For most potential new-car buyers, the formula for test driving a car is a tried and true, yet somewhat unfulfilling, method: arrive at the lot, pick your car, take it for a 10-minute spin on some local roads and highways, then bring it back and haggle with the dealer. During this time, you can never really push the limits of the car because you are bound by local safety laws. However, the town of Naperville, Illinois has begun to usher in a new way for the general public to test their cars before they buy: the city has developed a closed track for those who want to test their new wheels on a circuit.
This idea stemmed from a joint venture between the city of Naperville and the Naperville Development Partnership (NDP) in order to reduce the number of test-drives through local neighborhoods. Through this venture, an alliance was born and brainstorming began on what could be done to remove the tests from out of the city streets and onto a controlled environment. When Centerpoint Properties acquired an old auto storage facility from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, the sale immediately prompted the NDP, the city and Centerpoint to form a partnership and build a track facility.
Full story after the jump.
After several years of planning and coordination, the Naperville Test Track began breaking ground in 2006 and was finished later that year. With 11 local dealerships participating - all of which share the cost and responsibilities of the track upkeep, maintenance, and costs - there are plenty of opportunities to hit the asphalt and really test your potentially new car.
Host to thousands of test drives each month, the Naperville Test Track is billed as a one-stop shop for all the testing needs one could possibly dream of. Sitting on a nine-acre piece of property, the track includes road surfaces intended to mimic what you may find out on the streets: a railroad crossing, a hill with a 10-percent grade, cobblestone road, emergency braking area, a section of suburban driveway, and classic straights and bends including banked turns.
The driver is welcomed to test the car to the limit, sure, but the dealerships are watching just to make sure that limit is not breached. Big Brother makes an appearance at the track in the form of three security and web cameras used to show activity on the track. Those images are then relayed back to the participating dealerships so they can keep an eye on what is going on with their merchandise. You didn’t think this was a free joyride did you?
As Cars.com reports, one of the most valuable sections of the track is the emergency braking area. Here drivers can safely slam on their brakes to feel the effects of the car without worrying about getting rear-ended. This station comes complete with a sprinkler system that will dampen the skid area if desired and thus more readily activate the anti-lock braking system on the car. Getting familiar with the pulsating feel of the brake pedal under threshold braking is an important step in familiarizing yourself with the car.
It is here on the track that the drivers will have the confidence to slam on the brakes, push it through the corner, work out the feel of the steering, and practice finding out exactly where the catch point of the clutch may lie. Let’s face it, when you step into a new car it is an uncomfortable feeling simply because you’re not used to it. A proper test drive, or even road test for a journalist, cannot be conducted under such stress. The track offers peace of mind for the driver by taking the risk of being out on the road with other cars and pedestrians, and eliminating it.
SUVs have a chance to strut their stuff, as well. If the cobblestone road wasn’t enough to jar your fillings loose, there is a section of road littered with debris—rocks, stones, and generally large granite-like objects obscuring your path. It’s not exactly traversing a mountain path, but it does give the large, off-road bound guzzlers a chance to give their driver some good feedback. And have some fun with it anyway.
The only downside to the operation? Highway testing. Unfortunately, the course simply is not big enough to accommodate high-speed testing, which is good for examining wind and road noise, steering and high speeds, and overall cruising comfort. For that, there is still the highway.
This test track idea is simply brilliant—for the consumer and the dealership. The potentially new owner has an opportunity to safely test his/her new car at the limit without any worry: no kids on the local roads and no cops to give out a ticket when the engine is revving at full throttle or the tires are screeching to an abrupt halt. As for the dealers, what a great incentive it is to encourage people to track their cars right off the lot—before they even buy it. Illinois may become a haven for new-car buyers.
According to Naperville Mayor George Pradel, "The idea moves many of the customers who are test-driving vehicles off the streets and out of the nearby neighborhoods, thereby lessening congestion and increasing the safety of other motorists."
Mayor Pradel, if you could run a campaign platform based on building more tracks, you would most assuredly receive our votes. Pradel for President.
This beckons the question, why isn’t there more of these popping up around the country? We can only hope that more cities adopt a plan like Naperville’s and allow for safe, monitored testing. Or do we just want an open track to log some laps? Either way, good idea.