Porsche 911 (996) Carrera

Original 996 (1997-2001)

911 is unquestionably a legendary name in the automotive world. To those people who know little about cars, no matter 8 or 80, all of them can tell you it is a "Porsche", although some of them may not tell you the name "911". Some of them may even have the concept that : Porsche = 911, thus when you tell them 924 or 928 are also Porsche, they refuse to believe and say, 'No they aren't. Porsche should have frog-eyes-like headlamps !' This joke tells how famous the 911 is.  

The original 911 launched in the 1963 Frankfurt motor show. With excellent handling, especially is the controllable oversteering characteristic, it immediate storm the world and became the biggest selling model. Customers, no matter millionaires or racing drivers, loved 911 so much that Porsche failed to replace it in the following 34 years. The 928 was originally intended to do so, but people accused it as too bulky and look too different from the 911 ( strangely, 911 can by no means be described as a beautiful car, but people love its distinguish appearance so much ). After 928, Porsche again proposed a replacement, which was a mid-engined sport cars using a 4.2 litres V8 which was developed from the 989 four-door GT project. Such car is scheduled to appear in 1996 so it would have probably be called 996. However, the sales slump in the early 90's led to the cancellation of this project.  

As time goes by, 911's potential dries out and seems unable to be improved any further - through out the years its engine was increased gradually from 2 litres to 3.6 litres. Obviously Porsche has less and less time to make the decision. Finally, a low-cost double-model project was approved, i.e., develop an all-new replacement for 911 which share one-third components with a new mid-engined smaller sports car name 986. These 2 cars will share engines ( despite of different capacities ), suspension components, cabin instrument, doors, headlamps.... so that no wonder the development cost or production cost are greatly reduced.  

Eventually, the all-new 911 launched in 1997 Frankfurt motor show. Basically, it still apply the philosophy of the original 911, i.e., rear-mounted flat six engine. The rear-engined layout provides the same oversteering ability that the traditional 911 drivers love, but better weight distribution ( 39:61 front/rear compare with the previous 37:63, thanks to the lighter engine) make it easier to handle.  

Yes, according to British magazine Autocar, the new 911 is exceptionally user-friendly. Its 24 valves 3.4 litres flat six is very smooth and refined, although it no longer generates great sound. Chassis balance is much improved, with huge grip and perfect-weighted steering. Cornering is nothing other than agile.  

But the biggest improvement is : handling and steering becomes more progressive and predictable. That means it is a lot easier to drive. In the old 911, when you make an error in fast corner, you'll finish. Not the same way the new car anymore, you'll corner at faster speed without sweat. What an effortless balance !  

Except Ferrari 550 Maranello, Autocar's tester said he had never experienced such effortless balance in another sports car. ( maybe he has forgotten the Honda NSX ).  

However, that magazine also complained for the less communicative steering. It feels less involving than before and becomes more difficult to oversteer. As a result, they concluded that the new 911 finally becomes a GT, which was once Porsche tried to do with 928 to replace 911.  

The new 911 is a lot bigger than the car it replaces. 185mm longer, 30mm wider, 80mm longer wheelbase mean the cabin room is more generous. Front seats are comfortable and well positioned. Rear seats are no longer dog seats, but still impossible to sit an adult human being. Overall weight is only 1320kg, 50kg lighter.  

With 300hp and 258lbft output, it can sprint to 60mph in 4.6sec, even marginally faster than Ferrari's 380hp F355 ! With remarkable aerodynamic coefficient of 0.30, it can top 173mph. 

The above report was last updated in 1998. All Rights Reserved.

911 Carrera 4

When Porsche introduced the first 911 Carrera 4 in 1989, it aimed to secure the tail-happy characteristic of the rear-engined sports car. However, during the last decade the normal 911 Carrera 2 was gradually tuned to understeer, especially the latest 996. Is it necessary to continue the development of Carrera 4 ? Let's look at the new car.  

Essentially, the new 4WD system is based on the previous viscous-coupling design. However, there are quite a lot of rework. In the past, due to the packaging problem of the old 911, the center differential had to be incorporated with the manual gearbox, which was just in front of the rear flat six. Front and rear axles were connected by a strong steel tube which housed the drive shaft.  

