A convoy composed of the new diesel-powered ML and GL classes; followed by the C280 CDI, E250 CGI, E300, and the R350 CDI was flagged-off by Daimler's Vice President for General Distributor Markets South & South East Asia, Jochen Carle from the Mercedes-Benz Global City showroom for a lengthy journey to Southern Luzon. A special addition to the group was the S400 Hybrid (from CATS Motors President Felix Ang's personal fleet).
The route to Camarines Sur was a mix of expressway, national highway, coastal, country, mountain, paved gravel and narrow town roads - a nice variation of driving roads to fully evaluate the vehicles. The mix was uncharacteristic of the normal duties of Mercedes-Benz vehicles in the Philippines, which is mainly in the urban jungle or simply sitting in the garage as the marque has long been considered more for its status symbol.
The destination - CWC (CamSur Watersports Complex) at the Provincial Capitol in Pili, Camarines Sur. A couple of breaks were scheduled along the way for driver and car changes to give everybody the chance to experience each car. First stop for the nine-hour long journey aboard the GL320 CDI was Ugu Bigyan: Potters Garden in Tiaong, Quezon for a hearty lunch and a short demonstration given by Ugu himself. The GL320 is powered by a 3-liter commonrail diesel engine pushing out 224-horses and 510 newton meters of torque mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with paddles which needed getting used to as it takes quite an effort to propel the three-ton crossover with the slightly adequate engine.
After lunch, it was a drive through the different towns of Quezon on the E250 CGI and with a midway stop at a gas station, we found ourselves in a new S400 Hybrid to the Port of Atimonan in Quezon. This time, I rode in complete comfort aboard the massaging electric backseats while carefully analyzing how the 3.5-liter V6 and electric motor combination works through the vehicle information display on the LCD monitor of the S400 Hybrid, through the Maharlika Highway and the treacherous Eme Road at the Quezon National Forest Park more commonly known as the "Bitukang Manok" to enjoy the coastal view and hop on to our next vehicle.
Aboard the ML350, we enjoyed the scenic view along the roads of the coastal town of Atimonan, which later turned into hills with bends and long open-roads as the double-wishbone and multi-link suspension combination of the midsize SUV was given a workout while providing a good pull with 350 newton meters and 200 horses coming from its 3.5-liter V6 commonrail diesel engine mated to the seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic transmission with paddle shifters which distributed the engine performance flawlessly.
With our last stop set at the end of the partly rehabilitated Rolando Andaya Highway, it was straight drive to our final destination - the CWC, a cable-ski park resort situated inside the Provincial Capitol Complex of Camarines Sur for dinner and some well-needed R and R after a lengthy 11-hour journey.
The return trip was a more spirited drive aboard the C320 CDI which is propelled by a 221-horsepower 3-liter V6. The swift compact sedan handled bends quite well too with its well tuned suspension while providing comfort in less than flat roads. The car is part of the CDI engine powered fleet CATS Motors has been testing locally for the past three years. The diesel-fed variants of the Mercedes-Benz lineup will soon be introduced to the market as the automaker has gathered enough data for reconfiguration required for Philippine fuel quality and driving conditions.