An automotive pick and mix (or ‘Pic ‘n’ Mix’ in Woolworths speak) – that’s the SMMT Test Day. Staged annually at Millbrook Proving Ground, Bedfordshire, it’s a one-day gathering for over 300 UK-based motoring journalists to test around 140 cars, provided by 33 car manufacturers and importers. Also a chance to meet the PR staff from the car makers and to meet and make contact with fellow writers and bloggers, we went along this year, after receiving an invite from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) who have organised the event for over 25 years. And for starstruck wannabe motoring writers like ourselves, SMMT Test Day also lets you get up close and personal with your writing heroes.
Millbrook is the ideal place for testing anything with wheels, be they two or four. Built in the 1960s by Vauxhall, it boasts a three-section, progressive-gradient and tight-corner Hill Route to represent alpine driving roads; outer and inner-handling courses (used on SMMT Test Day as the ‘City Course’); and the High-Speed Bowl, a two-mile circular banked circuit which is used, as the name implies, for high-speed testing. The facility is well-known, having been featured in numerous challenges for BBC’s Top Gear; it is used for tests in the UK motoring programme Fifth Gear; and has played a starring role in the James Bond film Casino Royale. Though well-known, the venue isn’t open to the public, as camouflaged prototypes of as yet unreleased cars can often be seen pounding the enclosed routes, undergoing final testing.
So, the perfect venue. And with 140 cars available to grab the keys of, it was recommended to make a shortlist to use Millbrook to the full. With around 30 cars that appealed, our shortlist was a hopeless one, being more of a ‘longlist’, so as the day progressed, we plumped for models from inside the Volkswagen Group, with some notable Polo-based models included for healthy in-house competition. With our list, Audi A1s followed in the tyre tracks of SEAT Ibizas and Volkswagen Ups, and in the end, only 12 cars made the final ‘tested’ list, some 18 short of our initial plan! But, it was our first year in attendance, and we still had a fantastic day meeting up with some fellow tweeters, putting faces to names and testing a variety of models. We’ll publish brief drives from last week’s event over the next few days.