2011 Volkswagen Freedriving Tour

It has been some years since Volkswagen packed away the trunk of Fahrvergnügen, but the company remains keen to demonstrate that its models come standard-equipped with equal parts pleasure and performance. Enter the Volkswagen Freedriving Tour: a traveling roadshow making seven scorching summer stops across Canada, from Vancouver to Halifax, inviting VW devotees to come out to “discover Autobahn-ready performance” in five of its vehicles. My household is presently on ’wagen number four so, while an admitted enthusiast, I’m also near-immune to showroom hyperbole, freshly-shined paintwork and pine-scented interiors. Probably.

Prospective drivers register online for their chance to put a few cars through their paces in custom-designed (that is, expertly painted and coned) parking lot race courses, in driving conditions one is unlikely to ever encounter on the streets of Ottawa or Montreal. Well, the former for certain and the latter…probably. Assembled for everyone’s driving pleasure are the Golf, in wagon or 5-door, the Jetta, the Tiguan, and the GTI. Alas, no funky old Type 2 camper or Karmann Ghia for contrast. And no crack at the new 2012 Beetle, though it’s on display, teasing and tempting. Please don’t touch it.

With one last signature on a hopefully unnecessary waiver, one climbs behind the wheel in the company of a driving coach and then queues up for the track. Vehicles start every half-course, which is to say, as soon as the previous driver is a safe distance ahead. Painted the day before, the 60-second route (give or take) follows the asymmetrical shape of a wending lane, and is naturally bordered with orange safety cones.

The purpose is to simulate several of the cars’ handling capabilities, from a tight double-s-curve to one more gently unwinding, an on-ramp, high-speed swerve and a pedal-to-the-floor straightaway culminating in a panic stop. The entire course takes approximately one minute to complete, depending on one’s skills. Given that there are five vehicles with which to experiment, one will walk away having had five minutes of Fahrve…fun, evenly spaced inside two hours of waiting in line for one’s next turn.

On the first attempt, nearly everyone is told they should be braking harder for the finish line’s instructed ‘panic brake.’ (Polite Canadians, it seems, don’t easily relinquish the desire to come to a gentle stop.) By the fifth drive — and, if you’re smart, you saved the GTI for last — you’re being cautioned to slow down in the chicanes to avoid drifting like some action movie hero. Most entertainingly, perhaps one-quarter of the drivers pull into the finish/start area with their wipers going, having temporarily lost fine motor control of their hands following the exhilarating burst of speed to the sudden-stop finish.

In the showroom tent afterward, I find it hard to thoughtfully peruse the static models, wanting to be back out on the lot for one more unCanadian throwing of caution to the wind. Better yet, on an open stretch of two-lane without a fellow motorist or radar-wielding copper for miles around. The drive home, in my eight-year-old VW, sees me observing the rules of the road but daydreaming of knuckle-less gloves and a silk scarf as the wind entering from the Tiguan’s bonnet-length sunroof tousles my hair in a most jaunty way. Perhaps a visit to my local dealership would be in order — a dealership with a big, empty parking lot next door. I am, after all, presumably now a company-certified Fahrfreir.

Summer 2011 marked the second-annual Volkswagen Freedriving Tour (it ends this weekend in Ottawa, running today through Sunday). With an estimated 400+ participants per city day, if bums in seats constitutes success for this program, there’s every indication it will return for 2012.

Image courtesy of VW Canada.

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