Chasing thrills at LA’s Porsche Experience Center

Bucket list writer Robin Esrock gets behind the wheel of some of the best cars Porsche has to offer in three exciting demo experiences

  • Jun 06, 2024
  • 1,238 words
  • 5 minutes
An array of vehicles await drivers and passengers at the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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Experience told me exactly what to say to the Porsche 911 Turbo S test driver. With various test drives under my seatbelt, I knew these guys were competitors, responding to triggers like supercars to their accelerators.

“This reminds me of Maranello when I was taken for a ride in a Ferrari 430 Scuderia.” 

I said this slowly and confidently, as if rare Ferrari models frequently rev off my tongue. In truth, my lasting memory from that hot day in Italy is taking corners at absurd speed while desperately trying not to puke over the 430 Scuderia’s refined interior. Dangle Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Aston Martin or any other supercar in front of a Porsche nut, and the response will be instant.

Bright race cars getting work in the shop of Porsche Motorsport North America. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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“Really? Well…let me show you what this baby can do,” replied the driver, a professional racer with a side gig taking tourists for joyrides. 

Let me show you what this baby can do.

Whether you’re in a car, a plane, a glider or a rollercoaster, when you hear these particular words in that particular order, it’s best to strap in and prepare for the ride of a lifetime.

Porsche operates three Experience Centres in the United States, and after crawling through traffic on the 110-S, their Los Angeles location was just what I needed to speed things along. The 53-acre facility offers several packages for Porsche fans, owners, car nuts, and folks like me who reside somewhere in that matrix. You can sign up and drive five different models to compare them on the speed track or take driving lessons in a particular model you choose, receiving professional instruction and complex data on your skills, or lack thereof. 

The Porsche Experience Center in LA includes a high-tech Simulation Lab to test vehicle models and tracks. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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The facility features a range of rare models on its show floor, a high-tech Simulator Lab, a fine restaurant with a view over the track, and a gift shop to make Porsche fanatics drool. There’s also a floor-to-ceiling window onto Porsche Motorsport North America’s work floor, where mechanics tinker on their colourful race car rocket ships in real-time. 

All this is not cheap, mind you, but we are dealing with one of the world’s most storied luxury car brands. At the time of writing, it is currently USD 600 if you BYOP (bring your own Porsche) for one-on-one instruction on the track, racing up to USD 3850 if you want to match up an Accelerated GT4 against a GT4 RS and GT4 RS Manthey. USD 5,750 allows you to compare four separate 718 models, and USD 6,395 signs you up for Academy 911, where you can test drive five iconic 911s, including the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4S. All of this is significantly cheaper than buying an actual Porsche while still providing a lifelong memory of handling the vehicles on a purpose-built racetrack, as opposed to a choked LA freeway.

Drifting on the Low Friction Handling Circuit. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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I’m here to see what these babies can do, with neither the time, budget or inclination to learn how to actually drive one. This allows me to sample three thrilling demo experiences safe in the hands of qualified professionals. First off, I’m shown to a 911 to experience the fast and furious sensation of drifting. My driver effortlessly pulled doughnuts and figure eights as the 911’s tires screeched smoke and the brakes burned. Drifting is done on a special dry, polished concrete part of the track called the Low Friction Handling Circuit, which is why the tires and vehicle can take this sort of punishment. It’s a tremendous amount of fun, especially when you’re in the passenger seat and don’t have to worry about the massive damage you’d surely cause if you attempted any of this yourself. 

I’m next directed to a Cayenne S and the off-road track, a loop full of creative obstacles designed to challenge adventurous drivers and showcase the ability of Porsche’s most popular SUV. I never quite understood the concept of a Porsche SUV until my driver pushed a button on the fancy electronic dashboard, which instantly lowers and raises the vehicle, smoothly adapting the suspension for both rocky river crossings and speedy race tracks. He tells me he never quite understood the Cayenne’s appeal either but that it’s now his favourite model. We navigate tricky rocks and steep banks, drive over a see-saw and log track where we pause, facing down, with one rear wheel spinning in the air. Going up and down a jarringly steep 78 per cent inclined hill, neither the Cayenne nor the driver broke a sweat. I, however, displayed white knuckles on the grab handle and gratitude I was not at the wheel of a vehicle that currently retails in Canada for 107,000.

Diners and visitors can watch the action from a coffee shop and on-site restaurant. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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Fun and games, but I’m here for speed, which a 911 Turbo S delivers in spades. 473 horsepower, 0-100 km/hr in 3.2 seconds, 310.6 km/hr top track speed, all of which sounds impressive until you actually feel what this all means. The two-kilometre racing circuit was designed to mimic a canyon road, kicking off with a 1.2-kilometre acceleration straight before turning sharp right into a banked curve, modelled on the North Loop of the legendary German race track, Nürburgring.

As we approach the straight, I casually mention my Ferrari experience and brace for the result. From a standing start, the acceleration slams my noggin into the headrest. Seconds later, popping G-s around the banked curve, I lurch inside the car, ruing I’m not strapped in like a fighter pilot. Another fast section, another tight corner, and this is when my motion sickness kicked in. As much as I like the idea of seeing what these babies can do, my body doesn’t like feeling what these babies can do at all. Especially after smartassing a talented driver at the wheel of a fine sports car with a finer point to prove.

A Cayenne navigates a 75 per cent incline hill at the off-road track. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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Our second loop was somewhat more manageable in the sense that I knew what to expect and tightened my loose gut in anticipation of the sharp corners. Sweat pickled my armpits, and fortunately, I just managed to avoid spraying my breakfast across the dashboard. Back at the paddock, I melted out of the passenger seat and needed a good half-hour to regain my wits, scattered as they were across the driver development course. 

Inside the centre, it was soothing to fantasize what colour I’d select from the model wall chart for my imaginary Porsche. One can always dream. A rich wax-stamp red? A dark gemstone green? There’s simply no excuse for driving a gold-coloured Porsche. Ever. I left the centre that day dreading LA freeway traffic ahead but satisfied in knowing exactly what a Porsche can do. Drifting, 4×4’ing, speed racing…these babies can do it all.

A wall chart of select Porsche colours for prospective owners. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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A model scale of the 53-acre PECLA facility, showing the track's different components. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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