This time, the invitation came courtesy of Petronas, whose lubricants and fuels have been powering Mercedes-Benz vehicles for a long time now, both in passenger vehicles as well as in the most grueling litmus test of them all, Formula One. With every track day event, the competitive side takes over; will I do well in the challenges or will I shame myself in public? So with mixed feelings, I joined a handful of journos along with roughly 30 guests which included owners of the latest Mercedes-Benz variants like the A45 AMG, GLA 45 AMG etc on a bright and sunny morning, gathering in the Paddock Club at the SIC (Sepang International Circuit) for a hearty meal before the start of the day’s proceedings.
Chief Driving Instructor Peter Hackett (I’m guessing he and his team are Aussies judging from their all-too familiar accents) gave us a rousing opening speech to rev up the engines within us before giving us a glimpse of what to expect from existing and future Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles. The key takeaway for me was, autonomous driving (unassisted self-driving vehicles) is almost upon us, so track day experiences may one day be a thing of the past just like manual cameras and typewriters with no auto-correct, so all of a sudden I’m feeling rather lucky to have been invited to such a prestigious event, and mind you, it ain’t cheap as the price for admission is RM5,000 a pop! It’s so good to be working in media isn’t it?
The other takeaway point from Hackett’s presentation was that Mercedes-Benz places a lot of emphasis on not only occupant safety and conveniences, but also on pedestrian safety. The amount of technology present in their cars today are truly underrated, with most of it working ubiquitously yet quietly in the background so that you, the driver, can get to your destination in safety and luxury. To own and drive a Mercedes-Benz vehicle is not just about owning a badge, but truly a remarkable work of art and thoughtfulness.
While the usual array of technical challenges did not ruffle my feathers , it was the dexterity and precise handling characteristics of each tested Mercedes-Benz variant that surprised me. Case in point: for the slalom test, I had the opportunity to test the brand new CLS 400 coupe, an RM600,000.00 luxury cruiser! Producing 329bhp and 480Nm of torque out of a 3-liter twin-turbo V6, this baby took to the tight slalom like a duck to water, with its tailgate toeing the line neatly with every nip and tuck of the steering wheel. You’d hardly expect anyone who owns this beauty to create this much drama in real world situations, but it’s good to know just how far Mercedes-Benz has come in the handling department.
Braking in a hurry as if your life depended on it is an event that most motorists would’ve done at least once in their lives. Well, Mercedes-Benz proved to all and sundry on that day that each and every vehicle produced by them can be made to stop in a heartbeat, thanks to a combination of electronic wizardry and top-notch mechanicals. Naturally, tyres do play a critical role too, and for that we have to thank the good folk at Continental Tyres as OEM partners of Mercedes-Benz. All test vehicles were shod with Continental shods and were not specially race prepared, so you can rest assured of the same level of performance for your everyday driving situations.
When it came to the actual full track experience, all of us were given identical cars to drive, so it all came down to individual skills and the size of our family jewels. The provided Mercedes-Benz A250 proved to be very fun to drive around the Sepang track, and even though we didn’t cover the full track (the back straight was blocked off), 5 laps was enough to prove to us just how well the A250 handled around the punishing track, thanks mainly to the safety net provided by the onboard computer that prevented even the most amateur driver from skidding off the beaten path. As it was a guided tour, we were taught the finer details of how to tackle the various challenges around the track, and how important it was to keep to the cornering lines.
Throughout the course of the day, the sun was out in full force, beating down on the blazing hot racing tarmac without mercy. I am happy to report that no test car broke down that day either due to overheating or tyre failure due to intense heat. We don’t usually see such hot weather in regular commutes, so this just goes to show how well Petronas’ Syntium 7000 fully synthetic lubricant is able to take a severe punishment without seizing up the precisely engineered Mercedes-Benz engines, and just how robust Continental tyres are to be able to rip through Sepang at high speeds and not suffer a single blowout. And mind you, we drivers drove in relative comfort with the AC running at full blast! Not your typical race drivers are we…
Up until recently, the image of Mercedes-Benz in the country was that of rich towkays being driven around by drivers while those who wanted a driver’s car went to the other side. Today’s image of the marque seems to have undergone a tremendous turnaround, with more and more of the younger generation of well-connected privileged citizens joining the fray to redefine the brand’s segmentation. The modern Mercedes-Benz vehicle represents a youthful vitality with a taste for the good life, an assurance of a place in a society only few can truly appreciate and understand. These are truly good and exciting times indeed for Mercedes-Benz.
Text and images: Greg Yang