Head to head: Porsche 993 Turbo v 997 C4 GTS
However controversial the 996 was, there’s no denying the 997 represented a real return to form for Porsche. By perfecting the 996’s strengths, toning down its flaws and returning to the classic round-headlamp look so beloved of enthusiasts, Porsche had a hit from the start. That it didn’t rest on its laurels and instead continued to develop the 997 further into a truly wonderful Porsche was both the icing on the cake and a serious self-created problem. Runout 997 GTS or base 991 Carrera? It’s a tougher call than anyone expected. But good as it is, the 997 isn’t yet credited as being the best 911 of all. That’s a title generally handed to the 993, which raises an interesting conundrum: which would be a more rewarding way to spend £65,000 – on a new 997 GTS or the best used 993 on the market? That’s what we decided to investigate.
Style: The lineage is there, but what big differences in proportions separate them? The 997 shape sits in that uncomfortable space of being both far from factory fresh and also the car deemed as ‘old’ in the ‘old and new’ comparisons with the 991. To show off how sleek the new car is, most will look to its immediate predecessor, and rightly so. After all, it was the reference point for Porsche’s own engineers, and fixing its weaknesses will have been one key aim of the design process. That’s not to say the 997 isn’t still a striking and good-looking machine, though, particularly in wide-body Carrera 4 guise. Familiarity means its smooth sculpting is now overlooked, and its classic front end taken for granted. Because we all know what it looks like, it will take time for genuine appreciation for the 997 to return. The fundamentals have been so well implemented, though, that return it one day will.
The 993 is so sublime – it never lost it. This is the last classic Porsche, and the contrast between it and the 997 is striking. No prizes for guessing which appears the most compact, bullet-like, hewn from solid and irresistibly head-turning. The 993 in Turbo guise is an impossibly special-looking car, all pumped-up extremes and the sort of metal-creasing angles that scream ‘desperate measures’ rather than ‘design intent’ (and look all the better because of it). Those 6cm-wider rear fenders look brilliantly exaggerated, and every inch the squat tarmac-melter its reputation implies. The rear wing is nicely OTT, and the steamroller rear tyres look much bigger than their 285/30 ZR 18 sizing suggests. It’s not unlike race cars that have been converted from road cars – take what you have and make it as radical as possible within the realms of reality and legality. The resultant creation is a mutant, and all the more gorgeous because of it.
Part of the 993’s distinctive looks come from the bits that age it. The paint is deeply lustrous, but the polished surface gleam is undoubtedly heightened by all the extra superficial disturbances lying along it. There’s just so much to play with the light, from the exposed drop rails to the glinting edges of panels due to the past-era panel gaps. An aerodynamicist would have kittens at the prospect of all this wind-snaring surface activity, and that’s why modern cars don’t have the surface action the 993 and its ilk do.
Then there’s the aforementioned difference in proportions. Park a 993 next to a 997, and marvel at how ‘big’ the newer car looks. It’s taller, longer and wider; there’s more meat in the door panels and more substance in the window pillars. There’s basically much ‘more’ of it – it’s clear to see why new cars are so much heavier than old ones (despite this new one actually being the lighter of the two). But there’s one telling detail that really separates them and fully illustrates this illusion in stark light: the wheels. On both, they’re 18-inch in diameter. But which looks just right and which appears under-wheeled? And to confirm this, check out the wheel arch gaps between this rubber: it’s fag papers only for the 993, while there’s clear daylight on the 997. In short, the 993 shows why an all-new Porsche was needed: it had simply outgrown itself.
Transmission and chassis: Four-wheel drive made the frightening 911 Turbo manageable and gave Porsche the green light to pursue ever-higher levels of power output. Indeed, it was to do this with the later Turbo S derivative of this Turbo: super-rare and punching out a fearsome 450hp, showing the sheer pace built into this snarling model. From this point on, the 911 Turbo would become awesome for reasons other than the threat of scaring you witless from a surfeit of power over control. It would, instead, be all about power.
