I’ve been driving my family to Anaheim for the past 25 years, but no more. Both of my kids have outgrown the mouse, so the four of us are looking for more engaging, challenging and enlightening experiences. As it turns out, the Porsche Experience Center, Los Angeles, meets these requirements perfectly.
Porsche opened its first North American Porsche Experience Center (PEC) in Atlanta in mid-2015, and the $60 million facility opened its doors in Los Angeles in late 2016 – the two have welcomed over 570,000 visitors to date. The Porsche-owned facilities serve as brand ambassadors where visitors can experience track driving, historical exhibits, simulator labs, restoration facilities, fine dining, shopping, and more. While new vehicles are not sold at the PEC, the center hosts a popular new vehicle delivery program.
PEC Los Angeles is located in Carson, less than 15 miles from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The 53-acre complex, easily visible from the crowded 405 freeway, features a 50,000-square-foot building and a massive eight-model development track. In addition, the two-story building houses offices and workshops for Porsche Motorsport North America, classrooms and meeting rooms, a simulator laboratory, an Exclusive Manufacturing Studio, Speedster Café & Patio and the 917 fine-dining restaurant.
There are eight different driving modules in the system. These include the Acceleration Straight, Kick Plate, Ice Hill, Handling Circuit, Low Friction Circle, Off-Road, Low Friction Handling Course and a Dynamic Area. Think of each as a hands-on classroom where participants learn and practice behind the wheel of a Porsche. While some of the experiences have a loosely defined curriculum (e.g. Porsche Young Driver Experience), most experiences allow participants to select a Porsche model and then work with their instructor to select the modules they wish to drive. Therefore, it is unlikely that two experiences will ever be identical. Experiences are priced from $450 to $2,350 depending on the vehicle (or vehicles), duration, and program.
I have visited both North American PECs before (there are currently five other facilities around the world) but my wife Michele, my 23 year old son Patrick and my 18 year old daughter Keira were new to the experience. So all four of us pre-registered for various “experiences” on the PEC website – I would wring out the race-ready Porsche 911 GT3, my wife would drive a Porsche Cayenne crossover and my son would drive a Porsche 911. At the same time my daughter would attend the Porsche Participate in the Young Driver Experience.
Like his father, Patrick is a car enthusiast – he was eagerly awaiting the visit. On the other hand, the women were more than hesitant. “I’d seen the Experience Center from the Autobahn several times, so I figured it was just a big circuit for guys to race on. I don’t race or off-road, so I couldn’t figure out why I was signed,” Michele recalled. My daughter was just as concerned. “I know how to drive a car on the street but not on the track so I felt out of place. I was nervous that everyone else would be far more advanced than me. I only got my driver’s license last year, so I didn’t know if I could do everything right,” added Keira.
The Porsche Young Driver Experience puts its young participants behind the wheel of several vehicles. My daughter drove a Porsche 911 – one of the most powerful sports cars in the world – and the all-electric Porsche Taycan (two vehicles that will understandably provide an adrenaline rush). Fortunately, the trepidation dissipates as the instructors guide them through acceleration, ABS braking and slalom exercises on the expansive Dynamic Area. “We went full throttle and then braked as hard as we could to stop. Then we had to dash through cones to get used to the car’s handling,” explained Keira. After basic vehicle control exercises, the teenagers progressed to more advanced challenges. For example, they drifted sideways on the Low Friction Circle (a wet skidpad) and learned how to quickly steer into a skid on the Kick Plate (a computer-controlled hydraulic pad under the rear tires that puts the vehicle in an oversteer state). “I’ve never spun in a car before… and now I know how to straighten myself out when I go into a skid,” she adds.
My son came into this with some previous track experience so he used his visit as an opportunity to hone his skills. “I told my instructor that I wanted to try all the modules and learn better vehicle control,” he notes. “So I could do anything at PEC.” Patrick started at the Dynamic Area and drove a Porsche 911 through a similar slalom warm-up. He then switched to the dry Low Friction Handling Course (slippery powder lies on the polished concrete) and the Low Friction Circle. After a few full-throttle runs down the acceleration straight, he focused on the handling circuit. “The track time was definitely my favorite time as I learned how to set the car up properly to balance the chassis before hitting the apexes.”
My wife Michele drove to the off-road module in a four-wheel drive Porsche Cayenne Crossover, where she completed several challenges. “I climbed an insanely steep hill, crawled over rocks, drove sideways…at one point two wheels went off the ground,” describes Michele. “After riding in the dirt, I rode on the low-friction circuit. I even did a launch control takeoff and hit 100 mph on the drag strip [Acceleration Straight]I’ve never driven that fast before!”
My time in the Porsche GT3 was just as exciting. I’m a seasoned veteran at a racetrack, so I asked my instructor to sit in the vehicle with me (instead of chasing him in a lead-follow parade) and watch my eye, hand, and foot movements as I went through navigate the modules . I spent a lot of time on the Low Friction Handling Course practicing smoothness with my steering, throttle and braking inputs before heading onto the big Handling Circuit. Of course, none of the laps are ever timed, but the instructor suggested I could shorten the time of my laps by looking further down the track and moving my feet between the pedals faster – and it worked!
The whole family gathered back in the PEC lobby after our 90-minute driving experiences to exchange a few words before heading upstairs to the 917 restaurant, which overlooks the driving location. The gourmet hamburgers and fries were spectacular and filling – neither of us could finish.
On the drive home I asked everyone about their experiences.
“I learned how to get a car out of a slide, go over rocks and go fast. I pushed the Cayenne harder than I’ve ever pushed a car and it was a lot of fun,” said my wife. My daughter bragged strenuously, “I had to do things in a car that I wouldn’t normally do…like slide sideways on a skidpad. And I’m probably the only student in my high school who drove a car like that!” My son had a great time, but he wanted more. “There are so many challenges, and each one takes practice to get better. I would like more time on the handling circuit. And a lot more time on the kick plate – it’s incredibly easy the way it works, but it’s humbling for everyone.” (Patrick brought up a good point – everyone is challenged at the PEC, regardless of riding ability.) For myself, I have a new one Method taken home to save a second in a lap. I also learned how to drift a rear engine sports car around a wet undercarriage.
But I learned something else – the PEC is a fun and educational experience for the whole family. My wife and daughter, who had approached the day with obvious hesitation, also enjoyed themselves. All four of us were able to experience high-performance vehicles in a safe and controlled environment, and we shared them as a family (in that sense, I’ll never forget my wife signaling me to pass her…on a racetrack). . We left exhausted but with huge smiles. The unanimous vote was that we return.
Of course, there are no costumed characters, fairytale castles, or pirate rides at the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles. Nonetheless, the facility offers families with driving-age youth something much more tangible – a learning experience that is real (it could even save lives). And if you need confirmation that this is family entertainment like no other, I’ll let you in on a secret: the happiest place on earth doesn’t serve poured butter in the shape of a Porsche 911.
#family #excitement #Disneyland