On my 65th birthday, I had the excellent good luck to be able to spend a day at the Porsche Driving Experience in Atlanta.  What a birthday present.  Earlier in the year my wife was the high bidder on a $500 voucher for the Porsche Driving Experience at the Central NY Region PCA charity auction.  Due to our move from NY to Delaware, I wasn't able to schedule my driving time in Atlanta until September.  If I'm going all the way to Atlanta to sample the latest from Porsche I'm not going to only drive one car for 2 hours so I booked a 2nd driving experience.  In the months leading up to my day on track, I spent some time going over the rules of engagement and trying to decide which new Porsches I'm going to drive.  Pretty much everything that Porsche makes was available.
If you could drive 2 of anything that Porsche makes on the track, what would it be?  For me the obvious choices would be a 911 and a Cayman but performance wise these two are pretty close together.  I decided that I wanted to experience the extremes of Porsche performance.  A very high performance car and something not so high performance.  Of all the new Porsches available it was easy to pick the Cayman GTS with PDK transmission.  This one is pretty near the high performance end of the spectrum and was a car I had not driven.  The other end of the spectrum was more problematic.  I didn't want to take out a Cayenne because I'm just not into trucks.  I settled on the Panamera and since I wanted something as far from the Cayman as I could get, I chose the hybrid version of the Panamera.  I had almost no experience with hybrids.  So there you have it, a purebred high performance sports car and a hybrid land yacht.  Lets go.
The Porsche facility in Atlanta is between a highway, a railroad track and the Atlanta airport.  A great place to make a lot of noise without upsetting the neighbors.  The Porsche building is a large modern facility in a kind of old industrial area.  Porsche is building a hotel right next to their driving experience facility.  In the morning, check in went smoothly and I met my driving coach for the day.  We started with a discussion about expectations and why I chose the cars I did then it was time to go meet the Cayman GTS.
There was a quick review of the car and some time getting things adjusted then strap in and head out on the handling track.  The one mile handling track is a tight little road course that runs around the outside of the driving area. The track is designed to stress the cars and its not the easiest track to learn.  The difficult thing here is that you have to learn a new car and a new track at the same time and the guard rails are pretty close.  Definitely no room for error.  This task was made much easier by the wonderful PDK transmission in the Cayman.  Running on the handling track is pretty much like running a DE.  Top speed is in the 80-90 MPH range if you are trying hard.  After we did a bunch of laps we pulled into the infield to try some of the fun available there.  The infield has several demonstration areas designed to show the capability of the cars in the different operating modes.  First up was a slalom.  We tried this 3 times using Sport mode, Sport Plus mode and no driving aids.  We were pulling so many Gs in the Cayman that by the last run through this I was starting to feel sick.  Next up was launch control.  Left foot on the brakes, right foot mashes the gas to the floor then release the brakes and the car LEAPS forward and quickly starts ripping off beautifully fast crisp shifts.  I loved launch control.  I want it in my 944.
Then we went to the kick plate.  This is a low friction area paved with polished concrete with sprinklers wetting everything down.  You drive toward the kick plate at 21 MPH.  The front wheels go over the plate then the plate quickly moves either right or left throwing the car into a big skid..  In sport mode or sport plus you counter steer and catch the slide without too much drama.  With driver aids off all you do is spin.  Hey look Ma, I'm spinning in someone else's $70,000 car!
After this embarrassment it was over to the skid pad.  This is another wet down low friction surface.  The goal here was to go as fast as possible, feel the transition from understeer to oversteer then try to do one complete circle with the tail hung out.  In Sport mode it was possible but very difficult, Sport Plus mode was harder and driving aids off just resulted in violent spins.
After I had enough spins it was back out on the handling track and lets put the willey to this GTS.  It only took a few laps before I began to fall in love with PDK.  PDK is like having Hurley Heywood in your gearbox always making sure you are in the right gear and always making perfect, fast, crisp shifts.  Not like any automatic transmission I had ever driven.  The GTS had a wonderful crackle in the exhaust during heavy braking.  It was such a balanced car, just a joy to run hard.
We had a long break for lunch and a chance to explore the facility a little.  We visited the little museum which had cars from the big Porsche Museum in Germany as well as some customer cars.  Most notable here was the Boxster show car from 1993.  We got to look in on the Porsche Classic department where older Porsches are repaired.  It was Guards Red air cooled 911 Wednesday when we were there.
In the afternoon it was time for the V6 Panamera Hybrid.  How is this big heavy luxo barge going to do on the track and on all those slippery surfaces in the infield?  This is a plug in hybrid and when I got in the batteries were only 1/3 charged.  We started out on the handling track with only the electric motor running.  I wasn't being shy about using the accelerator pedal.  Kind of erie going 60 MPH in silence with the tachometer reading zero.  We did 2 laps on electric only and the battery level hardly dropped.  These were pretty quick laps to be sure.  Finally on the 3rd lap the gas engine kicked in and now we have over 400 HP available between the gas and electric motors.  Yeah.  Holy Cow!  This sucker moves!  Its a big heavy car and you can feel the weight but man does it go.  The only cars that passed me were a 911 Turbo and a GT3.  I'm sure I surprised several 911 and Boxster drivers when I ran them down and went by.  The only negative for this car was the Tiptronic transmission.  In Sport mode it was sometimes in the wrong gear coming out of corners.  Sport Plus mode seemed to fix this little annoyance.  The Tiptronic transmission is good and probably appropriate for the Panamera but the PDK in the Cayman is much better.
OK this thing hauls the mail on the track, now its time to play in the infield.  As expected the slalom was a bit of a handful but we made it through pretty quickly without embarrassing ourselves.  Launch control was surprising.  This big car pulls hard off the line.  What's a car this big and heavy doing accelerating like that?  Oh right, 400+ HP and 400+ foot pounds of torque.  That'll do it.  The kick plate was interesting.  The Panamera has a longer wheel base than the Cayman so it was much more stable on the kick plate.  It was much easier to catch the slide.  Turn off the driving aids and the Panamera spun at least as many times as the Cayman GTS.  On the skid pad, the Panama felt much different than the Cayman.  It was more stable up to the point it spun then it would spin violently.  The Cayman would understeer then quickly switch to large oversteer then spin.
After playing in the water we went back out on the handling track and just pounded out a bunch of pretty quick laps.  This big car never protested being hustled around the track.  Yeah its big but it is very capable.
And then it was over.  My driving time was done.  Back to reality.  What a fantastic opportunity this driving experience is.  This isn't cheap but it is an excellent way to sample the latest from Porsche in a controlled environment in ways that you could never do on the street.  You could never go to your local friendly Porsche dealer and take out a 911 Turbo on a test drive like this.  The salesman would have a heart attack and you would surely end up with a big ticket from the neighborhood cop.
Leaving Atlanta we took a leisurely drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway with stops in Asheville for the Biltmore Mansion and Charlottesville for Thomas Jefferson's home, Montecello.  After all this fun and enjoyment the last thing we did on this trip was fight Washington DC rush hour traffic.  Talk about a low performance environment.

Porsche Driving Experience Atlanta By Larry Lee