Mercedes-Benz Australia’s Driving Experience events are back for 2021, giving owners and prospective buyers the opportunity to learn more about Mercedes-Benz vehicles, and hone car control in the safety of a closed racing circuit.
Like many events that include gatherings of people, Mercedes-Benz had to put a stop to its Driving Events programs throughout 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. But last week the company hosted the first event for 2021, with many more to follow throughout the year.
In this first event, hosted for media only at Sydney Motorsport Park, we ran through the complete entry-level program called Accelerate. Mercedes has made some changes for the Accelerate event during the time off, so now it includes an even more diverse learning platform and selection of vehicles.
It all starts with an extensive briefing, going over some of Mercedes-Benz’s latest technologies in safety and electrified powertrain systems, as well as an overview of the day’s segments. This is where punters are given a glimpse into the complete Mercedes range as well.
All guests are split into groups and cycled through different sessions. Our first session was out on the track in the C 63 S high-performance sedan. This is where you learn about the ideal seating position, where you should be looking on the road, and of course learn about the driving line and performance of the muscle sedan.
Since no helmets are required for the Accelerate event, the speed on the track is capped at 150km/h. For the average punter, this is more than enough speed. But more importantly, you can explore the acceleration potential of the machine when exiting the corners, while the driving instructor sitting beside you gives you pointers on where the car should be positioned for sheer smoothness and cornering speed.
Next up, we headed off to the skid pan for a demonstration on stability control. The car of choice was an E 300 sedan equipped with special plastic tyre covers. These covers on the wet skid pan mean very little traction. At first, it is fun to drift around a figure-8 pattern. But most impressive is when the driving instructor switches the stability control back on. You instantly appreciate how safe the system is. Even in such ridiculously slippery conditions.
From there it’s over to a special emergency braking exercise, using the latest GLB in this case. The driving instructor teaches you how to rely on the anti-lock braking technology to move the vehicle into a safe position, following a sudden swerving manoeuvre. Again, it’s amazing how much control the car and its technologies provide. In the real world, you only experience stuff like this in very frightening emergencies. But on the skid pan, you get to actually see the technology working and appreciate how much it saves you.
Speaking of avoiding collisions, one of the most impressive demonstrations of the event is the autonomous emergency braking session. Here, an instructor drives the car along a straight piece of tarmac, when, suddenly, a plastic/foam vehicle is drawn across the path right in front of you. Without any driver input, the car notices the approaching object and automatically brings you to a complete stop before any collision.
Again, this is not something we’d like to experience in the real-world, but here in the safety of a closed course (and a foam car), the exercise gives you a very real demonstration on how cross-traffic alert and avoidance systems work. Similarly, another exercise is to drive straight at an object that looks like a person on the road. It is very unnerving driving towards such an object, especially with a face drawn on it, knowing full well that no human is going to apply the brakes. However, the car monitors the situation and pulls the car up to a stop well before any collision.
Off the road, you might think the Mercedes-Benz G-Class is the go-to vehicle for this sort of stuff. Well, instead of sampling the obvious, Mercedes wants to show off the latest GLS SUV, with the optional off-road pack. It includes low-range and differential locking. We think it’s fair to say most buyers of the GLS will probably never venture much further than a gravel driveway. But here, seeing what it can actually achieve, it is good to know the vehicle can indeed perform very well when the going gets rough. Even climbing a seriously steep hill, in reverse, the GLS surges through with no hesitation.
Back out onto the main circuit at Sydney Motorsport Park, guests are given the opportunity to take the new AMG GT R beast for a lap with a professional racing driver giving you guidance. The new model features an extensive lap data app, which includes telemetry on throttle position, braking, and even the steering angle throughout each lap. Then you can go back through the data and analyse where you could improve and where you’re doing well. This app is also available on other AMG models.
To finish it all off, guests are invited to test drive a few of Mercedes-Benz’s latest models around the track. This session is not really about setting lap times, although you can explore the performance up to 150km/h, it is more about experiencing the latest products. We selected from a GLE 53 AMG, E-Class convertible, new A-Class hybrid, and even the EQC fully electric mid-size SUV.
The driving events are open to not only Mercedes-Benz owners but also the general public, as long as you have a valid driver’s licence. Prices start from $550 for the entry Accelerate half-day program. The next event is planned for May 7 at Sandown Raceway in Victoria. Head over to the Mercedes-Benz Driving Experience website for more info.