- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 8, 2004

Getting a prospective customer to drive a vehicle is not as easy as it sounds.

That’s why auto manufacturers offer numerous programs throughout the year that range from serious performance driving to leisurely test drives.

The programs cost anywhere from nothing to thousands of dollars. Signing up is easy to accomplish with just a click of your mouse.

Here’s a sampling of some of the events that you can still participate in this year:

Mazda’s Rev It Up: This 15-city event is back again after a virtual sell out in 2003. You can sign up to participate online and use a credit card to pay the $40 fee. The program is held coast-to-coast and consists of chalkboard instruction, followed by hands-on performance driving instruction. Finally, you’re given a chance to show your best in a timed run over a demanding course.

The winner in each city will get a chance to participate in the national finals at Mazda’s Laguna Seca raceway in Monterey, Calif. In addition, top women performers will be included in the finals. The winner will drive away with a new Mazda3. See www.mazdarevitup.com to sign up and get further information.

GM’s AutoShow In Motion: This may be the ultimate car experience because it’s a combined auto show and driving program. You get a chance to try out your choice of 150 GM cars and competing vehicles from other vehicle makers. The beauty of AutoShow in Motion is that there are no sales personnel present and no pressure to buy. You can drive everything in the GM product portfolio — from a high-performance Corvette to a Hummer H2. At the same time, you can drive non-GM vehicles to compare ride and performance. See www.autoshowinmotion.com to get more information.

Mercury: Mercury is joining Home Depot in an all-new program that’s designed to show off its Monterey minivan. Test drives and clinics will be held in cities that will also include home-improvement workshops, test drives, vehicle clinics, contests and drawings for prizes. Among the cities that will host the Mercury clinics are Ann Arbor, Mich., Woodbridge, Va., and Indianapolis. The active test drives are a first of their kind for Mercury. More information is available at www.mercuryvehicles.com/roadshow.

Scion tour: The Scion is on sale on a limited scale at Toyota dealers, so most people have not had a chance to see one up close, let alone drive a Scion. The Scion tour is designed to remedy that. If you want to be one of the first to drive a Scion, look up www.scion.com/tour/ and get a listing of the communities where the driving experience will be held. Both the Scion xA and xB will be available for test drives.

Volvo’s Drive for Life: Conducted by the Skip Barber Driving School, this demanding four-hour event is free to owners of the XC90. A spouse can participate for $400. The course is held around the country and offers drivers 2 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction in accident avoidance. The programs will be held through the end of the year. You can get more information and a list of locations at www.volvoownerexperience.com.

Porsche Driving Experience: If you’ve been dying to drive a Porsche on a racetrack, here’s your chance. However, it doesn’t come cheap. The program is offered only at the Barber Motor Sports Park, Birmingham, Ala. Porsche offers a one-day program that includes an opportunity to spend hours doing laps on the track. Cost $1,695. There are 32 two-day programs throughout the year. These cost $2,695. If you’ve already done one of them, you’re qualified to participate in the two-day masters program for $2,995. There are also two-day Cayenne programs that include both off-road and track instruction. That costs $2,695. See www.porschedriving.com for schedules and registration.

Chrysler Art of Driving: This is just one of several programs offered by Chrysler Group brands. More information is at www.chrysler.com/artofdriving. There are also PT Block Parties and Drive for the Chrysler. The latter are test drives at golf course locations. Get information for the latter two from www.chrysler.com.

Jeep: There are 35 Jeep Jamboree weekend trips that focus on off-road driving. Jeep 101 is a one-day event in 13 cities that also emphasizes off-road driving. For Jeep owners there are week-long family trips with camping, adventure activities, entertainment and off-roading. See www.jeep.com for further details and schedules.

BMW’s Ultimate Driving Experience: These are coast-to-coast clinics with the new X3 that offer driving programs for drivers of all levels to become safer and more competent behind the wheel. It includes an autocross program. It runs through November at various locations across the country. More information can be found at www.bmwusa.com or call 800/956-4BMW.

Mercedes C-Spot Drive Party 2004: This is open to customers and non-Mercedes-Benz customers. There are 12 free events across the country. For ultraserious drivers, Mercedes offers the AMG Challenge 2004. Fees range from $1,000 to $7,500. More information can be found at www.mbusa.com.

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