The Truth About Cars » Mercedes-Benz The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:48:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Mercedes-Benz New York 2014: 2015 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG Coupe Debuted Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:34:18 +0000 2015-Mercedes-S63-AMG-Coupe-01

For the well-moneyed customer who likes the Accord but prefers a German badge, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the S63 AMG Coupe at the 2014 New York Auto Show.

Under the bonnet lies a twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8 driving 577 ponies through all four wheels while providing 644 lb-ft of torque to any driver feeling the need to take down a redwood forest or two. Air suspension, lighter weight and optional ceramic brakes add to the performance alongside the usual AMG enhancements.

As for how much to pay for this experience, look forward to spending somewhere around $150,000 when the S63 AMG Coupe arrives in showrooms.

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Mercedes-Benz To Support First Responders With “Rescue Assist” Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:15:10 +0000 Benz Jaws Of Life Demo Courtesy www.autoevolution.comWith little fanfare Mercedes-Benz recently announced a claimed first-of-its-kind program designed to help firefighters and EMTs at sites of severe accidents involving Mercedes-Benz vehicles.  With Rescue Assist, the company is installing QR code stickers on their cars so First Responders will be able to use a Smartphone to bring up a schematic of the vehicle showing where airbags, the fuel tank, and other critical structural components are located. Their intent is to make the accident scene safer for rescue folks and passengers, particular in cases where the “Jaws Of Life” are needed.

The QR code stickers will be applied to the inside of the fuel filler cover and the B-Post on the opposite side of the fuel tank. All Mercedes-Benz vehicles produced after October 31, 2013 have had the QR code adhesive labels installed at the factory. Rescue Assist retrofit kits were shipped to U. S. Mercedes-Benz dealers last week. Owners of 1990 to present models will be offered the product for free when they come in for service while more enterprising Benz stores may reach out to its eligible customers via direct marketing campaigns.

The following video includes supposedly unscripted comments from firefighters about Rescue Assist.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Naturally, the ultimate assessment of the validity of Rescue Assist will be to hear from the B&B, particularly those of you who are employed as First Responders…


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BMW May Build Second NA Plant To Fend Off German Rivals Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:04:23 +0000 BMW Spartanburg

In its battle against Mercedes-Benz and Audi for record sales, BMW is mulling over the possibility of a second plant in North America.

Bloomberg reports the automaker would place its second factory in Mexico, with two sites under consideration. The decision to expand will take a few months according to BMW production chief Harald Krueger, Should the move be given a green light, the Mexican plant is likely to build the 3 Series.

The second factory would add to the long-term growth strategy BMW is using to fend off its German premium market competitors in a heated battle for records global sales, fueled by growing demand in the United States and China. Mercedes will add the C-Class to its Alabama facility in June with a new plant in North America due near the end of this decade, while Audi is in the middle of setting up shop in Mexico with a $1.3 billion plant set to produce crossovers beginning in 2016.

Previously, BMW announced it would invest $1 billion to expand its South Carolina plant by 50 percent in 2016, as well as add the X7 large SUV to the X Series lineup currently produced in the plant.

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BMW, Mercedes Downsize Number Of Architectures For Future Vehicles Mon, 17 Mar 2014 13:01:18 +0000 bmw-2-series-active-tourer-11

In order to accelerate development of new models while also cutting costs, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are downsizing the number of architectures to be used in future vehicles in their respective lineups.

Automotive News Europe reports Mercedes will be down from nine platforms five years ago to four platforms by 2016, with the first — the MFA — already in showrooms as the CLA; the MFA-underpinned B-Class and GLA will arrive in United States showrooms later this summer. The move would allow Mercedes to move safety systems from their flagship S-Class to lower classes more quickly than in previous years.

Meanwhile, BMW will go from five to two platforms — one for RWD, one for FWD –between its namesake brand and Mini. The latter debuted with the redesigned Mini not too long ago, and will also underpin the 2-Series Active Tourer officially unveiled in Geneva last week.

As for the RWD platform, BMW R&D board member Herbert Deiss says it will arrive in 2016 under the next-generation 7 Series. Both consolidations were brought to life to allow more affordable expansion of each brand’s lineup.

BMW’s i Series will not take part in the consolidation, nor will Rolls-Royce.

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Geneva 2014: Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe Wed, 05 Mar 2014 16:23:30 +0000 2015-Mercedes-Benz-S-Class-Coupe-10


Just to be sure that nobody would confuse it with the Acura CL, Mercedes is now calling it the S-Class Coupe.

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Mercedes Adding New Sprinter Models, Dealers As Van Sales Rise Mon, 03 Mar 2014 06:18:55 +0000 2014 Mercedes Sprinter

With European vans such as the Ford Transit Connect and the Fiat Ducato-based Ram ProMaster finding overwhelming success in the United States commercial van market, Mercedes is preparing its Sprinter to show the competition how it’s done on Floral Shop Lane.

