Our guide to a hands-on motor show
21 July 2006

Heading for the motor show this weekend? Here’s some of the stuff you can do there.

Outside, there’s a range of cars to drive and be driven in. The liveliest but briefest is Mazda’s ‘Zoom Zoom Challenge’. You’ll need your driving licence with you, and it’s probably best to sign in for later in the day and then come back just before your allotted time.

The aim is to get an RX-8 PZ and MX-5 around the twisty little track as fast and smoothly as possible. After a sighting lap, driven by you but with a Mazda instructor, you get a flying lap in each car. Marks are awarded for precision and speed and the top scorer wins an MX-5 2.0-litre Sport for a year.  I ran wide out of the second figure-of-eight bend, got bogged on the marbles and waited while my brain eventually told my foot to get off the throttle so the RX would tighten its line towards the tiny straight. Next time round, in the MX-5, I’d learned my lesson. But the damage to my lap time was done and I wished I’d listened to the instructor’s sage advice. There are also test drives from Vauxhall, Citroen, Honda and Toyota. Each has a decent range of cars available, with some interesting variants like the new Astra TwinTop, a C4 with Citroen’s new EGS gearbox and a C2 with Stop-Start. The course twists and turns around each side of the site and gives you a few minutes in the car with someone from each manufacturer to explain things. Go to each car maker’s stand to sign up.

You can also sign up for Adventure Land. Despite the slightly naff name, this is some fun. Toyota, Daihatsu, Nissan, Kia and Volvo are providing vehicles from their 4x4 ranges and taking you over some fairly exacting obstacles. ‘I bet you wish it wasn’t a Kia,’ said the Kia driver as we climbed in. Having hung in my seatbelt as he paused the Sorento to take in the view at a 40-degree downward angle, I was glad it was. There’s a water splash and a fairly severe side-slope, too.

Land Rover has its own version, with an even worse name. But the point about the ‘Terrapod’ is that you can sit in a Range Rover Sport or Discovery and marvel at the in-dash monitors showing just what’s happening underneath the car.

I left both courses with an increased respect for off-roaders’ capabilities and a strong desire to return to somewhere air-conditioned.

Speaking of which, inside the hall is GM’s Design Studio. Opposite the rather forgettable-looking new Corsa, this was more memorable. Sketchers are on hand to draw, explain what they’re doing and help you have a go. There’s also a touch-screen station, which can make you look like a god of graphic design.

With decent food on offer, it all adds up to a good effort for the show’s return to London. 

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