The snow show-off

Central Otago Mirror - - MOTORING -

The Go

The Snow Farm near Wanaka de­liv­ers a win­ter ve­hi­cle test­ing ground dur­ing the north­ern hemi­sphere sum­mer – and an op­por­tu­nity to ac­cel­er­ate de­vel­op­ment, as the day’s re­sults are emailed to arrive as north­ern R&D en­gi­neers start work, with new tun­ing pa­ram­e­ters re­turned as Down Un­der staff eat break­fast. Oc­ca­sion­ally, mo­tor­ing writ­ers get to sam­ple the re­sults, hurl­ing snow-de­vel­oped cars and tyres across the white stuff to test the lim­its of con­trol. So far, we’ve been re­stricted to four-wheel-drives but not this time, for we’d drive high-per­for­mance rear-drive AMG Mercedes on snow and ice. The cars were shod with Con­ti­nen­tal Con­tiWin­terCon­tact TS 810 Sport tyres, stan­dard for North­ern Euro­pean win­ters and de­signed for low tem­per­a­tures. Mal­leable side­walls in­crease the contact patch, slits dis­tort when stressed to cre­ate edges that dig in, a softer com­pound re­mains flex­i­ble at un­der seven de­grees, when ev­ery­day tyres har­den. And a wide, deep tread uses the in­her­ent na­ture of snow – its flakes are unique and there­fore in­ter­lock, hence snow­balls – to cre­ate snow-to-snow grip. Which you lose when you hit ice . . . We drove these hy­per-pow­er­ful cars with the trac­tion con­trol off, learn­ing to skid, re­gain con­trol then lose it again at will; to prompt wheel­spin at low speeds, then har­ness it to get us where we want to go. Hoonery in slow mo­tion, for at speed in these con­di­tions, if you do lose con­trol things quickly get very bad in­deed. ‘‘If you go off the edge, do it in front of the cam­era,’’ we’re told. “Then at least it can go vi­ral.’’ Er, thanks.

Show

These C63 AMG cars start the bid­ding at $166,900 and we had $3.5-mil­lion-worth to punt around part of this enor­mous win­ter fa­cil­ity, with its 400 hectares of pri­vately owned prov­ing ground in­clud­ing ice sheets and metic­u­lously groomed skid pans plus 30 kilo­me­tres of com­pact snow tracks. Each car was show­room stan­dard, apart from the tyres. That meant heated leather seats, high-end au­dio sys­tems, and el­e­gant bod­ies em­bel­lished with AMG flour­ishes that sur­vived sev­eral im­pacts with frozen snow banks – for­tu­nately at the slow speeds man­dated by driv­ing on sheet ice.

Com­pany spin

Mercedes wants own­ers to un­der­stand the ba­sics of cold-weather driv­ing. Be­ing pre­pared – with the right tyres. Choos­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate speed – even 70kmh may be too fast in snow. Adapt driv­ing to the con­di­tions, drive smoothly, un­der­stand where drive is ap­plied – to front, rear or all four tyres – and be able to con­trol a skid. If the hand­ful of New Zealand and Aus­tralian deal­ers, jour­nal­ists and cus­tomers also had a blast while learn­ing, bonus.

Bou­quet

Mercedes for tak­ing a cal­cu­lated risk; to learn the skills we need, we first must lose con­trol – and though this wasn’t a pub­lic road, frozen snow banks and fences fring­ing steep drops awaited the reck­less. The fact that over three days of ice­bound tom­fool­ery at the hands of largely in­ept driv­ers, only one car drifted wide enough to leave the track – and that was a sup­port car on road tyres – is tes­ta­ment to how con­trol­lable these AMG cars are.

Brick­bat

That we had just enough time to learn the ba­sics, but not enough to prac­tise.

Vroom!: TheAMGMercedes goes for a spin on the white stuff in Wanaka.

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