Automotive News reports Mercedes-Benz Vans USA — part of the overall global van division Mercedes created last year during an internal reorganization resulting in three self-contained units for vans, cars and commercial products — will be adding new models to the Sprinter lineup alongside more dealerships to sell the lighter and taller new generation van, all in an effort to capitalize on an evolving U.S. commercial van market as MBUSA vice president and MB Vans USA managing director Bernie Glaser explains:

The Sprinter is the benchmark and the norm of the Euro-style vans. There is a revolution happening in the segment and big changes coming that were caused by the Sprinter — vans with a smaller footprint but big cargo volume.

Changes planned for the Sprinter include: a new four-pot turbodiesel from the E-Class mated to a seven-speed transmission; electronic stability control standard with options available for collision prevention, blind-spot assistance and crosswind stabilization; an all-wheel drive model due in 2015; and a small 12-passenger variant under consideration.

Meanwhile, the sales channel for the Sprinter will expand from 188 to 218 within five years; 57 Freightliner dealers will also be added. Stronger marketing tactics are in the offing, aimed to move more Sprinters into the wrap shop in 2014 than the 21,816 sold in 2013. However, the unit saw 1,288 vans sold in January as small business owners coming out of the Great Recession with more confidence in the market headed to the nearest dealer.

As for 2014, the new Sprinter uses a base 2.1-liter BlueTEC I4 driving 161 horsepower and 320 lb-ft torque through its seven-speed transmission, whose fuel economy is 20 percent better than the optional 3-liter BlueTEC V6/five-speed transmission combo. The latter pairing gets 25 mpg on the highway from the supplied 188 horses and 265 lb-ft torque. Prices range from $35,920 for a Sprinter 2500 with 144-inch wheelbase and standard roof, to $45,400 for the same model with a 170-inch wheelbase and high roof.

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UAW VW Road Map Guiding March To Mercedes-Benz Fri, 14 Feb 2014 13:00:38 +0000 MBUSI

Following the same road map that led to the ongoing organization efforts at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., the United Auto Workers have allied with German union IG Metall and Daimler’s works council on their march toward Mercedes-Benz’s MBUSI plant in Vance, Ala.

Reuters reports the UAW are doing card checks and distributing propaganda at MBUSI with help from the two German organizing bodies in the former’s ongoing march to unionize the South; other efforts include those at two Nissan plants in Tennessee and Mississippi.

Furthermore, the UAW has gone after Daimler via the National Labor Relations Board over allegations of interference and intimidation of MBUSI workers in exercising their right to organize; the hearing is scheduled for April 7.

Leading the Southern march, UAW regional director Gary Casteel explained how the union was paying attention to globalization and its effect on workers’ rights:

“The companies globalized a long time ago, and workers’ rights didn’t follow suit. It’s time that the workers’ rights caught up, and that’s the reason you see all the interaction between international unions and a global strategy.”

Said interaction comes as the result of the UAW gaining representation with Daimler’s World Employee Committee, whose role is to “strengthen and deepen the dialogue and information transfer between the various employee representatives and unions” according to Daimler in a statement.

While union leaders on both sides of the Atlantic want to see representation at MBUSI, not all of the plant’s 3,000 workers are on board. Elizabeth Kelly, who works as a team leader in quality control during the plant’s overnight shift and is opposed to the UAW, sees no link being what the union is doing with VW and Mercedes:

“The UAW supporters believe that if a union is voted in in Chattanooga, it will help their cause here. I tend to believe that it doesn’t really affect us one way or the other. It’s two totally different companies.”

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2015 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 to Bow at 2014 Detroit Auto Show Wed, 08 Jan 2014 15:08:49 +0000 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG (X 156) 2013

Aimed at the same younger audience the CLA was designed to attract, Mercedes-AMG will debut their GLA45 at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show.

Under the hood of the compact SUV is Affenbach’s twin-scroll turbocharged 2-liter four-pot driving 355 horsepower and 332 lb-ft torque through a dual-clutch seven-speed transmission to all four wheels. The power plant is capable of pushing the GLA45 from nil to 60 in 4.8 seconds, topping out at an electronically limited 155 mph.

Regarding the transmission, drivers can select from four modes of power management, ranging from full control in Manual and Sport modes (similar to the SLS AMG GT), to Momentary M Mode (found in the SLS AMG Coupé Black Series) and Controlled Efficiency, the latter for those times when fuel efficiency and comfort are a greater need than all-out speed. Stop-start function is also available in Controlled Efficiency mode.

Though biased toward the front pair of wheels, the GLA45′s performance-oriented 4MATIC system can send more power to the back when driving in anger, especially upon launch through the fully integrated power take-off unit. Meanwhile, the SUV’s electronic stability program now includes a Curve Dynamic Assist so as to prevent understeer while diving into a switchback.

The GLA45 will arrive in showrooms later this year.

