It is a truth universally acknowledged that a gentleman of a certain age in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a Porsche 911. The question is, which one? Rarely can one try them all, one after the other, but that chance was vicariously afforded the reader in the county of Northamptonshire recently, not far from the Palladian charms of Stowe and right next to a famous corner of the same name.
‘Nature abhors a straight line’, said William Kent, and in that sense too Silverstone Race Track conforms to his and Stowe’s philosophy of landscape design. I would spend very little of the day following anything that resembled a straight line, even when I was supposed to.
‘Joining Instructions’ indicated the Country Life representative should be at the circuit by 9.00 am. So I donned the sveltest footwear I could muster and reported for long-suffering journalistic duty. Outside Porsche HQ a row of Porsche 911s gleamed in various shades of gunmetal and Tutti Frutti. Beside them a huddle of middle-England Steve McQueens, all shades and race suits and casual swagger. The instructors. The Right Stuff. And us, the Wrong Stuff, the journalists, looking for a four-wheeled wife. Neil would be my chaperone. He had the shadiest shades of them all and would, I reckoned, be the coolest hand when terrified by my rusty skills at the wheel.
We would work through the range slowest to fastest. Or rather fast to fastest. This snarling line-up of male menopause was the latest generation of 911s, “green” if you will. Porsche is moving with the times, giving us smaller engines, more fuel economy, and in the case of the Panamera (not a 911 but a front-engined grand tourer) hybrid drives, batteries and eerily quiet progress. This is the future. One day the petrol engine will seem as archaic as the steam engine. We’ll whisk around in complete silence and the nostalgic will play recordings of these barbaric, combustive devices and gently weep. But that’s all to come. Right here, right now you can still turn the ignition of a 911 and scare yourself with the visceral thrill of it: like pressing a button which jabs a Bengal tiger caged just behind your ear.
First up the basic Carrera 2. Three litres with a turbo replaces 3.4 without, while the thermo-dynamic law of sports car evolution means power must climb. And so it does. 370 bhp replaces 350. CO2 emissions come tumbling down, as fuel economy tumbles up: it was hard to believe the brutally fast machine I was getting to grips with will do 38.2 miles to the gallon on a combined cycle. Probably more like 3.82 mpg on the cycle Neil was urging I give it, my foot never less than buried into the floorboards as we circulated the big-dipper handling circuit at speeds that felt rather impossible to me.
I can’t remember which model I was driving, the Carrera 2S, the 4, the Turbo, when I said to Neil that as far as I could tell the abilities of the cars far exceeded the abilities of any of the people who might drive them. The 911s were bomb-proof. Turn in at more or less twice what felt safe and the car just turns. Stand on the brakes and your eyeballs touch the windscreen; accelerate and they disappear into the back of your head and roll around uncontrollably.
But that’s all by the by. Nothing – and I mean nothing – will prepare you for Launch Control in a Turbo S. Any model with a PDK gearbox will do this, and it’s crazy fun in all of them. But in the Turbo S it is wild. Turn a button that looks ominously like it might fire a missile, press your left foot on the brake and stand hard on the throttle. The engine climbs to a howling pitch. Let go of the brake and the Turbo S roars down the road like a tornado, snaking and bucking, passing 60 before you can say Holy Moses, passing 90 a fraction after that. The end of the runway gets horribly close and just as your life is about to end Neil shouts “brake” and you stop like you’ve hit a wall. Only you haven’t. You’ve just hit the edge of physics.
But which of these machines does the man of a certain age take home to his stable? For Neil, who drives them all day, it was an easy choice: the car I’d just died in, the Turbo S Cabriolet. ‘You can do anything in this car,’ he said. I believed him. Me? I’d have any one. So long as it was yellow.
Porsche 911 new 2016 model line-up.
All Carreras 3.0 flat-six turbo-charged engines. ‘Turbos’ 3.8 flat-six turbo-charged engines. Carrera “4” is four-wheel drive.
Carrera £76,412 / 370 bhp / 0-60 4.6 secs / 34 mpg / 190 g/km.
Carrera S £85,857 / 420 bhp / 0-60 4.3 secs / 32.5 mpg / 199 g/km.
Carerra 4 £81,398 / 370 bhp / 0-60 4.5 secs / 32.5 mpg / 201 g/km.
Carerra 4S £90,843 / 420 bhp / 0-60 4.2 secs / 31.7mpg / 204 g/km.
Turbo £126,925 / 540 bhp / 0-60 3 secs / 31 mpg / 212 g/km.
Turbo S £145,773 / 580 bhp / 0-60 2.9 secs / 31 mpg / 212 g/km.