SMMT test day at Millbrook proving ground (May 2023)

Anyone that has read previous reviews of this event or knows of the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) will know that they hold a couple of days a year where the media can meet manufacturers and test some of their current car offerings. SMMT also give the media an update on the automotive market and what’s happening real time.

I have not been to one of these meetings for some years, however the last several SMMT testing day events that I have attended have all been held at Millbrook proving ground, which is a great venue for vehicle testing. For those in the know or not, this is where James Bond rolled his Aston Martin DBS in Casino Royale, on the hill route/ Alpine circuit.

All our photos from the day can be seen here.

So an early start for me again, 6am, to arrive by 8am.

Once parked up, I walked around all the manufacturers stands to see what cars were available. The cars that I caught my attention and I wanted to drive were: Maserati MC20 spider, Maserati Greycale GT, Toyota GR Supra , Toyota GR86, Alpine 110, Volkswagen ID.Buzz, Porsche 911 (above), Porsche 928 (below), Abarth 695 and Jeep Wrangler.

Often, what you want to drive and what you get are not the same, as this event have 150-250 motoring journalists, bloggers, YouTubers, Influencers, etc. I remember some years back Aston Martin were at the show, but I did not make them first priority, and when I did get to their stand, no availability to drive a car. To this day I have still never driven an Aston Martin.

My wife also booked a tour of the Aston Martin factory/ facilities, then Covid struck, so that never happened. Maybe me and Aston Martin are not meant to be.

Anyway, back to this SMMT test day. I first headed over to Maserati to try and get a test drive of the MC20, bugger it was completely chockablock and no availability left. So disappointing. How did 20-30 people get there before me. Arghhhh. Anyway, another time I hope, as I have heard and read good things about the MC20.

The actual cars that I drove were:

Abarth 695

As an owner of an Abarth 595, I can say most all Abarths that I’ve driven are an absolute blast, sound great, look cool and lots of fun. So I was looking forward to driving the 695. I initially drove this car in standard mode and then in Abarth full beans mode. What a great engine sound when your Abarth full beans button is switched on is great (if you like load engine rumbles, as I do). I don’t know why you would ever consider turning this button off. Wonderful engine noise. I very much enjoyed this car, however, there was an issue from my perspective. I found on the car that I drove, having a roof that folds backwards, when that is engaged, the visibility for the driver from rear view mirror was very poor to see what was behind you. You would only be able to see SUVs and bigger cars, vans and trucks, not cars that were smaller in height, therefore you had to rely on your left and right external mirrors. Typical Italian car stuff. Nonetheless, I would give this car and 8 out of 10 and a thumbs up. Lots of fun, and a great sound track.

Base price:  £25,726 – £32,476


Maserati Grecale GT

I suppose you’d classify the Maserati Grecale GT as a luxury SUV. It sounds okay. You have comfort mode, GT mode, and sport mode. I only drove the car in sport mode (obviously). It’s a very cool looking SUV model. I very much like the brand, Maserati. However, this car is not for me. I don’t see its purpose really in a really congested marketplace for this type of car. This car feels very heavy. I cannot imagine it’s very good on mpg either. The car that I drove had an as configured price of £75,705. The base price of the car is £58,385.

From my 10 minutes with the car, my rating is 6/10. Nice enough. Some will really like it, for me its a so so car taking on board all factors.


Jeep Wrangler 4 Door 80th Edition 2.0 GME 272HP

The Jeep Wrangler is an iconic car for sure. I’ve previously owned a Jeep Cherokee back in the late 90s and knowing the Jeep Wrangler is an iconic car, having never driven one, I jumped at the chance to test drive this car.

I did a very cool 20 minute off-road course, with an instructor supervising me (Boo). This car is very impressive and will always look after the driver and passengers. It was enjoyable to drive, not hard at all. An iconic shape. I loved the square door mirrors, very unique. A cool car. Performance was great off road

Base price is £60985. The as price of the actual car I drove was £61950.

For what it’s worth, after my 20 minute off-road drive I’d give this car a rating of 9 out of 10. The only thing I didn’t like very much on the looks of the car was a very big plastic front bumper that must stick out at least 30 cm. However, that is just me being very picky and trying to find a fault.


Toyota GR Supra 3.0 Manual

Again, another iconic name from the past. I have never driven Toyota Supra previously. I always had the impression it was a boys races car. The original cars have a cult following due to the fact that they can be highly modified/ tuned. The car I drove was the Toyota GR Supra, this is inspired by over 50 years of rich heritage, the GR Supra delivers Toyotas purest experience yet, offering the ultimate expression of driving pleasure. The GR Series at I was informed is Toyotas the top of the line pure sports cars incorporating knowledge and technology born from Toyota Gazoo Racing.

I really enjoyed this car. It has all of the grunt, power, speed that you could possibly need. It sounds great on revving the engine 6000 revs upwards. It has a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.6 seconds, a top speed of 155 mph. This is a lot of car for the money, and gave me a big grin, and I wanted to drive it more.

The Toyota GR Supra has a base list price: £54,640. The as price of the actual car I drove was £54,640. For what it’s worth, after my 20 minute drive I’d give this car a rating of 9 out of 10. Very impressed.


