Rise of the 997
Move over, 996: the 997.1 is leading the charge for best-value 911 right now…
Think the 996 is the 911 to buy? Wrong. We show you why the 997 is the best 911 for your money right now
The classifieds can be a dangerous place to spend time. It never used to be so easy, either. As a kid I’d scour the Sunday Times, latterly Auto Trader and Top Marques, though the internet’s killed that. I don’t look too often, but writing here it’s an occasional, occupational hazard. A potentially dangerous one, too. I’ll happily admit
I’d missed how much of a bargain the 997 is these days. As a strong advocate of the 996, I’d pretty much ruled its successor out. Not because I’m not a fan – quite the opposite – just that I was under the impression it is still too new to be affordable, at least in my world. Editor Sibley’s call to write this somewhat changed that.
As I type this, on my other screen there’s an advert for a 2005 997 Carrera 2 manual Coupe for a fiver under £22,500. When did that happen? That’s the first one I’ve found, and I’ve not even looked that hard. While I and plenty of others have been banging on about hoovering up 996s while they’re still cheap, the depreciation curve’s turned the 997 game on its head. Want one? I sure as hell do.
Not to take away from the 996, but the 997 moved the game on significantly. The 996’s close association, both visually and technically, with the Boxster did it no favours among many. That it introduced water to the mix only made its task more difficult. The 997 reasserted the 911 as a more distinct offering after the 996 had softened the blow of the manner by which the 911 is cooled (technically by water, but then that water is cooled by air…).
The 996 was a necessity, creating the format from which the 911 line would follow to this day. That the 996, and in particular 996.2s, have been creeping up in value in recent years underlines a growing acceptance, though we’re at a point now where the 996 and 997 prices are converging, and in many cases the 997 is cheaper. It’d be a staunch 996 owner who’d assert their preference over the newer car. On looks alone the 997 has the 996 licked, but underneath it’s a significant step up technologically.
With the 997, as with any 911 generation, the focus was to improve on what had come before it. Being a 911 that means evolutionary looks, though to write off the 997 as a revised 996 is to do it a serious disservice. The body is similar, though the 997’s requirement to ride on bigger wheels, and not just width but diameter, meant significant chassis revisions. Indeed, the 997 shares no suspension components with its predecessor due to the differing mounting points as a result of those larger wheels. The body that the suspension hung off was stiffer, a result of the Cabriolet being engineered alongside the Coupe, the stiffening structures from it used in the Coupe.
August Achleitner, head of the 911 model series, said at the 997’s launch that the 997 was almost 80 per cent new, the 20 per cent carry-over attributable to the base Carrera’s 3.6-litre engine. Porsche launched the 3.6-litre 997 alongside the 3.8-litre S, the larger engine offering 30hp over the ‘entry’ Carrera. Both revved to 7,300rpm, the Carrera’s maximum 370Nm of torque peaking at 4,250rpm, the S’s 400Nm at 4,600rpm. The Carrera would accelerate to 62mph in 5.0 seconds, the S shaving two tenths off that, the top speeds being 177mph and 182mph respectively. Within a few months Porsche followed with the Carrera 4 and 4S models, which apportion between 4 and 40 per cent of the drive to the front axle when required, the Carrera 4 taking 5.1 seconds to reach 62mph and the S matching its rear-wheel-drive relation’s 4.8 second time.
The 997 would also introduce equipment now familiar in the 911 today, including Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) as standard on the Carrera S, the option of Sport Chrono, Porsche Stability Management (PSM) and, latterly with the 997.2, the PDK automatic twin-clutch transmission and direct injection from 2009 onwards.
We’ve two 997.1 Coupes here today: a Carrera
2 and a Carrera 4S. Both are manual, and both are driven frequently by their owners. Max Newman bought his Gen1 Carrera Coupe in 2012, its odometer just shy of 50,000 miles, though in the past six years he’s almost doubled that. There’s something satisfying about sitting in a car that that’s actually used as intended, Newman’s having been optioned originally with PASM, 19-inch wheels and Sport Chrono, as well as the standard manual transmission. As specifications go it’s pretty much spot-on, though in the six years since he picked it up from Paragon he’s added an IPS high-flow plenum, BMC air filter and a Paragon re-map, which adds around 35hp.
That explains my initial double-checking of the specification with Newman after a quick first drive. I know it’s a Carrera, but it feels more muscular than the standard cars I’ve driven. It sounds fantastic too, overt but subtle, with enough intake and exhaust sound to appeal rather than distract, all of which allows it to retain its usability. And that’s exactly what Newman has done with it; in the first year of ownership it covered nearly 17,000 miles, followed by 12,000 the year after before realising he might be better saving the mundane daily and business miles for something a bit less special.
If you didn’t read the odometer you wouldn’t know it’s covered 100,000 miles, it wearing them well, feeling fresh and immediate, the interior looking immaculate save for a bit of paint coming off the door handles. That alone underlines the 997’s reputation as having an interior that was a huge step on from
“It’s peak 911, certainly in the modern, water-cooled era”
the 996 that proceeded it. That’s thanks in part to Porsche’s appointment of Franz-josef Siegert from Mercedes-benz during the 997’s development, who in turn brought along many colleagues from the Mercedes-benz interiors department.
