Mercedes-Benz VanExperience – Live

Mercedes-Benz VanExperienceNow in its 12th year, Mercedes-Benz’s VanExperience Live was held for the first time at the brilliant Millbrook Testing Facility near Milton Keynes, which as always, proved to be an excellent venue.

VanExperience Live takes place for more than 1,900 invited van operators and goes far beyond any normal test drive. It’s a unique opportunity to assess how Mercedes-Benz vans perform in all areas, including stability, fuel efficiency and off-road, with real-world driving challenges in the safe and controlled environment of Millbrook.

Over the course of 9 days there were more than 20 exhibitors and over 40 vehicles on display, from buses and rescue vehicles to camper vans and even an ice cream van offering free 99‘s, all showcasing just how versatile the range of Mercedes-Benz vans are.

As far as I’m aware, Mercedes-Benz is the only manufacturer who offer up their entire range of vans for this sort of scrutiny in this type of environment, even their senior management team was on-site to answer any questions. To impress us further, for direct comparisons they even brought along some of their competitors vehicles, now that’s confidence in your products!

Each day guests are treated to three hands-on demonstrations so that you can experience first-hand how Mercedes-Benz vans perform in different areas:

Drive It – Experience the entire product line-up on the High-Speed Bowl and Hill Route at Millbrook driving the Citan, New Vito and Sprinter back-to-back.

Test It – A challenging off-road course to show the skills of the Sprinter 4×4 and 6×6 vehicles, with 60 degree inclines and declines, as well as a competition element for guests to test their skills off-road and compete against each other.

Trust It – A safety-focused drive which comprised of a ‘city’ driving course with Citan, New Vito and Sprinter to demonstrate safety systems such as Collision Prevention Assist and Blind Spot Assist, as well as a self-park demonstration with the Active Parking Assist feature on New Vito – a first in the sector.

Mercedes-Benz VanExperienceTo test some of these systems I took a Sprinter around Millbrook’s high speed ring, whilst driving around in pairs we used each others vehicle to test the safety systems, from the Collision Prevention to Blind Spot Assist.

Admittedly, the Crosswind Assist isn’t something that I’d experienced before in any vehicle, and as it was a beautiful day with no wind and hardly a cloud in the sky, it still isn’t!  What should happen when the vehicle senses a crosswind is that you hear a loud rumbling sound which the ESP kicking in, this in turn brakes the wheels on the ‘attacked’ side of the van creating a “counter yaw”, which helps balance the van and makes it easier to push it back on track.

The day wasn’t all about driving, during lunchtime we had the opportunity to take part in  competitions and chat to the likes of Mercedes-Benz Financial Services who fund one in every three vans that are sold.  Did you know they handed out £254 million worth of financing to van operators during 2014? No, neither did I.

Also on hand were their insurance people, apparently one large fleet operator saved himself around £3,000 during the event.

Mobilovan, Merc’s free roadside assistance were keen to boast on how they can get to the average breakdown in less than an hour, and according to their figures around 80% are fixed there and then at the roadside.

Mercedes-Benz VanExperienceUnfortunately, because it was just another normal working day at Millbrook, no one was allowed to take photos as the tracks were awash with top secret vehicles being tested to their limits, which is why there aren’t any photos of what I’ve just been talking about.  However, my thanks go to Caroline from Mercedes-Benz PR team, she was able to organise for me to snap away at my heart’s content around the off road course without the fear of being accosted by Millbrook’s security team.

I was driven around in the impressive Oberaigner 6×6 off-road transporter which is based on a 5 tonne Sprinter chassis.  It was built by Rossetts Commercials who are Oberaigner’s sole UK distributor, and despite its compact dimensions, it can carry a payload of up to 4 tonnes, with a gross weight of 7 tonnes.

Unfortunately the ground was quite dry and proved to be a simple walk in the park for the 6×6, even up the incredibly steep slopes.  Rob, our driver engaged difflock occasionally when numerous wheels left the ground, not because the 6×6 was floundering, but simply because he could.

Meandering effortlessly around the off road course with us were numerous 4×4 Sprinters, some fitted with road biased tyres, others with the more chunkier off road rubber.  All were showing off their impressive off road prowess, even with less experienced drivers at the wheel.

Overall it was an impressive show of force and capability from Mercedes-Benz, and everyone appeared to be having a great time.  Checking the itinerary, my group was to drive the Alpine course next, and being totally honest, once you’ve taken Bentley’s, Jag’s and other exotics around it, a Sprinter minibus doesn’t have the same appeal, so I politely declined, blagged another free 99 cornet and prepared myself for the 4 hour drive home.

Admittedly I left with a new found respect for Mercedes-Benz vans, don’t get me wrong, I always knew they were good vehicles, but now that I’m aware of their innovations and support network, I have to doff my cap to them.  Oh, and I’m also less likely to instinctively blurt out ‘Transit’ if someone asks me to name a van!

About Damian

Writer, Photographer & Product Reviewer Extraordinaire!

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