Ride & Drive. Test driving the CapaCity L.

Rudolf Wellhöfer and the giant bus from Mercedes-Benz in Mannheim, the city of squares.
  • Ride & Drive. Test driving the CapaCity L.

  • Next stop: test drive.

    This is no normal test drive, because it is not every day that a test driver like Rudolf Wellhöfer is welcomed by sales manager Ulrich Piotrowski at the Mannheim ONC – the Mercedes-Benz ‘Omnibus New-vehicle Centre’ at its main plant in Mannheim. Before the Franconian bus operator swaps the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG for that of a CapaCity L, he is first given a quick look into the heart of Mercedes-Benz Buses – the plant at which many Mercedes buses are produced.

    Appointment on request.

    One-and-a-half hours, four kilometres and many interesting insights later – after the tour of the plant comes the test drive. That, after all, is why Rudolf Wellhöfer has come all the way to Mannheim from Franconian Sachsen, near Ansbach. After an appointment in Cologne, the second-generation bus operator is availing himself of the Ride & Drive test-drive programme to personally put the new CapaCity L through its paces. “The ONC is terrific. For us, it’s ideal that the driver can now come here to test drive the vehicle on an agreed date, whereas, in the past, the vehicles used to come to us for demonstration. And fixing a date was as easy as pie.” Rudolf Wellhöfer is impressed by the Ride & Drive concept.

    Petrol in his blood.

    And also by the route the people at Mercedes-Benz have chosen around the ONC. 'You can see here how the bus performs in narrow streets in busy city traffic, and even how it copes with crosswinds on the motorway.' Incidentally, it is certainly no longer commonplace for the boss himself to do the driving. Yet Rudolf Wellhöfer is an old-school bus operator.

    A man with petrol in his blood, someone who is passionate about his business. A man so technically clued up that he casually explains in passing the little tricks he uses to make Mercedes-Benz buses unbeatably economical in operation.

    An old hand.

    With so much experience behind him, Rudolf Wellhöfer now steers the vehicle through the busy traffic. So confident is he at the wheel that he even has enough time to tell a few anecdotes from his long career in business, including his time in the German army, during which he even came to drive a Leopard tank across Canada. So, for the 59-year-old, heavy equipment and unfamiliar terrain represent more of a challenge than an obstacle.

    And that is precisely how the motorsport enthusiast moves the new CapaCity L through the streets of Mannheim, a city whose peculiarities he does not know – yet whose busy rush-hour traffic nonetheless poses a not insignificant test.

    On the road in a giant.

    “One thing’s for sure, you’ve simply got to take a wider turn into some of the corners,” says Rudolf Wellhöfer. However, despite the electrohydraulic steering on the fourth trailing axle, this is something totally normal for a giant bus such as the 21-metre-long CapaCity L – even more so in a narrow city centre with its many traffic lanes, kerbs, parked cars and pedestrians. And, as far as a transport service operator is concerned, the capacity and handling of the giant bus made in Mannheim are unbeatable selling points. It is not without reason that Mercedes-Benz has already delivered 348 units of the previous CapaCity model, explains Michael Reis, who is accompanying the test driver as an instructor, not without a certain pride.

    Extra set of eyes.

    “Well, he certainly knows how to drive,” notes an astonished Ulrich Piotrowski. “Then again, the driver has such a good view out of the CapaCity L that, even on your first test drive, you need have no fear of running up against problems,” says Ulrich Piotrowski, referring to the self-assured performance of Rudolf Wellhöfer behind the wheel. On arriving back at the ONC, Wellhöfer even navigates the giant bus backwards into a parking space. “Simply child’s play,” he remarks, looking into the CapaCity L’s monitors, which show the pictures from a total of five cameras and therefore represent an extra set of eyes for the driver.

    Inch-perfect.

    Even so, the driver needs to be constantly vigilant. A glance at one of the digital mirrors shows that, even though the CapaCity L is majestically negotiating its way past parked vehicles, kerbs, guardrails and other vehicles, there is little room to play with.

    With a vehicle that is 21 metres long, every centimetre counts! 'Between you and me, the cameras are a great help. They make perfect sense,' confirms Rudi Wellhöfer.

    Couldn't be better.

    Such insights are worth much more than any information in the pages of a brochure, however attractively presented. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And so, at the end of the day, Rudolf Wellhöfer gives his verdict: “I don’t see what you could do to improve on this. It has been a really successful day!”

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