“Just to check – you’ve got a driving licence, yes?” Driving Specialist Chris is in a jokey mood as he hands me control of the impressive Mercedes-Benz GLE, and frankly, why wouldn’t he be? He knows something I don’t – how much fun I’m about to have. Admittedly, as he takes me through the many eye-popping features that make off-roading astonishingly simple in the GLE, it transpires there are several things he knows that I don’t. He advises me, when ready, to make my way onto the formidable-looking off-road course, and with that, my Best of Both Track vs Off-Road Experience begins.
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You really need to spend a few hours at Mercedes-Benz World
Activities for kids of all ages, stunning memorabilia, and spine-tingling driving experiences await
Almost immediately, I’m faced with a stupidly imposing incline. Yet with a sense of calm, Chris flips between the various intelligent drive modes, encourages me to gently build the throttle, and up and over we go. Next, we test the car’s pitch. Chris advises me that the GLE’s maximum angle of pitch before things get tasty is a punchy 35º, and as we reach a mere 18º, I feel compelled to take his word for it. Nevertheless, the stability provided at some ludicrous angles is astonishing.
The course really ramps up, often quite literally, the further you get into it. There are uneven, craggy surfaces that in any other car would seem like an insurmountable boulder field, but the GLE glides over them with minimal fuss, as it automatically adjusts the suspension according to every inch of ground we cover. As you plunge into water up to 50cm deep, things get a bit Jurassic Park. But no matter what lies in my path, the GLE renders it child’s play, and thanks to Mercedes-Benz World’s pioneering Under-17s Driving Experiences, that’s often literally true. In Chris’s words: “If you’re a tall eight-year-old, you’re in.”
We soon arrive at the course’s real pièce de résistance – the V-Gulley. “You’ll approach from the right, and then you’re going to pivot the car on two diagonal wheels”, explains Chris, as if that were a totally normal thing to say. As instructed, I mount the right-hand side of the V-Gulley at 22º of pitch, before turning sharply left and coming to a stop, achieving the effect of balancing the car on the left front and rear right. It’s an unsettling, yet oddly enjoyable feeling. I gently feather the gas once more, and by smoothly guiding me back onto terra firma, using the drive of only two wheels, the GLE is at this point really showing off.
Now it’s time to head towards the track, and I’m whisked into the Mercedes-AMG C63. The 463bhp biturbo V8 engine growls loudly into life, and the ensuing half an hour is an unashamed exploration of that feeling of “surely I’m not allowed to do this, and yet here I am”. First, we test the C63’s acceleration from a standing start. I squeeze on the accelerator all the way to flat out, and the power is unsurprisingly extraordinary, given it’s capable of 0-60 in under four seconds. Just as quickly as we roar into break-neck speed, we’re brought to an equally impressive halt by the brakes. Just time to shove your stomach back into place, and it’s time for the next challenge.
This is my first chance to sling the C63 round the handling circuits, composed of sweeping hairpins and a long straight with a doozy of a braking zone at the end of it. In this setting, the acceleration and braking are all the more impressive, and Chris advises how to really nail those apexes, using all the grip available. It’s at this point where the real appeal of this experience becomes clear. If you’re an experienced driver, it’s your chance to test your skills with the best machinery around, but it’s also a great way to get accustomed to high-performance driving if you haven’t done anything like that before. You don’t even have to be an experienced driver at all – you could just be an adrenalin-seeker trying something new. The Driving Specialist will adapt the session accordingly, depending on what you want to get out of it.
When you first arrive at Mercedes-Benz World, it’s hard for your eye not to be drawn to the irresistible looking skid pan ring being constantly doused with water, and to my delight, that’s where we head next. With all the traction aids turned on, Chris advises me to squeeze the throttle. The back end momentarily, tantalisingly, steps out, before the C63 remarkably catches the skid as if possessed. That’s all very clever and impressive, but I know what I came for, and so does Chris. He obligingly turns off all the aids, and once again, I squeeze. For what feels like 10 seconds, but was probably closer to one, I am the Drift King – a stunt driver in my own movie. Of course, it quickly all degenerates into a series of pirouettes, but it doesn’t take long to hit your stride.
After a petrifying but rip-roaring ride in the passenger’s seat as Chris shows us his skills round the track, the hour is up all too soon. Ultimately there are many reasons why you might come here. You might have made a recent purchase and are looking to get the best out of your new toy, or maybe you just fancy a laugh, but what really becomes clear is just what a great family day out Mercedes-Benz World makes, with the Little Learners section for toddlers and cutting-edge simulators in the complex itself. It’s free to walk around and check out the latest models and awe-inspiring exhibits – the most striking being View Suspended II, which displays a Formula One Car in 3200 pieces. If you’re still reading, just do yourself a favour and go will you?
To find out more visit mercedes-benzworld.co.uk or call 0370 400 4000