Toyota GR86

The Toyota GR86 is a car that I wanted to drive for sometime. It’s a car that was promoted as a car for the drivers and those passionate about their performance driving experience. I took the car for about 15 to 20 minutes and half of the time I drove in comfort mode until I found the mode button and changed it to go mad mode. Prior to finding the go mad mode, I would’ve given the car 7 out of 10. A little gripe from me… I don’t quite understand why cars like this have to back seats that can’t ever be used for passengers, in my opinion (unless they have no legs), it’s ridiculous, and this space could be used better, remove and just save weight.

In the go mad mad mode I would suggest this car is a 9 out of 10 for me. Very much like the Toyota GR Supra this car brings it an instant smile to your face. The car pulls, it makes the right noises, and it sticks to the road.

For the money, you’d be hard to find another new car that does what it, sounds like it does, makes you feel this way for £30k. Speaking to Brown Car Guy, who I was talking to throughout the day, he agreed with this statement, it’s hard to beat this car for the £30k.

Base list price: £30,140. The as shown price of this actual car was £31,105


Alpine A110

Again, the Alpine A110 was a car that I had heard so much about on TV shows, reviews, etc., but never had the chance to drive. Every review and report that I had read, video I had watched, indicated that this is a real drivers car, one for the driving purists. I drove the car for 15 to 20 minutes and can confirm it really is an experience. You certainly feel connected with the road. It has ample acceleration and speed and continues to pull. It has a lovely engine sound, and you have to have your wits about you, if you’re driving at speed and on corners as the backend can be a little skittish, which as anyone who loves their raw driving experience would love.

Base list price: £49,990. The as shown price of this actual car was £54,144.

For what it’s worth, after my 15-20 minute drive I’d give this car a rating of 9 out of 10. Very impressed. Also love the Alpine metallic blue. The only reason I haven’t given this car a 10 out of 10 is that I don’t think it’s a beautiful looking car and that’s it. Thumbs up from me.


Volkswagen ID.Buzz Style

I’d been waiting to see this car in the flesh since first seeing it debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, I think in 2019. I also looked at this car/van when I was looking to purchase a family car earlier in the year (2023).

When I saw this car at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, I thought it could be the one of the only brand-new cars that I could be tempted to purchase brand-new. I think for me to do that on seeing it in the flesh and not as a concept car, I think there are too many changes for me that wouldn’t make me purchase this car from new. I still love the look and the colour of the car that I drove. There is no doubt it’s a cool and funky looking vehicle.

I only drove the car for 10 minutes as it’s not a performance vehicle. So it’s an A to B vehicle, in comfort it must be said.

For me, I would give this car a 6-7 out of 10. I think if it had some of the interior styling and swivelling chairs in the rear with the table that is did have as a concept car at the Goodwood Festival of Speed on its debut then I would be nearer to 9 or 10 out of 10. There is a camper van version of this car coming in the future.

Anyway, it was a very cool car. I still like it very much. It’s just not right for me and my lifestyle, and what I want to do at this moment in time.

Base list price: £58,915 to £63,715.


Ford Ranger Wildtrack, 2.0 diesel

I chose to drive the Ford Ranger Wildtrack, as the Ford Ranger is iconic. These truck have a massive following, so I wanted to see what it was all about. My experience did not disappoint. I may have got the car a little dirty. I took this car on the off-road course (as I did with the Jeep Wrangler) and it was very impressive, very easy to drive. I did not have an instructor. The car was very easy to change between two wheel drive, four wheel drive automatic and four wheel drive low ratio.

The car does things and performs at a level that you would not necessarily expect which is testament to the Ford engineering. I really like this car. I’m not sure how it compares to its big brother the Raptor, but it gets a thumbs up from me. It’s the type of car/truck did I could’ve carried on driving and driving and driving. It was fun as was the Millbrook offroad course. I’m not sure how much fun it would be driving on roads every day, but I have no doubt that it would be easy to drive, capable, but it is a big car/ truck.

Fuel economy is apparently 32.1 mpg. 0 to 60 mph 10.5 seconds, not that you would be driving it fast and a top speed of 112 mph. That mpg is impressive (if it actually does that) for a big car/ truck.

Basic price: £40,221.36. The as shown price of this actual car was £44,671.36

For me, this is a very likable car. I think it’s a hell of a lot of car, with many practical uses, if you are an active person, or in the building trade. I have to give this car a thumbs up and it’s an 8/9 out of 10 car in the limited time I had with it.


Other stuff from the day.

No Porsche drives. Very frustrating. I suppose everybody wanted to drive the Porsches. Maybe another time.

Other notes from the day: unfortunately, it was ridiculously busy. I’m not sure what that says about the car industry or the popularity of this event given that you can test drive many cars. But as you can see from the cars that I got to drive (above), I didn’t get to drive many of the cars I wanted to. This is probably as I head towards all the performance or prestige cars, which are the most desirable.

SMMT highlighted that the car market continues to shift to EV and hybrid cars, however the infrastructure is still the biggest challenge to growth as is car range anxiety for EVs.

Good to catch up with friends and manufacturers. A thoroughly nice day out.

I’m very much looking forward to my next SMMT testing day and hopefully I’ll get to test drive some Porsches.

More SMMT articles here.


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