Buyer’s Guide Porsche 911 Carrera 4S 996
The 996 has its detractors, but the C4S is an affordable route into wide-body ownership. It's time for a more in-depth look… Written by Chris Randall. Photography by Neil Godwin.
Background to the 996 C4S
Turbo look’ is a familiar part of the Neunelfer enthusiast’s parlance, but you have to head back to 1984 for its first appearance. Back then, it meant the M491 option for the 3.2 Carrera, a car that featured familiar mechanicals clothed in the wider-hipped shell of the groundbreaking Turbo, and it soon became clear that Porsche had hit on a winning recipe.
Continuing with both the 964 and 993 generations, it debuted on the car you see here in the latter part of 2001, before going on sale the following year. Buyers were asked to pay around £65,000 for the privilege if they opted, as many did, for the optional Tiptronic gearbox – £25,000 less than the amount asked for the full-fat Turbo – but that didn’t stop more than 23,000 of them signing on the dotted line. Today, according to Paragon Porsche’s Jason Shepherd and RPM Technik’s Greig Daly, £27,000-£35,000 will secure a very nice Coupe.
Viewed in the context of the savage depreciation that afflicts many modern cars, that’s impressive for a 911 that’s a decade and a half old, and quite astonishing value given the looks, performance and desirability on offer. What attracted many original buyers were those more muscular looks that came courtesy of an additional 60mm of rear width and the front and rear bumpers from the Turbo. The front item was re-profiled to account for the fact that the blown model’s rear spoiler was missing, and there were no air intakes on the rear haunches, but the C4S did gain a full-width reflector strip between the rear lights, along with the same style of alloy wheel (although these featured solid rather than hollow spokes). The new model also shared the Turbo’s 10mm-lower suspension setup – albeit slightly retuned and softened – and the ‘Big Red’ brakes with 330mm discs. Otherwise, it was standard C4, which meant a viscous-coupled four-wheel drive system with Porsche Traction Management (PTM) and a 320bhp 3.6-litre flat six that could be paired with six-speed manual or five-speed Tiptronic transmissions.
THE TURBO WAS QUICK, BUT THE C4S COUNTERED WITH A LESS DAUNTING DRIVING EXPERIENCE
The extra width did bring a marginal performance penalty, adding 0.1 seconds to the 0-62mph sprint and lopping 3mph from the top speed (now 5.1 seconds and 174mph respectively) compared to the C4, but it was of no consequence in reality. A Cabriolet version was also offered, and reckoned to account for around a third of total sales, but the C4S would prove relatively short-lived as the 997 arrived in 2004.
What’s it like to drive?
The C4S is no stranger to the pages of this magazine. As recently as issue 152, Kyle Fortune pitted it against the pricier – and much quicker – 996 Turbo, and came away from the encounter more than a little impressed by what the C4S had to offer. Yes, the Turbo was ferociously quick, but the C4S countered with a less daunting driving experience, one where you could maker fuller use of the power on offer. But it wasn’t just about speed, as he also relished the greater delicacy when it came to responses and feedback, commenting on the “enjoyable balance between the chassis and the way the flat six delivers its power”. Add in a slick manual gearbox and well-matched control weights, and it was, said Kyle, “So much more than the sum of its Turbo-look parts.”
Given that previous issues of Total 911 have covered 996 engine matters at some length, there’s little need to labour the point again here. Suffice to say that the health of the motor is paramount, and as age and mileage take their toll, it would be prudent to invest in a thorough pre-purchase inspection before you commit. Respected specialists Charles Ivey Ltd charge £370, for example, and it would be money well spent if you have any doubts over the history of the particular car you’re considering.
With that concern satisfied, regular maintenance is both straightforward and reasonably priced; expect to pay around £220 for a quick change of oil and filter at a specialist, with RPM Technik asking £300 for a 12,000-mile check and £1,080 for the bigger 96k service. If you do decide to take the plunge without a professional inspection then check the history for evidence of IMS or RMS upgrade/replacement, and ensure there’s no sign of hesitation or uneven running, which can be down to failing coils or air-mass meters, or problems with the VarioCam. You’ll also want to keep a close eye on the temperature gauge during the test drive, as the nose-mounted radiators are prone to corrosion, something that also affects the air-conditioning condensers. Parts cost £470 and £292 respectively, so budget accordingly if you think replacement might be imminent.
Transmission-wise, neither gearboxes nor four-wheel-drive system should give trouble unless abused, although the threat of stomach-churning bills (£11,000 for a new Tiptronic, for example) means exercising a degree of caution. £1,100 for a fresh clutch is about par for the course, but while that Tiptronic 'box is considered bulletproof, make sure the steering-wheel shift buttons and instrument panel display function correctly.
Sharing suspension and brakes with the Turbo means the potential for heftier bills, so ensure regular fettling hasn’t been neglected, as fresh discs and pads all round will be £1,384 at RPM (it would be £212 less for a C2 by way of comparison), with a replacement front caliper costing £611. New lower front suspension arms (‘coffin’ arms) are £272, with front dampers coming in at £523.
In terms of bodywork, even the earliest examples ought to be in fine condition, so be very suspicious of any that aren’t. Don’t be surprised if the front end has been the subject of local re-painting, as stone chips are a common problem, but be wary of damaged bumpers, as they aren’t cheap, while a replacement hood is going to set you back the best part of £2,000 before fitting, so check the condition and operation.
Lastly, the cabin; any wear or abuse should be obvious, but make sure that there are no issues with the electric windows or PCM system, as both can play up with age.
Buying one of these new might have saved a wad of cash compared to the full-fat Turbo, but that doesn’t mean that owners were short-changed when it came to specification. Reflecting its position towards the top of the 996 range, the cabin of a C4S was a fine place to be with extensive leather trim and the likes of climate control, upgraded hi-fi and electric seats all fitted as standard. Plenty of luxury, then, but what do the experts think when it comes to spec?