But in its 993 guise, Porsche was again pushing development. The gear change is the best example of this. In the 993, you sense you’re using something stretched far from its original purpose, which engineering has made work, but only just: there are compromises along the way. Yes, it packs six speeds, but it also has a lightweight, lifeless shift action far removed from the involving gear change familiar from the 911. Love it or loathe it, there’s no denying the gear change of a classic 911 is involving. This, sadly, isn’t.
The 997, in contrast, has a gear change that engineering has perfected. More than capable of dealing with the 408hp output of the engine, attention has been focused instead on making it as short-throw snickety as possible and as slack-free and sewing machine-like as can be. Complete with Alcantara-topped gearknob, it’s a beautiful transmission and a fine modern interpretation of the spindly stick-shift original 901. It’s arguably even the pinnacle of 911 manual gearbox development given the slight disappointment over the 991’s seven-speed manual.
Both cars are four-wheel drive, but the system is more fluid and linear in the 997 – no surprises there. This arguably makes it too efficient for the enthusiast, though. It does everything you need with supreme efficiency, and thus allows you to drive extremely quickly with huge confidence, but some may actually like the rawer feel of the 993 Turbo. There, you can sense the less smart-thinking rearward-biased drive and the mere 20 per cent of power being divvied to the front wheels, and feel 408hp being mechanically and electronically divided up between the wheels with the most grip. It’s not as efficient, but nonetheless a delight for the engineering-minded. Do this in confidence, too: being a ’98 car, this model will have benefited from the stronger transmission shaft Porsche fitted to later 993 Turbos to lessen breakages for those who did exactly this.
They diverge in handling precision, too. The 993 has the purity of an original 911 but, as mentioned, hidden beneath a firewall that’s there to cope with the heady forces it can generate. Steering, sensations and satisfaction all have rewards, but they’re not immediately apparent – you have to concentrate, be patient and accept that the pure 911-like entertainment may, at times, be more fleeting than in other models. Power delivery and pace undoubtedly dominate here.
The 997, on the other hand, is sublime all the time. It’s easier to drive, but no less pleasurable. The steering has fantastic accuracy, yet also chatters and shuffles like all real 911s should. The front end is crisp and linear and the overall balance beautifully, beautifully composed. This really is a car at the very top of its game, doing everything you’d wish a classic 911 would, but with all the refinements you’d expect a modern car to provide. As many have mentioned, it’s a hard act for the 991 to follow.
Comfort: The 993 screams ‘classic Porsche 911’. To open the doors, reach down low and grasp a cool metal door handle. The door release clicks, and the door eases lightly out on well-oiled hinges, betraying the relative lack of side impact protection and electrical gadgetry built within. The sill appears to have an undercut and the ride height looks substantial, yet the drop down into the cabin, negotiating the set-back A-pillar base, makes you appreciate how much smaller the 993 is compared to modern 911s.
It’s a bit of an evocative noise overload; for the leather of the test car also creaks loudly, briefly drowned out by the sharp vault-like click of the door and, when you’re ready, the cammy, echoing whirr of the starter motor. There’s no engine throb until you’ve mastered the irritatingly confusing (read: Nineties) alarm-immobiliser, though, and this isn’t the only area in which the 993 really shows its age. The floor-mounted pedals, offset far to the left, will be near-unmanageable for classic 911 first-timers. The clutch, and in particular the brakes, feel odd until the immense detail they provide becomes appreciated. The at-a-reach stereo will undoubtedly be bleeping or doing something irritating, as it’s likely to be an aftermarket system, showing how far Porsche in-car entertainment has come in two decades. You’ll have no idea how to work the heater unless you’re familiar with 911s, and will also find the lack of stowage slots for modern-day essentials such as mobile phones rather frustrating.
Step from this into the 997, and it’s like moving from LP to CD. Not as richly rewarding, perhaps, but a damn sight easier to use. The seats are both softer yet firmer thanks to advances in materials and some well-judged bolstering. The pedals are sensibly located, the steering wheel is small and manageable and dials can be clearly viewed through it. The heater controls make sense, the stereo matches everything else around it, everything is close and, to coin a terrible cliché, falls easily to hand, as opposed to hand wavering in the 993 while you work out which switch, slider or lever does what.