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Mercedes Unveils Grown Up 2015 C-Class Tue, 17 Dec 2013 05:34:20 +0000 Mercedes-Benz C250, AMG Line, Avantgarde, Diamantsilber metallic

Though the CLA has enough fans to merit a warning about supply shortages until after June of 2014, Mercedes-Benz still knows the C-Class is its bread and butter. As such, the automaker has unveiled their latest and greatest generation of the former “baby Benz” to the world.

The new C-Class is larger than the outgoing generation — adding 3 inches to the wheelbase, 3.7 inches in overall length, 1.6 inches in overall width, and a total of 17 cubic feet of trunk space — but is also 220 pounds lighter thanks to its hybrid aluminium body and other weight-saving tech. The sedan’s new nature-inspired styling provides a lower drag co-efficient and quieter interior.

In the United States, the C-Class will arrive in two models: The C300 4MATIC — powered by a 2-liter directly injected turbo-four pushing 235 horses and 273 pounds of torque through all four wheels — and the C400 4MATIC — powered by a 3-liter turbo V6 churning out 329 ponies and 354 pounds of stump-pulling power. Directing the power will be the automaker’s 7G-TRONIC PLUS seven-speed automatic transmission.

As far as technology is concerned, the CLA leesees will miss out on goodies such as the AIRMATIC air suspension — a first for the segment — which allows drivers to adjust their ride and handling through four presets and one personalized setting, adaptive braking, collision detection/prevention, lane-keeping, even attention assistance to keep you awake on long drives.

No price has been announced as of this time, though speculation states an announcement could occur as early as the upcoming Detroit Auto Show next month.

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Mercedes to U.S. Dealers: Expect Fewer CLAs For Now Mon, 16 Dec 2013 06:22:11 +0000 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA

Due to high demand from customers jumping aboard the CLA bandwagon, Mercedes-Benz has warned dealers in the United States that supply of the new four-door coupe will be limited for the first half of 2014.

The popularity of the CLA helped the Stuttgart automaker widen its lead in the U.S. over the Bavarians at BMW while also bringing in a younger demo to the showroom; the median age of a CLA lessee is 46, while 57 is the age of majority for Mercedes overall.

In the meantime, supply of the front-driven coupe will be tight up through June 2014 as the factory screwing them together is at maximum capacity.

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BMW Focused On i Subbrand Over Short-Term Monetary Gains Tue, 05 Nov 2013 14:25:10 +0000 02-2014-bmw-i3In lieu of short-term monetary gains over their competitors at Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen (via Audi), BMW is spending its earnings on building up their i sub-brand through the city-focused i3 and the plug-in hybrid supercar i8.

As a result of their focus on the cutting edge, and in spite of demand for the brand’s 3 Series, the German automaker posted a 3.7 percent decline in third-quarter earnings, pulling in $2.6 billion this time around. In an effort to stay ahead of their hard-charging competition (both of whom aim to bury BMW in the sales war by the end of this decade), BMW will introduce 25 new models during the 2013 and 2014 model years, 10 of whom are completely new. In contrast, Mercedes aims to release a baker’s dozen of all-new Teutonic goodness by 2020, while Audi plans to add a few more numbers to its Q series of SUVs.

Regarding the i3, 8,000 orders have already been sent to dealers in the United States, Europe and China, prompting BMW to make more of the EV in time for its debut in European showrooms November 16; American and Chinese customers will get theirs sometime in the first half of 2014. The price of admission for the i3 on our shores will be $41,350, with an optional 650cc 2-cylinder engine — whose sole purpose to keep the electric power going for an additional 80 to 100 miles on top of the 80 to 100 miles the electric-only model travels — priced around $4,000.

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Review: Mercedes CLS550 (By: R. Farago) Thu, 10 Oct 2013 12:15:14 +0000 rf

What unalloyed pleasure it gives me to welcome TTAC’s august founder, Robert Farago, back to these pages. Robert’s a little too busy with what might be the biggest firearms news site in the world to give us much more than this review of Mercedes’ four-door-not-really-a-coupe, but to paraphrase John Mayer, it’s hard for me to take a stand when I will take his work any way I can. Go visit Mr. Farago at his new digs and say hello… and enjoy this review! — JB

When the heat breaks in Texas Hill Country the air is as dry as an Oxford grad’s sense of humor. And when my ML350 broke blasting across four lanes of traffic my Mercedes dealer passed me the key to a CLS550. And so I found myself behind the squared-off wheel of Germany’s lowered limo on a starry Texas night, contemplating cats’ eyes roller-coastering into the distance. I felt an old yet welcome urge to press my luck with local LEOs.

