I went to the Mercedes Van Experience Day 2013 last Thursday at the Prodrive track in Warwickshire and it was a great day and the Mercedes Citan was the star of the day (well in my eyes it was).
I dropped my son off at his school at 0730 (He starts early at kids breakfast) and drove all the way up to Warwickshire in our new OvenGleamers van getting there on time to register for 0930 ish. As this was my first time I didn’t really know what to expect, I thought maybe a few people and a hut on the track side but no it was a whole lot larger and more spectacular that. 200 people turned up for the day – and as Mercedes run it for 7 days thats alot of people who go to the event. They have 180 vans there for the day for use by the attendees! So not small affair at all. And apparently Mercedes in Germany are looking at doing the same thing as they don’t do it even though it has been going for ten years in the UK and has become the event and success it is today.
Mercedes hire a huge temporary building which is very much like a modern version of an RAF hanger that I was used to in the RAF. The same height to the ceiling and feeling of space. It didn’t look like a hanger though it was all modern white and stainless steel and had the black Mercedes logos on. Inside they had all the vans, a big lounge area with tables for dining and a smaller area to get proper coffees. They were serving breakfast when I got there but I got a coffee instead and then had a wander around outside. Outside they had vans from different fitting companies, so there were vans fitted out as cooler vans, so for example I chatted to a company from East Sussex who fitted out Citan vans as fridge vans and they also did Citans with a drop rear, and converted internal area, for wheelchair access. Outside on display were also Mercedes Used Vans and some of the top of range Mercedes cars.
So the format of the day was that we would take part in four activities. They split us into groups of about 50 in each group. I was in the green group. We had a lovely lady called Sarah to take us around everywhere. Each group had an attractive young lady to lead them around from each activity. Sarah had a degree in Zoology and had spent time living in Fuji. We travelled between the activities in four Mercedes Vito Buses.
The first activity we went to was the four wheeled experience. So we were taken out over a ‘four wheeled’ off road track with hills, tranverses, and ponds to drive through. The first vehicle we went in was a six wheeled drive monster brought in from Germany for the day – I find the details and put them in here – and then we went out in a four wheeled Vito. I drove first and really just did what the instructor told me too. I wasn’t worried I just trusted that he knew what he was doing. So along the traverse, up the hill and down the hill and along the big bump road. So all went very well, and I really wasn’t surprised as in my youth when I was a Police Cadet I had been out on Police four wheeled driver examinations so I knew about the performance of four wheeled vehicles. Though that was years ago and in a Landrover, today in a Mercedes it all seemed a lot more comfortable and relaxed and there was no stopping to get the diff right, I think it was just a press of the button. We swapped drives so that we could all get a turn. One of the other guys got stuck on the hill, that is the van’s wheels just spun and the van was getting dangerously close the barriers so the instructor took over and got the van out. I think they decided to stop driving up it after than as the run up had barriers on each side which might had damaged the vehicles and the vans weren’t getting traction even in four wheel drive. In my non expert opinion I’d say the top layer of mud was on a firmer under layer and the wheels were just spinning in the top bit without getting a contact with the firmer bit.
After the Four Wheeled driving we went on the Get the most miles per gallon from your van by driving the van around the race track. We had a choice of vans and I chose the Citan as I wanted to increase my knowledge and experience of the van that is now our franchisee van. For this test the idea was that you paired up with someone else and then you drove the van twice around the track each with the Average Miles Per Gallon being taken after this so you could get an idea of what you were achieving and then you’d do a proper measured run. So I did 64 miles per gallon in the practice run and then when I did a proper measured run I got it up to 82 miles per gallon. The trick was to choose the right line, not to get the revs high, not to use the brakes and make the gear changes as smooth as possible, so it was driving at about 25 but keeping it steady. The best Miles Per Gallon achieved in the Citan that day was 96 miles per gallon. The guy said he was a part time racing driver. I suspect that he achieved the results by really getting the gear changes right – sustaining the gear changes. I’ll try that next year after a year of practising in my own van.
Then we went off to the skid pan. The idea was to show the capabilities of the EVS by driving it around a circle and seeing how the back end went out. I was expecting to have to do some skid control – i.e steering into the skid but NO the EVS on the Citan works so well that you could drive it flat out in second around the circle without anything happening, it just stuck to the road. They had some other vehicles without EVS and they were going all over the place with them going into a proper skid. The Vauxhall Vivaro was just all over the place.
The next thing we did was the slow speed swerve, so we drove along on wet paved road and then put a sudden lock to the left and to the right as though you were avoiding a small child or moose. Again nothing really happened, you could hear the EVS working and the forward motion of the vehicle wasn’t affected.
Next we went to another EVS test. We had a talk from the Bosch guy and then were given the opportunity to go as a passenger in a van to drive at 60 mph towards a lot of cones and then swerve at the last moment. So the EVS kicked in. I went in the Citan as a passenger and it was a bit scary but the EVS really kicked in and the van was easily controlled by the driver.
So overall I had a great day. They fed us really well with a fabulous lunch, and afternoon tea, and I loved the way it was all presented and put together. All the Mercedes people wore black uniforms, it was great to look at the ‘poshed up’ Citan vans, for example there was a Citan van with leather seats, and other Mercedes vans and top end Merecedes cars, including that one that costs £187,000. I came away more confident in the Citan with the knowledge of the EVS being a big factor. I’ll be aiming to lower my fuel consumption as the amount of cash you can burn over five years by a heavy throttle is enough to go on a few nice holidays.. that’ll make the wife happy.