The only area in which the 997 lags is visibility. It’s not bad out the front, but rear awareness is very restricted, and those thick pillars block further views out. A key selling point of the 911 was always the panoramic viewpoint so well demonstrated by the see-everything 993; in the interests of crash safety and occupant protection, the latest 911 dials this back. Reassuringly so? If we were using the car often, it’s certainly true a 997 would offer more reassurance than a 993. The loud, damped click when you close and open the door should tell you this, too.
Comfort also includes rolling refinement, and there are no surprises here, either. The 997 is more taut thanks to its far stiffer bodyshell
and two-decades-on suspension understanding, yet it also rides with more absorbency and a lot more comfort than the 993. You can feel bumps, but don’t necessarily hear them. The bit you do feel has been absorbed and smoothed out, so the worst of it doesn’t filter through. With the
993, it’s far rawer. It jitters on stiff springs, which loudly pick out bumps with an aggressive crash, doing little to take the impact harshness away from them. This is undoubtedly the tougher car to live with out of the two.
Performance: This is where the two split the most. The 993 is classic 911: an air-cooled flat-six, livened up by the rush of forced induction that didn’t arrive until more than a decade into the car’s life, but quickly made itself a hugely significant variant. By 1995, the 993 Turbo’s 3.6-litre motor had two turbochargers. Plus, for the first time ever on a 911 Turbo, it had four-wheel-drive. Complete with onboard diagnostics and a catalytic converter system, it was the cleanest 911 Turbo yet, and something of a technological masterpiece. 408hp stands scrutiny today – 17 years ago it was mesmerising.
Porsche today releases 408hp from a normally aspirated motor, the 3.8-litre engine fitted to the test GTS. Add forced induction, and you’re well into the 500s: it kind of puts the might of the 993 into context. But even this doesn’t quite present the advantage you’d think it would.
It’s a matter of similar power, similar performance, but two different ways of delivering it. To get an idea of what they’re like on the road, just look at them: the 993 Turbo lives up to its extreme, aggressive-edged appearance. It’s far from subtle, but very, very thrilling.
To get there, though, you have to be patient. The hydraulic clutch takes some getting used to, while the sticky electronic throttle is frankly awful. Highly digitised, the on/off throttle transition is switch-like, meaning it’s near impossible not to filter in power with a snatch. It’s fine at speed, but just the thing to set you kangarooing around town. At least the engine is manageable at low revs – indeed, probably too much so. When the turbos are sleeping, the response of the motor is subtle. Fail to appreciate this, and you’re going to be left embarrassed. You’ll only find the power and drive if you’re conscious of the revs and likely response.
But away from the city confines, who cares? The performance of the 993 Turbo is fantastic. Seconds pass before the turbos wake up, and even then true effectiveness is only felt at mid-range revs and above. The air-cooled motor loudly howls against a backdrop of rushing turbos, and the entire drivetrain turns electric as that 408hp is delivered.
Against this drama is the contrast: a sleeping 997 feels like an executive car, albeit a well-oiled, interactive one. Where the 993 driver will be fighting and driving through quirks, the 997 pilot will enjoy a crisp, feel-packed gear change, an accelerator that is beautifully metered and surgically subtle and an engine with polite mannerisms. It’s as if Porsche has retained the welcome aspects of involvement, but filtered out the daunting by-products.
As for performance, again, it’s a class act. 408hp can be tapped into with the merest brush of the electronic throttle pedal. The engine responds with immediate precision and exact linearity to the amount of accelerator being dialled in, with none of the hesitation of the 993. Power comes in like turning on a tap, the revs exactly matching the intensity of the response. At higher revs, it feels crackerjack fast, borne out by performance figures that near-level peg the Turbo. It may not have the appearance of the Turbo on the road, but it’s certainly a match for it – believe us, the ease with which the 997’s performance is delivered will more than make up for any advantage the 993 has on paper. You can access and use more of the GTS’ power, more of the time.
997 C4 GTS specs:
Power (bhp) 408
Torque (lb ft) 309
CO2 (g/km) 247
Curb weight (kg) 1,480
Fuel consumption (mpg) 26.9
0-62 mph 4.6
Max speed (MPH) 188
Price (excl options) £83,145