Charles Rangeley-Wilson enjoys some of the best–and most terrifying–drives of his life as he gets up to speed with Porsche’s new range of 911s at Silverstone.

We review the new Porsche 911s

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? After all, one can rarely try them all, one after the other, but that’s the prospect facing me in Northamptonshire, 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 racetrack conforms to his and Stowe’s philosophy of landscape design. I spend little of the day following anything that resembles a straight line, even when I’m supposed to.

‘Joining instructions’ indicate the COUNTRY LIFE representative should be at the circuit by 9am, so I don the sveltest footwear I can muster and report for journalistic duty. Outside Porsche HQ, a row of 911s gleam in various shades of gunmetal and tutti-frutti. Beside them stands a huddle of middle-England Steve McQueens—all shades, race suits and casual swagger. The instructors—the right stuff—and the journalists—the wrong stuff—looking for a four-wheeled wife. Neil is to be my chaperone. He has the shadiest shades of them all and will, I reckon, be the coolest hand when terrified by my rusty skills at the wheel.

The plan is to work through the range from the slowest to the fastest—or, rather, fast to fastest. This snarling line-up of male menopause is the latest generation of 911s, ‘Green’ if you will. Porsche is moving with the times, by producing
 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, I can still turn the ignition of a 911 and scare myself with the visceral thrill of it: like pressing a button that jabs a Bengal tiger
caged just behind my ear.

First up, the basic Carrera. Three litres with a turbo replaces 3.4 without and the thermo-dynamic law of sportscar evolution means power must climb. And so it does: 370bhp replaces 350bhp and CO2 emissions come tumbling down as fuel economy ticks up. It’s hard to believe that the brutally fast machine I’m getting to grips with will do 38.2mpg on a combined cycle. Probably more like 3.82mpg on the cycle Neil is urging me to give it, my foot never less than buried into the floorboards as we circulate the big-dipper handling circuit at speeds that feel rather impossible to me.

I can’t remember which model I’m driving—the Carrera S, the 4 or the Turbo—when I inform Neil that, as far as I can tell, the abilities of the cars far exceed the abilities of any of the people who might drive them. They are bombproof. Turn in at more or less twice what feels 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.

But that’s all by the by. Nothing prepares me 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’s wild. Turn a button that looks ominously as if it might fire a missile, press your left foot on the brake, stand hard on the throttle and 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 60mph before I can say Holy Moses, passing 90mph a fraction after that.

The end of the runway suddenly seems horribly close and, just as I think my life is about to end, Neil shouts ‘brake’ and we stop as if we’ve hit a wall. Only we haven’t—we’ve just hit the edge of physics.

Which of these machines should the man of a certain age take home to his stable? For Neil, who drives them all day, it’s an easy choice: the car I just died in, the Turbo S Cabriolet. ‘You can do anything in this car,’ he declares, and I believe him. Me? I’d have any one— as long as it’s yellow.

On the road: Porsche 911 new 2016 model line-up

All Carreras boast three-litre, flat-six turbo-charged engines, ‘turbos’ have 3.8-litre flat-six turbo-charged engines and the Carrera 4 is four-wheel drive

Carrera
Price: £76,412
Power: 370bhp
0–62mph: 4.6 seconds
Combined fuel consumption: 34mpg

Carrera S
Price: £85,857
Power: 420bhp
0–62mph: 4.3 seconds
Combined fuel consumption: 32.5mpg

Carerra 4
Price: £81,398
Power: 370bhp
0–62mph: 4.5 seconds
Combined fuel consumption: 32.5mpg

Carerra 4S
Price: £90,843
Power: 420bhp
0–62mph: 4.2 seconds
Combined fuel consumption: 31.7mpg

Turbo
Price: £126,925
Power: 540bhp
0–62mph: 3 seconds
Combined fuel consumption: 31mpg

Turbo S
Price: £145,773
Power: 580bhp
0–62mph: 2.9 seconds
Combined fuel consumption: 31mpg