2000 Porsche 911 Turbo 996 vs. 2002 911 Turbo X50 996 and 2005 911 Turbo S 996

2020 Paul Harmer and Drive-My EN/UK

It’s hard to get away from the 996 Turbo’s practical, all-weather, every day supercar image and while it is all of those things, it’s also uniquely suited to our rather unique UK roads. Words: Steve Bennett. Photography: Paul Harmer.


996 TURBO SHOOTOUT

The 996 Turbo is much more than the ‘everyday’ supercar. We gather the 420bhp Turbo, plus the 450bhp X50 and Turbo S versions for a 996 Turbo shootout


Porsche 911 Turbo, the everyday, all weather, practical super car and other such clichés. None of those statements are especially flattering, when you think about it, but since day one, that has been the 911 Turbo’s cross to bear. Mindbendingly fast, yet somehow capable and dull at the same time. Huge cross-country pace, but without the noise and the drama associated with such ground level speed. A car for those that might want to fly under the radar, rather than shout – save for that brief period in the ’80s when the 911 Turbo shared bedroom wall space with the Countach and the Testarossa – which, of course, is the whole point. All of the above are, in fact, good things.


2000 Porsche 911 Turbo 996 vs. 2002 911 Turbo X50 996 and 2005 911 Turbo S 996 - comparison road test

2000 Porsche 911 Turbo 996 vs. 2002 911 Turbo X50 996 and 2005 911 Turbo S 996 – comparison road test

And today is a good 911 Turbo day for all of the above reasons. It’s early December, and while it might be gloriously bright and blue, the watery sun is unlikely to get the ambient temp much above five degrees and the roads are shiny with a slick, damp sheen, which isn’t going to burn off. It’s not a day for shouty supercars. Indeed, it’s not the season for shouty supercars.

“Of the three, the standard 420bhp 996 Turbo will do for me”

But it is a day for testing three 996 Turbos, the first of the modern 911 Turbos and the first to finally make real and mainstream the promises of the ’80s 959 some fifteen years later. It’s time to big up the 996 Turbo for many reasons, not least its remarkable value for money, especially compared to its 993 predecessor. It is the sweet-spot Turbo of the moment and with it we will batter some of the above clichés, preconceptions and misconceptions.

“Each of the 996 Turbos gathered here is in very rude health”

But first to the beginning. You know the story: Porsche launched the 911 Turbo (or 930 to be accurate) in 1974 to much fanfare and acclaim. Its 250bhp from 3-litres was impressive for the day, and its rear-engined grip enabled flattering acceleration and 0-60mph times, but even back then Porsche was marketing the Turbo as a GT car, but then with its four-speed ’box, with ultra-long ratios, it was no sprinter.


2000 Porsche 911 Turbo 996 vs. 2002 911 Turbo X50 996 and 2005 911 Turbo S 996 - comparison road test

2000 Porsche 911 Turbo 996 vs. 2002 911 Turbo X50 996 and 2005 911 Turbo S 996 – comparison road test

Then and now it requires a technique to manage the turbo lag and build the boost up, which, when it comes, does so in a surge, rather than an all-out explosion. Even so, the 911 Turbo could very easily catch out the unwary.

The 911 Turbo soldiered on largely unchanged, alongside the other impact bumper G-Series cars until 1989, increasing in capacity to 3.3-litres and power to 300bhp and finally getting a five-speed gearbox in 1987. Improvements in turbo tech and engine management made for better turbo response, but the Turbo was still the GT machine.

Cash strapped in the early ’90s, Porsche didn’t have the wherewithal to develop the 964 Turbo that followed. It should have been son of 959, but ended up as the long-in- the-tooth son of the 930, using largely the same engine. They’re popular today and fetch silly money, but fans won’t thank me for not understanding why.

And then to the 993 Turbo and the final hurrah for the air-cooled turbo era. Four-wheel drive, twin-turbocharged, 400bhp and an exercise in making something that was actually very old into something remarkably modern. And so valuable now, that you need at least £100,000 to get into a decent one and a lot more than that if you want an S, making most pretty much unobtainium and almost unusable.

