Someone brought up the C5 Z06, and someone in the comments brought up how it is better than the 996. and what an interesting comparison. both are fairly high production sports cars that have faced massive depreciation. having been in the market for sports cars in the past, and having driven a few, I FEEL LIKE THE INTERNET REALLY, REALLY CARES ABOUT MY OPINION. or at least wants to bash me for having it. :)
the Z06 kills the 996 in the straights. and it’s not just because of the power difference, but the LS6 just makes ridiculous amounts of torque down low. and in most daily driving, that’s where your RPM range is going to live. as fun as screaming an engine out to redline is, you don’t do that on your average commute.
the 996 beats the Z06 in handling. but it’s a skill based handling - especially in 996s without PSM. the learning curve is so much higher for the 996, but even having had one for years, I know I’m probably going to crash if I exceed the the car’s limits. while lower, the Z06 doesn’t have that, which is amazing given the power that car has. but the Z06 also feels less confident at those higher speeds. the 996 is more like “all is well! all is well!!!” until it isn’t - more similar to a Boxster. it’s interesting, and something I attribute more towards owning an FR Starion, RX8, and Miata in the past than some inherent difference between the cars. I’m no Chris Harris.
the 996 has plus points in that it’s a better daily driver due to a higher suspension (presuming stock US suspension versus ROW), it has back seats, and a useful fronk. neither have great interiors, but the 996 wins out by a decent margin. despite the 996's “unique” headlight design, the car has aged more gracefully. and while both are high production as far as sports cars go, the C5 is fairly common in the U.S. and the average person doesn’t know the trim levels. the average person is more likely to point out that their cousin has the same steering wheel in their Pontiac Grand Prix than to know the differences between an LS1 and LS6 motor.
I’m probably faster around a track in an STi than I am a 996, but there’s a certain interest and prestige in driving a Porsche Carrera that most people don’t get with respect to a “really nice Subaru Impreza.” plus the sheer volume of C5s means that, short term, they will continue to depreciate in value. but unlike the 993s, it will be a long, long time before 996s appreciate. that actually works in the favor of both cars, as it makes it understandable to drive them as opposed to fearing about ruining the perfection their manufacturers tried to instill.
when something breaks, the Z06 is so exponentially cheaper to own and maintain. the LS6 is bulletproof, whereas the M96 needs $2-3k dumped into it to make it bulletproof. I love 986s and 996s, but the first advice I have for any potential owner is, if there aren’t complete service records, take the initiative to drop $3k into preventative maintenance (IMS bearing, RMS, AOS, etc.). it’s cheaper to do everything right once and have a reliable sports car than to get financially exploited iteratively. and if you have a failure, they’re often “find a replacement motor” catastrophic. the LS6 is a truck motor with decades of evolution. if you blow the motor, you can probably resolve the issue for less than the initial preventative maintenance. so if ownership is just a short-term mid-life crisis style event where you are okay writing off any depreciation, then the Z06 wins easily.
performance mods are cheap on the LS6, whereas there is no value in any modifications to the 996 unless you’re talking about the 996TT. so, from a tuning standpoint, the Zo6 wins solidly for anyone interested in modifying their car to be their car. neither can be modified much from an aesthetics standpoint, but the 996 gets the edge as one could try to make the car look more like a GT2 or GT3 - and the Martini racing trim is something that I have always loved.
where the 996 gets a leg up over the C5 Z06 is the availability in options. the 996 starts with a base model drive by cable 3.4L variation with no traction control, and works its way up to a drive by wire 3.6L variation with PSM. you also have the options of a non-sunroof coupe, sunroof coupe, targa top, or convertible. likewise, you have all-wheel drive as an option. the car is also available in a narrow body and wide body configuration.
which car is better? it totally depends on where you are at in your life and what your goals on owning a sports car are. how did I decide? I didn’t. my main C5 Z06 experiences were back when I was younger and had my RX-8, and in hindsight, I completely regret not selling that fun but unreliable car and being able to tell you fun stories about my Z06 ownership. so if you’re young and interested in tuning, go with the Z06. if you’re older or have the financial means to properly maintain a German car, go with the right 996. if you’re neither, maybe consider other options.
when I bought my 996, I had a list of ten cars, and I spent a year looking at dozens of potential purchases and had them pre-inspected to know what I was getting myself into. the 996 won out because I found a rare car in perfect condition with 17k miles on it with full service records owned by a Porsche enthusiast that also bought his first 911 when he was exactly the same age as me that had my trusted independent Porsche mechanics after owning my Boxster tell me that it was one of the nicest cars they have seen for a PPI. plus the back seats are so valuable. yes, you can’t fit two grown ass men in your back seats. but why are you doing that? attractive girls, and, down the line, you future kid(s) fit perfectly fine.
I won’t lie. the N/A 996 is not some end-all be-all of cars. sometimes I see a good deal on a sexier 996TT and I am tempted, but why? I couldn’t trade my just under 30k 996 in for a new Scion FR-S despite the 996 being a Porsche Carrera and the FR-S being a Scion. the same goes for Z06s. don’t buy a depreciating asset on credit when you can buy a much, much nicer used car. just make sure to get a pre-purchase inspection to avoid the “I got a great deal!” - “Oh, I see why I got such a great deal” problem that comes with buying used.