In many ways, the various generations of the Porsche 911 have reflected the times in which they were built.
Thus, the 1960s stylishness of the dainty original; discocoloured '70s models; the turbocharged, whale-tailed excesses of the '80s; on and on until we get to the out-going model, known internally at Porsche as the 997.
Built from 2005 to 2012, the 997 is a very good car. It blends a little of the feel of those air-cooled origins with a modern layout and as a result, manages to be quite special, even at a very basic level. However, it's been with us for nearly seven years (with a minor facelift in 2009) and a replacement is long overdue.
So, the new 911, dubbed the 991 among Porsche-ophiles: here are some things you should know. It's bigger. It's more powerful. It's lighter. It's faster. It's more expensive.
It's more 911 than ever before. But then, 911s have never been about quantities; they're about qualities. The question: is more 911 really more, or is it less?
Park the 991 next to an early 911 and you can see how much the car has ballooned over the years, swollen with safety requirements and smoothed out by the demands of aerodynamics. This year's model is two inches longer and has a wheelbase that is stretched out by four inches.
The track of the front wheels is also increased, the roof is lowered and the windscreen more sharply raked. New larger wheels - a rapper-approved 20inches in diameter - fill out the swelling arches and LED running lights are now integrated into the front fascia below the headlights.
The overall effect is still 100 per cent 911, but it's less subtle than previous models. This is the 911 as re-imagined by Michael Bay: Boom! Pow! Whammo!
More evidence of blinginess can be seen around the back of the car: where once a subtle model designation was scripted, now there's a complete listing of ingredients in shiny chrome. Those who follow in your wake will know exactly how much you spent.
So will those who are lucky enough to be your passengers. The 991 is so far ahead of the 997 in terms of interior design you might as well be comparing the inside of a Four Seasons penthouse suite to that of a roadside motel. A motel right next to a highway. And a train station.
Yes, the inside feels less 911 and more like Porsche's limousine, the Panamera - I hereby dub this 911 "the Panamera Coupe" - but it's a welcome improvement despite being festooned with more buttons than the cockpit of a 767. While some of that Teutonic sparseness remains, the inside of a 991 no longer feels like all the money you spent went into powertrain engineering.
Along with upgraded interior trim pieces, the interior is stretched out, with the stopwatch that's part of the Sport Chrono option package way out near the windshield. Flick a lever and one of the dials in the instrument panel slips through a series of LED screens from fuel economy measures to navigation screen.
My tester was equipped with the optional sport seats, which have so much adjustability, nothing short of a beanbag chair could conform better to your backside. While cosseting and CHROME lettering on the back end is part of an overall increase in blinginess with the 2012 Carrera S. comforting, they also have the grippy lateral support of a racing seat, and for good reason. . . .
Five minutes after firing up the 991 for the first time, I was out on the racetrack with a 997 C4S up my back bumper. Mission Raceways is a tight course built around a dragstrip, with large, unfriendly-looking concrete barriers at each of its sharp corners.
The pavement is broken and full of transitions with crazy-quilt patchwork (the dragstrip portion is more recently paved and there's quite a bump in the middle of one of the back turns). What's more, the surface is patchily damp from the previous night's deluge, which has also strewn so many twigs, leaves and other debris about, the track looks like it just hosted a Logger Sports festival.
Remember, this car costs an eye-watering $146,000, and is rear-wheel drive only. The last 911 I drove in poor weather conditions had a little German all-wheel-drive Fairy Godmother on-board who would bippity-boppity-boo me back into a straight line if things got too sideways.
Here there's nothing but the traction control to prevent me from smearing that optional Lime-Gold paint ($3,590) along thirty feet of concrete barrier.
Well, the traction control and the (very) patient tutelage of Tony Morris Sr., he of the soft Scots brogue and lifetime experience going fast behind the wheel of a 911. The first few laps are cautious for all on the track as tires are cold and the shifting surface adhesion is a bit tricky. But we catch a break in the weather and start lapping faster and faster - and faster!
Porsches have always been famous for gram-perfect steering and there has been much grumbling over the 991's new all-electric setup. Stuff and nonsense! Feedback is not as mechanical as an aircooled 911, but it's light and accurate and very Porsche-y.
