Teen Driving

Texas Mercedes-Benz dealership helps teens learn to navigate risky driving situations

As part of their owner and community outreach program, Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land recently held a teen driving school.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land

The entire car shuddered as the Mercedes-Benz skidded over the large puddle. My head hit the roof of the car, nearly breaking my sunglasses (and yes, I was wearing my seatbelt). My phone went flying. The high-end camera of the journalist sitting next to me flew out of his hands and landed at my feet. Thankfully this didn't happen on the open road, but in a controlled environment created for teen drivers to learn, among other skills, how to regain control of a car when it hydroplanes.

After pulling the car to a stop, driver Winnie Chang, a 17-year-old senior at Clements High School, turned to Kory Enders, an Indy Pro 2000 driver, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, for his advice on how to improve the next time she drove around the skid pad. Meanwhile, the other passengers and I gathered our belongings off the floor of the backseat.

2020 Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land Teen Driving Winnie Chang, 17, learns how to pilot a car through a skid.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land

Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land (MBSL) has been offering a quarterly Teen Driving Safety School at the Motor Speedway Resort (MSR) Houston for the teen children of its customers for about four years now. Prior to December 2019, MBSL had trained about 275 teen drivers. That month, for the first time, MBSL held an additional event for twenty Clements High School students.

Like the others, this event was co-sponsored by MBSL and Enders. Enders' father, Kenneth, owns MBSL, for which Enders is a brand ambassador. Influenced by his father, who wanted to be a professional racecar driver himself, Enders has been part of the racing world since childhood. Enders began club go karting at age six. While a student at Clements High School in Sugar Land, Enders began driving cars at MSR Houston.

Although he now travels the world racing, Enders has not forgotten his roots. Enders graduated from Clements in 2016 and has been working for several years to coordinate this event with the high school, which has about 2,500 students from 9th-12th grade. Clements High School students were invited to apply for the opportunity to participate in the Teen Driving Safety School. Fifty students applied and about 20 were randomly selected to attend at no cost.

Seeing some teens' incorrect and even illegal driving habits compelled Enders to give back to the community by helping teens learn to drive correctly. Enders wants "to give kids a toolbox." His two pieces of advice to teen drivers? "Don't text and drive," and "Understanding the core fundamentals of how a car functions and drives could save your life one day."

After a morning of classroom instruction, the students headed outside to test their skills. The high schoolers beelined to the group of waiting cars hopping into either the driver or passenger seat. To get the full experience, I knew I needed to be a passenger, yet was a bit hesitant to ride in a car with a teen driver who may have only recently gotten their license.

At the signal of a Teen Driving Safety School instructors, the teen driver of the car I was riding in gunned the engine and drove as fast as she could towards an orange cone directly in front of her. The objective was for her to drive as close to the cone as possible, but brake before hitting it. This seemed counterintuitive to me – why practice a dangerous driving maneuver like this? According to the instructor, it's good for the teens to practice in a safe environment how to react when faced with a risky road situation.

For about an hour, the teens continued doing drills, then slowly trickled back inside to the classroom to use a Comcast Distracted Driving Simulator. Comcast originally created this simulator to train its technicians and kindly gifted one to the MBSL Teen Driving Safety School to enhance its programming.

I got to try the simulator too. I sat down in the plastic seat and took the wheel. The simulator looks very much like one of those car video games you see at arcades. My goal was to drive through the course in a safe and timely manner. The game deducted points for traffic violations. I struggled to navigate the course – I accidentally rammed my pretend car into walls and ran red lights. I began doing even worse when Derek Brown, MBSL Vice President of Marketing & Business Development, began calling out prompts. "Take a selfie of the group." "Now text it to your boss."

2020 Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land Teen Driving Teenns used a driving simulator to learn how distracted driving can impact their time behind the wheel.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land

By the time I finally finished the course, the group of us was in stitches over how poorly I had done, but we knew that safe driving, or lack thereof, was no laughing matter. Even now when I'm tempted to look down at my phone when I hear a text come in while I'm driving, I think back to this exercise and refrain.

I asked Clements student Haris Jhaveri why he applied to be part of the MBSL Teen Driving Safety School. "I follow Kory on Instagram. I've seen [the school] on his social media all over the place. People have talked about how it's a really nice experience and you learn from it. You get to drive a Mercedes… I also did this because my friend told me to. I like Mercedes, ok?". After participating in the training, Jhaveri noted "my driving is better".

That was the goal of all the adults in involved – improving teen driving. As Phil Morgante, Assistant Principal of Clements High School, noted "safety's number one with us – getting the kids to and from school".

