Porsche 996 Turbo: The budget 959

Porsche 996 Turbo Brendan McAleer

When it debuted at the 1985 Frankfurt Auto Show, the Porsche 959 heralded the future of supercars. It had the comfort and practicality of a 911 but was equipped with all-wheel drive and a ferocious, 444-horsepower 2.85-liter flat-six. If you were a kid in the 1980s, you probably spent many a recess arguing which was best: Porsche’s techno-wizardry or the stripped-out insanity of the Ferrari F40. However, unless your name happens to be Jerry Seinfeld or Bill Gates, the 959 would always be a car on a poster, not in your garage. 

Even a Good-condition 959 (#3 in our valuation guide) would fetch over $800,000 today on average—and that’s for the cushier Komfort trim. A 959 Sport pushes $1.3 million in the same condition. But what if you could park a 400-hp, all-wheel-drive Porsche executive cruiser in your garage for roughly a twentieth of the price of your childhood dream car? Say hello to the 996 Turbo—the thinking man’s Porsche supercar.

This example is an exceptionally well-kept 2001 Canadian-market model with just over 27,000 kilometers on the odometer (about 16,000 miles) and sourced by Lorne Freeman of Portfolio Auto Consulting. With low mileage and an extensive service history, this car sold almost immediately, but never fear—finding a solid, nicely cared-for 996 Turbo is far from impossible.

Driver-quality 996 Turbos have started to appreciate in value, but it’s been a slow climb over the past few years. Average #3-condition prices are around $42,000 which is not far off what you’d pay for the Nismo version of the Nissan 370Z coupe. That’s a lot of Porsche for your money, and if it’s not quite the investment that a rare version of an air-cooled 911 would be, it’s something that you can use and appreciate every day without fear of depreciation.

Porsche revealed its then-new Turbo to the world at the Frankfurt auto show in September 1999. It went on sale in the U.S. in mid-2000 as a 2001 model. Car and Driver called the 911 Turbo’s performance “simply intoxicating.” At the time, the $110,000 Turbo was the fastest street-legal Porsche available, capable of a top speed of 191 mph.

Porsche 996 Turbo
Brendan McAleer
Porsche 996 Turbo
Brendan McAleer

Porsche 996 Turbo
Brendan McAleer
Porsche 996 Turbo
Brendan McAleer

This car’s silver exterior and black leather interior is classic Porsche understatement, and the 996 Turbo seems small in person compared to a modern 911. The interior is simple and uncluttered, with lots of buttons and orange digital readouts. The look is obviously dated, but for a car that’s nearly two decades old, things have aged well.

There are two main issues with the 996 generation of 911s. The first is the, ahem, unpopular, look of the front end. Breaking tradition with the classic round-headlight look of the 993, early 996s had amorphous blobs that were derided as “fried egg” headlights. However, the Turbo model came with a more handsome headlight treatment. If they don’t grow on you over time, just walk around to the back of the car and admire those wide rear haunches.

The second major issue with the standard 996 was the dreaded IMS bearing, a mechanical Achilles’ heel that could blow up your motor. But again, the Turbo didn’t have that problem. Instead, its 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged flat-six is a dry-sump engine derived from Porsche’s GT1 racing effort. The 996 GT3 has a similar engine, though with titanium connecting rods rather than steel. Both engines are commonly referred to Mezger engines, a reference to well-known Porsche racing engineer Hans Mezger.

The 996 Turbo is stout. Reliable. It’s also still potent by modern standards, with 415 hp available at 6000 rpm (later models with the X50 pack get 450 hp, thanks to larger turbos). First gear is very short, but it’s in the mid-range where the Turbo really shines. Spool both KKK K64 turbos up above 2500 rpm, and you’re rewarded with a surging 413 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration is effortless, though you do have to keep an eye on the tachometer as there isn’t much rising engine note to warn you of impending redline.

Porsche 996 Turbo
Brendan McAleer

In-period, the 996 Turbo was good for 0–60 mph in under four seconds and ran through the quarter mile in a couple of ticks over 12 seconds at 118 mph. That’s plenty quick, but the numbers aren’t the reason to consider buying a Turbo. Instead, it’s the supple, all-rounder feel of the car. Sure, that Turbo designation means that this is a fast 911, but it’s also very comfortable and boasts all-weather practicality. That this particular one was optioned with a rear wiper just makes it that much better of practical supercar for everyday life.

The flexibility of the turbocharged engine makes the 996 Turbo a great long-distance tourer, yet it is also agile enough to be exciting on your favorite back road. Because a true manual gearbox is available, it’s also engaging to drive. Again, this is a smaller car than the 911s that followed and feels nimble. It’s not as razor-sharp as the 996 GT3, but the Turbo is considerably more comfortable and just as exciting when you dip into the boost.

There are a few things to be aware of. While the Mezger engine has near-legendary reliability, it’s nevertheless parked in the rump of a two-decades-old German car. Porsche replacement parts are costly, and electrical issues can occasionally rear their heads. Regular maintenance is essential to avoid unexpected (read: expensive) repairs—find a reputable local Porsche specialist that can help you keep on top of things. Do that, and you’ll have the pleasure of enjoying one of the great overlooked performance cars, supercar chops for regular sports car prices. 

No, a 996 Turbo will never be quite as special as the crowning achievement that was the 959, but it’s a delight to drive, and a potent machine that you can use no matter the weather. It’s not the one from your bedroom wall, but it’s darn close. Let that 959-loving kid inside of you get a chance behind the wheel of a twin-turbo Porsche.

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