Who taught you to drive? Was it your parents, or an instructor?
And have you ever been talked through how autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise, and cross-traffic assist work?
Car people tend to take for granted the idea everyone just knows how their car works, but the reality is different.
Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz all offer their own variations on driver training. Some are focused on performance driving, others on the basics.
The Mercedes-Benz Driving Experience touches on both.
“We want to teach people about our cars, we want to teach them about our brand. We want to expose them to some extraordinary technology, and most importantly we want to challenge them,”said Peter Hackett, chief driving instructor at Mercedes-Benz.
“We want to take them a little bit out of their comfort zone, and ultimately reassure them that Mercedes-Benz technology will keep them safe, and make life a whole lot easier when things go pear-shaped.”
There are three parts to our drive day at Sydney Motorsports Park, the artist formerly known as Eastern Creek:
- A chance to move from car-to-car, experiencing the difference between vehicles as varied as the A-Class and S-Class
- A short set of exercises to experience ABS, ESP, off-road assists, and active safety tech
- Track time in an AMG C63 S and GT R with an instructor on board
First stop for us is a wet skid pan and a GLA250 to experience a panic stop and swerve.
The exercise is a defensive driving classic, where you accelerate to 60km/h and drive at a set of lights. If the left-hand light flicks on, brake and swerve through a set of cones to the left.
If the right-hand light flicks on… you can work it out. Once you’ve been told which direction it’s a matter of slamming on the brakes and letting ABS go to work.
Ignore the pulsing pedal, steer through the cones. Simple.
Next up is an E300 sedan riding on plastic rear tyres with minimal grip for effortless low-speed drifting.
With stability control turned off the E-Class will slide on command at just 10km/h, hanging its tail out as neatly (or messily) as you’d like.
Start the stability control and, no matter how messy your inputs or heavy your right foot, the clever electronic brain in the E300 cuts the power and nibbles away at the brakes to keep the car tracking straight.
Having demonstrated how ABS and ESP work, the course takes you off-road in a GLS to show off how smoothly it switches into low-range, how effectively its air suspension can raise and lower the body, and how easy hill-descent control makes steep drops.
Will anyone who owns a GLS400d ever fiddle with the transfer case or locking differentials, apparently borrowed from the G-Wagen?
Probably not, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Most impressive is the AMG GT R, though. Three laps is a tantalising taste of the 911 GT3-bothering sports car, with a focus on demonstrating the Track Pace app capable of showing where you’re gaining or losing time, how you stack up against a reference time, and how hard you’re accelerating or braking.
The GT R isn’t the only Mercedes-Benz cutting laps on the track. There are C63 S sedans (more to come), and a range of more mundane cars there to be sampled as part of the ‘Drive the Range’ part of the day.
Although it’s fun jumping from the A-Class into the GLE53, and finally the S-Class, the highlight is an active safety display in the GLE.
Adaptive cruise, autonomous emergency braking, and front cross-traffic alert are all on show, featuring an alarmingly bedraggled dummy for AEB and pedestrian detection.
The highlight for any petrolhead, though, is the chance to let a C63 S loose with no speed limit… except for the 150km/h limit down the Sydney Motorsports Park back straight.
Sitting in the passenger seat is Tim Brook, Trans Am Australia driver, to explain how to better hustle the twin-turbocharged V8 sedan around the track.
Tim’s always calm in the passenger seat, even when he’s talking rank amateurs (that’d be me) through driving at high speeds.
Into the tricky turn two it’s “the 150 is our brake reference. Firm brake, keep the pressure, then gradually release as you turn into the corner”.
“At that point turn your head, look through the corner, look where you want the car to go next.”
Vision is a constant focus, with Brook telling CarExpert drivers tend to “get very fixated on just following the car ahead”.
“You’re trying to unlearn that [on track] and think… we’ve got nobody in front of us at the moment, so we want to make sure we make the most of where we’re looking,” he explains.
The goal isn’t to turn average punters into Daniel Ricciardo, of course, it’s to show what the AMG C63 S can do and offer a some pointers to improve in a new environment.
Of course, there’s a proper AMG Academy if the small taste isn’t enough…
The Mercedes-Benz Driving Experience is open to Mercedes-Benz owners and the general public. Rival brands offer similar programs.