EVO: Buyer's Guide: Porsche 996 Turbo
The 911 Turbo is truly the stuff of legend, offering genuine supercar performance in a compact and practical package. In its early versions it was also infamous for its unforgiving handling. But the 996 version that appeared in 2000 was a different sort of animal. With four-wheel drive, a water-cooled engine, a smooth new bodyshell and radically updated cabin, it was a thoroughly sophisticated, all-weather, all-road supercar. And though it went out of production in 2005, in real terms it’s still as quick as anything on the road. It’s also a fantastically appealing second-hand buy, provided you’re aware of the potential pitfalls.
Compared with the previous 993 model, the 996 represented a virtual redesign. Cosmetically, it moved Porsche on in many significant yet subtle ways: the lines were smoothed out, the windscreen was raked right back, the cabin was roomier and the facia finally looked like it had been styled, though some preferred the classic Porsche look. The structure managed the neat trick of being 45 per cent stiffer yet lighter than the older model. And the early 911 handling quirks were further ironed out. Unless you were absolutely determined to drive like an arse, the 996 Turbo was as surefooted as any 190mph car. In short, it was the first of the modern 911 supercars.
The 996 generation was a particular milestone in being the first water-cooled 911, water cooling allowing an engine redesign that included four valves per cylinder, which achieved higher power outputs and much better fuel economy. But we need to clear one thing up immediately. Although the Turbo is water-cooled it’s not the same engine that’s in the regular 996s. The turbo engine can trace its ancestry back to the old air-cooled units and is directly related not only to the 996 GT3 but also the GT1 racer (3.2 litres and 600bhp!). The other 996 engines were a completely different design and had gasket problems that could lead to catastrophic failures, but not so the Turbo. This engine is very strong and can be tuned up to well over 500bhp if the fancy takes you.
As standard the Turbo had 420bhp at 6000rpm. In 2002 you could order the X50 upgrade package, which pushed the output up to 450bhp with different turbos, intercoolers, ECU tune and a reinforced gearbox. The 2002 model, sometimes known as the mk2, also saw body revisions which increased stiffness, improving handling and crash safety.
In 2003 the flop-top arrived, its reinforced B-pillars and other mods raising the weight by 70kg though it still posted near identical performance figures. The swansong was the 2005 Turbo S model, which had the X50 set-up as standard and also had ceramic composite brakes (PCCB) which work best when hot, making it ideal for trackdays. The six-speed manual is a typically good Porsche box but many Turbos were sold with the Tiptronic semi-auto. Fuel economy is good for such a rapid car – high-20s on a gentle run is not unheard of, but most owners average around 20mpg. So that’s the 996 Turbo, the sensible supercar! Now here’s how to find a good one. Driving one today
Mid-range punch was always the 996 Turbo’s party trick and while 420bhp might not sound that impressive today when there are saloons and estates around packing considerably more, it still feels seriously rapid. It has that instant thrust that compresses internal organs against the back of the seat and draws involuntary whoops of delight and a flow of power of power that just keeps on coming. The chassis and brakes are a perfect match for the engine’s performance, so invariably you’re always traveling faster than you think you are.
From the helm the Turbo may lack the intricate detailing provided by the GT3 of the interface between rubber and tarmac but it’s still impressive by any other standard, and the ride is taut whist retaining enough suppleness for long journeys to remain comfortable. With four-wheel drive and the engine slung out the back both grip and traction are incredibly strong, so much so that after a short drive you feel completely invincible. -Roger Green
These cars are generally owned by Porsche enthusiasts and so dealer servicing is the norm: most cars will have a full set of service stamps, so there is no need to risk one without.
A few cars will have seen a fair bit of track action, which is no bad thing as the car is well up to the job, although clutch and suspension wear will be exaggerated. But check for under-floor damage from aggressive rumble strips and gravel traps – dents and deep scratches will result in corrosion quite quickly. By comparison, cars that have been little used may suffer from seized electrical devices and rusty brake discs so may need more attention.
The Turbo engine is practically bulletproof. The only issues are occasional electrical gremlins, worn alternator/starter, and the front- mounted rads can sometimes leak. You may see a small puff of smoke when starting, which is fine, but any smoke when accelerating is bad news; oil consumption can be up to 3000 miles per litre so check the dipstick regularly. There was a tune update introduced in October 2001 for early cars which made a slight improvement to throttle response so check for the X51 stamp in the handbook on pre-2002 cars.
The 4wd system can be noisy – you may hear it drone or whine at speed, but this is not usually a problem. Also gaskets have been known to leak, and although the gaskets themselves are cheap there is a high labour cost to change them.
Check bumpers for tell-tale small creases which can hide damage underneath. The tail spoiler has a small wing that rises above 70mph – this can fail and the two rams leak oil so check carefully.
Wheels and tyres:
As with most high performance cars, the 996 runs a fair amount of camber at the back which can wear the inside edge of the tyres if the car is always driven gently; low-speed town driving can wear the edges of the front tyres too as they camber over when cornering. Kerbing low-profile tyres can damage the sidewalls inside, so it’s worth budgeting for new tyres. The type of tyre can dramatically affect the car’s handling. For example, Michelin Pilot Sports work really well in the wet and equally well in the dry, but backing off when turning into a corner can bring the back end round in the traditional 911 manner. Changing to Pilot Sport Cups, the choice tyre for the Porsche Cup races, rear grip is increased even more than on the front with the result that the lift-off oversteer is virtually eliminated. Obviously you can’t have everything and wet grip is more ‘exciting’.
Bushes are bonded to the suspension links so can be pricey to replace; it’s worth checking for wear before handing over your hard-earned.
Check the car drives straight on a smooth, level road; a tendency to pull to one side or a vibration may indicate the suspension is out of alignment.
Check the service book has the stamps for the five recalls: replace fuel pump wiring harness and coolant line spring clamp band; fit anti-chafing sheath to engine compartment fuel line; strengthen wiring harness in area of oil filter, and secure hydraulic clutch line with extra bracket.
Engine:3600cc, flat 6-cyl, twin turbo
Max power: 420bhp @ 6000 rpm (450bhp for S)
Max torque:413lb ft @ 4600rpm (457lb ft for S)
Transmission:Six-speed manual (Tiptronic option), four-wheel drive
Tyres:225/40 ZR18 front, 295/30 ZR18 rear
Power to weight:272bhp per ton (296 for Turbo S)
Top speed:189mph (claimed)
Source: Porsche 996 Turbo | Buying Guide | evo