First Drive: Porsche 911 Turbo S and Taycan Turbo S At The Porsche Experience Center

10 min read

First Drive: Porsche 911 Turbo S and Taycan Turbo S At The Porsche Experience Center

10 min read

Originally opening in 2016, the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles is basically a 53-acre amusement park for automotive enthusiasts. One of seven such facilities world-wide, PEC is a celebration of all things Porsche, showcasing everything from the performance brand’s heritage in the museum and their current motorsport efforts (Porsche Motorsport North America wrenches on factory race cars in the on-site garage), to the Personal Design Studio, where customers can build out the custom specifications of their next ride.

The most compelling aspect of the Porsche Experience Center lurks just behind the 50,000 square-foot building, though. Dubbed the Driver Development Track, it consists of eight unique “modules” that are purpose-built to allow drivers to put Porsche’s latest vehicles through their paces – whether that’s a track-tuned 911 GT3 or an off-road-capable Cayenne SUV. Interested parties can choose from a variety of different programs that range from familiarizing first-timers with performance and off-road driving basics all the way to multi-day Academy development programs, the latter of which are designed to hone advanced motorsport techniques.

So when Porsche invited us out to PEC to see how the 2021 911 Turbo S stacks up against the Taycan Turbo S with one-on-one feedback from a Porsche driving coach, we jumped at the chance. And as it turns out, comparing one of today’s sports car standard-bearers with a cutting-edge EV from the same automaker not only provides some interesting insight into the two design philosophies and their approaches to performance, it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.

The Modern Classic

Porsche PEC Test 911 Turbo S

The Porsche 911 Turbo S is the current top-tier model in a lineage that stretches back all the way to the fall of 1964. With 640 horsepower and 590 ft-lb of torque moving all four wheels, acceleration is ballistic.

Upon our arrival we met up with Hunter Feldman. A PEC driving coach and an accomplished drifter in his own right, Feldman was tasked with guiding us through the various exercises we would be running through while also providing real-time instruction while out on the course.

We started off the day behind the wheel of the 992-generation 911 Turbo S. Powered by a 3.7-liter flat-six that dishes out 640 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque, the Turbo S is the most powerful iteration of the 911 in the current lineup. With all four wheels putting down the power, the Turbo S has proven to be capable of hitting 60 MPH from a standstill in just 2.2 seconds on its way to a low 10-second quarter mile in independent testing, effectively making it one of the quickest factory-produced performance cars that money can buy right now.

But before we would have a chance to put its straight-line hustle to the test, Feldman directed us over to a PEC “module” that Porsche calls the Low Friction Circle. Essentially a large skid pad, the polished concrete surface is constantly doused with recycled water from built-in sprinklers. The low grip surface encourages the cars to slide around, in turn allowing drivers to work on their car control skills at a reasonable pace.

We started with the 911 in the Sport Plus drive mode but with the traction and stability controls still on. This combination of settings keeps the engine and transmission response up, but the electronic nannies remain on high alert in order to illustrate understeer.

Circling the skid pad, Feldman tells us to give the throttle a quick stab. Stability control keeps the rear end of kicking out, and the front end tracks wide as a result. While it’s not as fun as going sideways, understeer is certainly easier to manage, and it’s important to understand what’s happening when the front end wants to push.

Simply easing off the throttle brings the 911 right back in line, and once Feldman was satisfied that we could hold our own, he chimed in over the radio. “OK, now hold the traction control button down and count to five.” He explained that a short press will put Porsche Stability Management in Sport mode, where it’s still partially active, but a long press turns PSM off. And with the system off, you’re on your own when it comes to keeping the car going where you want it to go.

Feldman notes that since the 911 Turbo S is all-wheel drive, its oversteer behavior differs from a rear-wheel drive car. To illustrate this, he headed out onto the skid pad in a 911 Turbo S of his own and proceeded to induce a drift. After counter-steering his way around the skid pad for a rotation or two, he coaxed the car completely sideways and straightened the front wheels out. Using nothing but throttle and brake inputs to keep it at the desired angle, Feldman continued sliding around the track with the front wheels pointed straight ahead and the car completely sideways. It was hypnotic, honestly.

“OK, your turn,” he said. Summoning our best impression of Ken Block, we got the 911 up to speed and gave the throttle a stab. We were ready for it as the back end kicked out, but holding the drift was another story. It’s a delicate balance of steering and throttle inputs, and it’s all too easy to overshoot your mark with 640 horsepower at the beck and call of your right foot. All-wheel drive makes it easier to collect the car before things get too out of line, but it also requires some adjustment in counter-steering technique. Above all, when it comes to drifting, it’s about planning ahead rather than reacting.

