Channeling my inner Lewis Hamilton at Sepang F1 Circuit

Here was my to-do list one Thursday afternoon in Sepang F1 Circuit in Malaysia last month:

  • Get up close and personal with the stunning new twin-turbo V8-powered Mercedes-Benz GT 63 S E Performance plug-in hybrid super sedan
  • Gawk at the latest generation SL—an AMG SL 43 version, no less—that follows a long line of illustrious convertibles from the three-pointed star
  • Drag race a variety of full-electric and internal combustion (including an S 580 e!) Mercedes-Benzes on the front straight of Sepang
  • Negotiate a slalom and braking course on the other side of the circuit behind the wheel of more electric and IC Mercedes-Benzes
  • Take a very fast sweeping curve in a quick and nimble C-Class and line the car up for a perfect apex under the watchful eye of a German driving instructor (who will announce on the two-way radio how good—or bad—you did) 
  • Take several fast laps of the whole circuit in an E-Class while trying not to wave at the grandstands as I cross the finish line at full throttle

Needless to say, it was an unforgettable afternoon.

Got to drive (almost) all—A full range of models in just about every letter in the Mercedes-Benz alphabet Photos by Manny de los Reyes

And it was all thanks to my being part of the Malaysian leg of the Mercedes-Benz Driving Experience (MBDE), which brings the full line of Stuttgart’s finest to cities in various parts of the world to enable participants to experience different Mercedes models in a variety of high-performance driving conditions in a safe and controlled environment. This year’s MBDE in Sepang marked the return of the much-awaited event on this F1 track since the pandemic.

The supremely luxurious and stately S-Class can burn serious rubber in S 580 e form

Close to three dozen Mercedes-Benz models were present at the event, whether for driving or for display. Every single model was included—A-Class, B-Class, C-Class, E-Class, S-Class, SL-Class, GL-Class and even the full range of much awaited EQ-Class full-electric vehicles (EQA, EQB, EQC, EQS)—many in their various derivatives and model variants. (Only the almighty G-Class and the AMG GT were absent.)

AMG’s hot hatch—the fabulous A 45

We were split into groups so the various exercises could happen in various portions of the track. The only time the whole group was assembled—and all track markers and pylons removed—was for the full-circuit lapping sessions. The instructors let out the cars in batches (each batch led by an instructor in a pace car). My batch was quicker as we’d always catch up with the batch ahead of us. The instructor would make us throttle back to give more space between the two batches, but we’d always catch up with them again. Now I know how Lewis feels when he’s lapping slower traffic.      

Caught this silver E-Class just as it passed in front of the iconic pagoda-like awning of Sepang

All told, you get to experience high-performance driving in virtually every conceivable configuration: rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, naturally aspirated, turbocharged, pure electric, sports car, compact hatchback, compact sedan, midsize sedan, large sedan, compact SUV, midsize SUV, and large SUV. How’s that for variety?  

The event was open to local Mercedes-Benz owners and potential customers. 

Track experiences aside, another highlight of MBDE 2023 was the aforementioned appearance of the magnificent Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S E Performance. The plug-in hybrid AMG GT 63 S E Performance is the most powerful production vehicle ever by Mercedes-AMG. It is powered by a 4.0-litee twin-turbo V8 engine that puts out 639 hp and 900 Nm. It’s mated to an electric motor that produces 200 hp and 320 Nm, for a combined power output of an astounding 843 hp and 1,470 Nm.

Lapping Sepang

We didn’t get to ride or drive it, but we did get to hurtle an equally majestic sedan in the incomparable S-Class (in a very powerful S 580 e variant) along a quarter mile with some hard braking at the end so we could make a tight u-turn to reenter the pitlane and line up again at the starting line.

The author beside the stunning 843hp/1,470Nm Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S E Performance plug-in hybrid super sedan

The S-Class amazed with its opulent luxury and comfort spiced up by stunning acceleration. Even more amazing was how the huge sedan braked and cornered with incredible poise and effortless ease. 

Almost equally impressive was the fact that most of the Mercedes models available for wringing around the track were not entry-level ones. There were no C180s or E200s; instead we had an assortment of midrange and top-of-the-line models like the A250, C300, Mercedes-AMG GLA 35, EQA 250, EQB 350, EQC 400, EQE 350+, and the aforementioned S 580 e. We got to drive every single one in the various driving exercises that lasted half the morning and all afternoon. 

All told, the Mercedes-Benz Driving Experience is a brilliant way to showcase the sensational performance of the fabulous cars from Stuttgart. You don’t just get to drive one and really wring out the car’s (and your own) potential, you get to drive the full line of Mercedes-Benzes in one day—and learn a few driving tips from the pro driving instructors (who are all race drivers in their other lives) to boot. The icing of the cake is that you don’t have to be a Mercedes-Benz owner to experience it.

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