I remember sitting in the 997 for the first time when it was launched. The familiarity of the layout from the 996 was carried over, yet with a depth of quality and design integrity that moved the 911 into a different sphere. The interior, like the rest of the car, engine aside, is all-new, it said that only the rear seats bear any relation to the 996 before it. Both cars here have extended leather on the dashboard, a worthwhile option even in the significantly improved interior of a 997, the instruments clear, only the digital screen in the centre console dating both cars. If I’m being picky I’ve never liked the standard steering wheel in the 997, its boss being rather large, though I’m prepared to forgive it that as the messages it transmits are so clear – hydraulic power assistance helping its case – that it remains very much a high point in the 911’s evolution.
Newman’s car feels wonderful on the country roads around Lambourn. Last time I was here I was in a pair of 991s, and as good as they were the 997’s giving me a lot more information at my fingertips as to the road surface. There are few better gearboxes either, the six-speed manual in the 997 so beautifully weighted, its action crisp and accurate, it an absolute joy to slot through its gate. If you’re a manual Carrera 911 fan the 997 is peak shift; the 991’s bastardised Pdk-based seven-speed is no match for it. The 996 C4S here for a quick comparison is good, really good, although it’s been fettled a bit with coilovers, but like for like the standard 997 is better still.
Indeed, I would happily add another 50,000 miles to the odometer in Newman’s Carrera given the chance, something he might just do as he plans on keeping it, not seeing any reason to change it. He’s pondered a GTS or GT3, both cars well worthy of consideration, but the leap from his car to that is a sizeable one financially, while any gains are ostensibly difficult to rationalise. Certainly I don’t need to drive anything any faster. The 3.6-litre’s eagerness, the chassis’ fine balance, the 997’s nose that little bit more faithful than 996s, the turn in being more predictable… the Carrera is all the sports car you could ever want. Even so, Newman might in time fettle it a bit more, adding even more engagement to the mix as his use of it becomes more for pure enjoyment than one of regular transport.
Louis Ruff is pointing the camera today, and at a familiar subject. The Carrera 4S here is his, a car he’s known about for a while, having been brought into the Porsche Centre he works at. It’s beautiful, and unusual in red, Carreras typically, in the 997 era at least, a bit more soberly coloured, Ruff’s standing out for all the right reasons. There’s a backstory behind the black wheels, too: they were factory painted for a 997 Cabriolet, but when the owner saw them on the black car they thought it was a bit too much. Usefully, the Carrera 4S’s owner was picking up their car at the same time and they agreed to swap.
The specification, like Newman’s C2, is sensible and desirable. There’s Sport Chrono, a manual transmission, leather dash, Sports exhaust and little
else to distract. That’s arguably the appeal of the 997: it’s got every convenience you might need, without falling into the trap of modernity that festoons current cars with technology that more often than not is more distraction than help. Ruff, like so many enthusiast buyers, was initially looking for a C2, but this 45,000-mile car was so perfect that having another driven axle wasn’t an issue. It shouldn’t be either, as for the most part it’s rear-wheel drive, the Carrera 4’s trick being that if you removed the badge on the engine cover you’d do well to notice that it’s able to apportion drive to the front axle. Then, of course, there’s that wider body, 22mm added each side for a 44mm increase over its C2 relation.
There are subtle differences to how it drives. If
I’m being hyper-critical the steering is infinitesimally less sharp, but if it were percentages it’d be single digits. I’m talking one or two per cent here. The 997 C4S is a sensational car to drive, its launch remaining one of the most vivid memories I have of driving any 911 ever, anywhere.
That was in Monaco; Walter Röhrl drove a C4S up and down a closed section of the Col de Turini, a ribbon of challenging tarmac where the Monte Carlo rally runs. In his hands it was sensational, though even in mine its fine balance and utter predictability allowed exuberant power oversteer exits from the countless hairpins, the four-wheel drive aiding the transition as it pushed drive to the front to pull the car straight. I remember it like it was yesterday.
There’s no such silliness today, but I know just how incredible the 997.1 C4S can be, and a few miles behind the wheel bring that back into sharp focus. It, like the C2 here, is so rich in feel, so engaging and exciting, and all at relatively ordinary speeds. That remains core to the 997’s appeal: if the 996 introduced the world to a modern 911, the 997 finessed it to the point of perfection. It was right when it was launched, and remains so to this day. That so many were built demonstrates that, and creates enormous opportunity, as there are plenty to pick from. It’s peak 911, certainly in the modern, water-cooled era, and currently an absolute bargain – though it won’t remain so for long. Astounding value and a better car than the 996, the time to buy a 997.1 is right now…
ABOVE Perhaps the best value for money 911 right now, the 997.1 C2 offers plenty of usable performance for a little over £20k
BELOW FROM LEFT 997.1 proved a popular 911, with 100,000 made before its third birthday; Targa went AWD only; Sports Chrono and switchable Sport mapping added to the 911’s repertoire for the first time
THANKS To Louis Ruff and Max Newman for supplying the 997s in our pictures. You can follow them on Instagram: @ruff_snaps, @maxripcor