Three friends reconnect over one weekend in a Porsche Panamera 4S.
WORDS & PHOTOS Chris Nelson
“Where are you looking exactly?” asks Kyle, squirming uncomfortably in the passenger seat. “As far ahead as I can,” I calmly reply, tapping the upshift paddle as we exit the corner. I peek into the rearview mirror and see James, a goony smile painted across his face. We wanted to escape the city in search of nature and solitude, and Angeles Crest Highway, which scythes through the mountains north of downtown L.A., leads to some of the best hiking trails around. It’s great if you have something fun to hustle up the heavenly road, like a 440-horsepower Porsche Panamera 4S. If you can bring along your best friends, all the better.
I met both James and Kyle at Indiana University-Bloomington during my undergraduate studies. James and I lived on the same floor my freshman year. We quickly became best friends, and James got me a job at the university gym, which is where I met Kyle. We three became thick as thieves, partying harder than anyone should, taking numerous blood oaths, and having too many encounters with the police. We stuck together, no matter what.
After graduation, we scattered across the country; I moved to Ann Arbor to work at a car magazine, Kyle moved to L.A. for a few years, and James moved to St. Louis to be with his now ex-wife. We agreed to stay close and see each other as often as we could, knowing life would become increasingly complex and hectic. Seven years on we’ve done a solid job, setting aside the demands of careers, relationships, and the like to come together for at least one weekend a year. James and Kyle knew that I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with work and travel, so this year they left their Midwest homes to visit me in Long Beach. It meant the world to me, and I wanted to show them how much I appreciated their efforts by planning an epic weekend, showing them the best parts of my adopted home.
We’d need to roll around in something cooler and more spacious than my ’90 Miata. I’d typically chase after a supercar by blackmailing a friend at Lamborghini or McLaren, but I needed a car with room for three people. An Aston Martin Rapide or a Ferrari GTC4Lusso perhaps? Probably too flashy to leave on the streets of Long Beach overnight. No, I needed something subtle-but-sensational, so I called a friend at Porsche, told him the situation, and he sent me a Panamera 4S. New for 2017, the sleek, unconventionally handsome sedan has 20 more horsepower and 20 more lb-ft of torque than its predecessor. The Panamera 4S goes from zero to 60 mph in four seconds flat, runs a quarter-mile in 12.5 seconds, and tops out at 179 mph. As tested, the car costs $130,515.
“Do either of you know what launch control is?” Nope. At the next red light, I position the Porsche for a clean hole shot. I put the car in Sport Plus mode, depress the brake pedal with my left foot, and floor the accelerator with my right foot.
I don’t tell James what I’m picking him up in. I figure bumping “Hail Mary” by 2Pac will get his attention as I pull up to the curb at LAX, but it doesn’t. When I scream his name, he squeals like a stuck pig. Kyle follows soon after, his reaction far more restrained. They tell me they love the Porsche. I say, “You don’t even know ... this bitch has night vision,” a $2,540 option. In typically atrocious Friday afternoon, we dispense with niceties—jobs, girlfriends, families, money, ambitions, etc.—crawling along the 405 toward Long Beach. The courteous host I am, I picked up some of the finest marijuana California has to offer, so we smoke a bowl at my place, then hop between LBC’s dive bars with a couple of my girlfriends. In the morning, we make blueberry pancakes and philosophize over coffee. A day on sand and in waves sounds nice, so we put on our swimsuits, pile in the Porsche, and head south toward Huntington Beach, but high winds turn us around. We flip the day’s script and decide on a hike, swapping our sandals and suits for jeans and boots as we drive north.
At the base of Angeles Crest Highway, I ask the boys, “Have either of you been in the car when I’m really, really driving?” James brings up a time from college when I ripped the front bumper off my Mazda RX-8, sliding around in the snow, but that’s it. “Mind if I stretch this thing’s legs?” They’re cool with it, so using a small dial on the face of the steering wheel I put the Panamera into Sport Plus mode. I move the lovely 8-speed “Doppelkupplung” dual-clutch transmission into manual mode, check my mirrors for cyclists and cops, and take off.
The twin-turbocharged V6 is so subdued around town that I’m momentarily startled by its punchiness. The six-piston front brakes have wicked bite and don’t fade as I build speed. The rear end of Panamera 4S starts breaking loose in long, fast corners, and I can feel the rear-axle steering—part of the $6,930 Sport Package—work to keep the sedan in line as the air suspension keeps it from rolling around too much. Kyle and James are silent, so I ask, “Either of you feeling sick?” A synchronized “no” tells me I can drive even harder.
When we park at a trailhead high above the city, the Panamera is saturated in that seductive smell of warm brakes and toasted oil. We leave it to cool down, walking along a soft, steep, narrow trail toward the summit of a nearby peak. We’re absolutely alone, our laughs echoing through the thin trees. As the sun tucks behind the peaks, the temperature drops and we scamper back to the car. The drive down is less eventful than the drive up, and we pull into an overlook to watch the sunset over L.A.
Our legs are sore when we wake up, so we have a lazy morning at the beach. After lunch we head downtown, en route to The Museum of Contemporary Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I turn down Run The Jewels, blasting through the 15-speaker Bose audio system, and ask Kyle and James, “Do either of you know what launch control is?” Nope. At the next red light, I position the Porsche for a clean hole shot. I put the car in Sport Plus mode, depress the brake pedal with my left foot, and floor the accelerator with my right foot. The engine snarls and pops as it pushes against the rev limiter, and the Panamera bolts forward when the light turns green. James and Kyle are thrown into their seatbacks, and both immediately start cackling. Like little kids, they yell “Again!”, again and again and again. I don’t mind at all, and neither does the Panamera.
After slowly wandering through two of L.A.’s most lush museums, we find a nearby restaurant for dinner. When I look up from our table at Odys + Penelope, I expect to see the dozens of well-dressed people who were here when we first sat down, but the only people left are a man and woman lingering on an evidently successful date. The bartender counts her tips as the servers patiently wait for us to ask for the check. James, Kyle, and I do this often—lose track of time as we talk, share, and lovingly challenge one another. We settle our bill and walk back to the Porsche, parked on a dimly lit side street just off La Brea. I get into the driver’s seat as drunken James sinks into the back seats. I look at him in the rearview as Kyle cozies up in the passenger seat, and I think, “I hope these two know how much I love them.”