On Thursday of last week Porsche opened what they say is their new $100 Million North American Headquarters and Experience Center. I say it's a Theme Park disguised as an office building. The 27-acre complex sits on the Northeast corner of the Atlanta International Airport where Porsche's largest single investment outside of Germany will be seen by more than 95 million flyers, annually, as they travel for business and pleasure. Porsche thinks at least 30,000 of those traveler will stop by each year to visit and part with a few dollars. Personally, I think Porsche might have underestimated that number once word gets out about the fun there is to be had.
Like most amusement parks, this one is open to the public. However, don't show up thinking you're going to buy a ticket at the door, you need to get yours in advance, online or on the phone. Amazingly, prices start as low as $35 for a 1/2 hour on Porsche's driving simulators - getting you in the door and access to the rest of the facility.
Design Your Own Ride
Once inside, Porsche fans will be hard pressed to decided where to start. Directly adjacent to the lobby is the Porsche Exclusive - Personal Design Studio. Offering an even wider selection of accessories and samples than can be found at your local dealer, customers can fly in, select their leather, paint and other accessories before scooting off to enjoy some track time, a meal or just browse through the retail shop, classic car gallery & restoration center plus so much more.
The E-Ticket Ride
The epicenter of the Porsche Experience Center (PEC) is a driver development track where you can choose from 77 different Porsches to play with. The 1.6 mile circuit is technical and tight - more akin to an autocross than an all out racing circuit - that most drivers will find challenging and rewarding. Besides the twists and turns, Porsche included a Kick Plate, Skid Pad, Off-Road course, Dynamic Area and a series of low friction handling curves that will widen even the most serious driver's smile.
The "Cheap" Ticket
Ok, maybe that's not a fair categorization given the sophistication and level of investment that was put into this area, but it is one of the least expensive ways to enjoy the PEC. So, If you're not ready to take a 911 onto the track, and want to find a cost effective way to start driving and racing then Porsche's Driving Simulator Lab might just be the ticket. For just $35 you can spend a half hour on one of the six, state of the art driving simulators configured to mimic the handling of a 919, 917 or a 911 RSR.
Drivers can choose from a multitude of tracks, driver assists and weather conditions to hone their skills in any situation. Race against the clock, fellow racers or just use your seat time for fun. In addition, Porsche says that once their Experience Center in LA opens up, they'll be able to sync up the simulators there with the ones in Atlanta for an even larger field of competitors.
Give Yourself A Tune Up
Here, at Porsche's Human Performance Center, fitness experts from Exos (the same folks who train NFL greats and Navy Seals) can assess your overall condition and provide customized exercise and nutrition programs to make sure you're at your best both on and off the track. The space itself is small, but the equipment is state of the art and they don't expect to be training more than 4 to 6 people at any given time. If you've ever wondered what Porsche's factory drivers endure to stay in shape, this is how you can find out.
Immerse Yourself In Everything Porsche
The Classic Car Gallery & Restoration Center might not be everyone's favorite part of the facility given all the action packed excitement available upstairs. However, the two levels of exhibition space, reference material, workshop, lounge area and storage space piqued our interest more than anything. Here, customers can purchase high-end storage for their collection and park their Porsches amongst legendary classics on loan from the Porsche Museum and private collections around the world.
Even more exciting, for someone like me anyway, is the access to a mini Porsche reference library. Want to know how many Porsches of a particular vintage were sold? Researching a story, blog post or paper? Just make an appointment and one of Porsche's curators can help you with your quest as you research the history of the Porsche brand.
Not Your Ordinary Concession Stands
If you work up an appetite after a session on the track or in Porsche's Human Performance Center you can choose from either the Carrera Cafe' or Restaurant 356.The Carrera Cafe' is what Porsche calls a "Barista-style café featuring a selection of coffees, drinks and light fare". We call it a great spot to sip a beverage of your choice while watching 911s and other Porsches navigate the 1.6 mile driving circuit just outside the windows.
If you're in the mood for something a bit more filling, choose Restaurant 356. Meant to be a "contemporary world-class fine dining experience", the interior of this spot is reminiscent of legendary 356 and is run by Executive Chef Kyle Forson (most recently in the kitchen at Atlanta hot spot The Spence). We haven't seen a menu yet, but if the food served during the grand opening celebration on Thursday night is any indication, we think it's worth a reservation.
Believe It Or Not, Porsche's New Experience Center Is Actually A Bargain
While you can definitely spend a lot of money at the new Porsche Experience Center, you don't have to. With prices for the simulators starting at $35 for a 1/2 hour and the price for 1.5 hours of driving time in the $300 to $350 range, the Porsche Experience Center just might be one of the best bargains Porsche has to offer, period. If you're planning a trip to Atlanta, or want to go specifically to visit the PEC, we suggest you start your planning now. Demand is so high there's already a four month waiting list for driving time.
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[Full Disclosure: We attended the grand opening of One Porsche Drive as guests of Porsche. They paid for our flight, hotel and transportation]