Whenever people find out that I worked for Porsche, they always ask the same thing. They look at me for a second, then they think. Then they look at me again, and they think some more. And then they say: "Are you the asshole who designed the Panamera?"
Ha ha! I'm just kidding. What people really want to hear about, when they discover that I worked for Porsche, is all the cool stuff I got to do. Testing new models. Driving press vehicles. Flinging sports cars around the racetrack.
But everyone is always disappointed to discover that none of these things actually happened. Instead, I explain, my job primarily involved sitting behind a desk, creating "IF" statements in Microsoft Excel, and eating sandwiches during lunch meetings. My entire racetrack experience came during the Cayenne launch, when I threw up after a hot lap in an ML63.
But my time at Porsche did teach me about one important thing: the 911. Throughout my job, I drove them all: from 1970s models up to the brand-new 991. From Turbos and GT3s to the vaunted 993. I had four different 911 company cars, and I personally owned one more. And after all this experience, and all this exposure, and all this time behind the wheel, I've reached the following conclusion: the 996 Turbo is the best one of them all.
For those of you who aren't aware of the 996 model, allow me to explain: this was the 911 sold from 1999 to 2005. It's sleek, and it's fast, and it's fun to drive, and it's cheap to buy, and to most casual observers its styling is approximately identical to every other 911, which is to say: it looks like the kind of thing your dad might buy when he starts to lose his hair.
But to Porsche enthusiasts, this car is the devil in automotive form. Sure, it was faster, and more powerful, and more luxurious, and more practical than its predecessor. But if you ask a Porsche enthusiast about the 996, you'll get this look, as if you're in the middle of a Mopar meet, and you just went up to some Dodge-loving, Barracuda-driving, Hemi-obsessed redneck and asked what he thinks about the PT Cruiser.
And I admit, Porsche enthusiasts have their reasons for hating the 996. For one thing, they hate the headlights, which did away with the traditional circular look in favor of an unusual new design that resembles a pre-schooler's misguided portrait of the family dog. They hate that it's water-cooled, not air-cooled like earlier models. And then there's the matter of the engine, namely the fact that — at any moment — it may catastrophically fail without warning.
But I still think the 996 Turbo is the best of them, and today I'm going to try and explain why.
(Full disclosure: I owned a 2001 996 Turbo that I later sold to a Comcast executive. This was a mistake. I shouldn't have sold it to him. When he called, I should've answered the phone and put him on hold for three hours before transferring him to a guy in Papua New Guinea.)
To begin, let's address that engine issue. What I'm referring to here is the "intermediate shaft," also known as the "IMS," which is a famous late-1990s and early-2000s Porsche problem where you'd be driving along one day, top down, sun out, birds chirping, wind in your hair, and all of a sudden your engine would make noises like you just stuck a prairie dog down a blender. So you'd get out to check the situation, and you'd have your car towed into a mechanic, and you'd discover that your engine is now trash, but would you like to replace it for $20,000?
Well, here's the good news: that problem can affect virtually every 996 model except the Turbo. It affected the naturally-aspirated cars, the Carrera 4S models, the anniversary editions, and even the Boxsters of the same era. But the 996 Turbo used a different engine design, free from IMS faults, free from any issues, really, except the one that comes when you're cruising down the highway, open road ahead of you, problems melting away, and suddenly you remember you were supposed to pick up grandma at the airport seven hours ago.
Now, let's talk styling. No, the 996 isn't the most attractive car in the world. But when you go home tonight, take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself: Am I the most attractive human in the world? Of course you aren't. You're probably mediocre. You're probably in the bottom 50 percent, overall. In fact, and I don't mean to be disrespectful here, but let's face it: there's a good chance that you are the 996 of mankind. Suddenly the car's flaws don't seem so bad now, do they?
Plus, the 996 Turbo didn't look all that bad. Yes, it still suffered from the same pre-schooler-family-dog-portrait headlight issue as the rest of the cars. But it also had a wider rear end, cool side-mounted air intakes, dramatic Turbo-only wheels, and a fixed rear spoiler designed to remind everyone that the 996 Turbo is, unequivocally, the best of a bad lot. It's the Porsche equivalent of showing up at Enterprise and getting a Fusion.
And performance? Wonderful, of course. Oh, sure, it understeers a bit here and there. But this is an all-wheel drive Porsche 911 with 415 horsepower, a slick manual transmission, a 4-second 0-to-60 time, and a 190-mph top speed. It's fast. It's fun. It handles well. And it'll run circles around its predecessor, the 993 Turbo, which costs twice as much.
Speaking of value: by far the best part about the 996 Turbo is pricing. You see, most Porsche purists believe that other 996 models are crap, so they've gotten pretty cheap. Really cheap. Insanely cheap. I mean, go on RennList right now, and you'll see guys offering to trade them for Chipotle gift cards.
But here's the thing: the Turbo isn't worthless. It looks nicer. It drives better. It doesn't have the IMS problem. Performance is magnificent. And yet, in spite of all its magical benefits, its pricing is pulled down by the rest of the lineup! So for something like $37,000, you can have a reliable, enjoyable, exciting, high-performance sports car with exotic-rivaling performance and a Porsche badge up front.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why the 996 Turbo is the greatest Porsche you can buy today. In fact, I love it so much that I wouldn't mind buying my old car back. Unfortunately, I've lost all the guy's details, and the call center people never seem to know what I'm talking about. "996 Turbo?" they say. "Have you tried turning it off and back on again?"
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.