Audi set to thrill with its all-women driving experiences

Audi set to thrill with its all-women driving experiences

IMAGINE this: 24 female motoring enthusiast itching to be better drivers are let loose on a no-holds-barred driving experience, then asked not to be competitive. Even though there would be a prize for the woman who produces the best time on a mini-race course laid out on an flooded skid pan, we’re told to breathe and relax. There wouldn’t be any traffic lights, no speed limits, no police cameras lurking, and all drivers would be in cars armed with the latest driver-assistance and safety technology. 

‘The tension was high, but there was more laughter than anything at the first of a new series of Audi Australia’s all-women advanced driving experiences being rolled out around the country.’

In other words, go for it, push the cars hard and see what they can do when they’re under stress and the need for split-second computerised adaptation is critical. We’d test the brakes, the car’s radar sensors, even its ability to dive nose-first into a parking spot on its own. Just don’t forget to breathe.

The tension was high, but there was more laughter than anything at the first of a new series of Audi Australia’s all-women advanced driving experiences being rolled out on race tracks around the country. This one was at Queensland’s Mt Cotton Driver Training Centre, about 45 minutes south-east of Brisbane, and included a buffet lunch, hand, neck and back massages and a gift bag to take home. There was also the opportunity to talk cars and life with TV personality and 12-year Audi ambassador Sandra Sully. 

All of which was lovely, but, as Audi's director of marketing and communications, Anna Burgdorf, pointed out, the main game here was to get women into those cars so they could better understand the kind of technology that goes into them and how they could protect and enhance their lives. 

“It's not about the size of your engine, the size of your brakes, any of those things,” Burgdorf says. “This is about what (the car’s technology) does to enhance your lifestyle because you drive it every day and it's a critical part of what you do to enable your life.”

After being breath-tested and sharing licence details with Audi staff, the morning started with morning coffee and pastries as guests mingled and introduced themselves. Audi’s chief driving instructor, Steve Pizzati, then took us through the day’s format which would include testing the emergency braking system, trying out the third-generation self-parking capabilities and making best use of the adaptive cruise control functionality. Finally, there was that Quattro Motorkhana using the brand’s new high-performance RS3. And breathe … 

The braking exercises were in two parts - first to experience the automatic emergency brakes (AEB) which kick in even when a driver continues to accelerate towards an obstacle. We did this travelling at about 35km/h towards a full-sized Audi Q7. Never mind that the Q7 was inflatable, our car came to a complete stop. If it had been going very quickly, it would still slow down considerably before impact, which might mean the difference between life or death, said instructor Steven Johnson, an experienced V8 Super Car driver and now Touring Car Masters champion.

The second braking exercise saw us driving the new Audi Q5 Sport in a straight line - with the accelerator flat to the floor - to a point marked with road cones where we came off the accelerator and stood on the brakes, hard. The car continued to travel forward for a stretch, but all the while, the ABS brakes on all four wheel gripped and adjusted in unison to keep the car going in the direction in which it was being steered. Just make sure you look for the gaps if you’re ever in such a position.

Next, it was into the Audi A4 to check out the adaptive cruise control, which locks on to the car travelling in front keeping your car at a nominated distance behind, braking and accelerating for you. Already a solid fan of the adaptive system, this latest version is even better again with a new Traffic Jam assistance feature picking up traffic to the sides or leaving the lane ahead, steering around it.

Very few - if any - of those of us there who had the self-parking functionality in our cars had actually used it. The latest iteration goes one better than the second-generation, offering not just parallel and reverse perpendicular parking, but nose-first parking, as well. Handy for the shopping centre when you want that boot facing out.

Then came that Quattro Motorkhana. Our sole female instructor was in charge of demonstrating how to tackle the mini-race course most efficiently - where and how hard to accelerate, when and how hard to brake, how to hit the apex and how to take the corners. None of it was actually explained, you had to see it and feel it for yourself. Then you got to take the wheel for a practice lap, first, before the stop-watch came out for that all-important fast lap. No competition here! “You had your ‘race face’ on for that one,” Price observed after my second go at it. (I wasn’t fast enough, though. Alex Butler, of the Gold Coast, blitzed the rest of us.) 

Despite the way those cars were pushed around the course, they never did go sideways. But that was the point - not to encourage us to take this new-found confidence back to our own cars and throw them around oily city streets. It was to demonstrate that, even when speed is a factor, modern cars are always adjusting to the conditions and terrain to keep themselves on the straight and narrow.

“We want to show how the technology is working with you,” Pizzati says of the Motorkhana exercise. “You don't know what's going on out there, all you know is you're going bloody fast around this thing where it's really wet which would normally seem quite dangerous. But the car's just doing it all for you.”

Given the benefits gained on driving days like this, it amazes Madam Wheels to consistently hear from car manufacturers that they find it difficult getting women to take part in them. It seems it’s often about the men there.

‘I don’t believe it’s just the guys who are competitive. I've seen ladies with horns.’

“Women think it's going to be very blokey, very testosteroney, with lots of guys beating their chests and all that,” he says. “But once the girls see how much we pick on the guys who do that, we diffuse that very, very quickly.”

Pizzati adds that the ladies’ program is in no way softened to accomodate perceived tamer drivers. 

“It’s not diluted or changed in any way. It’s just as full-on as it is for everybody else,” he says. “The girls actually love it, and they love driving as much as guys do. I think that's an absolute urban myth (that they’re tamer). I don’t believe it’s just the guys who are competitive. I've seen ladies with horns.”

The power in driving courses like this is, of course, that participants learn important things without realising it because they’re having so much fun. This is why these days are always such a big success, with friendships formed and strengthened an added bonus. 

At around $500 a course, you’d have to say that was money well spent, especially given that pretty well anyone who’s ever done a quality driver training course describes it forever as “the best thing” they ever did for their driving.

I love them, which is why I’m signing up for the next round at Phillip Island in a couple of months’ time. Any takers, ladies?