I was recently offered a chance to take the inaugural flight of Jet Blue from Boston to Atlanta and, not having been there for years, I decided to go and see how the city has changed. One of those big changes has been the addition of the Porsche North American Headquarters and its state-of-the-art Experience Center, built on the site of a former Ford factory.
I like cars, especially smart-looking ones that hug the road, so the chance to visit the new Porsche Experience Center seemed enough reason to go to Atlanta. Believe me, it was. The German auto maker Porsche specializes in high-performance cars, the best known being the Porsche 911 Carrera, one of the most popular high-performance sports cars in the world. Porsche doesn’t manufacture in the U.S. but it does have major distribution centers on the east and west coasts. Each has it Experience Center.
Prospective Porsche buyers can see cars at their local dealers, of course, and can test drive them there. But since these are high performance cars, a driver cannot get the sense of the performance characteristics of these incredible cars on their neighborhood streets. That is where the Experience Center comes into play.
The Experience Centers come with state-of-the-art test tracks that let you experience and enjoy the spectacular capabilities of these cars. I had the chance to drive a new Porsche 911 Carrera with a professional driver, and the experience is one I will never forget. Imagine riding with a pro on a winding, curving track at speeds that would blow anyone’s toupee off. But the experience also came with the chance to take the wheel myself, me with the control of all of that power. I did it, of course, with the advice of a professional race car driver at my elbow. The thrill of having the control of that kind of machine is incredible, accelerating on the straight, drifting and then braking and accelerating tight corners, then repeat to the left, then to the right! But then, to add a bit more icing to the cake, the last three rounds are with another professional driver at race course speeds! He also said I did a great job!
But there is more to this than speed. Porsche also makes the Porsche Cayenne, and as the name suggests, it is a real hot car — but in a different way. The Cayenne has handling characteristics similar to the Carrera on the highway, but off highway is where it really excels. At the Atlanta test driving track you get a chance to try it out on the Off-Road Track, a course best described as a torture chamber for vehicles. Dirt, sand, gravel and crushed rock are part of it, but add to that gravel hills with a 70-degree pitch up, just enough room at the top to clear and then what looks like a straight-down fall. Nothing but a sky view going up and nothing but the rocky bottom coming down. Then, imagine crossing a bridge where the left side pitches down and the right pitches up, then round a corner to a stretch of road where alternate front and rear wheels hang free. You get to ride as the driver/coach does it, then you get to take over this $90,000 car and do it yourself.
Porsche also values its legacy. The Atlanta center has an entire section devoted to the authentic restoration of classic Porsche cars. They come in limp and tired and leave as bright as when they were new.
The Porsche Experience Course is available by reservation and is particularly popular with drivers thinking of buying a car and trying to decide which model to buy. But it is also available to others who want the experience at prices akin to the price of a Super Bowl ticket, starting at about $300. You can sign up for the course through any Porsche Dealership or directly with the Porsche Experience Center. The course is one and a half hours long and includes professional driver coaches who know driving these spectacular cars, and the track, like the back of their hands. Anyone who loves driving owes themselves a crack at this one!