We jump on the track with Mercedes-Benz to learn about defensive driving and advanced safety systems.
Cars are incredibly complex. Even the most basic and affordable forms of vehicles feature a list of acronyms longer than your arm.
Jump into any one of our reviews on CarAdvice and you'll see phrases like AEB, LKA, RCTA and BSD likely strewn throughout.
Despite paying for them and acknowledging their existence, some of the most important advanced driver assist technologies you don't actually want to see work – unless you're in a controlled environment.
Mercedes-Benz creates such a place with a customer program it calls Accelerate. The program exists not just for Mercedes-Benz owners, but for anyone who's interested in learning some basics regarding defensive driving and modern-day vehicle technology.
Mercedes-Benz Australia offered CarAdvice the chance to attend and play with a selection of its cars in a controlled environment. Who are we to say 'no'?
The day is run simply with two sessions per day – morning and afternoon. After signing in, there's a 30-minute driver briefing outlining the day's proceedings, as well as rules including dos and don'ts.
Then, the sessions begin. In the case of our event run out of Sydney Motor Sport Park, we had three stations with activities to cycle through.
The first was probably my favourite. It involves (in our instance) a rather unassuming Mercedes-Benz E300 sedan and a set of 'EasyDrift' tyres. This is a clever European invention that's practically a slip-on plastic tyre cover, which turns a watery tarmac surface into something akin to ice.
The reasoning behind this madness is to demonstrate oversteer at a safe, crawling pace (less than 10km/h) and allows a driver to learn how to manipulate the car on the throttle, as well as see what ESC (Electronic Stability Control) does, and how it works.
It's a clever exercise that is as fun as it is educational. Applying huge amounts of opposite steering lock at a walking pace is a laugh and worth the time alone.
From here, we moved on to the next program, which involved a simple brake-and-swerve scenario. For this, we were using a Mercedes-Benz GLA.
At this station, the driver must commence from a standing start and pass underneath a gantry equipped with two green lights. Upon passing, one of two lights fires, which instructs you which way to go after diving on the brakes.
The suspense of passing at around 55km/h before understanding which way to go keeps you on your toes, and makes the whole manoeuvre still feel surprisingly like an emergency situation. There's a trap speed readout, too, so coupled with the fact you get a few attempts, this enables you to build up your confidence and speed.
It's not just about on-road manners on the day. My third event at this station took us off-road in a GLS400. On the short course, we travelled up and down inclines of 50 degrees, including going back up one in reverse, just for good measure.
An understanding of air suspension ride heights, hill-descent technology, and the basic principles of choosing your line and going slowly are all covered in this section.
Next up, we were using the big track, but in something more unusual. Instead of hauling around in Mercedes-AMG products, we were given a Mercedes-Benz EQC.
This activity didn't start on pit exit either, rather in the pit garage itself, where we ran through the basics of electric vehicles including how to plug and unplug them. A good exercise if you're considering an EV but know nothing about them.
After unplugging the car and receiving the lowdown, we headed out onto the track to play. Fiddling with an EV on an open circuit allows you to explore systems like regenerative braking safely and how each setting works. It also gives you the chance to put your foot down free from road rules and truly explore the performance of an electric car.
One eye-opening experience, however, came shortly after in the next section. Here, we tested autonomous emergency braking against both an inflatable vehicle and a mannequin. What gets you, though, are the numerous scenarios where the instructor re-enacts scenes all too common in everyday driving, and how the technology fires and aggressively brings the car to a halt.
It's the severity of the stop that wakes you up, and makes you realise how powerful and important modern tech is at protecting you – and your loved ones – when behind the wheel.
Lastly, we spent the rest of the day cruising around the track at pace in a wide selection of vehicles. At our event, there was a new S-Class, various E-Classes and a smattering of AMG vehicles to rotate through.
This is a great way to test products you're interested in buying or upgrading. Consider the $550 the cost of a good discovery mission with some driver training and education as bonuses.
After it all, the instructors will take you out for hot laps in a Mercedes-AMG C63. A fitting way to end the day.
Mercedes-Benz Accelerate is currently run in three states: NSW, Queensland and Victoria. The event costs $550 to attend and tickets are open to anyone regardless of what vehicle you own.
I hear through the grapevine that a large portion of tickets are purchased by MB dealers throughout Australia, so if you do buy a Merc, try your best to negotiate a ticket with the purchase of your new vehicle.
Or, better yet, buy a ticket for your partner or grown-up kids. It'll teach them more than a thing or two.