So I stood on the CLS550’s accelerator, whose brand-faithful response brings to mind nothing so much as player piano pedals. With apologies to Johnny Lieberman, the acceleration was volcanic. Not like the business end of an eruption—a comparison that applies to various Ferraris and a Nissan GT-R that I’ve had the pleasure of surviving. The Merc’s forward urge was more like a fast-moving lava flow: seamlessly unstoppable. Yes, I know: Princess Diana proved the limits of that particular Mercedes metaphor. But as the CLS550 passed 60mph—a 5.1 second sprint accompanied by a bad ass big bore bellow—I knew it was just a waypoint. This tank-like limo wants to hunker down, spool-up and unwind on an endless autobahn. It doesn’t much care for all the speeds between minimum and maximum velocity.


Don’t get me wrong: Mercedes’ E-Class chop-top isn’t just a straight line bahn burner. The portly sedan does an admirable job of staying on the road through the sinuous bits—although that’s not saying that much given Austin’s glassine pavement. Even so, the CLS550 is another fine example of German engineers’ ongoing and surprisingly successful war on basic physics (cough rear-engined Porsche cough). In this case, a trick Airmatic suspension and super-sticky Pirelli P-Zeros tie down a 4425lbs automobile motivated by 4.6 liter bi-turbo V8 generating 406hp @ 5000 rpm and 443 lb-ft. of twist @ 1,800 rpm.


The CLS550‘s electronically-assisted steering helps best the beast. The more you ask of the helm the more heft the electronic brain adds to the equation. Initially, it feels as if someone’s placing a series of increasingly heavy stones on the chassis’ chest. Eventually, the CLS550 is as precise as you wanna be, with more on-center feel than Bill Clinton demonstrated in his second term. Whether that holds true when the car’s shod with Michelin all-season tires and weighed down with optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive is another question. What happens to the car’s handling in the wet is anyone’s guess (Austin hasn’t had sustained rainfall since the Cretaceous period). I suspect the $70k CLS has an app for that, involving a flashing light and a sudden loss of power.

The CLS550‘s tri-mode transmission is no boon to the handling equation. Under hard acceleration, the seven-speed torque-converter automatic’s frantic, jarring hunt for an appropriate gear simulates confidence-sapping turbo lag. Once that’s sorted out, ladies and gentlemen, lunge is served. Unless you put the seven-speed box into Sport. In which case lunge is served as well, only all day long, from any speed, without delay. Works for me.

Jack Baruth could make mince meat out of race track with this thing (TTAC’s founder-approved jefe tried, unsuccessfully, to buy an Indium Grey CLS63 AMG that had been used as a traveling on-track demo.). For me, cornering the CLS550 at its limit of adhesion is like asking Scarlett Johansson to direct a Brazzers video. Scary, exciting, pointless and, ultimately, self-defeating. Caning the car at seven-tenths? All day long. Why are we talking about this? As it was in the beginning so it is forevermore: the CLS550 leads the style-driven life. Despite the engine, chassis, brakes, suspension, transmission and tire upgrades to ye olde E, the CLS is no sports sedan. It remains an eye candy car for buyers who (rightly) consider the E-Class’s sheetmetal is bit too pedestrian, a bit too Eurotaxi. But don’t want to leave the German brand’s embrace. The kind of people who can spot the difference between an Armani and a Brioni suit. And know that most people can’t. And like that.


The CLS550‘s newly sculpted shark-nose, unnecessarily athletic haunches and low roofline give these Ray Donovans both the uberholprestige and cut-and-thrust cachet they crave. The fact that the CLS550‘s rear end design is what the Brits call a dog’s breakfast is neither here nor there. They’re more interested in the toys: Active Lane Keeping Assist, PARKTRONIC with Active Parking Assist, Active Bling Sport Assist. I mean Blind Spot Assist. I mean, I love the thing that ratchets the seatbelt down on your shoulder before take-off. Who cares what it does? It feels hi-tech. While the big Merc’s cabin is as well screwed-together as anything Audi assembles the CLS550 suffers in comparison to Ingolstadt’s ergonomic excellence. The only snick you hear is the snickering of Audi’s interior design team as they contemplate the silver-effect plastic deployed for the CLS550‘s steering wheel and buttons.


Siri kicks Mercedes’ ass in the sat nav department. While the carcoon known as the rear passenger compartment now offers plenty o’ legroom there’s only slightly more side visibility than an M1 Abrams tank. Still. On the flip side, holding the IMG_0555CLS550’s chunky steering wheel is like holding your father’s hand. And there’s a small, square, white, hugely anachronistic
analogue clock in the middle of the dash (a sign that Mercedes can’t best British design, either). The CLS’ bog-standard boom box beats all that audiophile stuff I shoehorned into various whips before I could afford a proper car. Which brings us to the CLS550’s trump card: the engine note.


