It may sound like a cliché, but the Porsche 911 is the definitive sports car. Here is a car that’s stepped outside the geeky limits of the automotive scene and has become a cultural phenomenon known and respected all over the world. The signature shape, rear-mounted flat-six engine, and characteristic growl of its twin exhausts are recognizable as Levi`s blue jeans, the Coca-Cola bottle or Nike`s swoosh logo.

Yes, the Porsche 911 is an icon and fantastic performance machine at the same time. This is one of the main reasons why we have experienced an insane spike in price years with early, air-cooled models reaching ludicrous numbers. If you are desperate for some good-old 911 magic, but you’re not a millionaire, why not find a lovely 996-gen model. That said, heres what you should look out for.

996 Controversies

In a long and lustrous 911 history originating in early `60s, there hasn’t been a more controversial model than the 996 generation, introduced in 1997 and sold through 2005. This was the car that broke several holy traditions of 911 and shocked purists all over the world. First, this was the first 911 with a water-cooled flat-six engine instead of an air-cooled unit. Secondly, it was the first totally new platform, not an improved version of the existing one. Thirdly, it was assembled on a robotized assembly line, not partially by hand like models before. Fourth and finally, the design, although modern and aerodynamically efficient, wasn’t generally accepted, and some motoring journalists criticized its strange-looking headlights. Some would be owners even complained that their 911 looked too much like its much cheaper and slower sibling, the Porsche Boxster.

From this perspective, we have to understand Porsches design choices; all of these changes were much needed in order to keep the 911 fresh and relevant. The air-cooled engines couldn’t meet the late `90s emissions standards, the new platform was required to keep notoriously problematic 911 handling in check, and a new design was sleeker and more slippery than ever before. Fortunately, all those changes didn’t ruin the 911 essence but make it better and prepared it for the future.

Numbers

The 996-generation debuted for the 1997 model year and was discontinued in 2005. During those eight years, Porsche produced just over 175,000 examples, which makes the 996 very plentiful on the used-car market. The base engine was 3.4-liter flat-six with 300 HP on tap but after 2001 model year, all cars had 3.6-liter units with a bit more power (320 HP). As usual, Porsche offered a Turbo and Turbo S models with 420 and 450 HP respectively, but those blisteringly fast 911s weren’t the top of the line models in the 996 range. The honors to be the most sought after and fastest 996 models were given to the sublime GT2 and GT3 models.

Track-ready and barely road-legal GT3s had 381 HP from its naturally-aspirated engine while GT2 had insane 484 HP and 0-60 mph time of 3.6 seconds, which makes it one of the fastest cars of the early `2000s. However, even if you opt for the cheapest and slowest Carrera 2 models from the late `90s, you will get a sports car with 300 HP, 0-60 mph time of 5 seconds, and a top speed of almost 180 mph. All of this means that the 996 in every guise is plenty fast enough and will be more than most people ever need.

IMS

These three letters make all 996-gen Porsche 911 owners very, very nervous indeed. Simply, you cant talk about the 996 911 without mentioning the IMS or “intermediate shaft bearing.” For those who don’t know, this is a small shaft that connects the crankshaft with the camshaft. Porsche engineers never provided proper lubrication, and bearings would dry out and brake, causing fatal engine failure.

The worst thing is that this could happen without any warning, and it is not connected to the car`s mileage. If the IMS fails, the vehicle requires an engine replacement, which is expensive, as you can imagine. However, if you find a car that didn’t have that problem, the first thing you should do is to buy a replacement bearing kit and install it. This will cost you around 1000 pounds (parts and labor), but its probably the best investment you can make. Other than the IMS, Porsche 996 are actually pretty solid.

Prices

The 996-gen 911 is now in that middle ground between “too old to be new and too young to be classic,” which makes it very affordable, as far as German sports cars go. This means that you can find decent examples for as little as 13 to 14,000 pounds and low-mileage, full-service history, one-owner cars going for around 20,000 pounds. Regarding what you will get for that money, this is still very affordable and quite tempting. If you want to go further, there is the Turbo or Turbo S, which will provide insane performance starting at around 30,000 pounds, which is the price of your average family SUV these days.

Of course, if that is not enough, there are always GT2 and GT3 models, which are significantly more expensive and rarely up for sale. We are sure that you know this but always look, for example, with full-service records, known ownership from new, no crash damage, and no tasteless modifications. Yes, there are some sub-10,000 pound cars on the market, but don’t try to resurrect them. It will cost a fortune, and you will never get a car as good as a preserved low-mileage one.

This generation 911 often comes with Porsche`s Tiptronic gearbox, but we suggest going for the classic 6-speed manual, which will provide the best driving feel. The Tiptronic is fairly capable and faster than the most automatics from the period, but it isn’t as capable as modern Porsche`s PDK transmissions, so don’t expect that. The base Carrera came with rear-wheel drive, but there is a four-wheel-drive Carrera 4, which combines fantastic traction with sports car performance. All Turbo cars come with four-wheel drive as standard.

Should you buy One?

Yes, of course. The 996-gen is one of the best used sports cars you can find on the market and it has a unique place in the Porsche 911 hierarchy. It is almost as fast and comfortable as the brand new vehicles, and it is much quicker and more capable than the classic ones and all of that for a fraction of the cost. Even though this model was criticized when it appeared in the late `90s, today, car enthusiasts recognize it as an integral part of the 911 heritage and almost as link between old and new.

The 996 was and still is very much a sports car that can be used daily and be a dependable commuter car if provided with proper maintenance. This is why you will see 996 911s with over 150,000 miles, which shows no signs of stopping. Not many Ferraris have done such mileage, that’s for sure.