After an incredible first day of #MBRT14 from Houston to Meridian, where we encountered everything from alligators to German Campervans and fugitives to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Day 2 takes us from Meridian, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee via the Mercedes-Benz factory near Tuscaloosa, Alabama. At the factory we pick up the new C-Class and ‘guard’ it for the rest of our journey to its official debut at the 2014 Detroit Motor Show!
We start the day early once again with a 6am breakfast in our hotel on the outskirts of Meridian. By 7am nearly all participants are ready to go to Alabama and it is time to swap the cars around. Yesterday we were in the fabulous Mercedes S550, with 450hp not directly under-powered but today we decide to step it up a notch! We trade the keys of the S550 for the keys of the Mercedes E63 S AMG Estate with 585hp not only the strongest but also by far the fastest car on the trip. Firing it up in the cold Mississippi morning wakes all participants and probably the entire 400 room hotel with the hard grunt of the E63’s V8. Yes, we immediately get the feeling today will be a great day (not sure the other hotel guests will immediately agree though)!
After the daily suitcase puzzle has been solved we set off to the nearby petrol station to fill the cars up for today’s trip. The excitement in the group is high as today we will get to see and pick up the brand new 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class from the Mercedes-Benz factory in Alabama. This factory is in fact one of four places in the world where the new C-Class will be build. The first bit of journey it is foggy and the Interstate towards Tuscaloosa is in terrible condition, we wonder what it would have been like in the S-Class with Magic Body Control on. In the E63 S AMG we slalom from left to right and back to avoid all potholes and cracks in the street.
Within an hour and a half we reach the factory in Alabama where we are expected for a tour of the factory. After a quick safety briefing we head out into the production facility. With 3,000 employees and 3,000,000 square feet at the moment the plant can produce up to 1,000 Mercedes-Benz ML, GL and R-Class cars, soon the production will be increased even further with the start of the C-Class production. The first step of the cars production is done nearly entire by robots. There are in total more than 1,700 robots in this factory, only when the body is ready the first human hands show up in the process. Interesting fact: The special bullet proof and high security Guard vehicles are taken off the production line mid way to be finished elsewhere in the factory.
From the impressive body shop we head down to the paint shop where the paint process is explained. All cars are painted and coated by machines except those finished in matte colours, they receive the same base treatment but the two last layers are skipped and manually applied in a another dedicated paint shop for matte finishes.
The factory stretches for more than a kilometer each way so during our tour we are greeted over and over again by employees on bikes, scooters and electric carts. After the paint shop we head outside for a small surprise: ten MLs and GLs take us to a special off-road test track behind the back of the factory where we get to experience the off-road capabilities of the Mercedes SUVs.
The off-road test track is used for vehicle and setup testing and to show visitors of the factory what the cars can actually do when you leave the regular tracks. First up is a stone path with some significant drops. We are in a ML 500 and are totally blown away by the first few ascents and descents already. We then continue down a forest track to what Mercedes employees refer to as ‘the big drop’! A hill with a descent of 70%, it is so steep that walking down is nearly impossible.
Up in the ML we double check our seat belts and over the edge we go. The factory driver comes to a full stop a quarter down the ascent to show the stopping capabilities before letting the cars systems take over for the rest of the descent, exciting stuff but not something I would directly recommend to try yourself if you have an ML or GL. After this we continue to some other obstacles that litter the terrain South of the factory including a stairs, a pond, a rocky hill and some railway tracks. Both the ML and GL take these small barriers with so much ease that if I would ever make a career switch to bank robber I would certainly consider it as a getaway car!
The off-road test track was lots of fun but in the end we are mainly here for one thing: The new Mercedes C-Class! So we off-road back to the factory where a 2015 Mercedes-Benz C220 Bluetec Diesel is waiting for us. This brown example comes with a manual gearbox and beige interior. At first glance the C-Class brings a lot of S-Class to this segment, both in the exterior as in the interior. After a few shots inside it is time to take it out and put it straight next to his bigger brother: the S550. The direct comparison in terms of styling is not entirely possible due to different specifications and quite basic equipment on the C220, noting that it is a development vehicle with over 10,000 kilometers on the clock, but overall putting the cars next to each other shows the similarities quite well.
The motto of the trip being ‘Guarding the New C-Class’ we set off for Nashville with the C-Class, driven by two Mercedes employees, neatly boxed in between the other cars. We snap more photos of the new C-Class while driving down the Alabama Interstate towards Nashville. Interesting feature on the new C-Class is the grill that can open and close shutters depending on the speed and requirement of air. The shutters being finished in chrome it has quite a dramatic effect on the cars appearance when the shutters close or open. To be honest we prefer the cars look with the shutters open or the shutters finished in black.
We make another pit stop and decide on the plan for the rest of the day, originally we planned to visit a nearby Space Center but we decide to head straight to Nashville. After we leave the petrol station the group quickly falls apart and ‘Guarding the C-Class’ turns into ‘Where is the C-Class?’ and ‘We lost the C-Class’. We seize the opportunity to explore the abilities of the E63 S AMG and between the sheer performance and the adictive V8 rumble a sudden case of amnesia made us wonder what the speed limit was again, luckily there was no police in sight! After 50 miles we regroup with Gianluca and Gonzague in the CLA 45 AMG at exit 14 off I-65.
Right before exit 14 we passed a sign for one of the most famous companies from Tennesse: Jack Daniels! This means a slight detour but since we have plenty of time before dinner we leave the Interstate behind us and cruise through the Tennessee countryside. In comparison to the other States we have crossed this trip Tennessee has more forest and hills which provides a great scenery. Sadly the sky is still clouded and the light not very exciting for photos.
The V8 power plant in the E63 AMG S is rather thirsty with GTspirit behind the wheel so we stop for petrol not far from the Jack Daniels factory. Again a lot of stares from the locals when the two AMGs rock up at the pump. $60 worth of V-power later we are on our way again and reach Jack Daniels in no-time. We quickly tour the Jack Daniels factory and visitor center and bring back the mandatory souvenir. In the meantime darkness has fallen and the last 80 miles to Tennessee are done in rush hour. Still the E63 S AMG provides plenty of entertainment and triggers quite a few thumbs and smiles from other road users.
Nashville is quite the surprise! Dubbed the music city there is a bar on every corner and we have never seen so many bands playing live music, certainy a city to check out if you are ever in the area. We hope a few beers and live music will kill our jetlag that woke us up ridiculously early the last few days but still head off to bed quite early. Recapping day 2: We had a lot of fun and stayed out of trouble! The Mercedes-Benz factory and off-road test track were very impressive, the ML and GL can do things we wouldn’t imagine possible!
Stay tuned for Day 3: Nashville to Louisville and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for live updates from the road! Also make sure to check out the Mercedes-Benz #mbrt14 Timeline for updates from all people on the trip!