The CLS550 doesn’t burble like an E39 BMW M5, the first German car to ditch sonic refinement for multi-decibel muscle car machismo. But it’s not unlike the V8 M5’s sonic signature either. And holy Bolivian blow Batman, is the latter day luxobarge’s engine note addictive! You can almost hear the guy in the tux announcing “Let’s get ready to rummmmmbbble!” And then you hear the rumble. All. The. Time. Can someone PLEASE fire-up the AMG version of this thing for me? Wait! Don’t! My cash flow can’t float that boat. But tell me the engineers built-in that wind roar to enable the engine sound’s entry into the cabin. No? Just lucky I guess.

After using FM 2244 as a runway in a fun but fruitless attempt to reach rotation I rocked-up to my local pizza place to secure my customary glass of (What’s Up) Languedoc. I cruised the upmarket strip mall. Windows down, I clocked the big Merc’s burble bouncing off low-slung limestone walls. I swear the CLS550 was skulking through the parking lot. Shark nose indeed.

A woman of a certain age (and timeless beauty) occupying the terrace looked over her date’s shoulder and smiled. Whether she smiled at me, the car or simply because that’s what Texas women do on the first crisp night after an oppressive summer doesn’t really matter. The CLS550‘s soundtrack had etched the moment into my memory. That’s what a great car can do. And some not so great ones too, as long as they have greatness in them. Which, strangely enough, this one does.

What was it that Enzo used to say? We sell them an engine and throw the car in for free. Like that.


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Review: 2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Mon, 09 Sep 2013 13:05:56 +0000 IMG_3732 (Medium)

Here’s a little secret: ever since the folks at No Longer DaimlerChrysler decided to pervert their previously sensible nomenclature in order to better suit the lowest common denominator of California housewives, the replacement for the 190E has been known within Mercedes-Benz dealerships as the “Cheap-Class”. It’s a particularly common phrase in Service and Parts, but from time to time a salesperson will let it slip as well, although certainly not in front of the customer.

There’s something ungracious about calling a vehicle that sells for a minimum (and as-tested!) price of $36,725 the “Cheap” anything, but from the perspective of its manufacturer the sobriquet is legitimate. Set the Wayback Machine for 1975, and you can find a W115 240D selling for $9500. That’s $38,000 in today’s money, and it got you a German taxi with roll-up windows, no air conditioning, sixty-four horsepower, and M-B Tex seats. The new car offers more — a lot more — for less. So, Cheap-Class it is.

My recent trip to Napa for the VW Intramural League test offered me a chance to kill a couple birds with a single stone. By renting my own transportation, I’d be free to avoid the $100 dinners with various Heffalumps Of The Industry. And by paying an eye-watering $354 for three days including airport tax, I’d be able to review a Mercedes for the B&B. Done and done. To paraphrase Jerry Orbach in Dirty Dancing, let’s see what my money bought.

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Don’t look now, but this car’s a bit of a media darling. I couldn’t find a bad review of it anywhere I looked. Had it just been the American press giving it props, I’d have suspected that the gilded hand of recently-deposed superstar Mercedes PR person Geoff Day had been hard at work. The Brits like it just as much, however, and they’ve been singularly unkind to the Baby Benz in the past. Although this is fundamentally a facelift of the 2007 model, the accolades for interior quality, styling, and dynamics have come thick and fast from sources as different as Car and Driver and Top Gear.

My initial impression of it was slightly different, and it was this: small, and crappy. Somehow, the “W204″ has avoided the unsightly swelling that has afflicted its cousin from Munich. The 190E was 175 inches long; this is 180. The E30 and F30 are 175 and 182 inches, respectively, but the numbers don’t properly communicate how tidy the Benz feels compared to the Bimmer. This is still a compact car. I suppose that’s a brave thing, and Mercedes gets away with it because it’s not their core product the way the Three is for BMW.

What’s impressive about the interior: The evergreen M-B Tex seats, long may they wear. The LCD screen in the centrally-mounted speedometer is extremely high-resolution and contains many beautiful fonts and images. The steering wheel’s about as good as what you get in a VW GLI, and that’s not damning with faint praise. The shifter feels solid.

The rest of it’s pretty low-rent, and perhaps deliberately so, because this is, after all, the Cheapest of the Class. I had to keep telling myself, “This doesn’t cost any more than a Ford Fusion with the goodies,” to which my self responded, “That would be a bigger car with more power and more stuff and a nicer interior.” Fortunately for my mental health, I was interrupted by the infotainment system’s decision to pretend my iPod Classic didn’t exist. After some fussing, I paired my Galaxy S3 and cued up the Amazon Cloud Player. Gotta have the Player to hear that Mayer, dontcha know. There was a Hertz NeverLost (aka “NeverRight”) GPS goiter mounted on the center console, which seemed odd until I remembered that thirty-six grand doesn’t get you GPS. Oh, Mercedes! You so crazy! First it was optional air conditioning on your luxury car, and now it’s optional GPS.