After our stint at the Low Friction Circle, we head over to the Acceleration Straight. As the name implies, the core feature here is a stretch of tarmac that’s nearly a mile long. But what separates this module from a typical drag strip is the fact that Porsche built an exact replica of the Nurburgring’s Carousel at the end of it – a high-grip, 33 percent banked loop.

Feldman lined us up a hundred yards or so behind him and asked us call up launch control. Unlike many other automakers, Porsche has made launch control incredibly easy to use: Simply turn the steering wheel-mounted drive mode knob to Sport or Sport Plus, press and hold down the brake pedal, then press and hold down the throttle. Doing so brings the engine into boost while holding the car stationary, and Feldman counts us both off from the line.

On “GO,” we side stepped the brake pedal and the 911 leapt off the line without a hint of turbo lag. We were at nearly 140 mph before we started scrubbing off speed for the Carousel, and 55 mph seems to be the sweet spot for this tight sweeper. The lateral force felt like it was going to pull our face off, but the car stayed planted to the tarmac throughout the turn. It quickly became addictive, but soon Feldman was signaling for us to head over to the main event: The Handling Circuit.

A tight, technical 1.3-mile track with an admirable amount of man-made elevation change, the road course put the 911 Turbo S’s performance capability on full display as we tried to chase down Feldman in the car ahead while mimicking his racing line.

The 911’s relatively small footprint and excellent outward visibility make it easy to place the car right where you want it when setting up for a corner, and the front end provides plenty of feedback as you approach the limits of grip. The power is ferocious but somehow manageable, and the eight-speed PDK transmission provides a seamless transition between gears, even at wide open throttle. Honestly, the gearbox logic is also so dialed in when it comes to choosing the right gear for a given section of the track, we didn’t even bother messing with the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

Along the way, Feldman kept tabs on our technique, calling out sections where we could brake later, turn in sooner, or clean up our line to get more out of the car. Despite the incredible amount of performance capability on tap, the 911 Turbo S instantly felt approachable, even in its most aggressive drive modes, and its dynamic behavior never took us by surprise. Turns out there’s a reason why the 911 is a sports car benchmark.

The Electrified Future

Porsche PEC Test Taycan Low Friction Circle

The Taycan is more than willing to engage in sideways antics when PSM is disabled. But with so much torque at your right foot’s command, keeping the car under control requires a very precise balance of steering and throttle inputs.

After our session on the road course, we headed back to the pits to swap the 911 for the Taycan Turbo S, Porsche’s all-new EV sedan. But don’t let the number of doors fool you – this thing can dance.

Out on the Low Friction Circle, the additional weight of the Taycan is evident, particularly during the understeer exercises, but so is the power. With all of the electronic assistance turned off the 750hp Taycan Turbo S will drift like the 911 does, but it’s an even more precise interplay between steering and throttle inputs since all 774 pound-feet of torque are ready to spring into action any time you flirt with the go pedal.

Returning to the Acceleration Straight really put the Taycan’s strengths front and center. We conjured up Launch Control in exactly the same way we did with the 911 – mash the brake and then the throttle in Sport or Sport Plus drive mode, release the brake, and away you go. Even though we braced ourselves for the Taycan’s instant torque ahead of time, the EV’s pull still caught us off guard. The Taycan is only a tick or two behind the 911 Turbo S in the sprint to 60 mph at 2.4 seconds, but it felt even faster from 0-30 mph because of how hard to it threw us back in the seat. Also of note was the fact that the Taycan could do these launch control sprints repeatedly without a bunch of preparation – the same can’t be said for some of its competition.

Out on the road course it’s not quite as eager to change direction as the 911, but the Taycan still impressed with massive braking capability, flat cornering, and its relentless pull out of slow corners.

More importantly, though, it’s surprisingly intuitive to drive hard. Did we miss the noise of the flat-six? Sure. Did the Taycan Turbo S impress us anyway? You bet. The lower center of gravity provided by the battery pack pay dividends out on the track, where the Taycan is more nimble and rewarding than you might expect it to be.

At the end of the day, our only complaint was that it was all over too soon.

“This place is kind of like Disneyland for car people,” Feldman said as we rolled into the pits. Scanning the staging area where machines like the 911 GT3 and 718 Cayman GT4 waited patiently for their next thrashing, it was hard to disagree.

As we collectively venture into this electrified future, the fact that the days are numbered for traditional sports cars like these can be hard to ignore. Still, if the Taycan Turbo S is any indicator of what lies ahead, the future might be worth looking forward to after all.


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