“What seemed high tech 20-years ago is now inevitably quite analogue”

Of course, the 993 in all its forms had taken the 911 to the point of extinction from a manufacturing, regulatory and financial point of view, which is why the water-cooled 911 era had to happen alongside the platform and component sharing and the modern production techniques. It was a drive to survive and a new start, the only limitations being Porsche’s insistence on sticking with the 911’s rear-engined layout.

The reception to this brave new world might have been a little restrained from some quarters, but Porsche had a few tricks up its sleeve. First the GT3 arrived in 1999 to blow away any suggestion that the 911 had gone soft in the rear. And then – late in ’1999 – along came the Turbo. Two range topping 911s, but with two very different agendas. That one car could deliver such wildly differing driving experiences – one a screaming, normally aspirated 2WD road racer, the other a refined, turbocharged, 4WD supercar – speaks volumes for Porsche’s 911 vision/concept, but then the 911 has never been a one-trick pony.

The press first got behind the wheel of the 996 Turbo in February 2000, which is timely for this Feb 2020 issue. We weren’t planning a 20-years of the 996 Turbo feature but, then again, why not. My own personal 911 Turbo experience is wrapped up more with the 997 Turbo, the variant that was launched just as I got behind the wheel of 911&PW in 2006. Prior to that, my modern Porsche experience was largely with the GT cars and basic journo spec 996 C2s, like my own.

And in the intervening years, 996 Turbo drives have been sporadic. There was a mad 200mph run at Bruntingthorpe in a 9 Excellence modded machine and a few runs when we’ve been group testing the entire 911 Turbo repertoire – most recently a year ago to the issue. And each time I’ve had to re-evaluate my in-built 911 Turbo mindset. No, it’s no GT3 style road racer, but equally it’s not the tech laden, driver isolating supercar that the 997 Turbo eventually became and which the bloated 991 Turbo was from the start.

What seemed pretty high tech 20-years ago is inevitably quite analogue and passive now. And what seemed almost unfeasibly wide then is now positively snake-hipped, and those 11x18in rears are laughable in a world of 21in rims. Likewise, the once mighty 420bhp power output is not much more than a contemporary basic 911 Carrera 2 and some 30bhp less than a 911 S. And the mind-boggling limits of 20-years ago now seem to be perfectly acceptable and attainable. We’ll come to it, but you don’t have to drive the 996 Turbo beyond what’s acceptable to have fun, unlike a modern 991 Turbo, which feels contained and constrained by its environment.

Of course, Porsche didn’t have to carry anything over from the 993 Turbo, but as with the 996 GT3 it did look to the back catalogue for the basics of the engine, that being the Mezger unit that could be traced back to the GT1 racer. Unlike the 3.6-litre atmo GT3 engine, the turbo variant didn’t need quite such bespoke internals, with forged rods rather than titanium and a more basic, two-stage version of Porsche’s VarioCam system.

Modern engine management and ignition techniques meant that the compression ratio was virtually that of a normally aspirated engine, which is one of the tricks that virtually eliminated turbo lag. Using two smallish KKK K64 turbos on each bank of cylinders assisted, too.

That the 996 Turbo was powerful is hardly news. 420bhp at 6000rpm; 413lb ft of torque at 2700-4600rpm; a near 200mph top-speed and a 0-60mph dash of around 4 secs. It was pretty unbreakable, too, and efficiently cooled via the massive triple water and intercooling radiators and oil/water heat exchanger on top of the engine. While the M96 engine from the normally aspirated 996s has gained a reputation for being less than robust, the 996 Turbo, like the GT3, is reckoned to be pretty much unbreakable.

Likewise the transmission, which was given plenty to think about, but engineered to put up and shut up. Most of the time the 996 Turbo is set up to be pretty much fully rearwheel drive, but as and when the torque split can send up to 40% of drive to the front wheels. And then there’s the PSM (Porsche Stability Management) system, that debuted on the 996 Carrera 4, which can operate on each wheel individually and together with the four-wheel drive system.

