The Porsche 'Aircraft Experience' – Unadulterated Opulence

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Last Thursday we were invited to attend what was called ‘The Porsche Aircraft Experience’. The event was held at an airport in Carlsbad California and was sponsored by private aviation companies and a local Porsche Dealership. Truth be told, we were not there to admire any overhead storage bins or lavatories in any aircraft and we don’t exactly have the funds to go out and purchase a new 911. But who would pass up the opportunity to indulge in Porsche road going machines? This was an experience not offered up to automotive journalists or analysts very often. So we jumped at the chance.


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Saddle Up
Shortly after arriving at the event we slipped past the Aircraft and into the ride & drive line where we signed all the litigious paperwork and scored the first shuttle over to the runway where a gymkhana type course was set up. The vehicles at our disposal – 2010 Boxster, Boxster Spyder, 911 4S Cabriolet, and Panamara.
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Boxster Spyder
The Boxster Spyder gives the Boxster some testosterone, adds lightness (2811 lbs.) and gives some panache to the most easily attainable Porsche. It’s nimble and quick, with 320 horses (That’s 10 more than the Boxster S!) and tended to be the favorite of the four vehicles given this particular course. Its firmer suspension lower ride height (1″ lower than Boxster S) made carving up this course seem like a ‘walk in the park’.
One thing to note are Porsche’s newer dual-clutch 7 speed transmissions or what they call PDK. This type of transmission is offered throughout the lineup – including the Boxster, 911, and Panamera. Word on the street is mixed. The Porsche Sport Driving School drivers from AL say that it’s faster around the track than the standard manual transmission although rumor has it that the PDK has a set of it’s own issues. We’ve heard downshifts are lurchy and if left to it’s own devices it will seek to achieve the best fuel economy (e.g. You’re in 7th gear at 35 miles per hour). Another rumor we’ve heard is that you need to order the Active Suspension Management and Sport Chrono Pack which only then allows you to get the PDK option with the sport mode button. In my opinion, if you would have purchased a Porsche with a tiptronic transmission in the past you would be happy with PDK. If you would have purchased a Porsche with a manual transmission in the past – stick with purchasing the standard manual transmission.
911 4S Cabriolet
The 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet in my opinion was not as well suited to this particular course as the Boxster Spyder, but it definitely added perspective and drove home why the 911 is still Porsche’s flagship. Due, in part, to it’s overall size, wheelbase, and weight the 911 Cab felt less skittish than the Boxster – more planted through corners and more comfortable as a driver. The 911s inherent rear weight bias was not as apparent as in older generations – my experience only being a few thousand miles in the 1992 964 and 1978 SC. It is astounding what electronic controls have done for these rear-engine wonders as they help bend the laws of physics.
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Panamera
Believe it or not the vehicle I was the most anxious to drive was the Panamera. I know, for those of you Porsche purists crying out sacrilege, I apologize. Believe me, I’ve gone from hate to like to almost numb when reflecting on the idea of a 4-door grand touring Porsche – blagh! …but I had never driven one.
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Walking up to the Panamara I was a little anxious. How would it behave around a tight corner at speed with all its mass and such a portly rear end? Could the experience be summed up as a 4-door 911? Any 911 DNA?
Panamera Interior
After opening the driver’s door and slipping in behind the wheel I immediately noticed some Porsche DNA. The ignition was where the Porsche drivers at La Mans preferred it – to the left of the steering column. The instrument cluster was consistent with that of the late model lineup and the Sport Chrono Package ‘clock’ was present at the top and center of the dash. The interior was simple and well laid out. Build materials were consistent with the segment but not quite up to Audi standards – honestly, Porsche interior is probably where it should be; remember the interior is not Porsche’s main focus. If you need a soft, supple, opulent interior Bentley still sells cars in North America.
Driving the Panamera
Pulling onto the course, swinging wide and pulling through the first few corners the Panamera felt heavy and rather lengthy but after depressing the Sport Plus Button the car seemed to shrink, hunker down, tighten its belt and hang on to the gears higher into the rev range. The overall driving dynamic was much more aggressive. It actually became fun to swing around. Could the experience be summed up as a 4-door 911? Um, No. The driving experience is very, very different. Any 911 DNA? Yes, some, but the DNA was really superficial. Honestly, we’ve had as much fun in an Audi A8 with standard AWD, better HMI, higher quality interior build materials and lower MSRP. We also had trouble reading the speedometer in the Panamera – Font size was an issue and so too was their abbreviated list of speeds – but who cares, if you can afford the car you can afford any tickets for exhibition of speed, right? If we were driving any other German 4-dr sedan the tachometer would NOT the most prominent gauge and we would need to be able to read the speedometer… but we get it, it’s part of the Porsche racing pedigree and keeping the tach front and center makes sense to us.
Stayin’ Alive
The reason for Porsche to build such a road going machine, the panamera, is pure and simple – to stay alive. Porsche does not want to be in the same position they were in the mid-1990’s. Staying alive (and profitable) includes featuring a lineup that departed from pandering to Porsche purists and producing an attainable roadster, an SUV, and 4-door sedan. Porsche needed more than it’s fanatical fan base to survive. To the very same point (staying alive) we may all miss the air-cooled pre-1999 911s but the reality of it is that in order to pass emissions, (sound laws in Europe) and fuel economy laws, water-pumping Porsches were absolutely necessary. It really wasn’t about history and heritage, pride or prestige – it was more about profitability and self-preservation. The Porsche patriots may not approve of the new lineup but we can rest assured that Porsche is alive today because they have adapted. At least we’ll have the memories…
Some questions we kept asking ourselves on the way home:
If you had the money (given today’s speed traps & traffic congestion) would you purchase a Cayman or purchase a Nissan 370Z (and pocket the balance)?
Is Porsche the only manufacturer able to sell a coupe for thousands of dollars more than the convertible (i.e. Cayman vs. Boxster)?

NOTES:

Sports Plus Button/mode: a button in the center stack that if pushed actually dials up the performance of the Panamara – holding gears up into higher rev ranges and promoting a more aggressive overall driving dynamic. Definitely a plus!
To discern the V6 from its grander siblings: The side window surrounds are matte black instead of chrome and the exhaust pipes are oval instead of round
Porsche Panamera:
300HP $75,375
400HP $89,800
500HP $132,000

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