In the 996 body shell, with Carrera 4 having in mind since the design stage, the center differential locates near the front axle. This improves the front / rear weight distribution from 38 / 62 to 40 / 60, thus improves handling. The drive shaft now runs inside the central tunnel instead of the steel tube, thus save weight. Moreover, since the center differential is no longer incorporated with the gearbox, for the first time the Carrera 4 could be available in the form of Tiptronic.  

The improvements do not stop in here. Working with Bosch, Porsche combined the ABD (Automatic Brake Differential, read AutoZine Technical School for details), ABS and traction control into a single item called PSM (Porsche Stability Management). PSM, like Mercedes' ESP stability control, could correct the undesired oversteer and understeer via intervening the engine's output and applying brake to individual wheels. Of course, electronic throttle is used in the engine of Carrera 4.  

The Carrera 4 is some 55kg heavier than the standard Carrera. This cost it a couple of tenths in 0-60. The outcome is a slower but more desirable car than the 2-wheel-drive version. Not only superior in rainy and icey days, not only having more grip and higher cornering limit, it has better balance and steering feel too. The stability control program is very well developed so that it never intervene until very critical condition occurs. 

Undoubtedly, this is the best Carrera 4 ever made. It worths the extra price and the 25% reduction of front luggage room. 

The above report was last updated on 7 Jan 99. All Rights Reserved.

911 Carrera 3.6

In the past 30 years, Porsche used to update the 911 range every few years, usually by increasing engine capacity while reducing consumption, upgrading wheels, tyres and brakes, retuning suspension, something like that. 4 years after the debut of new generation 911 (Type 996), it has received its first update - a modest makeover it may be, but more updates will certainly follow. 

The biggest change is adding 209 c.c. of displacement to the boxer-type 6-cylinder engine by increasing stroke. Moreover, the Turbo's Variocam Plus replaces the old Variocam, increasing the range of variable phasing and provides additional variable lift to intake valves. This result in 320 horsepower (up from 300) and 273 lbft of torque (from 258). While peak torque is delivered at lower rpm, the engine is apparently more torquey at all rev, especially low to mid range. Both acceleration and top speed are improved slightly despite of the 25kg weight increase. Simultaneously, fuel consumption is actually reduced because in most of the time the torquey engine can run at lower rev. Besides, the engine note is deepened thus more like the old air-cooled unit, which is perhaps the best news to some hard-core enthusiasts. 

Other changes are really minor - thinner hence lighter alloy wheels (save 10.6kg for optional 18in), retuned valving of dampers, wider tyres (265 standard and 285 optional), slightly wider tracks, new headlamps from the Turbo, restyled bumpers with larger intake (increase 15% cooling) and deeper chin spoiler (reduce aero lift by 25% and 40% front and rear respectively), and lastly, a cup holder. If not it is a Porsche, we usually skip such trivial changes. 

The new 911 Carrera isn't thoroughly transformed. However, it is definitely a better car in all aspects. Faster, more aurally attractive, handles a bit better. It handles better because the extra grip enables higher cornering limit without influencing the fluent and controllable way it goes. The steering is still superbly communicative. The brakes are still world-beating. 

The above report was last updated on 25 July 2001. All Rights Reserved.

911 Carrera 4S

The introduction of Carrera 4S is hardly surprising. You may trace back its history to the Carrera Turbo-Look of 1985 and the 993-series Carrera 4S of 1996. The theory is simple: the integration of Turbo’s wide-track body and Carrera’s normally-aspirated engine. Some may argue that they handled better than regular Carrera, but in fact most bought them for their look.  

