Without it, I probably would have spent close to $10,000 in the year – new stereo, new AC/Heat Control, new Radiator, and some other odds and ends. So if your dealer isn’t already offering the Certified Pre-Owned warranty, I think it would be wise to have them add it on as your vehicle would certainly qualify unless it has been in a significant crash.

  13. 13 Jan Pethick

    HI Jon,
    ‘Really enjoyed your article and ongoing mail. Last fall at the PCA event in Newport,
    my wife and I were impressed by the 993s and 996s. So I finally sold our ’85 Carrera and have been trying to find out all I can about the newer (maybe up to an ’04 996).
    I was merrily going down the mail on your site, thinking, “Maybe an ’03 – ’04 911 IS the answer. Then I hit the $10,000 costs over the year. !!!?!!. The funny thing is the way the Porsche oil that is still in my blood keeps pulling me back to reconsider these remarkable cars. I have a silver 1990 Nissan 300 ZX coupe with 128,000 miles on it. The engine is so durable, in spite of its sophistication (double overhead variable cams, a coil per plug); it’s never been really worked on. The gearbox, although not new, is smooth and precise. It corners predictably and tracks like the yellow line at high speed. It is a good looking car. In fact IT is the reason I started drooling over the 996s. After spending years in an ex-competition ’56 Speedster as a daily driver, I embrace comfort a bit more than I did when I was twenty-four. I WANT a 996 or 997 but that kind of expense is, for me, daunting. I still am drawn to the Porsche, but…
    Anyway I bet your car is wonderful to drive and I wish you all the best with it.

  14. 14 Perry & Co. Real Estate Professionals

    Hi Jan,
    I hear your point loud and clear. I think any time you buy a used car it’s a crapshoot and that’s why I recommend buying a Porsche with a CPO Warranty attached. Although Porsche’s reliability rankings are now number one, I doubt they were back in 2003.

    Crazy as it sounds, I spent 50% more in the first year I owned my used 1997 993 C4S. So I think anyone would be out of their mind to buy any Porsche without an extended warranty.

    I also have to tell you that I adore the old 300ZXs (I had a 1992 t-top myself and still drool over them), but in Denver you need an AWD if you want an all year around sportscar (the Z was horrendous in snow and ice even with Blizzaks) and that’s why a 911 C4S is the perfect car for me.

    Lastly, Jan, I hate to tell you that the Porsche addiction never goes away.

  15. 15 Jan Pethick

    Hi Jon,
    Thanks so much for your response.
    So you, too, had one of those Nissan 300ZXs? They are pretty wonderful. Considering what they cost, they are almost puzzling. But I can REALLY see why you went for a 4 wheel drive 911. And you’re right, “horrendous” is the correct term used to describe the Z’s behavior on snow or ice. The first time I experienced snow with the 300ZX was when I had to move it in the Baldwin School parking lot. As soon as those rear tires rolled onto the compressed snow the car decided to go “Sonja Henie.” It was a riot; I had to gently coax it along with the clutch to a cleared space, praying for warmer weather. The Porsche Speedster was NEVER like that. In fact in not-too-deep snow it was excellent. Some of the most “fun” driving I did was in that stark little car in the snow.
    Your opinions and advice have been very useful – and this is after six months of investigating the 993 and 996 possibilities. I do love that 300ZX but that Porsche… besides, after almost forty years I’m back in the PCA, I’m a Riesentoter! Now THAT’S an excuse!
    Ah, the addiction. I need therapy.
    Best Wishes, I’ll follow your progress.

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