In just moments, it was time to hop on the 101 and press the throttle pedal to the carpet. Hmm. Thus began my three-day experience with the World’s Most Charmless Engine. It’s a 1.8-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged to a fairly stout 201 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque. Or at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe. On the move, however, it has no characteristics of an internal combustion powerplant whatsoever. When full-speed-ahead is requested, it hesitates for a moment while the 7G-TRONIC negotiates the proper gear. Then it emits an odd sort of drone and begins shoving the C250 forward. This shove does not vary as the tach needle climbs. It’s like an electric motor. When a gearchange is called for, there’s a brief pause and then the unchanging push continues. The electric Mercedes luxury sedan may be a thing of the future, but its indifferent, uninspiring power delivery is here today. Next to this thing, the Jetta 1.8TSI might as well be a Ferrari F355, character-wise.

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My schedule required multiple trips from San Francisco to Napa over the course of three days. During that time, I came to appreciate a few things about the C250. Thing one: the seats, driving position, and feedback from the controls are efficient and relaxing. I could dimly sense the vestigial tail of my 190E’s forged-steel approach to the open road in its great-grandchild, even though it was dulled by the modern requirement for a few hundred pounds of Dynamat. After driving the Passat and CC, neither of which was significantly less expensive than this car, I was relieved to find myself back in the Cheap’s black-vinyl-and-aluminum-trim confines.

Thing two: what features the car has do in fact work well. The Bluetooth integration is flawless and hands-free chatting is acceptably hi-fi. The climate control dealt with heat and cold to my satisfaction and without adding a lot of blower noise to the quiet cabin. The cruise control has an extremely intelligent feature: move it a little bit in either direction and it adjusts your speed by one mile per hour. Push it farther and it adjusts to the nearest multiple of five. Leaving a 50mph zone for a 65? Three quick pushes and you’re speeding by the same amount. A dyed-in-the-wool M-B fan (which I am not; I’ve only had two in my driveway out of the 25+ cars I’ve owned in my adult life, with a third likely to arrive in a few weeks) would likely have something to say about the company’s ability to intelligently engineer a vehicle for stress-free high-speed operation and blah blah blah and at that point I would grab that person by the shoulders and scream “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE S430? HUH? WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THAT PIECE OF CRAP?”

The C250 grows on you with time. It really does. If you sit in one at the auto show, you won’t be impressed. If you test-drive it for twenty minutes, it’s likely to convince you to buy something else. It takes time to respect the car. I’m not talking about the old hundred-mile rule here. This isn’t a case of becoming inured to its faults. Rather, you become fond of its virtues.

Over the course of nearly three hundred miles on the trot, much of it stop-and-go traffic punctuated by frequent calls for all 201 psuedo-electric ponies, the little Benzo was claiming 28.9 miles per gallon. This would not do. Plus, I had a mind to step into the ocean for a minute. I set a course that would take me from Napa to Stinson Beach and from there to the Golden Gate Bridge overlook. I borrowed a passenger for the trip whom I felt it might be amusing to frighten. Along the coast we flew, obtaining all available speed from the tiny four-cylinder, stomping the brakes into ABS with the approach of each hairpin. On corner exits I would let the tail run wide, kicking pebbles from the shoulder surface into a thousand-foot freefall down to the midnight blue of the turbulent waves below. I made each and every pass the moment it seemed likely that it might be possible to do so. As the miles rolled on, I found myself daring fate again and again; once, as the C250 was snagging fourth towards an uphill right-hander, with only the sea and the horizon visible ahead, I stamped the carpet twice, loud enough for it to be audible over the moaning from the engine compartment, and said, “NO BRAKES!” before calling upon the deus ex anti-blockier for real and staccato-squeaking our way around the blind face of the rock to the next open straight at the last possible minute. This was not well-received, I must say.

By the time we reached the overlook for the big orange bridge I’d formed my true opinion of the C250, and it is this: Other cars offer more features, more power, more space, more convenience for the same money. You should probably buy one of those. This is not a W126 and it’s not going to last a million miles. The purchase of a Mercedes-Benz can no longer be justified on longevity or durability. But what you get for the money, in exchange for giving up the nav and the leather and the usable rear seats, is a car that is properly engineered on an excuse-free chassis. It is tangibly more satisfying to operate than a Camry or a Passat or a Fusion. On a fast road the gap between it and the jumped-up front-drivers is considerable.

That stupid, charmless turbo four-cylinder rewarded my irresponsible operation by returning 22 miles per gallon during that last drive. In circumstances like that, I’ve seen my Boxster return half that. Ugh. How I disliked the 1.8 turbo. but the numbers are pretty good. I’d spring for the big-power V-6 in the C350, and certainly Mercedes wouldn’t be unhappy were I to do so. Still, the 1.8 is okay. Nobody’s ever going to look forward to hearing it rev, but the same was true for the diesel in the 240D.

So. Relatively cheap. Not too many features. The engine is blah but the chassis is sound and it works over the long haul. I don’t know about you, but that sounds about like what I expect from a Mercedes-Benz. If any modern car deserves to wear the star, then I suppose this one does.

