Long before we get to drive it, car makers will have spent thousands of miles at test tracks around the world testing and developing new models.
Here’s our list of the greatest proving grounds, listed in alphabetical order:
The Automotive Research Testing Center (ARTC) in Taiwan is used for car, motorcycle, commercial vehicle and military testing. It’s run jointly by several Taiwanese government departments and offers all of the expected test tracks of a modern facility, including dynamic, emissions, noise and brake test areas.
Opened in 1985, ARTC is used by FCA, Ford and General Motors and, as it’s government-run, the proving ground is also instrumental in helping to set domestic standards for vehicles in Taiwan. That includes safety for buses and trucks, which are all tested at ARTC.
Run by the Swedish government, the name AstaZero comes from Active Safety Test Area Zero and refers to the country’s desire to achieve zero road deaths or serious injuries. As part of this goal, there are four distinct areas to AstaZero, encompassing a city area, multi-lane roads, rural zone and A-road section. Each can be mixed together to replicate driving conditions found across the world and they can also be used with real people to create the most accurate and toughest testing conditions.
As well as the expected testing of vehicle dynamics, the AstaZero proving ground in Sandhult, Sweden specializes in driver behaviour and vehicle-to-vehicle assessment. There are on-site engineers, technicians and analysts to help vehicle makers using the tracks get the most from the data. It’s the only facility of its type in Europe.
Autodromo do Algarve
Often called Portimão, the Autodromo do Algarve is a popular race track that is also used by the automotive industry for development work. The reason for this is the huge variety of layouts possible at the Portuguese circuit that range from 3.46km to 4.68km in length.
Located in the south-western tip of Portugal, the Autodromo provides car makers with a reasonable degree of privacy as there’s very little else in the surrounding countryside. The track also comes with purpose-built apartments close by to offer more comfort for development teams than many test facilities offer.
A short drive from Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg factory lies its revered Ehra-Lessien test track. Not only is this where most of VW’s cars are put through their paces, it also has a 5.6-mile long straight that has witnessed top speed runs from the BugattisVeyron and Chiron. Steeply banked corners at either end of this section also mean the VW Group’s fastest cars can complete a 12.5-mile lap at sustained high speeds.
Ehra-Lessien was built here by VW because, originally, it was so close to the East German border that it was in a no-fly zone. This meant no prying eyes from rivals nor prying snappers. Now, the site’s 57 miles of test roads are a little more exposed to snooping lenses, but it remains one of VW’s primary testing facilities.
Ferrari’s very own test track is a figure-of-eight circuit built in 1971 right next door to the factory. Its shape was dictated by the two fields Enzo Ferrari bought and it was used for developing road and race cars. However, the restrictions on Formula 1 testing now mean the circuit is predominantly used for assessing the firm’s road cars.
It’s a relatively short 1.8-miles long, but Fiorano packs in a lot to the space with challenging corners and two very hard braking areas. The whole track can be sprayed with water to give wet weather testing conditions. Most unusually, Enzo Ferrari’s old villa sits in the middle of the site and special guests are still invited to stay there. And for many years if you turned up driving anything but a Ferrari or FCA Group vehicle, you were directed to a faraway carpark in disgrace.
It’s no coincidence that Fowlerville Proving Ground is located in Michigan, close to the major car makers in the US. The picturesque position of the track helps to protect it from unwanted attention and it prides itself on the level of security offered for customers testing their latest vehicles there.
Fowlerville works a lot in the safety area of vehicle development and many of the tests conducted on its various tracks are designed to help vehicles meet standards set by Euro NCAP, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration New Car Assessment Program, and Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. Fowlerville offers two dedicated track areas for ADAS (autonomous driver assistance systems).
Guangde Proving Ground
The Guangde Proving Ground is owned and run by SAIC and General Motors and is also known as the Pan Asia Technical Automotive Centre (PATAC). It’s situated around 60 miles to the west of Shanghai and offers 40 miles of test tracks that can be configured to 70 different driving conditions.
Completed and opened in September 2012, since then more than 11.5 million miles of testing driving has been achieved there. As well as GM and SAIC’s own vehicles, the Guangde Proving Ground is also leased by other car makers and has the capability to provide autonomous vehicle testing.
It’s little wonder Lotus cars handle so well when the company’s base is right next to its own development track. Built on a former US air base in 1966, the Hethel facility quickly had the track added by using a mix of the runways, taxiways and perimeter road. The result is a 2.2-mile circuit that can be divided into North and South Circuits.
