It really is a privilege to be on the database of Mercedes-Benz Century City, Culemborg, and Claremont. There is a real sense of proudness each time I receive an email or phone call from them. And when I received an invite to attend another track day, I did not hesitate to accept. If the last track day was anything to go by, then this event had some serious expectations to live up to.
This is the second track day hosted by the said dealerships that I’m attending. I got my invite and responded almost immediately; booking my spot well before I am left in the cold. And it was worth driving to the track and doing laps in Germany’s finest.
What made the experience all the more memorable was that the instructors I drove with the last time, remembered me. One laughed and reminisced about my driving; another recalled me being a motor journalist and also asked about my drive in two Jaguar F-Types. Small things, but the familiarity made the drives a more relaxed experience.
Even though they are only instructors, they make an effort to remember their clients. It’s been months since I last saw them, but they remembered. And it’s the remembering of the small detail that astounded me. These guys have the interest of Mercedes-Benz Century City, and the Mercedes brand as a whole, at heart. Kudo’s to you and your staff, Mercedes-Benz Century City. Kudo’s to you.
Back to the track.
This time around the three Mercedes-Benz dealerships limited the amount of people attending the track day. This meant that you were more likely to drive the car you had your sights set on.
Rules were also explained to participants, both via email and each time you’d get in a vehicle. No overtaking and no speeds exceeding 100 km/h.
This might sound strange to some, but there is logic behind the madness.
See, each participant signs an indemnity form that frees Mercedes-Benz Century City from any liability. In the event of any damage being done to the vehicles through overzealous driving, the participant will be liable for any or all costs. It, ultimately, limits the risks of anything happening to the vehicles. It may sound like a lot of red tape, but rather this than being liable for thousands of Rands.
By also limiting the speed, there is some form of control that is being exercised and an ensuring that both participant and the dealerships are safe.
The first car I slipped into was the GLA 45 AMG and this SUV-version of Merc’s A45 AMG is no slouch. The GLA45 AMG will sink its claws into the road and not hold anything back. It rushes through the gears and that addictive burble emitted from the exhaust after every gear change still stirs the senses and brings a very naughty grin on the face.
The same engine that does duty in the A45 AMG (2,0-litre Biturbo) is used in the GLA 45. Combined with the all-wheel drive it surges the car forward, with no reluctance.
With speeds limited to 100 km/h, you can only really test the car’s dynamic ability. Around the corners this SUV sits like a fly in jam. It sticks and grabs and the weighted steering gives so much feedback that you are never left wondering whether the grip will give in.
Next up was the Big Daddy on the day: the GL63 AMG. This thing is huge. When I say huge I don’t mean big. I mean monumental. Substantial. Colossal. There is almost no other SUV on the market with as much presence and appeal as this SUV. Weighing in at almost 2.5 tonnes, it is no light vehicle, either.
To move so much weight around you would need to have a strong and powerful engine. Bring in Merc’s 5,5-litre Biturbo V8. With 410 kW and all-wheel drive on offer, this behemoth will slingshot from standstill to 100 km/h in under five seconds. This type of acceleration in a vehicle of this size is like Mercedes-Benz is just showing off. And I like it a lot!
I did, however, find a small niggle in my GL63 AMG drive. With the speed limiter engaged and set to a said speed, try as you might, but you will struggle to have the gearbox doing what you want it to do. Even when set to manual, gear changes occur when the computer thinks it’s a good time to change. Often times I would find myself changing up or down, and the car would remain in the previous gear, showing you what gear should be engaged.
It was the only gripe in an otherwise complacent ride. Steering faded slightly around slower corners, but it was better around some of the faster ones. It would seem, then, that the Big Daddy wants to be driven, but to the driver underestimating both its size and power: a dirty pants is pending.
The last two vehicles I had my eye on were the E400 and E400 Cabriolet. Both cars utilise Mercedes-Benz’s 3,0-litre V6 engine, good for 245 kW and 480 N.m of torque. The latter available from as low as 1 400 r/min. That is a lot of thrust. It’s like shooting a gun for the first time. It may look small and innocent, but it will leave you shaking thanks to that “surprise” factor. And that’s what both E400’s were: surprises.
Miscalculating the limits of these two cars – even from the offset – can have you wiping beads of sweat off your forehead. Both cars offer something different to different buyers and around the track each car’s identity comes into play.
The E400 sedan is more setup with a bias toward the family man, whereas the E400 Cabriolet plays a sportier role. I deliberately set the sedan to Comfort mode and the Cabriolet to Sport. Throttle responses in the Cabrio were faster, more immediate. It rushed through the revs at a higher rate than the E400 sedan. Both cars had front-end bite and corners could be tackled, but testing the limits was prevented by the speed limiter.
This was a good day. The three Mercedes-Benz dealerships made the effort and it paid off. I count myself lucky to be invited and having a small foothold in their door. What this track day also confirmed was that these dealerships are dedicated to their clients. Dedicated to letting their clients – and prospective clients – know that they are considered an integral part of the Mercedes-Benz family. And I, for one, am glad to count myself amongst these members.
For more track day pictures, visit the Shootout Facebook page.