It's five o'clock on a clear summer's morning. I'm traveling on a deserted stretch of highway at 155 mph. At this kind of speed, the senses have to be focused. Even the slightest distraction can mean death-it's that simple. Yet I'm behind the wheel of Porsche's latest 911 Turbo, feeling totally secure, and there's still sixth gear to go. My hand leaves the wheel to knock the lever into top. There's at least another 40 mph left in this astonishing car and it powers on with a relentless hunger. But opportunities like these are fleeting and I have to lift off. 70 mph feels walking pace.
As brilliant as it is on paper, there is little to differentiate the new 911 Turbo with a car twenty years older: the 959. Both have power going to all four wheels, have twin-turbocharged flat-six engines mounted behind the rear axle, put out more than 400 bhp, crack 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and reach 197 mph flat out. So what exactly has twenty years of progress resulted in?
Even your mother-in-law could drive the 911 Turbo. It moves through the scenery with an almost contemptuous ease. The new Turbo's towering capabilities are often forgotten because the driver can sometimes seem detached from proceedings. Old-school 911 fanatics, weaned on lift-off oversteer and antiquated ergonomics, carp on about computers taking over and numbing what should be an involving, visceral experience. And they have a point.
The 959, though, is a bit of an animal. Computers it has in abundance, but the savage power delivery is enough to keep you on your toes. The country roads I'm set to drive this 959 on are perfect for exploring a supercar's performance envelope.
Over the past few days, I've exploited only a fraction of the 997 Turbo's stratospheric limits. The performance gains aren't particularly different from the previous (996) generation, but the new car feels transformed. With radical, variable turbine technology, power delivery is virtually seamless. Where there used to be bags of lag, it's now responsive to even the slightest feathering of the throttle. Whatever gear you happen to be in, the Turbo just keeps powering towards its rev limiter until you snatch another cog. It's quite unlike anything I've experienced. Yet the car isn't perfect.
The standard 997 is pretty enough, but it seems Porsche has conspired to mess up the front end with fussy detailing and those driving lamp pods at either side make it look as though there's a golf ball in each cheek. The wheels, too, are an acquired taste, and the huge air intakes set into the rear fenders are nasty, cheap-looking plastic items. The interior is also a bit of a let down, because it's just so similar to the standard cars. It's stylish and functional, but where's the sense of occasion? If I'd paid twice the price of a 997 Carrera, I'd expect it to look a bit more special.
But these are minor flaws in the bigger picture. The new Turbo is undoubtedly the most useable supercar money can buy. The 959 held that title many moons ago; time to find out what it's really like.
It's a rare privilege to see one being used, as most 959 owners are put off by hideous repair costs. Body panels are made mostly from composite materials and even the plastic discs that cover the single central lugs would set you back $600. Each. Golfer Nick Faldo used to own a 959. When his then-girlfriend found out he'd been cheating on her, the scorned woman vented her hellish fury by attacking the car with his clubs. The insurance company probably hasn't recovered from the bill.
This one, however, is owned by avid car collector Lord Mexborough, who has a large collection of Stuttgart's and Maranello's finest, and is happy to see them put through their paces by a select band of journalists. Today is my lucky day, and after trundling along in heavy traffic, we reach the desolate Yorkshire Moors.