In 1923 Fiat Chrysler broke the mold with their Lingotto Factory, larger than any other European production facility and the second largest worldwide. But one of its most unique features was a rooftop test-drive track that sat atop its five stories. In use through the early 1970s, such iconic vehicles as the Fiat 124 Sport Spyder and Topolino earned their mettle on that very rooftop. Flash forward nearly a century and test drive tracks, both corporate and public, have become far more widespread. But what’s really interesting is the number of privately-owned dealerships that have integrated test tracks into their cultural, sales, and marketing models. Speaking candidly, it’s a brilliant move, speaking viscerally to the enthusiast inside all of us. In turn, it’s bound to be an effective means of propelling sales and moving more cars off the lot. So, it got me thinking, “Could I possibly a build a list of the Top Ten Test Drives out there in the marketplace today?” And if so, what would such a list look like?
One might assume that such a list would favor aspirational brands and performance vehicles since most vehicles can be tested effectively on public roadways. But with the ever-expanding selection of hi-po’d and performance-built offerings from more accessibly priced automakers, I found that the list wasn’t quite as cut and dry as I might have thought. So, with that in mind, let’s look a closer look.
Porsche Experience Center (Atlanta GA / Birmingham AL / Los Angeles CA)
Well, this just makes sense. Porsche Motorsports North America is exactly who you’d expect to support such a unique driver experience (with a bicoastal presence, at that). Of course, the Experience Center isn’t dealer-specific, and it might be best described as an enthusiast destination (with museum, dining and entertainment elements included) rather than a basic test track, but it serves as the perfect example of why such courses are appealing.
The option of getting behind the wheel of introductory, intermediate and advanced courses appeals to Porsche purists and performance enthusiasts alike. The opportunity to hone one’s driving skills and understanding of race strategy is enticing, to say the least. And while it’s certainly a heightened version of the types of test tracks that we’re focusing on, it felt like the perfect place to start. If you think you have what it takes, and really want to test your driving skills then do not wait any longer and check it out here.
Autopia Europia (Istanbul Turkey)
If the above is an example of a traditional dealership aiming to serve their customers better, Autopia Europia that is currently being built in Istanbul Turkey is indicative of what happens when you take that same approach and dial it up to eleven. Under one roof, the world’s largest auto mall includes 200 individual galleries featuring 443 automaker brands, and over 2500 types of vehicles. In addition, the roof houses 48 service stations, 24 banks, 56 dining and refreshment options and parking for 900 vehicles. And atop the aforementioned roof? You got it. A test-drive track. While fairly straightforward in terms of track design, the fact that the track stretches across the entire 2.3 million square foot facility speaks to its vastness.
Gerald Subaru (Naperville IL)
Taking it back stateside and dialing it back a bit, Gerald Subaru offers a nine-acre test track which includes an incline with a 10-percent grade, terrain variation (including rough road sections and a simulated railroad crossing) and a wet skidpad. The $1.5 million construction empowers potential buyers to better understand the vehicles that they’re considering and they’ll doing so without ever having to set a tire on public roads where they’ll have to compete with traffic. Explore more here.
Zeigler Motorsports (Kalamazoo MI)
Attached to a 50-acre facility which includes a restaurant, bar, training facility, and even a 30-ft mountain waterfall are three motorcycle training tracks spanning over four miles. Consisting of a motocross track measuring 1.3-miles, side-by-side tracks with built in obstacles, and a junior track, Zeigler Motorsports has created a superior training and testing grounds for riders of all types, and all ages.
At this point of the search, a pattern has started to emerge. While countless dealerships and automaker brands employ specialized test tracks in order to help spur awareness, excitement, and sales growth – the brand which seems to inspire the most test tracks (at least stateside) is Jeep. And of course, this makes sense since avid off-roaders would want to make sure that their vehicle is deserving of trail-rated status and up to the task. In fact, we could probably build a Top Ten list out of Jeep dealers alone (if they did a better job of drawing attention to themselves, that is). If you think you have the vehicle or want to test one out, take a look here for more information.
Monroe Superstore (Monroe MI)
Featuring eighteen specific elements designed to challenge any Jeep, the track at Monroe Superstore takes about 10 minutes to traverse, but features changes in elevation, a mud pit, and a diverse selection of terrains. As mentioned above, it makes sense that the majority of Jeep customers would want to know what a Jeep can do before they sign on the dotted line. And while it may not include elaborate rock-crawling and climbing simulations, it’s enough to get a pretty good idea of how a vehicle will perform once it’s off the beaten path. So, before you sign on the dotted line, come check it out! If you want more information and want to test a Jeep for yourself, check it out here.
The Faricy Boys (Colorado Springs CO)
Considering the variety of weather, terrains, and driving conditions that one can expect to encounter in different parts of the country, a geographically-appropriate test track is always welcome. The Faricy Boys of Colorado Springs recognized this long ago and were ahead of the curve when they created their track back in 2003. Embracing the diverse conditions of Colorado off-roading, the track covers more than an acre and helps to assess Jeeps and other off-road models on five key components. Those components include Maneuverability, Articulation, Traction, Ground Clearance, and Water Fording.
Consisting of different levels and a variety of angles, drivers can gauge the competence of their suspension. An asymmetrical section of roll bars allows them to test their 4WD by relying on a single wheel to do all the work. And of course, there are other sections which feature rock and water elements designed to represent ends of the terrain spectrum.
Reflecting a genuine conscientiousness of actual conditions one might encounter, and looking to convey the strengths of their vehicles (rather than dumb-down the conditions to make their vehicles appear more competent than they are) the track ranks as one of our clear favorites. Check it out here.
A Fool’s Errand?
While we set out to build a Top Ten list, the one thing that became evident was that there was a surprising lack of wide-scale visibility for the test tracks out there. Many dealerships have tracks, but so few of them seem to actually promote them. It seems short-sighted since the availability of a test track (regardless of brand) should be a cornerstone of any dealership’s marketing strategy. Trying to build out a Top Ten list might have been a fool’s errand, but the decision of any dealership to offer a test track certainly isn’t. It’s smart business and helps to sell the experience. So, if you’re one of these dealerships out there that offer such a resource, start telling your story! If you do, maybe your dealership can help to flesh out our next Top Ten list!