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Review: 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG (Video) Mon, 03 Jun 2013 21:34:45 +0000 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes
My statement “BMW is the new Mercedes” may have ruffled the most feathers, but the second thing that gets thrown in my face is: “what then has Mercedes become?” I’m sorry if the forum fanboys can’t adjust to the new normal that is a softer, more civilized, more luxurious BMW that puts comfort over balls-out performance. Sometimes you just have to let the ostrich keep its head in the hole. If you think the M6 is the best thing since sliced bread, read no further. This isn’t about BMW, this is about the German luxury company. What of them?  To find out we were tossed the keys to a six-figure beast for a week.

Click here to view the embedded video.


The first generation CLS wasn’t my cup of tea. Perhaps it’s because I like the traditional profile of the E-Class with the high greenhouse and excellent rear headroom. Perhaps it’s because I’m a stickler and in my world a “coupé” can’t have four seats. Perhaps it’s that the first generation CLS looked like it had been laid, and I’m not referring to an egg. That’s probably it.

But that was then, this is now. Up front we get one of the more attractive and aggressive grilles I have seen lately. The side profile has ditched the “half-moon” character line that I disliked for one that I would call “American muscle,” especially those rear haunches. Out back we have a more traditionally shaped trunk lid which finally puts an end to any CLS vs suppository comparisons. Whew. That’s not to say the CLS has become more upright, quite the opposite, it just isn’t trying as hard as it used to.

Mercedes’ naming scheme needs to be explained. If you take an S and remove two doors, you get a CL. Yet the CLS is not created by adding two doors back. Instead you take an E, delete the fifth seat, squash the profile, remove the window sashes and add a whopping $20,200 to the price tag (base E vs base CLS). By having the CLS, Mercedes has been able to keep the E-Class’s upright profile while increasing profits by charging huge sums for a more stylish four-seat version. When it comes to the high performance models, the CLS is a slightly better value. Starting at $109,150 it is “only” $19,350 more than the E63 AMG. It’s good to be king.

2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


There is a common problem with performance models: all the cash goes to making the car go faster, handle better and stop shorter. While there are some interior tweaks to the CLS’ interior for AMG duty, they boil down to AMG badging, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and unique AMG controls in the center console. There is another problem for the CLS in general; it shares a large portion of its design and components with the $51,900 E350. It’s not that the E-Class and CLS-Class parts are low rent by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just that they are a bit too popular. This doesn’t apply only to the Mercedes, the Audi A7, S7 and RS7 have the same thing going in inside with parts from the A6. The BMW 6 on the other hand has a much steeper base price of $74,900 (640i coupé) so your $113,000 M6 Gran Coupé won’t be sharing dash parts with the $599 lease special. Based on my personal likes and dislikes, the M6 Gran Coupé is the interior winner, but with a decently larger price tag, it should be.

Front seat comfort in the CLS63 is excellent thanks to a large range of motion in the seat bottom cushion, and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel that will practically telescope into the back of the seat if you wanted it to. As part of the $3,690 “Premium Package,” our CLS included MB’s “active multicontour” driver’s seat. This is what separates the CLS from the truly expensive Benz models which can have the same system applied to the passenger’s seat. The active throne massages your back, offers more adjustibility to the seat contour and has dynamic bolsters that inflate and deflate to keep you in your seat on winding roads. The active bolsters feel like someone is slowly groping you from behind as you drive, something I missed after the car left us.

2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

No coupé, even a four-door model, is about rear seat comfort. They are about looking good while carrying a pair of people to the opera and masses of luggage to your vacation chateau. This point was proved when I repeated my role as “prom chauffeur” for my godson. I suggested that his 6’4 frame would fit better in my ginormous long wheelbase and decidedly upright Jaguar Super V8, but the angry face and demonic burble of the CLS stole his heart, so he and his date jammed themselves in the back. Legroom isn’t the problem, it’s headroom. The CLS isn’t alone here, headroom is a precious commodity in the A7 and 6 Gran Coupe as well. The 15.3 cubic foot trunk doesn’t sound terribly large at first, but when you consider it’s a trunk for two, and the rear seats fold the CLS turns into a fairly practical vehicle (oddly enough). The A7 sports more cargo room and the hatchback lid means you can jam a barbecue in there should you need to, but it also means more road noise coming from the rear. The BMW Gran Coupe has a hair more trunk space but the rear seats don’t fold as flat as those in the CLS and the integrated headrests made front-seat room a bit tighter when the seats were folded.


