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For those of you who have been out of the news, Mercedes is now a four pronged brand! The subsidiaries of which include Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-AMG, Mercedes-EQ and Maybach. To demonstrate the all around excellence of their range, Mercedes invited us to one of their ‘Mercedes Driving Events‘ held at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, here in New Zealand.

Out of the four Mercedes prongs, we would be experiencing three of those via various different activities in and around Hampton Downs. First up though, it was time for coffee and a briefing about the day as well as the Mercedes brand. It was an interesting media presentation because we were effectively taken through Merc’s shift from an automotive manufacturer to a technology brand. Believe me when I say that a huge shift is not just coming but is already underway for the three pointed star!

A range of Mercedes cars as part of the Mercedes New Zealand Driving Event experience at Hampton Downs racetrack.
Mercedes’ as far as the eye can see!

Incoming technology improvements are now rolled out in models as and when they release rather than waiting for the next generation S-Class which is a huge departure from what we know Mercedes to have done in the past. At the same time, the safety technology in the upcoming S-Class has been hugely upgraded to included front facing airbags for rear occupants as well as a system that lifts the car in the event of an impending side impact. The innovation doesn’t stop there with Mercedes making huge strides in digital headlight technology, in-car entertainment, autonomous driving and MBUX of course.

There was plenty to take in but at the end of the day, how a car feels is still incredibly vital to the driving experience and we were here to see how the new range of Mercs fared on track!

A Maybach GLS was on display at Mercedes' Driving Events programme at Hampton Downs racetrack
Maybach is a flagship for both Mercedes’ technology and luxury innovation

First split up into three groups, our blue lanyard group got to experience the Mercedes-Benz range of passenger cars first. There were four including the new GLC Coupe, GLE, GLC, E and a C-Class Hybrid. Two laps per car meant we got a good feel of each car’s performance, handling, braking and general composure through a rather grueling chicane especially. Expectations were smashed as the cars excelled with the C-Class hybrid being my pick of the bunch, composed in the corners and offering excellent balance in general.

A Mercedes GLE SUV in the foreground with other Mercedes-Benz passenger cars in the background at Mercedes' Driving Events at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park NZ
Diesel powered GLE was surprisingly good under power!

As mentioned above, those were a selection from the range of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars meaning that they were not designed to do track work. So as their brakes cooled, we moved on to the next set of vehicles and arguably a range that would be better suited to this stuff. Enter the Mercedes-AMG brand, specifically featuring the C43 AMG, GLA35 AMG, GLA45S AMG and the GLC63S AMG this afternoon!

A Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG in the foreground with other Mercedes-Benz cars in the background at the Mercedes Driving Events programme held at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park NZ.
The AMG cars raring to hit the track!

Being the performance arm of Mercedes, these cars were naturally more adept at the conditions that we were putting them through on track. Better braking, steering feel and exhaust notes were all to be expected. Particularly from the GLC63S AMG with its whopping great 4L twin turbo V8 at the nose, it bullied its way through the pack while on track. However, our pick of this bunch had to be the GLA45S AMG. Lighter and sitting on a shorter wheel base, it made excellent work of some of Hampton’s tighter corners while the twin scroll turbo four pot had plenty of punch to reach our 150kph limit on the day.

A close-up of the Mercedes-Benz GLA45S AMG as part of Mercedes Driving Events at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park NZ
Fast and nimble GLA45S AMG was Tarmac Life’s pick f the day!

Once our official full throttle track experiences had concluded, we moved on to the next part of the afternoon which was a series of activities. Each of these was designed to demonstrate a particular feature of the car to the driver. Here, there was a range of Mercedes-EQ cars to drive as well as an A45S AMG with the event officially concluding with some fresh metal in the form of an SL63 AMG.

A close-up of the 'Driving Events' livery on the side of a Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan.
Mercedes Driving Events allows for various different scenarios to test the cars’ capabilities

Our range of EQ drives included everything from the range topping EQS to the entry point EQA with an EQE53 AMG and eVito in between! Getting track time with all of these goes to show how electric cars naturally benefit from having most of the weight situated down low in the middle of the car. The set-up made something as large as the eVito handle impressively on track.

A range of Mercedes-EQ cars in frame including an EQS, eVito, EQE53AMG and EQA as part of Mercedes' Driving Event at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park NZ.
Mercedes-EQ range of vehicles benefit from intelligent battery positioning to improve handling

However, it couldn’t compare to the EQE53 AMG’s gut punching acceleration. The relentless power got us up to the day’s speed limit of 150kph without breaking a sweat!

As if that wasn’t enough mind warping driving for the day, we would next be going sideways in the A45S AMG. This posed an interesting challenge because it required learning a new skill which was drifting an all wheel drive car, this follows a logic that is a complete departure from what one would do in a rear wheel drive car.

A Mercedes-Benz A45S AMG drifting on the Gull skid pad at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park NZ
All wheel drive drifting was a new challenge!

This particularly was the most challenging exercise for me on the day and it looked like many of the other participants shared the same notion. However, the range of instructors on hand during the day made light work of any qualms we had, always on hand to offer helpful feedback too which judging by Dave’s comments in the above video was a must-have for me!

A range of Mercedes-AMG cars in frame including an SL63S AMG, C43 AMG and GLA 45S AMG at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park NZ for Mercedes' Driving Events programme.
SL63S AMG was particularly impressive on the short drive

To close-out the day, we had a brief blast in the new Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG and what a machine that is! Even with the roof up, the car offers plenty of engine noise feedback but it isn’t just loud, it is properly rapid too. A quick motorway trip and back left me wanting to do some cornering in it but judging by the instructor’s feedback, it is equally adept at that!

Overall, it was an excellent way to conclude a fun filled Mercedes Driving Event that helped me to gain a new appreciation for the feature laden propositions that their cars offer. Only my third time on a racetrack, the Mercedes line-up and team of driving instructors gave me plenty of confidence to tackle Hampton Downs even if it was only a “leisurely drive” at times!

Thanks for reading! For more Mercedes-Benz news and reviews, visit Tarmac Life.

A special thank you to Mercedes-Benz New Zealand for the invite! Words and photo by Matthew D’Souza.

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