A fantastic opportunity for performance driving aficionados to get their thrills.
GIMLI, MANITOBA – Quite a few automakers offer performance driving schools, which happen to be a fantastic way to get both existing and prospective clients into the product. We traveled to the icy tundra that is Gimli, Manitoba with Mercedes-Benz Canada to experience a series of programs that included the AMG Driving Academy, and more specifically, the AMG Winter Sporting program. While we had the chance to experience the cultural experience of Mercedes-Benz Garage Gigs, off-road their crossovers on a motocross course, and more, our primary objective on this program was the sheer perfection that is drifting the 2020 Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Wagon on a frozen lake.
The AMG Winter Sporting program takes place on Lake Winnipeg, using 250 acres of ice with a thickness of approximately 100cm – this is the longest track built on a frozen lake in North America. It’s an extremely cool setup, with the opportunity to sample a series of AMG products in their prime. The V8-powered C 63 S and E 63 S in both sedan and wagon form are absolute monsters regardless of the situation, and the 40-foot wide courses give drivers of all skill levels the ability to feel like the king (or queen) of the ice.
Mercedes-AMG has been consistent over the past decade in offering Canadians the opportunity to buy what’s quite possibly the best all-around car available, the E 63 S Wagon. With a 603-horsepower twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, the E 63 S can sprint to 100km/h in just about three seconds and blast through a quarter mile in 11 seconds flat. This combined with a 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system that has a “Drift” mode, which decouples power to the front axle and sends 100% to the rear, allowing for tire-shredding goodness. Out on the frozen lake, we had the E 63 S completely sideways, kicking up snow in every direction, announcing to the world that this car really is a royal.
One size down from the E 63 S, but also one of the best values in the AMG lineup is the 2020 C 63 S. Also packing a 4.0-liter V8 and offering 503 horsepower and 516 lb-ft. of torque, the C 63 S is unique in that it’s the only rear-wheel-drive car available on this program. All vehicles were fitted with studded snow tires to ensure maximum capability in the snow.
Pricing for the AMG Winter Sporting program starts at $4,595 for the “Advanced” three-day program, and an additional $1,295 for a non-driving participant. In this entry-level course, participants are paired two to a car. The next level up is the Pro course, which splits everyone up into individual occupancy per cars, that’s priced at $5,995. The topmost level is the Pro Plus course, which at $7,995 consists of a four-day course and single occupancy per car, allowing for the most possible seat time and track experience. From what we gather, the mid-level Pro course provides the most value due to getting literally double the seat time.
Our “modified” program also consisted of two distinct snow circuits using Mercedes-Benz’s more mainstream lineup to demonstrate the capability of 4MATIC all-wheel-drive. This was a basic autocross-style setup on a deserted, snow-covered airstrip that allowed us to explore the potential of a wide range of models ranging from the 2020 CLA 250, A-Class sedan and hatchback, C 300 and E 450. The all-new GLB 250 crossover was also present here. Additionally, a mild off-roading course was implemented using a motocross track, and here we were able to venture off the beaten path in the crossover lineup from the GLB 250 all the way up to the GLS 450 full-size SUV, and just about everything in between.
Mercedes-Benz’s off-road course allowed us to tinker with the different terrain management systems built into models like the GLE 450 (reviewed here), GLS 450 and even the GLC 300, demonstrating the vast capabilities of these vehicles. Obviously, the brand’s objective here is to attract as much new blood to their new product line as possible, and we think that anybody shopping in the premium space will be able to find a companion within this lineup.
Honorary mention goes to Mercedes-Benz’s Garage Gigs series; a series of concert that began in 2018. Featuring authentic Canadian artists such as Arkells, Charlotte Gardin, Allie X, and the Strumbellas, Mercedes-Benz Garage Gigs gives these artists the opportunity to return to their roots in a garage-like setting in front of small-scale audiences. Those of you following our Instagram story (@doubleclutchca) will have seen some great shots of this experience. For this program, Mercedes built an “ice garage” using 88,000 pounds of clear ice as the garage for the bands to perform. It’s essentially a huge marketing play, but it works well to the grassroots relatability factor.
When compared to other winter performance driving schools from brands like Porsche and BMW, the AMG Winter Sporting program is about average for value. This is especially true when considering that none of the other schools are on a track purpose-built over a frozen lake, or one of the biggest ice tracks in the world. While the package prices are technically all-inclusive, it’s worth mentioning that the cost does not include transportation to and from Gimli – participants are required to get themselves to the reception desk at the hotel before the program kicks in. All in all, this is a fantastic opportunity for performance driving aficionados to get their thrills in a closed-course setting and improve car control skills from a valuable team of instructors.
*Photo Credits to Mercedes-Benz Canada*