There were plenty of owners who preferred the Tiptronic self-shifter – arguably a Cabriolet, thus equipped as a rapid and relaxing sun-trap – but both Greig Daly and Jason Shepherd would pick one of the rarer manual cars. The six-speeder boasted a slick shift and ratios that perfectly exploited the flat six’s prodigious power and torque outputs.
Sports seats and exhaust
Another choice from both of our experts, and common options on many a 911 before and since the 996’s arrival. The greater bolstering and adjustment of the seats add comfort to the car’s mile-munching credentials, while for many the C4S's switchable exhaust system is one of the best 911 soundtracks.
Plenty of C4S buyers were tempted to splash out on the Porsche Communication Management system with its integrated satnav, trip computer and audio. It’s just as popular today, although Daly says the dated appearance may detract from the cabin’s appeal. A matter of personal taste, then, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker.
Colour and trim
Once again this comes down to taste, but the combination of Seal Grey Metallic paint and black leather is a great combination according to Shepherd. Rarer colours, such as Guards red, are still appealing, but it’s probably worth steering clear of lighter interior hues and wood finishes.
Before you buy
While corrosion shouldn’t be a factor, even the newest C4S is more than a decade old, so it pays to be cautious. It goes without saying that a thorough check of the history is required to ensure no major accidents lurk in the car’s past, and check that those unique bumpers are undamaged, as replacements are pricey; the front one costs £835 before painting and fitting, for example.
With modest values come the danger that previous owners may have skimped on maintenance, so check that service stamps aren’t missing. And while the 3.6-litre engine was less prone to RMS and IMS issues, evidence of replacement or upgrade is good news. RPM Technik can upgrade the latter for around £900 if it’s done at the same time as clutch replacement.
Check that engine and cabin cooling systems are healthy. Muck building up around radiators and air-con condensers leads to corrosion – conscientious owners should have cleared them regularly – and replacing the whole lot will get very expensive indeed.
The ‘Big Red’ brakes mean larger bills come replacement time; specialists will charge around £1,300 for fresh discs and pads all-round, so it’s a good bargaining point if a refresh is imminent. The suspension is trouble-free providing it’s not been neglected by a penny-pinching owner, although worn front lower arms are a common issue. If they need replacing then Paragon Porsche sell good-quality alternatives to the OEM items, saving around £100 per side and with a two-year warranty.
While not quite feeling hewn-from-solid, cabin quality was still impressive, so there’s little reason to be lumbered with a scruffy example. Key areas to check are the operation of the PCM system where fitted, and the electric windows, which can be prone to failing motors and regulators.
Investment potential & ownership experience This car is all about that Turbo-look, and judging by how quickly they leave showrooms, there’s no doubt that today’s buyers are drawn to the more muscular appeal of this particular 996. An added attraction is the sheer value offered by what is a very capable Neunelfer, and while the rises in value have been relatively modest, it’s a steady climb that looks set to continue. Both Shepherd and Daly are full of praise for the styling, with the latter describing it as arguably the best looking 996 and one that he’d very much like to own himself, while Charles Ivey’s Alvaro Crego also reports significant interest from buyers and is equally keen on the way this car looks. Aesthetics aside, the C4S also boasts strong and accessible performance, and running costs are reasonable compared to the Turbo, plus there’s a level of comfort and usability that make for an enjoyable daily driver. But as Shepherd points out, the key is to buy a good one and maintain it; follow his advice, and its desirability should make it a safe place to put your money.
TOTAL 911 VERDICT
It’s not often that the words '911' and 'bargain' are mentioned in the same sentence, but that’s what we have here. Sure, the 996 has its critics, and there are plenty of enthusiasts for who it will never be an option, but for those that are convinced, the C4S is a very sound choice indeed. The Turbo-aping looks are a major part of the appeal, but set that aside and you’re still looking at a very capable Neunelfer, one that merits a four-star rating from us for very good reason.
LEFT Turbo-look body with usable everyday performance means a good 996 C4S is already a modern classic.
BELOW Front radiators can be prone to corrosion if not regularly cleared of road debris.
ABOVE Extensive choice of interior colours, seats and trim packs, including aluminium or carbon fibre as here, mean specs vary greatly from one C4S to another LEFT Quad exhaust tips were a Porsche Tequipment option, standard tips were twin oval.
RIGHT Example here has narrower standard seats that are heated (optional), wider Sports seats were also optional.
ABOVE AND RIGHT Rear spoiler automatically deploys at 75mph; Primitive PCM1 screen narrower than PCM2 found on later MY 2004 996s and onwards
We know that 996 prices are on the rise, but the value offered by a tidy C4S still seems remarkable. While that’s good news in many respects, it does mean the choice of other 911s available for similar money is somewhat limited
Being the first water-cooled Neunelfer was always going to mean a difficult start, and a reputation for unreliability and expensive engine failures didn’t help. With values depressed, it became the generation of choice for those on a budget, but times are changing. C4S money could get you a very low miles C2/C4.
The replacement for the 996 moved the game on, impressing owners with a blend of refinement and strong build quality. Benefitting from more compact dimensions compared to the 991, it meant the 997 felt wieldy when the going got twisty, and it was quick enough in entry-level form compared to the 996 C4S.
The money required for a good C4S will just about secure an air-cooled car, but you’ll be heading into riskier territory. Left-hand drive and/or high-mileage examples exist, but care is needed to avoid a costly project. You might unearth a gem, but it would be unwise to buy without specialist advice.
996 Carrera 4S
- Value 3/5
- Rarity 4/5
- Maintenance costs 2/5
- Performance 3/5
- Get it for £22,000-35,000