Story & Pictures By Zachary Ho
What’s This About?
On a bright sunny day not too long ago, Mercedes-Benz hosted a Driving Experience session at the Sepang International Circuit, which hosts among other things – Formula One and MotoGP races.
The Sepang circuit is technically challenging, known for its sweeping corners and two wide straights – a back straight and a pit straight, where you can floor the pedal. The two straights are joined by a tight hairpin which tests a driver’s and car’s braking and handling abilities.
To tackle this circuit, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia provided participants with such cars as the A250 AMG Sport, A45 AMG, CLA 45 AMG, GLA 45 AMG, CLS 400 etc. The S63 AMG Coupe, Mercedes-AMG C63 S and Mercedes-AMG GTS showed up too but were, to our disappointment, relegated to show-car status.
This event was also a showcase for Petronas’ new Primax 97 petrol as well as their Syntium lubricants which were used in all the cars available for the participants. Also available for us to punish were tires from Continental.
Who Was There?
The participants consisted of Mercedes-Benz owners (quite a number own the AMG variants), future owners and a handful of journalists. We journalists were under invitation of Petronas, sponsor of the successful Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team.
What Did We Do?
Before we could get our grimy hands on the cars, we were briefed by Chief Driving Instructor, Peter Hackett, on the safety features of the current Mercedes-Benz line-up as well as their future cars and then to the team of instructors (all of whom are racing drivers) who will guide us through the few courses set up throughout the Sepang track.
This included cornering, braking, skid control, handling and lane change exercises. This gives the opportunity to get a hands-on experience of what each Mercedes-Benz car is capable of in critical situations, and in a safe environment under professional supervision. It was also an eye-opener to many who take these safety technologies for granted as they work silently behind the scene.
The climax of the day was a few laps around Sepang. Granted that this was a guided drive in a convoy of five, it was fun nevertheless as each car had a chance to keep pace with the lead car driven by an instructor and this gave each one the opportunity to push the car to the limit.
Did We Learn Anything?
We learned that the correct sitting position helps heaps with the driver’s reaction time and is a life-saver too. And even the densest of us figured out that Mercedes-Benz is seriously committed to driving safety. There are already many of these safety systems in place in the current cars e.g. blind spot monitoring, cross traffic alert, collision avoidance, etc. Over another model generation, or two, we could be seeing cars that drive themselves.
Autonomous driving will no longer be the stuff of science fiction as major car companies are now actively pursuing this. For driving enthusiasts like me, it brings mixed emotions. On one hand, it reduces or eliminates driver error borne from ignorance or idiocy. On the other, it sucks the fun out of actually operating the car. But such is the reality, a compromise to reduce road accidents and fatalities; drivers will become a rare breed, like those who can drive manual transmission today.
But till then, we learned that Mercedes-Benz cars such as the CLS 400 and the A45 AMG, among others, are some seriously fun characters with great power and prowess. Even the A250 AMG Sport, considered the most junior of the lot, took it all in stride. A number of the owners have never driven their rides to such extreme conditions, and that day, they learned what their cars, with all that technical wizardry working under the hood, could do and how they can handle real-world emergency situations e.g. sudden braking or lane changing to avoid collision and controlling skids.
It was a rather hot day to say the least and all the cars were driven hard in the exercises, and with the air-conditioning at full blast. The cars were regular, off-the-shelf ones and aren’t prepped for track. Yet after all that punishment in slaloms, rapid braking, corner taking, the cars didn’t exhibit any deficiency when driven around the circuit; testament to the robustness of the cars as well as the Continental tires and Petronas Syntium lubricants. The Primax 97 fuel worked well with the cars as it aided quick acceleration in a smooth and responsive manner.
If you’re a Mercedes-Benz owner and missed out on this session, consider signing up for the next one. If you’re not a Mercedes-Benz owner, consider one. The new generation of Mercedes-Benz cars are more youthful in appearance and character while still maintaining that premium poise.
For more information on the Mercedes-Benz range: http://www.mercedes-benz.com.my/content/malaysia/mpc/mpc_malaysia_website/myng/home_mpc/passengercars/home/new_cars/model_overview.flash.html