Modern Classic Review – the CarAdvice team take time away from Australia’s new car landscape to look at machines we consider true modern classics.
What’s more, we’ll try to turn our focus to cars that haven’t quite fallen out of reach in terms of scarcity and affordability. Is there something on your radar? Let us know what modern classics you would like to see the team review.
Modern Classic: 2002–2005 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S (996)
I don’t think there are too many among us who haven’t wanted for a Porsche 911 at some point in life. The combination of engineering excellence, brand reverence and the sheer enjoyment of being behind the wheel makes an iconic P-car a bit of a no-brainer in the aspiration stakes.
The question is then, which one?
There have been so many notable 911s over the model’s 57-year history, but our choice for the best affordable modern classic looks a little left of the air-cooled super funds and delves into the lineage of the once-maligned 996.
The fifth-generation 911, produced between 1997 and 2005, signified the first major change to the 911 platform since it was launched in 1963. The car kept the rear-engine, rear-drive layout, but moved to a water-cooled power plant and more aerodynamic body shape.
I could write for days about the reasons the first-generation 996 wasn’t as well received as an all-new 911 should have been. The shared styling, including ‘fried egg’ headlamps and other components from the less expensive 986 Boxster, and the IMS (Intermediate Shaft Bearing) reliability issues on early M96 engines, didn’t really set the 996 up as a worthy successor to the 993 and others before it.
But Porsche doesn’t settle for less than perfection, and so the 996 was refined over time and for 2002 received a major update, with a new look, hardware tweaks, and a number of new models. Welcome, then, to the Carrera 4S.
Launched as part of the 996 update for the 2002 model year, and following the format set by the 964 30th Anniversary Edition 911 (and continued on the 993 Carrera 4S), the 996 C4S took the wide-hipped body from the Turbo (launched two years prior), maintained some of the Turbo’s styling cues, particularly the air intakes on the now better-looking front bumper, and retained the range-topper’s uprated steering and suspension components.
Most notably, the 996 C4S features a red reflector strip, called a heckblende, between the tail-lights as a bit of a nod to earlier 911-generation models. This, along with the wide rear arches, gives the C4S possibly the best rear angle of any 911 since.
Worth noting, too, that the C4S (available in coupe and cabriolet form) is the only wide-body 996 Carrera. Only the Turbo, Turbo S and GT2 also scored the wide hips, so it is fair to say you’re in good company.
Put simply, the C4S is a Turbo without the turbo.
|2002 Porsche 911 C4S (996)|
|Engine configuration||Six-cylinder petrol|
|Power||235kW @ 6800rpm|
|Torque||370Nm @ 4250rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||170.4kW/t|
|Drive||All-wheel drive (variable torque split)|
|Transmission||5-speed automatic Tiptronic|
|Price when new (MSRP)||$228,100|
|Colour||Seal Grey / Black Leather|
Power comes from a naturally aspirated 3.6-litre M96 flat-six, and as the ‘4’ in the name suggests, is driven to all four wheels. Output is still impressive some 15 years on with 235kW peaking at a wailing 6800rpm, which might plonk it between the current 718 Boxster and Boxster S in terms of outright numbers, but a sub-6.0-second sprint to 100km/h still makes the 996 a quick machine.
The active rear spoiler deploys at 120km/h, but can also be ‘opened’ by a button in the driver’s footwell.
With no turbocharging, power delivery is nice and linear, and the 4S pulls well from about 2500rpm. Peak torque of 370Nm is available from 4250rpm, and while there’s no organ-crushing rush, the Carrera feels willing enough all the way to that 6000-something redline.
One thing is for sure, you’ll never get sick of the noise!
A big part of the appeal of a car like the C4S is that it is old enough to be a bit cool and special, but not so old that it isn’t comfortable day-to-day. While the 996 was arguably the last ‘pre-screen’ generation 911, the interior comforts and features are in line with what we all expect from a car today.
Heated seats, parking sensors, an upgraded sound system and the usual myriad of Porsche personalisation options were available at the time, but leather trim, climate control, power seats and remote central locking were all part of the standard package.
Some of the more technology-driven elements are missing, you still need to turn your headlights on using the rotary switch (unless you opted for the $2690 bi-xenon Litronic option), and there’s no Bluetooth, but there are cool CD-storage slots in the dash – and they certainly don’t make them anymore.
Being a 911 there are rear seats, but they are strictly for shopping and small children. It becomes a handy weekend classic, too, as being flexible enough to handle a run to the shops or a shuttle from school sport also makes it a much easier pill to swallow in the ‘let's buy a Porsche’ discussion.
Our car features the five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, but we would always suggest a six-speed manual. The Tipper isn’t too bad, though, and despite the frustrating implementation of pushing the top of the rocker button to change up and the bottom to change down, you do get used to it. You can use the shifter to change also.
The changes themselves aren’t particularly fast or sharp, given this is a traditional automatic ’box and not a multi-clutch system, but for the most part, the car works well enough when left in automatic. To be clear, though, if you are in the market, just get a manual.
The 996 AWD system uses a viscous coupling between the gearbox and front differential. Here, there is always a five per cent drive to the front wheels, which increases to a 45 per cent torque split when the rear loses traction.
This translates to a little bit of rear-tyre slip from the 11-inch-wide rear rubber under a heavy launch, and an overall more risk-averse profile as the 911’s tail-happy nature is mitigated, particularly accelerating out of a bend, by the front wheels gripping as needed.
Additionally, the Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system acts as a torque-vectoring system under braking, allowing you to come into a bend and quickly settle the car before turning in and powering out.
The car tends to push a little more than a rear-drive 911, a feeling that is amplified at lower speeds, but in theory should reward a braver and quicker corner exit, as, through the viscous coupling, more throttle means more drive to the front to pull you around.
I say ‘should’ as this is a trait best explored on a racetrack, and ideally in a car you own…
All of this, though, is when you are pushing the 996 reasonably hard. Dial it back and pop in an Eminem CD, and the C4S feels almost more accomplished as an early 2000’s GT.
It’s very happy pounding around town, the seats and vision are great, and you can’t beat that flat-six snarl. The ride is taut enough for a sportster, but comfortable enough to live with on a daily basis. In terms of tapping in to those 911 feels, the C4S represents the best of the 996 breed, and offers just the right amount of thrills and cache you expect from the perennial sports car. It's more special than a regular Carrera and despite the bumpy start, has actually aged well enough to make the 996 911 Carrera 4S worthy of modern classic status.
Is this modern classic for you?
Buying a 2002–2005 Porsche 911 996 C4S...
Make sure the car has a well-documented service history from a Porsche Centre or Porsche specialist, and that the IMS bearing service, in particular, has been completed. If the car has been looked after, and you continue to look after it, there are no major red flags in terms of reliability or operational constraints.
Given the car was priced around the $230K mark when new, the expectation that it was built to be driven, but built to last, making it still a pretty solid proposition some 18-years on.
At the moment, a good 996 C4S with a manual transmission will cost somewhere in the $75–$80K range. Not cheap, but a way off the price of a Turbo (about 50 per cent more), and with plenty of the overall appeal.
A Tiptronic car will be cheaper, and some colours are more desirable than others, but these are a sure bet for a price rise soon, so find one now if you can.
Our perfect spec is a Lapis or Midnight Blue manual coupe with a Savanna Beige interior. Throw on a Porsche sports exhaust system, and there are many happy years of modern classic motoring ahead!
Modern Classic Rating: 8.2
Thanks to ThePorschaDen Classic for supplying the C4S for our test and review.