Lotus still uses its Hethel track for much of the development of its own cars, as well as providing driver experiences for its customers. Recently upgraded to full FIA specification, the Hethel proving ground is where Lotus legends such as Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt and Ayrton Senna honed their Formula 1 race cars, which gives an idea of how challenging the circuit is.
The UK’s Motor Industry Research Association first opened for business in 1946, but it wasn’t until 1948 that its test track near Nuneaton, England opened its gates. The aim was to offer vehicle manufacturers in the UK a single location where they could test in all sorts of different conditions. This included the tough Belgian Pavé section and a banked circuit was added in 1952.
Today, MIRA’s 750-acre site is still used for its original purpose but now offers a huge variety of tracks, including its Wet and Dry Handling Circuits, Performance Circuits and Durability Surfaces. It’s also where Autocar carries out all of its independent performance testing for sports cars.
Idiada Proving Ground
It’s no great surprise to find Spain’s leading test track is located not too far from the country’s major car maker, SEAT. However, the Idiada Proving Ground is completely independent of the Volkswagen Group firm and works with many vehicle makers to develop new products.
Set up in 1971, Idiada is one of the newer European facilities and is now jointly owned by the Government of Catalonia and Applus+. It covers more than 900-acres and there are 12 tracks available to test everything from external noise to vehicle comfort. The complex also includes a track dedicated to studying driver fatigue.
Seventy-miles to the east of Paris lies the Juvincourt Proving Ground that is owned and operated by German engineering giant Bosch. It uses the track to test cars, motorcycles and commercial vehicles for clients and has a big focus on tyre and brake testing. It’s also where Bosch trials a lot of its safety systems along the 1.1-mile long main straight that allows for realistic motorway speeds.
There are 26 different track configurations on offer at Juvincourt, including off-road sections and others with specific surfaces such as pave and low-grip concrete. Another area where Juvincourt specializes is driver training for professional drivers from car manufacturers and company fleets.
Michelin is not short on test tracks to try out its latest tyre technologies, but Ladoux is the one where its headquarters are just outside of Clermont-Ferrand in the middle of France. It’s also where the firm has recently invested in rapid charging facilities for electric cars to reflect the evolving nature of the vehicles it is developing tyres for.
Ladoux consists of 20 test tracks, with a total of 28 miles on offer across a variety of different surfaces. As well as the expected high speed and handling circuits, Ladoux has several areas given over to noise and comfort testing, as well as one of the largest steering pads in the industry.
It would be easy to dismiss Porsche’s Leipzig track as a gimmick, something to entertain its customers. However, the 2.3-mile track is anything but window dressing and has been designed to incorporate 11 of the most challenging turns from race tracks around the world. This includes replicas of the Bus Stop from Spa, the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca and the Nürburgring’s Karussell.
The Leipzig track may bring together many of the world’s most famous corners, but it’s not intended as a race track. Instead, Porsche has deliberately kept the width to a maximum of 6.5-metres so it feels like a public road to learn how the car reacts to driver inputs in real-world conditions.
Fiat came up with a masterstroke of industrial and architectural design with its Lingottofactory in Turin. With space at a premium, it put the test track on the roof, with the factory below and cars progressing up the production line before heading on to the roof for their sign-off drive.
The Lingotto factory quickly became a landmark in Turin and was featured in the original Italian Job film, despite showing sprightly Mini Coopers being chased by hapless Italian police cars. However, by 1982 the building was no longer up to the job required of it and Fiat had long since moved its vehicle testing to the Balocco Circuit built by Alfa Romeo in the 1960s. Lingotto now a motor museum, art gallery and hotel, though you can still visit the roof-top test track.
The Longcross test track is better known in road tester circles as Chobham. Right next to the M3 motorway near Virginia Water, you’d be hard-pressed to know it’s there, which may have something to do with it being a military site where tanks and armoured vehicles were developed from the start of the Second World War.
The track is relatively short at only two miles, but there are plenty of other challenges within Longross’ confines, including steep slopes and the infamousSnake section of technical corners. Among the notable events held at Longcross, it’s where the original Mini press launch was held in 1959 and the corner round the cobbles has featured in many a magazine’s photographs. As the Snake resembles a public road, TV drama viewers will have seen plenty of crashes filmed there whether they realise it or not, including recently in the Inspector Morse prequel series Endeavour.
Millbrook Proving Ground
Situated not far from the M1 motorway in Bedfordshire, the Millbrook Proving Ground has been in business since 1970. It started life as the test track for General Motors’ UK-based brands Vauxhall and Bedford, but expanded to offer its facilities to other vehicle makers, and GM sold it in 2013. There are more than 45 miles of test tracks packed on to the site, including the famous Alpine route and two-mile high-speed bowl.
