You’d be hard pressed to find someone who did not, at one time or another, fancy owning a Porsche. As an aspirational brand, a Porsche purchase has a healthy amount of emotion intertwined with the decision process.
There is a well-known cognitive bias that heavily influences our decision process called “loss aversion” whereby a real or potential loss is perceived as more severe than the equivalent amount of gain. In a purchase as significant as a Porsche there are potential downsides, and nothing short of owning one will tell the whole story. Enter the Porsche Experience Center. Porsche has invested hundreds of millions of dollars on purpose-built, high-end experience centers to hopefully bridge that gap from wanting to buying.
My visit to the Porsche Driving Experience was at the Los Angeles location. I paid my own way and did not announce any intentions to write an article, thereby getting a typical experience versus something enhanced to induce a positive review. The facility is almost like an auto amusement park, going from ride to ride in your chosen car, doing different segments that challenge the car and driver. An instructor was assigned to me, and we embarked on the experience which was a non-stop 1.5 hours. I chose the 911 Carrera S, which cost $595 and an extra $50 insurance to bring the crash liability from a maximum of $10,000 down to $2,000 in the event of a mishap. The least expensive experience is $450 driving the Cayenne and base Cayman; higher tier car experiences go up to $1,175 where you can compare the 911 Turbo against the 911 GT3, or even a deluxe 911 GT3 experience with race data analysis for $2,350.
My assigned instructor sat shotgun the entire time, giving directions, defining boundaries, and correcting technique errors. In many ways it was a driving skills course tailored for the car we were in. The experience started in the Dynamic Area with hard acceleration, hard braking, and evasive swerving in an open area marked with cones. This immediately gives a clear impression of the car’s basic performance elements. We used the “launch control”, whereby you hold the brake down, floor it, then release the brake. This catapults the car forward as quickly as possible. Good for red light stare downs and drag races, or entering the Pasadena Freeway in Southern California (America’s oldest freeway with the shortest onramps ever constructed).
We moved on to the almost 1-mile-long Acceleration Straight, which allows a pedal-to-the-metal acceleration from zero to well over 100mph, then to the brakes, around a steeply banked turn to loop back down the straight in the other direction. We did this a few times, and I must say the freedom of flooring a $100,000+ Porsche up through the gears without the anxiety of law enforcement intervention is truly liberating.
The Low Friction Circle was next, which is a large circle painted with a slippery epoxy-like paint flooded with water. This makes slides and drifts a cinch. The 2006 film The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift brought drifting into the mainstream, and since then most men have at least fantasized about drifting a car. This skid pad brings that fantasy to life. The trick is maintaining the drift without spinning out or snapping straight. When you get the drift right, images of Vin Diesel rush forth into your mind. We spent quite a while doing this until I started getting a bit dizzy.
Next was pure fun: The Low-friction Handling Course. It’s a twisty 10-turn course of polished concrete. Here you can drift the car rally-style in both rights and lefts. The low friction surface means the speeds are low, but you quickly develop a feel for handling slides particularly with throttle modulation.
The next two were not so much fun but rather challenging, The Ice Hill and Kick Plate. Both are on low-friction surfaces that challenge the driver to respond to a loss of control. The Ice Hill sends you down an incline with a turn at the bottom, and the Kick Plate sends you down a slippery incline over a large metal plate that suddenly shifts, sending the car sideways either to your right or left and you must react immediately to avoid spinning.
The experience ended with my favorite part: The Handling Circuit, which is basically a 1.3-mile racetrack where you drive the car to its limit of braking, cornering, and acceleration. I made a point of closely following the instructor’s directions early on to gain his trust when we got to this section, and sure enough, we got that 911 sliding and doing what it does best.
The one thing I can say for sure is I got more of a complete experience in those 1.5 hours than a week of driving on public roads. Bottom line: while I could not, for financial reasons, recommend a Porsche to just anyone, I would highly recommend the Porsche Experience Center to all considering a Porsche now or in the future. I’d also recommend it to existing owners to better understand the limits of their vehicle.
Ferry Porsche is quoted as saying: “I wanted to build cars that were not something to everyone but meant everything to some.” From this, I would say do your due diligence and make sure “the car you want” is not a temporary emotional impulse but rather “the car you need” to feed your soul. Whatever car you choose, if you can get that match, the joy of ownership can be close to a perpetual honeymoon and an expression of your passion and personal identity.