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90 Minutes Behind the Wheel of My Dream Porsche

I finally get to live my 911 Targa dreams at the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles.

While it’s probably out of the question that I’ll one day own a tastefully equipped, brand-new Porsche, if I could pluck any model from the marque’s current lineup, it would have to be the 911 Targa 4S. And as a resident of California, there’s only one place I’d consider taking delivery of my personal example of Stuttgart’s most famous export: the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles, where I was recently able to sample both the car and the test track.

The 911 Targa has always been the Porsche I love most—maybe next to the ’92 911 Turbo S—due to the very thing that causes some people to dismiss it, namely that it’s neither a convertible nor a coupe, while at the same time being both. Its unique, convention-bucking design appeals to my deep appreciation for the arts, and as someone who also enjoys long-distance solo drives, its practicality and available manual transmission are also draws.

The current 991.2-series 911 Targa 4S is equipped with a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged flat-six that delivers 420 horsepower, which is plenty to have fun but not so much that it intimidates. The next-generation 992 Targa is just around the corner and from what we gather, it will hold that line while offering just a bit more power. As for the one you can still buy today, here’s how I’d spec mine:

Exterior: I’d have the exterior coated in the gorgeous Miami Blue from the “Special Color” catalog. I’d upgrade my car’s wheels to the 20-inch RS Spyder design in satin platinum finish and go with black for the targa roof panel—it complements the blue like a good bottle of wine paired with a mouthwatering platter of prosciutto and cheese.

Transmission: I don’t care if I live in one of the worst cities to daily-drive a manual, I’d choose the seven-speed stick, and then add the sport exhaust system with black tailpipes to better hear the flat-six music I’m controlling.

Interior: In this department, I’d spoil myself a little, albeit without dipping too deeply into the long list of extras—I don’t need the vent slats and such wrapped in leather, for example. But I’d still want hides on the most obvious surfaces, so I’d go with the black leather interior upgrade. And as I’d obviously spend tons of time in the driver’s seat due to L.A.’s ridiculous traffic—as well as its amazing driving roads—the premium adaptive sport seats plus package makes the grade. Then I’d get carbon-fiber interior trim, a carbon-fiber shift knob, and the multifunction sport steering wheel.

I’d only spent significant time in two Porsches prior to being invited to a 90-minute session at PEC L.A.—a 911 GT2 RS and a 718 Cayman S, so I’m not complaining—but I hadn’t yet driven my favorite model, making the Targa an obvious choice for an exciting test drive on the driver-development track.

The driver-development facility at PEC L.A. includes roughly four miles of paved surfaces where you go through eight distinctive driving modules: low-friction circle, kick plate, launch control, acceleration straight, ice hill, off-road, low-friction handling course, and 1.3-mile handling course that mimics a country road. These eight exercises were designed to both simulate everyday driving conditions and challenge any driver to push themselves and the car.

My session started at the acceleration straight, which runs parallel to Interstate 405, thereby allowing the miserable drivers trapped on its depressing slabs a clear view of the far more exciting times at the Porsche track. I first ran through a few zero-to-60-mph runs to get acclimated before moving onto how to perform a proper launch-control start.

With the Targa 4S idling and Sport Plus mode engaged, I put the car in drive while fully depressing the brake pedal with my left foot. I waited for the instructor to give a 3-2-1 count and dropped the hammer on the gas pedal with everything I had. The revs built and then hovered, and once the dashboard indicated that launch control was active, I let go of the brake pedal and boom, I successfully performed my first-ever launch-control start. Because why not, I did it three more times.

As my 90-minute session was coming to an end, I moved to the low-friction circle and kick-plate areas last. The objective of the low-friction circle is to correct oversteer on a highly polished concrete surface covered with water; the kick plate is a computer-controlled hydraulic plate that makes the car fishtail on a wet surface. The point there is to again correct the slide. Although I didn’t have enough time to drive on the 1.3-mile road handling course myself, I did ride for some brief demo laps with an instructor, and that itself was plenty cool. It’s a tight little course that’s safe enough in terms of speed to allow novices to safely explore the capabilities of Porsche’s hardware.

While the Porsche Experience Center isn’t a racetrack—there’s no need for a helmet—it nevertheless provides a thrilling sports-car experience for enthusiasts and customers alike. Programs start at $435, within reach of those who might not be able to afford a brand-new Porsche, but who still want to savor the thrills.

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2020 Porsche 911

MSRP $120,600 Carrera 4S Coupe