08 September 2013

The Science of Safety: The Mercedes Benz Driving Experience 2013

Words and photos by Ian Magbanua

mbde2013-1First off, let me start this by quietly raising a beer to these twins of our generation, SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY. Thank you, for advancing our lives in beautiful ways and making the automobile possible. See, it doesn't really matter if you're an old-school or nu-scholl motorhead, there is a spattering of science and technology in every generation of the automobile. In itself, the Car is a product of Science and Technology, no matter what year, make or model. So, CHEERS!

And on a beautiful, sunny Saturday, CATS Motors Inc., the local Mercedes benz distributor, brought us to Subic Bay Internationational Airport to show us the latest practical advancements in motoring technology: The Mercedes Benz Driving Experience 2013.

The crew that runs the Mercedes Benz Driving Experience is headed by none other than Mercedes Benz Driving Academy for Asia Pacific’s wonderboy, Peter Hackett. Together with his band of merry and marvelous motorsports men, he is here to make sure that everyone in attendance gets the ultimate experience in automotive safety and technology, using the latest cars from the Mercedes Benz stable.

Be safe, PRE-SAFE - The ABS & BAS Experience

This was the usual run-stop routine. Get the car up to speed, slam on the brakes and avoid the imaginary obstacle, all the while stopping in safety. A lot of mid to high end cars actually offer these systems (thanks also to Mercedes-Benz, who pioneered ABS but were cool enough not to patent it for everyone's benefit). What most car manufacturers don't have though, is Mercedes Benz's PRE-SAFE system. In milliseconds it is able to pre-tension the seatbelts, prime the airbags, bring the brake pads closer to the disc, and turn on the adaptive brake light system all in preparation for a crash.

Taking a beautiful new E-Class on the test course and running it through the routine, I gave it a couple of 100+ km/h runs, with all of them ending in full stop evasions. I have to say the car performed beautifully with virtually zero drama. CRICKET NOISES and LIFE GOES ON. Good on you, Mercedes-Benz.

mbde2013-12mbde2013-3mbde2013-8mbde2013-11mbde2013-13The Orange Plastic Wheel and the Loss of Traction - The ESP / Traction Control Experience

Next up we were taken to another part of the SBIA tarmac to partake in some traction control exercises on a WET slalom course. What's special about this test is that our test car, an E-Class Coupe, was fitted with a special Orange Plastic Tire that, from 25 km/h to around 30 km/h simulates varying road conditions, from normal to icy and at 32 km/h above, loses all form of grip. It'll be a good demo of what the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is capable of.

A bit of instruction on the ESP controls and we're off with the ESP deactivated. The point of this exercise was to go through the WET slalom course without ESP to see how things could go horribly wrong in the real world.

TIP: if you are ever given a chance to throw a multi-million peso car around on a wet track virtually devoid of danger just to see what happens, YOU. TAKE. THAT. CHANCE. Needless to say I ended up spinning on the wet course, much to my amusement.

TAKE 2 and ESP ON. As I floor the throttle on the wet, hard left, “SCIENCE!” takes over to cut the power to the engine, ensuring that only the right amount of power gets to the wheels and effectively handing control back to me. This is the work of the ESP, continually monitoring steering angle, throttle position, wheel spin and other data to ensure that safety is first and foremost. I point the car where I want to go and that's where it takes me. BRILLIANT.

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90km/h over a Crest and then Say a Prayer - The extended ESP Experience

I take another E-Class Coupe and take it to another part of the course. The orders are to drive our cars with as much speed up an inclined road (about 15 degrees?), exit over the crest at around 90 km/h, let go of the gas and then throw the car left and right to avoid terrified orange cones, WITHOUT BRAKING. By now I’m trying to remember just what exactly it was that I had signed up for.

I drop the car into Drive and floor it. I step on the brakes on my first two runs. I AM A WUSS. The instructor's voice crackles through the radio, "Don't step on the brakes, trust the car!" FINE.

I gun it, consciously trying to keep my foot of the brakes. I feel the car go light as I exit the crest doing 90 and I violently throw the car left and right. Apart from a bit of tire screeching and seatbelt tightening, the car amazingly keeps itself composed, its aim as true as the angle on the steering wheel. I'd tell you it was magic, but no, it was “SCIENCE!”… and the ESP and PRE-SAFE systems all coming into play, of course.

So here's what happened. Mercedes-Benz's ESP took control once more, and after computing everything short of the angles on my fearful face, applied micro braking on all four wheels to establish traction where it could find it. You gotta love technology that works.

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Big Benz Small Benz

After the ABS & BAS Experience we got ushered into another car driven by one of the Australian instructors. As we drive out of the tarmac and into the SBIA runway, he tells us that we're moving out to do a top speed run. OH GOODIE.

Without a moment wasted he's got the gas pedal squished into the floor, and the glorious whine of turbochargers gently fills the plush, leather clad, luxurious interior. We hit 200 km/h pretty quickly and I watch the digital speedo climb continuously. 240. 250. 270. We hit 280 km/h with the engine and the turbos in full song when we run out of runway and have to slow down.

As I alight from the car, I do a quick visual.

AMG. CLS. 63. V8 BITURBO. MY GOODNESS.

That’s 550 horses packed into a gorgeous car and with it, the requisite technology to ensure that speed and safety go hand in hand on roads like the Autobahn. 280 km/h definitely felt good in that car, and I imagine a takeoff on a small private jet would be a similar experience.

Before the day is through, we are shuttled to the Time Attack Experience Tent and briefed on which cars we'd get to throw around the cones. One particular car that stood out was in fact, a special one. A white 2013 A250 Sport. This car is just about to break into the local market and here we are, all lined up to give it a whipping.

WHIP IT! The car was a joy to drive around the short course. From the slow but tight corners to the fast sweeping curve that continued on to some mid-speed bends and finally to the full stop braking area, the A250 Sport handled beautifully. It's no race kart, mind you, but the car definitely lives up to its Sport badging. 211 horses on a sport-optimized ESP setup and AMG tuned suspension is right up hot-hatch alley. I WANT ONE. Oh and it's such a perfect way to end a day.

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We'd like to thank CATS Motors Inc. and The Mercedes Benz Driving Academy for the wonderful experience and for giving us the lowdown on Mercedes Benz's technological breakthroughs that continually keep people safe on the road. From the PRE-SAFE system, the wonderful components that make up the ESP and finally to all the safety innovations they shared with the world, Mercedes Benz have proven that SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY are at the forefront of their pursuit for safer, more enjoyable cars.