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The last time I was at Sepang, it involved yours truly driving (rather carelessly) around the famed circuit in a Lamborghini Huracan – an experience that was equally enjoyable as it was terrifying. Safe to assume then, that when the invite came to drive a slew of Mercedes-Benz models around selected parts of the circuit, it was all going to be rather civilised and less of a sensory overload.

Oh, how wrong was I to think so. The first hints surfaced when the drive included a two-lap spin in the Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG – more of which later. Then the full itinerary came in, detailing how I was supposed to perform doughnuts (driving about in circles with smoke pouring from the rear), negotiate a high-speed slalom course and simulate an emergency brake-and-swerve manoeuvre.

Before we delve into it, a little bit on the programme itself. The Mercedes-Benz Driving Experience, as it’s called, aims to help drivers improve on key aspects of handling a vehicle in the event of an emergency. An array of electronic driver aids mean next to nothing when said driver is incapable of reacting in the appropriate manner during moments of distress.

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As a result, the syllabus encompasses everything under the sun from a technical brief on the various safety systems on a Mercedes-Benz, the appropriate method on how to manoeuvre a car in an emergency to various techniques on how to recognise and avoid potential obstacles and road risks. All in all, eight separate courses are laid out for participants to fully (and safely) exploit the limits of a car.

Naturally, the entire course is conducted under the guidance of certified instructors from Mercedes-Benz – which is how yours truly found himself shaking hands with Peter Hackett, chief driving instructor of the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy, former test driver for the Australian A1GP Team and all-round nice bloke.

With the icebreakers done and dusted, it was time for me to make my way to the first course – it should be known that I took part in only three of the eight available modules. As we approached, the sight of a multitude of C- and E-Class models sliding about signified the aim of this particular segment – the importance of electronic stability programme (ESP) and how to pilot a car with virtually zero traction, akin to winter driving.

Strapping into the seat of a W205 Mercedes-Benz C200 Avantgarde, I was told to go easy on the throttle as the rear tyres have been swapped out for what Mercedes-Benz calls “plastic tyres” – tyres with no thread depth (or pattern, for that matter) and are designed to reflect the traction afforded by normal tyres on frozen surfaces. The first exploratory run was conducted with the ESP system engaged to gauge the amount of assistance offered.

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Despite the custom tyres and a deliberately heavy right foot, the rear end of the C-Class refused to step out of line throughout the entire figure-eight course. Sure, there were brief moments when the car buckled and swayed under a relatively heavy throttle but the keyword here is brief – before the car could pivot more than it was necessary, the ESP system kicked in, limiting torque and braking the right wheels to restore balance.

The follow-up to this was to drive the entire course again with the ESP turned off to experience a total loss of control – purely for scientific reasons and not for the heck of it, of course. The result? A slipping, sliding C 200 that struggled to point its nose in the right direction, which ensured that the grinning driver behind the wheel faced multiple charges of cone-related homicide cases.

At the end of the exercise, there was no doubting the importance of the ESP system employed on Mercedes-Benz cars. Short of experiencing a bout of snow and ice here in Malaysia, one can definitely appreciate the added safety net that it provides – especially if drivers find themselves driving in the middle of a torrential rainstorm and the need to suddenly swerve arises.

Which brings us to the next course – a flat-out run towards the end of a straight followed by hard braking and swerving the car to the left or right, depending on where one is instructed to head towards. The point of the course was to showcase the advantages of the aforementioned ESP system as well as highlight the importance of anti-lock braking system (ABS).

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For this segment, it was a swap for the front-driven A 250 Sport over the rear-driven C 200 Avantgarde. The exercise sounded simple enough – accelerate down a straight and underneath a gantry which was equipped with a pair of lights, on each side. As soon as you approached, either one will light up and it was then that drivers had to stomp on the brakes and swerve either to the left or right. Without running into the cones.

With the signal to floor it given, I did as was required and gunned it for the horizon, in this case, towards the gantry. Lights up. To the left. Stomping on the brakes as hard as possible, the ABS/ESP combination worked its magic as I swerved out of the first row of cones into another – five out of ten, then. If you’ve never had to experience an ABS system at work, doing a run like this feels rather scary.

As one stands on the brake pedal, the entire car shudders as the system works within mere seconds to calculate the appropriate amount of force needed to retard the car as well as preventing the brakes from locking up – which would make steering the car close to impossible. Before you ask, no. I did not drive the same course with the electronics turned off – unlike the previous exercise, speeds of up to 90 km/h were possible during this run.

Still in the A 250 Sport, I made my way down the circuit for the final programme – a slalom course. Unlike the previous two, this one aims to educate drivers on the finer points of car control. As mentioned at the beginning, no amount of electronic gizmos prevent an accident if said driver is unable to control his/her car in the event of an emergency.

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Watching the first few participants snake their way through the slalom exercise, it was surprising (and unnerving) that quite a number of them were either too enthusiastic with the throttle on the way in or preferred to stab the brakes, hoping to slow the car down enough before throwing the car in. Admittedly, yours truly was included in the latter group.

Executing a similar movement on the road, the results would have been disastrous. With additional pointers and a few more attempts, most of us were able to pilot our cars around as quickly as possible without running over the cones. The trick? Generate as much speed as possible on the way in before the first cone. As the first one approaches, wipe off the speed progressively and carry as much momentum as possible into the sequence of corners.

Without having to accelerate and brake excessively, one can focus more on the act of guiding the car through. Plus, the shifting of the car’s weight from hard braking is less likely to disrupt one’s progress. Not exactly information for everyday driving but information, nonetheless.

Despite losing out on sampling the entire syllabus, I was provided with the rare opportunity to have a go at the GLA 45 AMG, albeit for only two laps. Individuals who are convinced that AMGs lack the visual and aural attitude of a thoroughbred performance car, you’re wrong. Wrong with a capital ‘F’. The GLA 45 AMG is anything but subtle, as the M133 2.0 litre mill bursts into life inside the pit garage.

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As it rolls into view, the exterior addenda – which consists of 20-inch alloy wheels, a front splitter, rear diffuser and spoiler – further contributes to the show. Plonking my rear into the two-tone AMG bucket seats, I was given all of two minutes to get comfortable before Hackett climbed in and gave me the go-ahead.

Leaving the pit lane behind, I floored the loud pedal and aimed the car for Turn 1. With braking points handed to me courtesy of the instructor, I was able to guide the car round in a more relaxed state of mind – as relaxed as one can be when handling 360 hp and 450 Nm of torque. Quick impressions of the GLA 45 AMG?

It’s obvious enough that it does the fast bit quite convincingly. What’s really surprising is how controllable the car felt at the limit despite me driving it in all the wrong ways – it’s a fast, safe-handling, approachable AMG. A dilution of the AMG experience to the purists it may be, but something like the GLA 45 AMG represents a new direction for the tuning arm – one that might see a host of new, young customers trying out the brand for the first time.

So there you have it, what the Mercedes-Benz Driving Experience programme is all about. More than just an extended safety lecture, it ensures that the drivers themselves are well aware of what his/her car is capable of and how to best extract its performance in a safe, controlled environment. A must for owners of Silver Arrows, then.