Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thinking About a Winter Driving Course? Do It!

Ready to practise emergency lane changes
Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy
I’ve always been nervous about winter driving, especially after being involved in a few near misses and one accident that totalled the car. So when I heard a few years back that Mercedes-Benz ran a winter driving academy, I was interested. The fact that you got to drive several of their cars during the course of it made me even more interested. But it looked rather expensive, and I wasn’t sure I could justify it.

Last Friday, I got to go to the Mercedes-Benz Winter Driving Academy (MBWDA), courtesy of my husband who thought it would make a great Christmas present. He was right, and having been through the experience, I have to say that it is worth the money. While they do run courses in various places across Canada (you can find more information here), obviously space is limited. I’m guessing, however, that other winter driving courses do offer some of the same training. Ask around and see.

At the wheel of the C 63 AMG
Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy
 What should you expect? At the MBWDA, we started out in the classroom, where chief instructor Danny Kok talked about in-car stability programs (ESP), ABS brakes, and skids. While I never felt I was being talked down to, his explanations were clear and easy to understand. He also discussed such things as seating position, mirror position, eye and hand position, and I discovered there were a few things I’d been doing wrong since I first started driving. I wasn’t alone.

Then it was down to the ice (really! We were on the rowing basin from the Montreal Olympics) where we got to put all the new information to practical use as we ran slaloms, practiced emergency braking and cornering, and front and rear skids, with and without the ESP system. Don’t know about you, but normally I tend to panic if the car starts going off in a direction other than where I pointed it. On the ice, doing it deliberately, I was fine, as I knew there was nothing for the car to hit.

For any other women reading this, yes, I was somewhat worried about being intimidated by the instructors and my classmates. Not being particularly assertive, I figured I’d be stuck with the smart fortwo all day while my classmates fought over the sports cars. Nope. The course is designed to make sure you have a chance to try all the cars and no one was the least bit intimidating. The instructors were great at providing feedback and letting you know not just what you were doing wrong but what you were doing right.

There goes the rear end!
Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy
 Getting to try the fleet of cars was a blast. The instructors had various vehicles picked out for the different exercises and cycled us through them. It was interesting to try rear wheel drive, front wheel drive, and all wheel drive (4MATIC) on the same exercise. Definitely felt safer in the 4MATICs but the rear wheel drive cars were more fun. They also had one E 250 equipped with all seasons and another with winter tires. Winter tires are worth the extra money.

The icing on the cake was getting to drive the C 63 AMG coupe and the SLK 55 AMG roadster. I was drooling just looking at them, especially the SLK. Mmm. They both have a lot more power and response than I’m used to (they have more than twice the horsepower of my daily driver). I’d have to describe them, especially the C 63, as frisky. Not a bad thing, but I’d want several hours on clear roads under my belt before I took either of them out in a snowstorm.
Can I do it again?
Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy

Now all I need to do is find an empty parking lot so I can get in more technique practice.

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