Michael Booth goes power mad in the new Porsche 911

Would suit: Porsche completists
Price (as tested) £69,960
Maximum speed 174mph, 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds
Combined fuel economy 24mpg
Further information 08457 911 911

Excuse me, I have my mouth full. Just eating a few words. Won't be a minute. A few weeks ago, I drove the Porsche Cayman S and, overcome with the excitement of it all, essentially claimed that Porsche had no need for what I believe I called its "pimped-up Beetle" flagship, by which I meant the 911. I was wrong.

The new 911 Carrera 4 is a thunderously great sports car, in another league from the hard-top Boxster altogether. I know that you, as a sensible reader, would have realised this and excused my hyperbole. Of course, the 911 is a better car than the Cayman. Porsche isn't the most profitable car company in the world for nothing.

Quite how much better it is, is another matter. Rarely has a car felt so planted, so ballistically explosive off the line, so thoroughly well engineered and so precise - from its delicate, thin steering wheel to its finicky stereo buttons - as the Carrera 4. This is a car that offers all of its power, all of the time, right there for your pleasure at the twitch of a foot. The question then becomes, is the new four-wheel drive Carrera 4 better than the standard, rear-wheel drive 911 Carrera I tried 18 months ago? I do know that the Carrera 4 has better traction thanks to its four-wheel drive and, although most of the time only five per cent of its power is transmitted through the front wheels, when the going gets slippery - exiting corners or on wet roundabouts, for instance - that can change to a 40/60 split front and rear. That makes a major difference in a car that is still a tad tail-heavy, a difference you can sense even at sensible speeds on public roads.

The other major difference is the brakes. I was once lucky enough to drive a Formula 1 car on a track and, aside from the colly-wobbling noise and Top Gun acceleration, the one thing that has always stuck with me about the experience was that car's otherworldly braking power. It was like participating in a horizontal bungee jump. One minute, the thing was travelling at 150mph, the next, I was counting blades of grass as I trundled by. So it is with the 911 Carrera 4. I don't think I have ever driven a road car with such a powerful, effective and reassuring middle pedal, all thanks, apparently, to a reworked stability system that improves brake response.

But how will the anoraks know that you have spent the equivalent of a secondhand Fiesta extra on your Carrera 4? Well, they would have to be the full neon Millet's cagoule, with notepad and Sellotaped NHS specs to spot this one. There is the number "4" on the boot, an extra 22mm of width on the rear arches and, that's it. But if you bought one, you would know that you possessed a car that was - ever so slightly - quicker than a standard 911. Like a flawed diamond, the standard 911 will always turn heads and impress, but if you stuck it in front of a magnifying glass you know you'd see a smudge of imperfection, you'd always know there was a better 911 to be had.

Of course, Porsche relies on this paranoia to niggle its notoriously perfectionist clientele just enough to fork out the extra cash. And then, just as they are wallowing in the delights of Carrera 4 ownership, it will launch the 911 Turbo, which will be quicker, beefier and even pricier. It goes on sale in the autumn when I guess I'll have to start eating my words again. s

It's a classic: Porsche 356

Ferdinand Porsche designed many cars before he formed a company bearing his name, but the first Porsche proper was the 356 of 1948. It was more sophisticated than its Beetle-esque looks suggested, with an aluminium body and independent suspension. Though low on power, it was quick and agile and succeeded as a rally car.

The 356 grew up with steel bodywork and more power; convertible and "Speedster" versions were launched for the US market. The first Carrera model was launched in 1955 with 112bhp. It could top 120mph and was a formidable racing car, but the legendary 550 Speedster - based on the 356 - was quicker still , famously too fast for James Dean who died at the wheel of his silver model.

The 356 was finally laid to rest with the arrival of the 911 in 1964, but the basic outline and its front, with its round, raised headlamps, endures to this day in the modern 911.

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