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 is the base model.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

There's no two ways around it. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS is beautiful to be in, stylish to be seen in, and a mediocre drive experience. Mercedes redesigned the GLS for the 2020 model year and while it ups the ante in so many ways, the three-row SUV proves unsatisfying to drive.

The looks of the GLS are expected and deliver a fresh take on the last-generation's body design that keeps the model in line with the current design language of the brand. It looks like the GLB's big brother (or is it that the GLB looks like it's little brother) and that's mostly a good thing.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 The model wears a two-bar grille with a giant Mercedes star in the center. Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The model tested wore a handsome Emerald Green paint job and base model double-bar Mercedes grille. Frankly, the silver elements (the bar and large star emblem) appear cheap. It looks like the bubble letters version of a grille and doesn't portray the strength or elegance one associates with a $75,000+ vehicle.

As tested, the GLS 450 is powered by a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine with mild-hybrid EQ Boost technology. The 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque numbers are deceiving. The GLS is heavy and while getting it up to speed isn't a chore, there's just no oomph from the powertrain, though the nine-speed automatic transmission makes sure that it's a smooth operation.

Changing to the Sport drive mode, the engagement picks up, but still makes makes you long for a vehicle with more of a sense of immediacy.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 The GLS retains its profile despite having a redesign for the 2020 model year. Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Steering the GLS feels like it could be done with a pinky - almost too light for its size. The GLS parks easily but forward visibility isn't great for shorter drivers, especially when traversing rolling hills on more rural roads.

The interior of the GLS is as expected, but that's a good thing. It's truly luxurious. The tester was equipped with real wood trim that wasn't heavily lacquered and just looked expensive.

The climate controls are easy to use despite their minimalistic design. One large housing joins the driver information and infotainment screens with ease. Their design is attractive and the system easily performs most tasks. However, the touch controller on the center console isn't an ideal solution for most any function.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 The new GLS has a dashboard influenced by Mercedes sedan design. Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The GLS is as much about the passengers as it is the driver. All seats are comfortable. For second-row passengers, it's nearly business class style seating that will make traveling with kids much less of a headache for parents.

Small item storage and cargo space is good. Using the GLS as a daily driver won't feel too limiting to the average family unless they're transporting a large amount of sports equipment and musical instruments to and fro at the same time.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 The car's touch pad controller for the infotainment screen is not easy enough to use that it doesn't create headaches. Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz GLS wins when it comes to a luxurious interior, but its powertrain makes a strong argument for opting for the AMG version, though it's a hefty $25,000 more. The GLS is better sit in than its closest competitor, the BMW X7, which is similarly powertrained and priced, and has three rows of seating. If you don't want to spend $100,000 for the Mercedes-AMG version of the GLS, consider the Land Rover Range Rover, which starts around $90,000.

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The 2021 Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster will likely enhance may of the features of the current model.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

In 1954, the Mercedes-Benz SL grand touring passenger car made its debut. It's been in constant production since then in a varying degree of strengths throughout its five generations. Now, a new generation is readying to emerge.

Mercedes has released photos of the next-generation SL Roadster testing. They're also talking, touting the car's digital development steps, test stand runs, and simulator trials. Now, the tester is ready to hit the road to put its driving dynamics through a wide range of tasks. It has done so at the company's Test and Technology Center in Immendingen and on surrounding roads.

2021 Mercedes-Benz SL

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

For 2020, the SL Roadster offers a sculpted body with two-seater comfort that rides on 19-inch wheels. The car's retractable hardtop remains a constant while the signature Mercedes-Benz Airscarf technology works to keep passengers warm/cool depending on what is required during top-down conditions.

Buyers choose from either a 362-horsepower V6 or 449-horsepower V8 engine. Both are paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Drivers can select from five different drive modes.

Inside the current SL are Nappa leather, aluminum, and high-gloss wood, textured aluminum, and genuine carbon fiber.

The car comes standard with a 600-watt sound system. A 1,000-watt, 7.1-chanel Bang & Olufsen BeoSound system is available. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard.

For 2020, Mercedes priced the SL Roadster to start at $91,000. Upgrading to the model with the V8 puts that MSRP up to $114,700.

What can you expect from the next-gen. model? Think: more and better. Refined engine options, better driving dynamics, a luxurious modern interior with the latest Mercedes-Benz tech, and an improved roster of safety options. It's even possible that the SL Roadster's roof might retract quicker than its current 25 second time. Stay tuned!

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