Mercedes-Benz Test Drive Experience

Thunder and comfort at Auberge’s Stanly Ranch

Nothing brings a smile to my face like driving through the emerald leafed vineyards of the Napa Valley on a bright spring day. So, when I got the call to take part in the Mercedes-Benz Test Drive Experience at Auberge Resorts Collection’s Stanly Ranch, I jumped at the chance. Having owned a classic Mercedes-Benz, I was excited about the opportunity to test drive their newest and most innovative models.

To kick off my test drive experience, a Mercedes-Benz concierge dropped a 2023 EQS SUV with 4MATIC all-wheel drive at my home for me to drive to the test drive location, Auberge’s Stanly Ranch, just outside Napa, California. The EQS SUV offers spacious comfort for up to seven people. With a fluid and futuristic aesthetic, the luxurious interior combined the newest tech with the classic Mercedes’ attention to detail. The heads-up display was convenient and featured useful information without being a distraction, while the AI-equipped MBUX Hyperscreen system supplied hands-free access to an impressive menu of infotainment options.

2023 Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG in action (Photo by Julien Lasseur)

Looking a bit deeper into the EQS SUV, I discovered it is the next step on Mercedes-Benz’ road to an all-electric future. By the end of the decade, they will be ready to go all-electric wherever market conditions permit. In many ways, Mercedes-Benz is adjusting to the future today. They’ve already committed to changes throughout the entire value chain, from development and the supplier network to its own production. For example, they use secondary steel to produce various components and systems. Because of its efforts, Mercedes-Benz AG has had its climate protection targets confirmed by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI).

Rolling across the Golden Gate Bridge, I saw the Marin Headlands ahead and pressed the accelerator. The synchronous front- and rear-axle motors of the 4MATIC all-wheel drive tackled the ascent with ease. Cornering ability was notably smooth and even. Each stage of the hour-long drive to Stanly Ranch by freeway, state road, and country lane was a delight.

On arrival at Stanly Ranch, I was greeted by two polite cowboys. One escorted me to the check-in desk while the other valeted my EQS SUV and transported my gear to a comfortable Rambler 2-room suite. After checking in and receiving a property orientation from the helpful desk staff, I moseyed over to the Mercedes-Benz Test Drive Experience pavilion for my 30-minute test drive.

Mercedes-Benz EQS 580 4MATIC (Photo Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz USA)

At the pop-up pavilion I was offered a Mercedes-AMG SL model to test drive, in addition to the brand’s fully electric vehicles from Mercedes-EQ. Specific models available included: EQS sedan, EQS SUV, EQE sedan, EQE SUV, AMG EQS sedan, AMG SL 55 and AMG SL 63. I chose the AMG SL 63 convertible, going straight for the raw power.

As I slid into the driver’s seat, Nancy, my accompanying product specialist, filled me in on the impressive vehicle specs. With an AMG Speedshift MCT 9G 9-speed automatic transmission, standard all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering, plus a twin-turbo intercooled 4.0-liter V-8 engine with diecast alloy block and heads, and 590 pound- feet of torque, the 577 horsepower AMG SL 63 has excellent handling and the power of a hurricane.

With the push of a button, the peaceful spring afternoon gave way to thunder. The throttle was perfectly responsive as we pulled out of the parking lot and began roaring down the open road. I switched through the several adjustable drive modes, eventually settling on Sport+. What a treat!

We cruised at a leisurely pace through country roads south of Napa for a bit, enjoying the variety of curves and straightaways. After several miles, we swung slowly onto Highway 29 to head back toward Stanly Ranch. With very little traffic, I allowed myself the luxury of slowing to 10 miles per hour before stepping on the throttle to test the acceleration. In under three thundering seconds, I met the speed limit of 60 mph and reluctantly backed off the pedal. Turning back into the driveway at Stanly Ranch felt like bringing a thoroughbred into the barn after running the Kentucky Derby: satisfying, but a bit sad because the race was over.

After my test drive, I hung around the pavilion for a while, talking to guests who had come over to take a drive themselves. They had all been as impressed as I. Saks had a pop-up stand there with some stylish merchandise and an immersive digital store featuring a unique, curated collection of road trip essentials from Some guests had purchased sporty sunglasses and scarves or hats for the drive. They all looked rather dashing!

With the sun going down, I headed to my suite to refresh before dinner. With vineyards approaching the cottage edge, the Rambler single bedroom king suite brought the outdoors inside. My large king suite featured two rooms with a dual fireplace that could be enjoyed from the living room or bedroom. The separate living room was well appointed with a sectional sofa, dining table for four, and a wet bar. Large living room doors opened onto a private terrace with lounge chairs, outdoor dining, and a gas firepit. The cozy bathroom featured a sensational, freestanding soaking tub and both indoor and outdoor showers.

Suite at Stanly Ranch (Photo by Auberge Resorts Collection)

For dinner, I chose to dine at Bear, the keystone of Stanly Ranch’s culinary offerings. As a culinary adventurer, I was happy to see some unusual plates mixed in with the tried-and-true options on offer. To start, I chose the bison tartare with fermented cabbage, red onion jam, and puffed tendon (similar to chicharrones on a Mexican menu). Next was basil-kombu brined cedar roasted steelhead trout with baby leeks and charred citrus accompanied by sugar snap peas in cultured coconut cream, chili oil, fermented calamansi, and habanada. For dessert I enjoyed the 9th & Larkin 72% chocolate mousse, pistachio praline, candied cocoa nibs. Once the feast was over, I retired to my suite for a relaxing evening by the gas firepit with a delightful glass (or two) of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

The next morning, I was greeted by the springtime Napa sun, so I wandered over to Gavel, a buzzing coffee shop complete with Chef Harry’s freshly baked pastries and specialty roasts from Sightglass Coffee. Mocha in hand, I was primed to lounge in my private cabaña by the lavender pool and swim in the soft, saline water until it was time to depart Stanly Ranch.

The polite cowboys made departure just as smooth as arrival. One retrieved my EQS SUV, while the other transported my gear to the valet station and safely stowed it in the spacious cargo hold. I settled into the cockpit and heard a friendly “See you next time, Mister Richards. I hope you enjoyed your stay.”

You will see me next time, polite cowboys. And I certainly enjoyed my stay.