Dogs may be man’s best friend, but I’d take a snazzy infotainment system any day, so would many luxury shoppers by all accounts. This is where the sharp dressed CLS looses in a big way. Mercedes hasn’t rested on their laurels as some would suggest, COMAND has been updated continuously, you’d just be hard pressed to notice. COMAND still uses a 7-inch LCD set high in the dashboard surrounded by a plastic bezel seemingly designed to accentuate the small dimensions of the screen. Audi uses a large 8-inch screen that pops out of the dash and screams “look at ME!” while BMW has gone for a ginormous 10.2-inch wide screen system. While I find Audi’s MMI system frustrating to use and overly complicated, BMW’s iDrive has evolved into a relatively intuitive system that I have been able to get anyone off the street to figure out. COMAND lands somewhere in the middle being fairly simple to use but looking a little old school. Part of Mercede’s modernization efforts have gone into integrating smartphone apps and internet connectivity into COMAND, but the system’s processor seems to slow to take full advantage of the improvements. Voice commands are one thing this system has always done well and Mercedes has expanded the system to now offer SYNC-like voice control of your USB/iDevice. Notably, the system lacks the annoying “talk now” beep that most systems use making it more natural to interact with. For in-depth infotainment commentary, check out the video.

M157 EngineDrivetrain

Ah, the section we’ve all been waiting for. For RS7 duty, Audi took the existing turbo V8 and punched up the boost. For M6 Gran Coupe duty BMW did the same thing to their 4.4L V8. (Yes, I know that there were a few other changes but my point is they are the same basic engine.) Based on the competition, AMG could have very easily done the same thing to their twin-turbo 4.6L “M278″ V8 engine. Instead the AMG built a larger 5.5L V8 off the M278′s design and dubbed it the M157. No, I don’t know why they didn’t call it the M279 or just Thor’s Hammer. The RS7′s 560 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque and the M6′s 560 ponies and 500 twists sound impressive as do the CLS63′s base 518 horsepower and 516 lb-ft. But for $7,300 Mercedes will toss in a re-tuned (read: stiffer) suspension, sportier steering wheel, 186MPH top-speed limiter and bump the engine to 550 horses and 590 lb-ft of diesel-like pull. Still not enough? (Why should it be?) The engine puts down 664 lb-ft in a variant of the CL63 AMG and there are tuners that will happily flash your ride to get you there too. Why the big difference in torque? It’s all about displacement.

The difference in the way the Audi/BMW and the Mercedes engines behave is also quite different. Thanks to the large displacement, low end torque is much more pronounced than the smaller V8s. While there is still a bit of turbo lag, you’d be hard pressed to notice on your way to a 12 second 1/4 mile at 123 MPH. In a 4,300lb sedan. While burning unbelievable amounts of rubber. For the record, that’s the same speed we clocked in the M6 drop-top. With this much power, traction is the CLS’ Achilles heel, something Mercedes is planning to rectify in 2014 with the addition of AWD to the performance pack CLS63. I’d like to compare the Panamera to the CLS, but since Porsche won’t return my calls I have to rule the CLS superior.

2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Engine, 5.5L twin-turbo V8, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Since every silver-lining is wrapped in a cloud, we need to talk about the AMG Speedshift MCT transmission. If you take a look at the cut-away above, you’ll notice something. What Mercedes calls a “multi-clutch” transmission isn’t the same as a “dual-clutch” unit. BMW’s M-DCT transmission is two robotically shifted manual transmissions inside the same casing. One does the odd gears, the other handles the even gears. The Mercedes unit is a variant of their regular 7-speed slushbox with a wet clutch replacing the torque converter. The MCT acronym refers to the multiple clutches and bands used in the planetary gearsets.

I haven’t been a huge fan of this transmission since it launched, because in some ways the MCT combines the “slow” shifts of an automatic and unrefined feel of clutches in one unit. Thankfully the 2013 software has made the transmission much more liveable but the way the transmission shifts is an issue for me. My complaint is simply software, Mercedes chose to not allow the car to “queue” shifts. So two pulls on the steering wheel paddle does not take you down/up two gears. You have to wait until the transmission shifts before commanding the next gear. Holding the “down” paddle will get the transmission to scoot to the lowest gear possible (except for first), but going down 5 gears takes an eternity compared to the BMW M-DCT. When the high-rev fun is over, you’ll find there is no command for going “up” to the highest gear possible. Mercedes has improved the speeds of the shifts which now come in around 170ms in “Comfort” and 100ms in “Manual” with Sport and Sport+ slotting in-between those times but the 20-80ms shifts of the BMW/Getrag DCT are lightning fast in comparison.

2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Brakes, Wheel, Caliper, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


When you get the CLS on the road, complaints about the MCT fade thanks to a positively devilish V8 burble that is 100% authentic rather than computer generated like in recent BMWs. The steering comparison is somewhat similar, with the CLS feeling light, but more accurate and transmitting more feel than the M6. The Audi on the other hand has that Quattro system to interfere with steering feel, something I notice many reviews fail to notice. I’m very torn about AWD in a high performance car. AWD’s ability to put power down more effectively is usually worth the steering feel penalty as long as it doesn’t change the car’s neutral handling characteristics. