Being invited to a Mercedes-Benz track day can lead to nothing but great excitement, and when the last car you drive is the SLK 55 AMG, it just makes your day so much greater. Thing is: what will you leave the track with?
Upon arriving at the Killarney race track, the quick sign-up went without hiccups and I made my way down to the track with the tag around my neck. Cars on offer were A-Classes, a B-Class, a few C-Classes, an E-Class cabriolet, and three AMGs: A45-, GLA 45- and SLK 55 AMG. There can be no denying that the exhilaration upon viewing these cars stirs the senses with great expectation.
The first go I had was in the new C200. The instructor who accompanied me also arrived a few minutes before I did and the two of us set about to do our two laps.
Selecting the “individual” setting with the Agility dial on the centre console was a breeze. What the Agility dial effectively does is allow you to keep the car in gear for longer the higher up the rev range you go. Leaving the pits and changing the gears with the steering-wheel mounted paddle shifts was quite fun.
Approaching the first turn – a left-hander – and hard on the breaks prompted the instructor to ask me a series of strange question over the course of the two laps. Questions like: “am I a racer”, “have I raced on a track before”, and “have I done an advanced driving course”. To all of the above I answered no and the disbelief on his face only told half the story.
But the C200 managed to do two laps better than what was expected from it.
What was perhaps to be expected was how unsteady the C200 felt under harsh driving. Yes, it’s not a sports’ model, and neither has the suspension been beefed up to handle such enthusiastic driving, but it was very notable how squeamish the tail was. The front-end felt numb, similar to what your arm feels like suffering from pins and needles.
However, the C200 made up for this lack of composure in the corners the moment I hit the back- and start-finish straights. The stability of this vehicle is exemplary and it was easy to floor it down both straights. Vibration on the steering wheel was kept to a minimum and the tranquil nature of the comfortable interior adds to the sublime ride quality.
The C200 was made for comfort; there can be no doubt of that. It can handle enthusiastic driving, but expecting it to bite when you turn the nose into a corner is a bit of an ask. Nonetheless, it was perhaps the ideal car to start my day with; giving me time to familiar rise with the track and settling in with “only” 135 kW before sampling the heavy hitters.
From here my excitement was steadily building. The tingling feeling in your toes, the continuous rubbing of the hands as you’re patiently awaiting your next ride. This is the stuff of legends. The cars came into the pits and went out again. The exhaust sounds of the AMG monsters made the pit wall tremble! If this was heaven, do not send me back.
After the C200 the next car I sampled was the A45 AMG. There is a remarkable difference between a standard- and an AMG Mercedes-Benz. From the moment you step inside and find your seating position, it makes a world’s difference. That A45 AMG was what I was gunning for; what I wanted to drive from the very moment I saw it on track. I withheld the temptation to drive it earlier in the morning, but I realised I shouold get in that line before it gets longer.
This time last year I was a passenger in the CLA45 AMG, the sedan-version of the A45, and I was blown away by its grunt, thrust, and that hoarse exhaust note. And now it was my turn to sample the finest production 2,0-litre engine on the market. It’s been a long time coming, and if I’m going to graduate from this machine, I’m going to cum laude.
On track the A45 AMG was quite simply amazing. It started off slowly; with a formation lap. All cars were tightly knit as the drivers came to grips with the next vehicle they’re about to drive. It build anticipation. It released drops of adrenaline into the veins of a driver who can’t wait to unleash the A45. And all the while quick bursts of acceleration kept the exhausts blipping. Marvelous.
But when the SLK that led the pack sped away, (nearly) all hell broke loose! I down shifted to second gear, floored the throttle and laid waste to the GLA45 behind me! The exhaust barked with an obtrusive nature and filled the cabin with smiles not even Santa could generate! It was eye-blinkingly quick how this car’s speedometer raced north before having to stop for the right-hander at the end of the back straight.
Lap 2 is fast approaching and again the A45 AMG bulldozed down the start-finish straight! There was no tomorrow, only my time now in the smallest AMG! I eked out every single one of those 265 kW’s and made them count before having to break heavy, again, for the first corner!
With more space between me and the car in front, I was more aggressive when attacking the corners during the second lap. So much so, that I caught up to the said car and the GLA45 AMG was back on my tail, too. Again, I fell a bit back, but this time we all knew what was coming…
With enough distance between me and the car in front I again laid waste to the stretched-out back straight. The GLA45 was way too slow on the exit and I made my way down the straight! Nothing else mattered; accept for that always-welcome burble from the exhaust. The only pity, though, was when the car in front braked WAY ahead of the braking-point, and I dually obliged by the track day rules.
It was a rather anti-climax way to end what was a very enticing two laps. That A45 AMG begged me to drive it more, harder, and to be more unforgiving to what it can handle and what it can’t. I need more time with that car. Our story had only just begun and there’s a book that needs to be written…
After the highlight known as the A45 AMG, I headed over to the SLK 55 AMG queue. Everyone wanted to sample this car. A big 5,5-litre V8 monster sending 310 kW to the rear wheels. This is the chariot of the day. The epitome of a day well-spend.
At 12:40 I got behind the wheel of the SLK 55 AMG. It was something else. The elongated bonnet housing that 5,5-litre V8 stretched out in front of me. The steering wheel fitted so gently in the palms of my hands, and the throttle giggled every time I tickled it.
Leaving the pits was rather fun, even if there was no real drama involved. I led the pack I came to a standstill in the number 1 box, with everyone else lining up behind me. The instruction was clear to all instructors: only ONE lap. The team in the SLK obliged and my final lap of the Mercedes-Benz track day was about to start.
I set off, leaving the second car behind as quickly as I put my foot on the throttle. It was surreal how this car, with so much power, is planted in the corners. Being in front and having had a light-hearted talk with the instructor, I was granted more moments to test the limits of this car. I really went for it, committing to the turn-in as much as my confidence allowed! It was exhilarating how the car hauled itself out of every corner, chasing its own tail as the speedometer rushed upward!
I made every moment of this single lap count; and hurriedly tried to get to the back straight. It was meant to be that I should be first on the lap, and the rush proved it!
The car slingshot out of the corner, a single downshift needed, and keeping the steering wheel in a neat straight line! With my foot deeply rooted to the floor of the SLK 55, the exhaust roared down that straight and the engine upfront begged for more fuel! No twitching on the steering and thanks to a good exit at the start of the back-straight, I managed to reach a speed that would have landed me in deep trouble on the National roads!
I was nowhere near the limits of this car. I was nowhere near its maximum capabilities, but, as told, I pulled into the pits.
In all, I can’t complain about the cars I drove. All three vehicles were amazing in their own right. Each one has its own personality; its own character. Would I attend another Mercedes-Benz track day? Without a moment’s hesitation, yes!
There is no doubt that a Mercedes-Benz is a standout vehicle in terms of quality and sheer driver involvement. Its products speak of a brand that wants to be a leader in all segments of the market it competes in.
This was a good day. In fact, it was an astounding day! The three dealerships (Century City, Culemborg, and Claremont) really made a genuine effort and in the end it all paid off. This was a fantastic day.
For more photos on the event, visit the Shootout Facebook page.