5 of the Coolest Automaker Proving Grounds

From mountains to private racetracks, car manufacturers have some awesome test beds.

The Ferrari Fiorano Circuit in ItalyFerrari


Before your car wound up in your driveway, teams of engineers and test drivers put it through its paces on grueling tracks and challenging roads. Well, not your exact car, but the prototypes that led up to it.

Much of the testing was done in a laboratory environment, where automakers can simulate everything from the cobblestone streets of Europe to the 110-degree Fahrenheit days in the Middle East.

The fine-tuning was most likely completed out in the real world, at some kind of proving ground. Here, we look at five of the coolest proving grounds tied to specific manufacturers. Each venue has historical significance, an unusual setting, and/or a degree of mystique.

The Ferrari Fiorano trackFerrari

The Fiorano Circuit: Ferrari's Private Track in Italy

Not content with testing his company's cars on racetracks accessible to rivals, Enzo Ferrari decided to build his own facility within walking distance of the Maranello factory. The Fiorano Circuit, which opened in 1972, is both fast and highly technical, with a wide variety of curves designed to stress the marque's high-performance cars.

Unlike most development centers, Fiorano is open to the public. Visitors can book a bus tour, but Ferrari strictly prohibits photography and video.

Bugatti Chiron driving down Ehra-Lessien trackBugatti

The Ehra-Lessien Test Track: VW's Ultra-High-Speed Proving Grounds in Germany

About a half-hour's drive from Volkswagen's Wolfsburg headquarters is the Ehra-Lessien test track, a sprawling complex complete with flat high-speed straights, a steeply graded climbing course, and all kinds of road surfaces on which to try VW Group prototypes.

The automaker built the facility in the late 1960s, during the Cold War, and supposedly chose this location in part because it was then a no-fly zone. That meant VW could conduct its tests in relative secrecy, without competitors taking aerial shots.

The facility is far less of a mystery now. You can find satellite images of it on Google Maps and promotional videos explaining all the testing done there. The television program "Top Gear" has even filmed some record-setting laps at Ehra-Lessien.

That said, the company still values its privacy. The track isn't open to the public, nor are employees allowed to bring in their phones.

Perhaps the biggest attraction within the complex is the high-speed circuit, consisting of two 5.6-mile-long straights connected by banked curves. It's what makes Ehra-Lessien one of the few places on earth where the highest-performance vehicles can safely reach their top speeds. For instance, Ehra-Lessien is where a Bugatti Chiron prototype broke a 300-mph barrier back in 2019.

Toyota Technical Center in JapanToyota

The Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama: Japan's Own Nürburgring

The legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife racetrack in Germany serves as a benchmark for many of the world's biggest automakers, but it's a long way from Japan. In order to put its prototypes to the test on a regular basis, Toyota decided to create its own mini Nürburgring in a hilly region of the country just 30 minutes from its Toyota City headquarters.

The facility, dubbed the Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama, will eventually have three circuits — if Toyota keeps to its pre-pandemic plans. So far, it has opened only one. The Nürburgring-inspired course was completed in 2019 and runs about 3.3 miles, making it about a quarter the size of the real thing.

Fiat Lingotto Factory rooftop trackFiat

The Fiat Lingotto Factory: A Historic Rooftop Test Track in Italy

When it opened in 1923, the Fiat Lingotto Factory in Turin was an architectural landmark made up of concrete and windows. It housed the automaker's innovative assembly line, which moved vehicles upward on a spiral path through five stories. By the time the workers completed a model, it would emerge at the top of the building, where a three-quarter-mile banked oval awaited it.

Fiat used this track primarily to give its cars a shakedown before they left the factory, but it also opened it up for limited competition on occasion. What's more, the loop made a particularly dramatic backdrop in the 1969 flick "The Italian Job."

Unfortunately, the once-cutting-edge assembly line became obsolete, and Fiat closed the doors in 1982. The building still stands, though.

After a multi-decade revitalization effort, Lingotto now houses a shopping mall, a convention center, and a hotel. The architects preserved part of the track but turned the rest into a rooftop garden — the largest one in Europe. You can even drive an electric Fiat 500 up there, albeit not at racing speed.

G-Class undergoing testing on Schundefinedckl, a 1,445-meter-high mountain near Graz, AustriaMercedes-Benz

Schöckl: The Austrian Mountain Where the Mercedes G-Wagen Proves Its Worth

Looming high over Graz, Austria, the Schöckl is the mountain playground for the eminently capable Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV. It's where engineers from Magna Steyr — the company that has helped Mercedes develop and produce the G for decades — spent 12 hours a day putting the current-gen G-Class prototypes through the wringer prior to the model's launch.

The 4,500-foot climb is narrow, steep, and covered in rocks. It's so difficult to summit that Mercedes has started affixing literal badges of honor to the G, stating that it's Schöckl proved.

The mountain is one of the few places a driver might need to harness the SUV's extensive off-road kit, which includes three differential locks and a two-speed transfer case. And while Mercedes won't take customers up there, it will give owners a taste of the Schöckl experience through simulators at its G-Class Experience Center.

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Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz has had cars in his blood ever since he gnawed the paint off of a diecast model as a toddler. After growing up in Dallas, Texas, he earned a journalism degree, worked in public relations for two manufacturers, and served as an editor for a luxury-lifestyle print publication and several well-known automotive websites. In his free time, Andrew loves exploring the Rocky Mountains' best back roads—when he’s not browsing ads for his next car purchase.