Aside from being a perennial favourite in the most hated jobs list, another peril of being a journalist is what some may call 'income disparity syndrome'. Those from the fourth estate often liaise with successful types who earn too much, eat at nice restaurants and drive nice cars, before heading home to eat gruel for dinner, keep warm by hovering around the fire in the 40 gallon drum and wrap up lumps of coal in newspaper to give to their children for birthday presents. So it was with a mix of excitement and depression that I ventured out to Hampton Downs last week to test my driving skills in an array of magnificent German machines that I will probably never be able to afford. And in a new move for Audi, it's opening up its Driver Experience Days to corporates and individuals.
The introductions were made by Audi's new general manager Dean Sheed (he's ex Volkswagen and Audi's ex-GM Dane Fisher is off to Europe in a new role with Lambourghini) and the day was very professionally run by these guys. As you can imagine, travelling at almost 240kmh down the straight in a circa-$340,000 Audi R8, competing for top honours in the slalom round (I was robbed of second place by a one-second cone penalty), or having Metro motoring correspondent and ex-60 Minutes reporter Mark Scott yelling in your ear and telling you to go faster during the ABS braking test was a hell of a lot of fun.
In the past, Audi's Driver Days were something of a reward for those who had joined the club by purchasing a car. But "because it's such a cool thing to do", head of marketing Fiona Woolley says it made sense to open it up to a wider audience at different locations around the country, because while it's "easy to see the cars are brilliant just by looking it at them", she says there's absolutely no substitute for getting in the driver's seat, embracing your inner upper-class speed demon and fanging it around a track (or, if you're keen, in the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground near Wanaka for the Ice Experience event).
Audi, which is celebrating the fact it has been named the number one premium vehicle in New Zealand for the fifth year in a row, had close to its best ever month in March, and BMW also had one of its best ever months in April, so there's certainly some renewed activity in the premium car sector in New Zealand after a few tough years. And allowing as many people as possible to, as the website says, test their mettle by testing Audi's metal and get a whiff of that new car smell seems to be a good way of ensuring it remains on top.