Whether you've been driving for decades and know you know it all, or have just passed your drivers test and already think you know it all, there's always something new to learn.
Here at CarAdvice we encourage everyone to actively seek to not only improve their driving skills, but to also feel the adrenaline rush that comes with pushing the limits of both car and driver in a safe environment.
There are many exciting options available through car companies, from defensive driving courses (perfect for new drivers or those who feel intimidated on the road) through to programs targeted at thrill-seekers keen on heightening their skills on race tracks, oily or wet surfaces, ice and snow, off-road adventures (exploring challenging and breathtaking locations) and even one-off special drive events when new cars launch.
Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are among the most active in this area here in Australia. As well as specialised programs available only to owners or new customers, they also offer experiences that anyone can get involved in. I've participated in a number of these and though there are similarities between their courses, each was unique in its own way.
Of course, there are different courses to suit different skill levels and budgets. Inevitably, though, you get what you pay for, with some of the pricier options affording more comprehensive access to expert driving tuition, a broader and more challenging variety of vehicles, extended track time and a generally more heightened experience. If you have been considering buying an Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Porsche, these programs are a great way to test drive and compare the driving experiences car-to-car, or learn how to extract the best from your chosen steed.
Audi courses are held in WA, SA, VIC, NSW, QLD & Europe (Seefeld, Austria) at various tracks including Sandown Raceway, Sydney Motorsport Park and Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit. All courses are open to the public and the tiers are to be completed in succession, with the exception of the Audi ice driving experience in Austria.
- Audi Advanced driving experience – $999 (A, Q and S model range)
- Audi Sport driving experience – $1500 (RS model range)
- Audi Sport Pro experience – $3500 (R8 models)
- Audi Race driving experience – $6800 (R8 LMS)
- Audi ice driving experience, Europe (Seefeld, Austria) – $6500 (model range varies depending on availability. The 2016 program includes all-new A4 Avant and S8)
I was put through my paces at the Audi Advanced driving experience. It was the first performance-oriented course for me (other than defensive driving) and I'd managed to kill quite a few traffic cones early in the day, though this did improve significantly throughout the day.
I was also excited to hit 180km/h on the straight at Sandown Raceway. The experience certainly sparked an appetite for more.
This year BMW is offering two local courses to the public that need to be done in succession. The driving experiences are held in NSW, VIC, QLD, SA and WA at tracks including Sydney Motorsport Park, Lakeside Raceway and Phillip Island Gran Prix Circuit.
- BMW Intensive Driving Experience – $1395 (M125i hatch, M235i Coupé and M4 Coupé, M2 Coupé or M3 Sedan)
- BMW M Dynamic Experience – $2200 (BMW M4 Coupé, BMW M2 Coupé and M3 Sedan)
It is a fantastic programme for all road users and drivers of all levels that reinforces key skills that promote road safety and driver awareness.
I also completed the BMW Intensive Driving Experience last year and have also attended the BMW Alpine xDrive experience in New Zealand - that was an amazing nail-biting but thrilling day out in a blizzard.
Mercedes-Benz Driving Events are held throughout the year in VIC, NSW and QLD. There are two options and your age will dictate which course you are eligible for and each provides drivers with the chance to put the pedal to the medal in a range of models.
- First Gear – $350 half-day course for 18-24 year-olds (A-Class through to S-Class)
- Accelerate – $480 half-day course for 25+ (A-Class through to S-Class)
As part of the 2015 Festival of AMG I was lucky enough to attend a Mercedes-AMG Performance Drive Day at Phillip Island (customer-only event) and it was fantastic.
The highlights weren't limited to getting behind the wheel of the A45, C63 S, E63 S, CLS63 S, CLA45 and SL63, and hitting 240km/hr on the straight.
Millions of dollars worth of cars are lined up at the start of each Porsche Sport Driving School experience. Unless you're a Queensland resident, this is the perfect excuse to combine a drive day with a holiday in the Sunshine State.
There are five levels to work your way through at the Mount Cotton driver training facility and at Queensland Raceway.
