Visitors to the famous race track in Kent fully appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to assess rival cars back-to-back on the road and on the challenging circuit.
A number of decision-makers attending the event managed to drive more than 10 cars during the course of just a few hours, assessing vehicles on behalf of their company car drivers and using the day to identify potential additions to their fleet choice lists.
In between test drives, visitors made the most of their chance to put 4x4 vehicles through their paces on a purpose-designed off-road course, experience the thrills of rally driving as a passenger on the Pirelli-sponsored rally track, and enjoy a few laps of the Brands Hatch circuit in the new Honda NSX supercar.
Many of the comments from visitors (see below) highlighted the advantage of testing cars outside the 'hard sell' sales environment of a dealer, and the benefits of having informal conversations with manufacturer representatives.
For many, Fleet News Drive represented the first opportunity to drive new cars such as the Citroen C3, Fiat Stilo, Ford Fiesta, Honda Jazz, Jaguar X-type 2.0 and Mazda MX-5, MG TF, Range Rover and Toyota Corolla.
Others appreciated the opportunity to test some performance cars such as the Honda S2000, Civic Type-R, Ford Focus ST170 and Jaguar S-type 2.5-litre in a perfect track environment.
Something for all, from city cars to high performance supercars
National fleet sales manager James Parfett said: '2001 was a record fleet year for us with 77,000 vehicles sold, an increase year-on- year of 53%. It was monumental, and that success has continued in the first quarter of 2002, and that is before C3 makes an impact. This event is part of the launch activity for the car and the feedback for C3 has been fantastic.'
Citroen was also showing off its new Relay 2.8 HDi van in the for the first time. Parfett said: 'LCVs are very important to us. We sell 22,000 each year in the UK, making us number three in the market. It is important that we convey the strength of HDi this year, from the C3 right up to the Relay.'
He said: 'We're getting great feedback from customers. In fact, it's been unbelievable. We have 3,500 orders already, and we have some of the biggest businesses and corporate clients ordering them. Unusually for those people, who are often very demanding, they are prepared to wait to get hold of one. We are also here with Discovery and Freelander. With Discovery, there is a perception among fleets that it is more expensive to run that it is. We feel it is a good value proposition.
'And the Freelander is going really well, and continues to be our fleet winner, especially with the TD4 diesel engine because of its low CO2 emissions.'
Visitors at Brands Hatch also had the chance to try the Discovery's abilities on the off- road course.
The two cars proved to be a massive draw at Brands Hatch, much to Jaguar's delight. Roper-Hall said: 'We've been booked full all day. Visitors need to get here early to reserve their drives.'
Jaguar is gearing up its corporate sales effort as it looks to attract fleets to the new cars. Roper-Hall added: 'This is the first time for fleet managers to drive the S-type 2.5 in this country, and the first time it has been at a public show. Our target with these cars is the corporate sector. When you look at it, 2.0 and 2.5 will be a large proportion of Jaguar volume in that area.'
She said: 'The reception has been really good. The Stilo has been slow on the uptake with fleets, as with any new model. But it's a 'bums on seats' car, and visitors have been very impressed by how well it drives, and very pleased by the build quality.
'They are getting a feel for the car on the road, and on the track, and have been very impressed with the Connect system when trying it out on the road course. It's another step towards the car becoming a moving office.'
'The MGs were engineered to be fun to drive and are at home on circuits like this. They have caught the attention of user choosers since they went on sale last year.
'The Rover 75 saloon and Tourer is proving popular as a premium saloon and estate, while the Rover 45 turbodiesel has also had its fair share of drivers.'
Gerry Stocker, event manager for Ford, said: 'We have brought a full range for people to try, but for the track driving, not surprisingly, the ST 170 has been the most popular.'
Stocker reckoned the day proved to be a mixture of business and pleasure for most attendees. He said: 'We find that fleet managers come to this event, and drive and assess the cars they need to for their job first, and then have a go in something else that is off their wish list!'
Toyota fleet marketing co-ordinator Rachel Slater said the new Corolla had been a draw for visitors, particularly the 189bhp T Sport assigned to track duty, but there was also interest in the Land Cruisers.
She said: 'Visitors have a wide range of vehicles to drive and our 4x4s have been booked out since visitors started arriving.
'We have also encouraged visitors to arrive for their slots early to ensure they have time to enjoy cars on the circuit.'
James Daulton, Honda's head of corporate sales, said: 'Our cars were busy from the time the event opened giving people a good chance to drive them on the track.
'This was the first time fleets would have had access to the new NSX, and although it's a flagship for our range with limited sales, cars like that and the Type Rs have a 'halo effect' on our other models.'
He added that at the next Fleet News Drive event at Oulton Park, Honda would have the same line-up of cars but visitors will also have the first chance to drive the new Civic CTDi fitted with a new 1.7-litre common rail diesel engine - a first for Honda.
Mazda fleet sales director Jeremy Thomson said: 'Feedback has been positive and we achieved a near 100% booking schedule for our range throughout the two days. There was enormous demand for the MX-5 Sport, new 323s and Tribute 4x4 and we took details of many fleet decision makers who are eager to experience the new Mazda6 as soon as possible when it is launched on June 1. The Mazda range will again be available at Oulton Park.'
The S40 was available with a 115bhp 1.9-litre common rail turbodiesel, while the V40 was powered by a 1.8-litre petrol engine. Meanwhile the new D5 common rail diesel was available in the S60 saloon and V70 estate, and the S80 saloon was powered by a 2.4-litre petrol engine.
Volvo corporate sales manager Ian Rendle said: 'Fleet News Drive at Brands Hatch gave us a great opportunity to show just how much the Volvo product range has changed over recent years, and for fleet decision-makers to experience the performance and appeal of our current products, particularly now that we have a full range of diesel models.'
The models available at Brands Hatch will also appear at the next Fleet News Drive event at Oulton Park on April 30 and May 1.
Fleet decision-makers have their say on Fleet News Drive
'Trying them here is good because you can't do this on the roads. It's an opportunity to test the competition in the same conditions.' Bill Santry, financial director of County Interior Designs, on the Jaguar X-type.
The second Fleet News Drive event takes place on April 30 and May at Oulton Park. For more details - including a complete list of vehicles available for test driving - click here.
To register online for a ticket to Fleet News Drive click here.