Apart from the PSM, though, you’ll struggle to find any other three or indeed four-letter abbreviations for active trickery. No electronic diff, or magnetically activated suspension, or Sports Plus, active roll bars or other stuff that we love to hate, like electronic steering or, god forbid, electronic hand brake. All reasons to celebrate the 996 Turbo.

And so to the three we have gathered today. They cover the full gamut of production and they’ve kindly been rolled out by Paul Stephens, where they are currently for sale. And by full gamut, we mean a standard 420bhp, 996 Turbo, an X50, 450bhp optioned 996 Turbo and finally a last of the line 996 Turbo S, also with 450bhp. And to boot, they’re all manual which, predictably, is where the market is at. That’s not to say the Tiptronic 996 Turbo doesn’t have its place. The Turbo’s massive spread of torque and power is well suited to the Tip transmission, filling in any holes in the now paltry seeming five ratios.

The colour palette is very much of the early 2000s, too. Indeed it’s very much a contemporary colour spread. Was there ever a more suitable colour than stealthy black or grey for those not wishing to draw attention, while simultaneously going very fast? And then there’s the rather rare Viola, which looks rather special in the right light, but is also from the stealth colour chart. Anything else to report before drive time?

Well, you would probably expect us to say this, but each of the 996 Turbo’s gathered here today is in very rude health, with mileage spanning from mid 30k to mid 50k. As such, they are in the upper price range, that’s late £40k to early £50k, which reflects condition and manual gearbox status. Leggier, cheaper 996 Turbos are out there of course, and they can wear their miles well. It’s all about care and maintenance after all. But, suffice to say, these three are every bit as good now as when they left Stuttgart.

The inner 996 Turbo sanctum is a very familiar place for anyone familiar with any other sort of 996. That’s to say, it’s not especially inspiring. Harsh, but fair. That’s not to say they aren’t well equipped, it’s just that the quality of the plastics and trim isn’t great and that applies to a base 996 Carrera 2 as it does to a top of the range 996 Turbo. As an early 996 C2 owner, I speak from experience. And if you’ll indulge me a little further on 996 interiors, here’s a quick fix to banish a lot of 996 interior rattles: Get rid of the CD storage trays in the centre console. They make a right old racket, and when was the last time anyone listened to a CD in a car? The whole cheap unit slides out and can be replaced by the standard oddments tray, which isn’t made up of about 100 pieces of crappy plastic.

There’s also the danger of dubious interior colour options, but today’s trio is two to one for black over a light grey in the Viola X50 machine. We’ll get away from interiors in a moment, but it’s interesting to see that the standard sat navs, which are now over 15-years old, are still working, or at least still offering to take a route.

We hit the road in convoy for the pics and first impressions are not so much of the immediate driving experience, but actually watching what’s going on ahead. Just as you feel a 911 moving around, you can see it, too, particularly the wide-hipped Turbo body cars. There is a distinct wiggle from the rear and a slight side-to-side pitch and then the distinct squat out of a corner, as the power goes down and the weight transfer hits and the front-end lifts.

From the driver’s seat, it’s a tactile experience from the chatty steering to the manual interaction of changing gear to the seat of the pants communique with the ever-shifting balance of power and grip. As ever with a 911, you don’t want to be rigidly hanging on, you need to go with it and in this respect the 996 Turbo is just the perfect weapon, working with the road, not against it, and flowing along on surges of boost seemingly just scratching its performance envelope, but still feeling immersive, in a way that the modern 911 Turbo doesn’t. This is performance on a grand and flexible scale.

Jumping between the three cars is interesting. In truth, there doesn’t seem to be much between the standard black car and the Viola X50 equipped car. It’s hard to make out the supposed extra 30bhp and it’s conceivable that the bigger turbos just serve to accentuate turbo lag, not that it’s much of an issue. It’s clear also that the standard car has had a short-shifter fitted, which makes it more mechanical in feel. The standard shift on the X50 car might be longer, but it’s slicker, too.

