Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy staff. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Russell Purcell
Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy
Mission, British Columbia – Though automobiles have come a long way in the past century, the act of driving remains basically unchanged. Unfortunately, very few motorists take any driver training beyond what is needed to get their driver’s license as young adults, and bad habits quickly become the norm as the years pass.
When emergency situations arise, very few drivers know how to react, or for that matter, know what the car will do. This is where programs like the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy (MBDA) come in to play. Here, you can learn driving techniques in a safe and professional environment. I should point out that you do not have to be a Mercedes-Benz owner to take an MBDA course.
Mercedes-Benz offers four different programs at the moment, and each one is designed to maximize the time you spend behind the wheel. There is a limit of twelve participants which allows for the program to operate with three groups of four, each assigned an instructor. I was lucky enough to take part in the Mastering Performance program held at my local track, Mission Raceway Park in B.C., and came away impressed with the level of instruction I received as well as the ease with which it was delivered.
Head instructor Danny Kok. Click image to enlarge
After each classroom briefing, you grab your helmet and head to the track with the other members of your group. Each participant jumps in a car and prepares to follow the lead car around the circuit to learn the correct braking and turn-in points. An instructor accompanies the driver of the lead car in each group to offer his/her insight, and critique your technique. After several laps, you’re directed to the pit lane so that the instructor can move to the next student and you can practice your newly acquired skills on your own. After several more laps, you return to pit lane as a group and move on to the next vehicle, allowing you to experience a variety of Mercedes-Benz products and provide the maximum entertainment and skills.
The Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy employs some of the most qualified and experienced driving instructors in the country to help shorten the learning curve so that you will be better equipped to enjoy your automobile. Danny Kok and his team of instructors pay careful attention to the needs of each and every participant in an effort to tailor the experience to meet their individual needs. After several class sessions to explain the nuances of driving at high speed, participants are given a chance to test their skills on the track. Each session adds another component to the driver’s tool kit, whether it is a new braking technique, a honing of your use of the controls, or an increased awareness of what it takes to make both car and driver work most efficiently.
It is important to note that the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy is NOT a racing school, something that a couple of participants in my group seemed to forget. As a result, passing and aggressive driving are not permitted activities. The courses are designed to improve your skills as a driver and to help you learn the capabilities of an automobile in a controlled environment. At one point, I glanced up at the rear view mirror to see one of the students riding my bumper and swerving back and forth to heat his tires- a technique he no doubt learned from watching too many NASCAR races on television.
An instructor taking a group of students for a thrill ride (top); Training cars in the paddock. Click image to enlarge
Another student was behind the wheel of one of the higher performance vehicles from the fleet and was obviously getting frustrated that he could not just “banzai” around the track for a thrill. Instead, he had to hold his place within the group and work on his driving technique like the other members of the class. His misguided solution was to fall back until he had a sufficient gap to the cars ahead which would allow him to hammer the throttle and tear up the straightaway like a top fuel dragster. Not cool, nor safe. Common sense dictates that you need to leave some room between your car and the other vehicles on the track in case you have to react to avoid an accident or emergency situation. This is especially true when you consider the wide performance differential between the various cars that comprise the MBDA’s fleet. I was impressed when one of the instructors brought our group in early to deal with the renegade drivers, but annoyed that their actions were robbing the other participants of track time.
At the end of the day you will come away a much better driver as you understand that smooth is fast and balance is the key to finding the perfect line around the track. You are reminded that being aware of your surroundings and what lies ahead is more important than what song is on the radio or finding out who just sent you a text message. In a perfect world, every driver on the road should have to take a course such as this to refresh their knowledge and skills, inevitably making the roads safer for all of us.
The MBDA’s fleet includes twelve cars, and the mix of models has been carefully selected to allow the company to showcase its product range as well as offer the drivers the opportunity to explore a wide range of handling and performance dynamics under controlled conditions. The cars during my visit included the following:
- B200 TURBO (manual and automatic versions)
- C300 (manual)
- C350 4MATIC (automatic)
- E320 BLUETEC Diesel (automatic)
- E63 AMG (automatic)
- SLK300 (manual)
- SLK55 AMG (automatic)
- CLK63 AMG Cabriolet (automatic)
- CLS550 (automatic)
- ML320 4MATIC CDI Diesel (automatic)
MBDA programs include:
- Driving Experience (half day): $395.00
- Advanced Driving (full day): $895.00
- Mastering Performance (full day, race track): $1,595.00
- Winter Skills (all 4MATIC vehicles, full day): $995.00
For more information, contact the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy at 1-866-577-6232.