The Alpine route was used in the James Bond film Casino Royale for the famous stunt where his Aston Martin DBS specatularly rolls over. At the time, this set a new world record for the number of rolls completed during a crash scene, with the Aston tumbling seven times with stunt driver Adam Kirley at the wheel. Millbrook’s more usual working fare also encompasses a Battery Test Facility and 5G network for trying out Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.
Milford Proving Ground
And if you’re wondering where Millbrook got its inspiration from, you need look no further than GM’s original test site at Milford, located 40 miles north west of Detroit. Opened in 1924, it was the first dedicated automotive test track in the world, and remains one of the largest, covering 4000 acres. There are 140-miles of roads and circuits of all different types, including the Lutz Ring performance course named after former GM North America chairman Bob Lutz.
Although Milford now accounts for much less of GM’s overall test programme work, it still records more than 12 million miles per year of development mileage. This is possible partly because of the sheer size of Milford and also because it employs 5000 staff and has 100 buildings housing test equipment and laboratories.
Nardo Technical Centre
Built by Fiat and opened in 1975, the Nardo Ring is located in the south-east of Italy in the heel of the country’s boot outline. This guarantees good weather for much of the year for vehicle testing. In 2012, Porsche acquired the site and renamed it the Nardo Technical Centre.
Porsche has a long history of testing its cars at Nardo, including a 24-hour record it set in a 928 in 1982 of an average speed of 156.2mph and covering 3770 miles. This was achieved on the standout feature of Nardo, an eight-mile banked track where the angle of the banking means a car will track straight in the outer lane at 149mph.
The National Automotive Test Tracks (Natrax) facility is close to Indore in central India and offers a variety of circuits including the main track with its banked curves that allow for neutral steering at 155mph. This 8.5-miles circuit has four lanes and forms the core of Natrax’s dynamic testing options.
As well as the high-speed track, Natrax offers its users off-road options and special surfaces for noise, vibration and harshness assessment, as well as checking component for fatigue. There are also indoor laboratories for emissions and powertrain development. Covering 4140 acres, Natrax is the largest proving ground in Asia.
Navistar Proving Grounds may be in Indiana, but it’s only just over the state line from Michigan and about 150 miles west of Detroit. So, Navistar is handily placed near the US’s largest car makers to offer its 24-hour a day, year-round facilities to car, bus and truck makers. As well as the usual test tracks, Navistar also offers tests for towing strains and vehicle fording in recognition of the number of trucks and pick-up trucks that use its test tracks.
The proving ground at New Carlisle started life as a Studebaker test track and Navistar initially bought it to try out its own trucks and engines. A row of trees planted at the entrance still spells out ‘Studebaker’ for any overflying aircraft to see and it’s listed in the USA on the National Register of Historic Places. The site covers 668-acres and has earned a reputation as one of the best places to assess large trucks and commercial vehicles in the USA and worldwide.
Possibly the most famous track in the world and one that anyone can drive on, Germany’s Nürburgring is also a popular destination for the world’s car makers to test the mettle of their new cars. This has become such a badge of honour for fast cars that setting the fastest production car lap is hotly contested and currently held by the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ in 6:44:97.
Much of the Nürburgring’s attraction for developing cars is the challenging nature of the track. Unlike many newer sites, this one has plenty of elevation and camber changes. An industry pool exists of around 30 car manufacturers who use the Nürburgring exclusively for a third of the year.
There’s not a lot that Smithers doesn’t test. As well as vehicles and tyres, Smithers conducts assessments and trials for industries including life sciences, packaging, materials, energy and components, so it has plenty of experience to draw on. That experience for the automotive world centres on its Winter Proving Grounds in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The extreme cold of this region in the winter months makes it ideal for car, truck and military vehicle makers to test powertrains, fuel and heating systems, and safety equipment. Spread over 800-acres, Smithers offers more than 30 test areas and surfaces including packed snow, ide pads and snow slopes of up to 20 per cent in gradient.
Outer Mongolia might not sound like driving nirvana to many, but for Bosch it’s the perfect place to try out components. Yakeshi lies on the eastern edge of the Mongolian Steppe to provide more than 120 days per year of cold weather testing. It offers 540,000 square metres of land-based test facilities, but more than twice that area is available on a frozen lake.
Using this mix of land and lake, Yakeshi can offer steep slopes on terra firma and polished ice tracks on the frozen lake. There are also indoor workshops to give a total of 21 test tracks on this far-flung site.