The flood of automated driver assistance systems in new cars is in constant growth. As a result, today we can get behind the wheel of virtually any vehicle— even the most sophisticated sports models— without special skills. Technology will guide us. But when the extreme cold of winter covers the roads with ice and snow, the information on a screen and the robotic voice of the most sophisticated automated “wizards” are not enough. Timing is crucial and maintaining total control of the vehicle requires an exceptional level of concentration.
With this in mind, the premium German brands have spent several years providing their clients the opportunity of learning from very experienced drivers how to drive on low-grip surfaces and under extreme weather conditions. Through their winter driving programs, customers of Audi, Mercedes-Benz or BMW are able to improve their driving skills with the most advanced off-road driving technology offered by these brands.
Audi, for example, focuses primarily on a driving school that teaches students to develop their technique on slippery surfaces for vehicles equipped with quattro all-wheel drive (SUVs and models of the all-road family). Winter Driving Experience courses are taught in extreme locations in Finland—just 160 miles from the Arctic Circle— where students will find snow behind every curve and can drive on a five-mile circuit above the surface of a frozen lake. The goal is to teach them to control the reactions of their vehicle at the slightest unexpected situation, and how to make the most of security and assistance systems.
Supervised at all times by a team of expert instructors, Audi customers who enroll in these courses participate in a program that includes the techniques used in rally competitions with breaking exercises, slalom or zigzag between obstacles and controlled sliding maneuvers, among others, plus special emphasis on automation, when to anticipate the reactions of the vehicle, and smooth driving control.
The Audi A1 2.0 TFSI quattro 256 hp, the Audi S3 2.0 TFSI quattro 300 hp, different mechanical versions of the Audi A3 Sportback, the Audi A4 Avant and the Audi A5 coupe or the sports Audi TT 2.0 TFSI quattro are among the models selected for the Audi Driving Experience, also SUVs. Audi promises that at the end of the course students will be fully trained for safer driving, even when facing the most adverse conditions during winter. The price for these lessons ranges from $4,650 per person for two and a half days of training and accommodation for three days and nights, and $6,000 for four and a half days of instruction and five hotel nights.
Another competitor in the premium segment is not far behind. Mercedes Benz offers two types of training programs for driving in extreme cold weather. On one hand, they have the Onroad Winter Training event, structured on various levels according to previous experience and the difficulty involved. The Basic (Level 1) takes place during a single day at a price of $800 to $1,650, and the Sports Experience (Level 5) lasts over five days and costs about of $5,300, with room and board included. There is a total of up to eight programs that can be easily be adapted to the wishes of the client and his budget. The Swiss and Austrian Alps and the ice in northern Sweden are some of the scenarios chosen by Mercedes Benz for these specialized classes.
The Daimler Group also teaches courses at the AMG Drive Academy, divided into three levels: the AMG Winter Sporting Basic, which includes a two-day program for $2100, the AMG Winter Sporting Advanced, three days for about $5,400, and the AMG Winter Sporting Pro, which lasts five days and costs $6,850. But while the Onroad Winter Driving uses the full range of Mercedes Benz vehicles, the AMG Drive Academy opts exclusively for the frim’s high performance models, including the recent A45 AMG and CLA 45 AMG, all equipped with the 4Matic AWD system.
These programs promise the same benefits: thanks to expert teachers, the client will learn to control his vehicle while driving on ice or snow, resorting to the same skid exercises, slalom and breaking maneuvers. But, good shelter is required as temperatures can reach 50 degrees below the freezing point.
Finally, BMW is the least lavish when it comes to winter driving courses, despite having several offers to take full advantage of sport driving. However, in Europe there is a BMW xDrive Experience, named after the smart four-wheel drive developed by the German firm. This program features a Winter Section dedicated to driving in snow and ice, with the same objectives pursued by its everlasting rivals. But this one has a unique feature: the classes are just a few hours and take place over a weekend day. They are free for customers. Hurry and book your place! ■