The 991's 3.8-litre flat-six motor now pumps out 400 h.p., and it lets you know about it right as you crest 4,000 r.p.m. and the car snaps awake. The new longer wheelbase has tamed some of the 911's characteristic rear-engined swing and the wider front end bites into the corners harder.
Brake later. Dive into corners deeper. Power out earlier. Without too much difficulty, we're able to keep ahead of a 997 GT3 RS - this alphanumeric designation indicating the alpha-dog of the track-special 911s.
Well, I'm able to keep ahead of one of the two GT3s at the track on the day - the other nips past on the front straight. However, confidence is key, and I'm happy to report that even in the hands of a novice driver with an unfamiliar car, the 991 inspires huge levels of confidence. It is utterly unflappable at speed.
Chances are, like me, you don't live on a racetrack. Get the 991 off the circuit and it really starts to shine; Porsche currently sells 16 different flavours of 911, so a trackrat special will be out soon enough. This Carrera S is more a gentleman's tourer, something that becomes evident immediately on the road.
On the track, I have the car set up for full blitzkrieg: Sport ++, suspension in race mode, exhaust pipes set to "yell." Getting out on the road, we switch phasers to stun, flicking off all the gofast buttons.
The 991 responds by transforming into a pleasant GT. It's still low and taut, but it handles the rumpled ruin of Highway 1 with aplomb. Road noise thrown up by big sticky tires was always a bugbear with the 997. This new 911 is no louder inside than your average 3-series BMW.
Where the PDK dualclutch gearbox was viciously snappy on the track, it now curls up beside the fireplace and tip-toes up through the gears quickly and silently. The biggest surprise? Pull up to a halt and the start/stop system will completely power down the new 911, saving the environment while-u-wait. Press the accelerator when the light turns green and away you waft with the barest of hesitations.
Not to complain, but the Porsche options list must have been designed by a cardiologist, given its tendency to cause you to clutch at your chest and shriek, "they want how much?"
Still, no other company allows such a great range of customization other than exotica like Ferrari or Lamborghini. Base price on the Carrera S is $110,000, but with the adaptable seats, the upgraded audio, the optional full leather interior and the sports exhaust all tacked on, the list came to $146,795. Incidentally, the sports exhaust ($3,370) is completely worth the cost if you have a tunnel on your commute.
Also worth the price of admission? The dualclutch PDK transmission. For the first time, I found myself feeling like a manual transmission - and Porsche offers a seven-speed in this car - might not actually be a good fit for a 911. Given the Jekyll-and-Hyde adjustability of everything else, the analogue nature of a clutch-and-stick seems like it would clash with the digitized nature of the car, like putting vacuum tubes on your iPad.
Observed fuel economy is better than it has any right to be for a 400 h.p. super coupe. Official ratings are 10.6 litres/100 kilometres in the city and 7.3 l/100 km on the highway. Cruising home on a Saturday evening, I actually beat the highway figure.
Sublime handling; excellent fuel economy; transforms from terrier into lapdog with the push of (several) buttons.
Shouty exterior styling; some character eroded in favour of pure speed.
The checkered flag
The best 911 ever - so far.
Competitors Nissan GT-R ($109,900)
With the 911 evolving from sportscar to gentleman's tourer, let's look at what you might buy, were you not a gentleman. Nissan's banzai supercar scalp-taker is about as subtle as a hi-ya to the face, and about as effective.
Now with a whopping 545 h.p. (they keep finding more power under the hood there somewhere), there's no question the GT-R is the faster car on the track.
And, with twin drive-shafts powering all four wheels and all manner of electronic trickery, it's just as easy for a novice to drive confidently.
It is pure, distilled speed. Moonshine as compared to the 911's Cabernet. On the other hand, guess which one's smoother?
Audi R8 ($134,000)
With the price bump, the 911 now finds itself in direct competition with Audi's everyday supercar. On the face of it, they're quite different: one rear-engined and rear-wheel drive, the other with a mid-mounted V-8 and all-wheel drive.
But both do an exceptional job of blending lightning speed with comfortable cruising. The 911's advantage? Even with its new brasher styling, it's still much more subtle - and practical - than the Lamborghini-based R8.