A SLice of the action at Mercedes-Benz World, Weybridge

For petrol-heads, it must be one of the ultimate drives. Ade Holder visits Mercedes-Benz World in Weybridge to put the new Mercedes SLS AMG through its paces at their brand-new experience day

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine October 2010

For petrol-heads, it must be one of the ultimate drives. Ade Holder visits Mercedes-Benz World in Weybridge to put the new Mercedes SLS AMG through its paces at their brand-new experience day  

Photography: (C) Mercedes-Benz World

WHETHER you know so much about cars that you shout at James May for getting things wrong on Top Gear, or you know as little as a Tibetan monk who has never even owned a bike, the likelihood is that you know what the 1954 Mercedes 300SL looks like. No? Well, if I were to say it’s the silver one with the doors that open upwards, I think bells would ring. Now, half a century on, this legendary car has been revamped into the brand-new Mercedes SLS AMG – and I got the chance to go and drive it.

I have to admit, I am somewhat of a car man myself (just the smell of a little burnt oil from a racing car will cause a wave of goosebumps to rush over me). So when I was asked if I would like to pay a visit to Mercedes-Benz World in Weybridge to try out their new SLS AMG Experience, where you get to test-drive this brand-new super car, I genuinely jumped at the opportunity.

This does not mean, however, that I wasn’t nervous. I may love cars but the prospect of sitting in a vehicle worth more than my house was frightening enough, let alone to be set loose on a track with it.

Motoring historyAlong with Brooklands Museum, Mercedes-Benz World is built on the old Brooklands Racetrack, which was opened on June 17, 1907, and there is a wonderful feeling of excitement and pride as you turn off the roundabout to enter the grounds. It really is a stunning piece of architecture, too, and something of which Surrey should be very proud.

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After a briefing, I was led down to the cars, and I think this is where the experience really stands out. I was not taken out to some cold, wet, empty racetrack… No, this is Mercedes, so I was led down through the main foyer and museum to an area with four stunning cars parked right in front of the caf� tables.

Now, you may be thinking here, “they just gave him the keys to a super car? What if he crashes it?” Well, never fear. I was greeted by several very friendly people, including my instructor Tom, who explained that we would begin by taking out a Mercedes AMG SL first, then after some fun in that car, we would come and get the big SLS.

That’s the great thing about this whole experience; you aren’t just put in a vehicle with eight times the power of your normal family car so you end up spending the time being petrified. The key to enjoying the ‘big’ car is to do so with confidence, and it is your instructor’s job to give you this confidence, so you really get the most out of the day.

The little brotherJust pulling away in the SL was exciting – with the roof down the sound was fabulous. A deep warble was reaching my ears as we slowly made our way over to the small handling track. This was a noise I knew well and one I had always dreamed was associated with my right foot… the unmistakable hum of a six-litre V8! The sound only got better as we drove steadily faster round the very twisty small track, while all the time, Tom was explaining what the car was doing, what to feel for, how to take the corners and, more importantly, making me feel at home.

There is obviously a lot of trust on both sides in a situation like this but I really did question Tom when we lined up on a piece of tarmac a quarter of the size of a supermarket car park and he just told me to accelerate on full throttle, then stamp on the brakes as hard as I could. Surely this was madness? But I duly hit the accelerator and the car shot off, my head was thrown back into the headrest, then before I realised what was happening Tom told me to stop and I moved my foot across to the brake pedal. I think at this stage I wanted to close my eyes but to my surprise the car stopped on what can only be described as a dime. No skidding, no fuss, just a perfect and safe stop. From this point on, my confidence just grew. Tom soon had me sliding the car sideways on a skid pan and finally onto the big track where we did perhaps ten or more laps increasing my speed and enjoyment with every inch that went by.

However, this wouldn’t have been the SLS experience if I had thanked Tom for the amazing drive and headed home. No, it was now time to go and get in the new legend on the block, the young upstart with more pedigree than Crufts, the Mercedes SLS AMG.

Gull-winging itIt all felt very relaxed as Tom opened the stunning gull-wing doors; they slowly rose up revealing a beautiful interior, the slight retro feel suiting the vehicle perfectly. I got into the car  with a brief glance at the onlookers enjoying a coffee at the perfectly situated trackside tables. It already felt familiar, as Tom had so perfectly acclimatised me to the SL, but there was more styling, more luxury and as the doors came down and I looked forward, a lot more bonnet!

I can hardly describe the joy as I was asked to press the start button, and the awe as the V8 erupted into life. This was a very different car indeed: it looked bigger, sounded more powerful and felt like there was a very big and very angry animal under the bonnet just dying to get out.

Continuing the idea of confidence building, Tom directed me to the smaller track again, and right away, I could really tell that this car was something special. It wasn’t just the noise, or the popping of unburned fuel coming from the exhaust, it was more taut; it felt like it wanted to race. Every corner was razor sharp and as easy as spreading butter on hot toast.

A boyhood and, quite honestly, a manhood dream was being fulfilled as I turned onto the main track. My foot pushed down on the pedal and began feeding power to the enormous tyres. This was it; we were on the big track now and I wasn’t going to waste a second. After the first few corners, we hit the main straight and a culmination of careful training and education from Tom all came together. The titanic surge of power was mindblowing – I could hardly stop myself laughing like a child. And as we continued round the track, faster and faster, I began testing the brakes more and more, grabbing an extra second of speed each time before slowing later in the corners, even coming out of a corner so fast the back of the car slid out. This wasn’t a drama, this was fun. I felt so in control of this beast, it felt like it was just working with me.

I’m sure this figure will probably increase as the months go by, but my favourite lasting memory of the day was the roar of that engine as I sped down the straight on the penultimate lap and reached 115mph in a �165,000 super car… what a day!

Mercedes-Benz World

, Brooklands Drive, Weybridge KT13 0SL. Tel: 0870 4004000



The Mercedes SLS Experience was launched in August at Mercedes Benz World, in Weybridge, following the UK launch of the car in June. There are three types of experience to choose from...1) SLS AMG Passenger Experience (five laps in the SLS AMG): �752) SLS AMG Driving Experience (50 minutes in an AMG and five laps in the SLS AMG): �2703) SLS AMG Half-day Experience (two hours in an AMG and 55 minutes in the SLS AMG): �1,050 Drivers must be over 1.5m tall and hold a full UK driving licence. For more information, as well as details of other driving experiences available at Mercedes-Benz World, visit their website. To book, call 0870 4004000.

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