The latest 4S, as implied by its name and like the 993 predecessor, is available in 4-wheel-drive only. The system is identical to the Carrera 4, using viscous-coupling LSD to transmit power to the front wheels, from 5% of normal condition to up to 40% when rear wheels lose traction. The body basically comes from the Turbo, which is 60mm wider and looks more appealing. From the front, you can never distinguish it from the Turbo, because it also has those headlamps and big air intakes. So next time don’t be surprised why the 911 Turbo in the rear-view mirror of your M3 seemed unable to come close. However, in case you ease off and let it overtake, you’ll see it is not a real Turbo, because it has a Carrera rear spoiler instead of the Turbo’s bi-plane unit. From the side, you can also find it loses the air intakes which used to cool the Turbo’s intercoolers. As a result, the 4S looks more aggressive than the Carrera while purer than the Turbo. 

I’m not sure whether the wider body improve handling, but the 10mm lower ride height (compare with Carrera), Turbo-size wheels, tyres and brakes definitely contribute to handling. Admittedly, they also contribute to weight - 65kg heavier than the Carrera 4 and 125kg in-excess of Carrera 2. Anyway, Porsche’s test driver managed a four-second cut in Nurburgring lap time compare with Carrera 2, which is now 8min 16sec. It would have been interesting to compare with Carrera 4 to know whether the reduced lap time is contributed by the beefed up chassis or just the 4-wheel-drive system, but Porsche did not provide such data. 

As the engine is still that 320hp 3.6-litre unit, straightline performance is undoubtedly inferior to the lighter Carrera. Porsche claimed a loss of 3mph and 0.1 seconds to 0-62, which sounds too optimistic to me. However, the Carrera 4S can undoubtedly do 0-60 in under 5 seconds, which can’t be called slow anyway. 

The above report was last updated on 18 Nov 2001. All Rights Reserved.

911 Targa

Normally we won’t talk about a car’s sunroof, but because this is a 911 and this is what a sunroof, let’s spend a few minutes on this subject. The word Targa has been attached with 911 as early as 1967, when the legendary sports car was just 3 years old. For nearly 30 years, it was no more than an open-top 911 with removable roof panel, fixed roll-over bar and rear window instead of soft top. It made a lot of sense before the Cabriolet appeared in 1982, and still had considerable advantage in chassis stiffness since then. Entered the 993 era, as the Cabriolet had a much stronger body than before, the status of Targa no longer stood firm. Porsche decided to convert it into a glass-roof 911, attracting those enjoying open-air motoring - if somewhat limited - at no expense of noise and wind insulation.  

The latest 996 Targa works the same way as the 993 predecessor. The only difference is that it is now derived from the coupe instead of the cabriolet chassis. From the roof to the rear window is completely a glasshouse, giving the cockpit a bright and airy ambience. Press a button, the glass roof panel drops down a few centimeters and then slide backward and underneath the rear window. This idea won’t work in other cars, because only the 911’s swoopy roofline allows it. With the roof opened, fresh air enters the cabin. Turbulence and wind noise are well suppressed thanks to the wind deflectors popped up at the leading edge of the roof. However, the existence of roof rails and rear window still make a significant difference between the Targa and the Cabriolet. There is still no substitution to a real cabriolet. 

Without doubt, the Targa has a little bit trade off in performance and handling, although too small to be detectable most of the time. As glass is heavier than steel, and the roof rails need strengthening, the Targa carries 70 additional kilograms than the equivalent Carrera and most of that locate at the roof, hence lifting center of gravity a bit. However, the Targa is compensated in practicality - the rear window can be lifted open like a hatchback, enabling easier access to luggage (golf bags, for example) located on the folded rear seats. 

The above report was last updated on 2 Dec 2001. All Rights Reserved.


911 Carrera
911 Carrera 4S
Rear-engined, Rwd
Rear-engined, 4wd.
Size (L / W / H / WB) mm
4430 / 1770 / 1305 / 2350
4435 / 1830 / 1295 / 2350
Flat-6, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT, variable intake
3596 c.c.
3596 c.c.
320 hp
320 hp
273 lbft
273 lbft
F: strut / R: multi-link
F: 225/40 ZR18
R: 285/30 ZR18
F: 225/40 ZR18
R: 295/30 ZR18
1345 kg
1470 kg
Top speed
177 mph (claimed)
174 mph (claimed)
0-60 mph
4.6 sec*
4.9 sec (est)
0-100 mph
10.1 sec*
11.0 sec (est)
* Tested by Autocar

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