Given that the Turbo S supposedly has the X50 engine option as standard, it’s surprising that it feels rather more raw and visceral. You might be forgiven for thinking that a 996 GT2 engine has found its way into the back end. In short it picks itself up and goes, with a harder edge and an exhaust note that shouts. The S also has Porsche’s carbon composite (PCCB) brakes and bigger calipers, so braking is supersharp.

The S, then, is more of an event car. Of the three, the standard 420bhp 996 Turbo will do for me, particularly in stealth black. There was a time when the 996 GT3 was my ultimate and attainable Porsche, but now I think the 996 Turbo is the better machine for my needs. I don’t need the race car vibe any more and the Turbo is a more three-dimensional machine and, nearly 20-years on, it represents a sweet spot in size, power and analogue driver involvement.


CONTACT

Many thanks to Paul Stephens for supplying three exceptional 996 Turbos. All three are currently for sale with Paul and, if we had the money, we would… Paul Stephens, Sudbury Rd, Little Maplestead, Halstead, Essex CO9 2SE Tel: 01440 714884 paulstephens.com


Back in 2003, the 996 Turbo was viewed in a rather different way. Now it’s the perfect 911 cross country machine.

Quite a line-up. From back to front we have standard 996 Turbo, X50 Turbo and Turbo S, which proved to be a bit of an animal.

Traditional oval shaped 911 instrument binnacle with signature central rev-counter. 996 Turbo has an incredibly stable and reassuring platform with which to put down its substantial power. Two takes on the Turbo Twist style, lesser spotted on the X50 equipped car (left), which has conventional steel brakes over the PCCB brakes fitted to the Turbo S (below).

Size matters and modern 911s are just too big. Note how 996 Turbo fits perfectly on this typical Brit B road The 996 interior wasn’t Porsche’s finest effort, but it did improve over the course of its production.

Bennett at the wheel. Anyone would think it was cold. Airy 996 cockpit has excellent visibility, which is part of the 911 Turbo’s practical appeal Turbo or Turbo S? The difference is 30bhp: 420bhp v 450bhp.


 

PORSCHE 911 TURBO 996

Model tested: Porsche 996 Turbo

Engine: 3.6-litre, twin turbo

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Economy: 21.7mpg (combined)

Top speed: 190mph

0-62mph 4.2secs

Max Power: 420bhp at 6000rpm

Max Torque: 413lb ft at 2700rpm-4600rpm

Weight: 1585kg


 

PORSCHE 911 TURBO S 996

Model tested: Porsche 996 Turbo

Engine: 3.6-litre, twin turbo

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Economy: 21.8mpg (combined)

Top speed: 190mph

0-62mph 4.2secs

Max Power: 450bhp at 5700rpm

Max Torque: 457lb ft at 3500rpm-4500rpm

Weight: 1585kg


 

PORSCHE 911 TURBO X50 996

Model tested: Porsche 996 Turbo

Engine: 3.6-litre, twin turbo

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Economy: 21.8mpg (combined)

Top speed: 190mph

0-62mph 4.2secs

Max Power: 450bhp at 5700rpm

Max Torque: 457lb ft at 3500rpm-4500rpm

Weight: 1585kg


 

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 2

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Additional Info
  • Year: 2000
  • Body: Coupe
  • Cd/Cx: 0.29
  • Type: Petrol
  • Battery: 12 volt
  • Engine: 3.6-litre flat-6
  • Fuelling: Injection
  • Aspirate: Turbo
  • Power: 450bhp @ 5700rpm
  • Torque: 457lb ft @ 3500rpm
  • Drive: AWD
  • Trnsms: Manual 6-spd
  • Weight: 1585kg
  • Economy: 21.8mpg
  • Speed: 190mph
  • 0-60mph: 4.2secs
  • Price: £20,000
  • Club:

    {module Porsche 996}

  • Type: Petrol

RECOMMEND BLOGS