- Precision – $1485 (Porsche range)
- Precision Plus – $1485 (Porsche range)
- Performance – $1760 (Porsche range)
- Master – $3630 (GT3)
- GT3 Cup – $6600 (GT3)
Porsche also have Advanced Driver Training Days for customers who bring their own car, held at Phillip Island, Sydney Motorsport Park, Barbagello and Mallala. The Porsche Woman With Drive Day was a standout for me, driving some beautiful machines with a bunch of incredibly talented women.
Fancy improving your driving skills in a Porsche? How about joining an overseas experience - Finland, Germany, Botswana or Romaina? All the details are here.
Volkswagen hold two courses at five tracks throughout the year. The first level starts by developing driving techniques and building an understanding of vehicle dynamics and technology while the second level focuses on maturing and evolving those skills.
The first and second tier experiences are held at Lakeside Park QLD, Sydney Motor Sport Park NSW, Phillip Island VIC, Mallala SA and Barbagello WA.
- Progression - $300 half-day course (Polo GTI, Golf GTI Performance, Golf R, Scirocco R)
- Evolution - $400 half-day course (Golf GTI Performance, Golf R, Scirocco R)
Isuzu owners have the added benefit of the I-Venture Club, with adventurous trips and training days held regularly at fabulous scenic locations across Australia. You do need to bring your own Isuzu, but it's a great way to learn off-road skills and find out how to get the most out of your car.
The cost of the day is subsidised by Isuzu UTE Australia and represents good value: $250 to $300 for a fully catered day for two people at Adventure 4x4 proving ground SA, Lancelin Sand Dunes WA, Moreton Island QLD, River Island NSW or Melbourne 4x4 training and proving ground VIC.
CarAdvice's Paul tagged along on a Moreton Island trip last year – find his experience here. And I will be roughing it at River Island later this month, so stay tuned for that story.
If you purchase a Land Rover you'll score an invite to a driver training event conducted by specialist Land Rover Experience instructors. In Australia these are held in NSW, QLD, ACT, SA, VIC and WA.
Mud, water, dirt, hills – you'll tackle it all in your new car under the watchful eye of experts. You'll receive a voucher for a course as a gift with purchase.
New Jaguar owners are invited to hit the track and get behind the wheel of a range of cars. It's all about exploring the features and learning how to unlock the potential of the vehicle.
The location options are Sydney Motorsport Park (NSW), Lakeside Raceway (QLD), Mallala Motorsport Park (SA), Sandown Raceway (VIC) and Barbagello Raceway (WA).
Peugeot are one of a few manufacturers that run bespoke opportunities in line with vehicle launches or promotions. These events are vehicle dependant and invites are generally restricted to customers or prospects.
Your loyalty could be rewarded with amazing opportunities like a track experience with V8 Supercars drivers Jason Bright and Andrew Jones, driving the Peugeot GTi range. If you follow your favourite brands on social media you'll spot the odd competition to attend these type of events too.
Similarly Lexus run drive day experiences for customers only, that give them an insight into the brand, product and the opportunity to drive other models in the range. Lexus owners are also treated to demonstrations by drivers to showcase the performance of the vehicles.
Hyundai also hosts special events for prospects and customers on an invite only basis, I remember dropping a press car back to Hyundai in Sydney and the place was swarming with excited people who were there to drive the Genesis for the first time.
A driver training program called Drive to Survive in NSW is supported by Hyundai and offers road safety and driving technique courses.
- Safer Drivers Course – $140 for L plate drivers
- P Plate Driving Program – $285
- Defensive Driver Program – $285
- Performance Driver Program – $345
- Active Driver Safety Program for corporate fleet training
Kia is proud to support Driver Safety Australia, a QLD-based driver training school that offers a large range of courses, from online-based education through to trailer and towing courses.
There are a range of programs to choose from, including one- or two-day experiences and even 4x4 training. Driver Safety Australia is run by Russell White, who also founded Fatality Free Friday.
While we all know the Ford Focus RS is a lot of fun on a track, Ford is feeding its expertise directly to teenagers as part of a school-based Driving Skills for Life safe driving program.
In an effort to discourage risky driving behaviour before it begins, the program deals with issues that commonly face young drivers and educate them on the dangers of distractions from friends or phones, driving tired or under the influence and the importance of paying attention on the road.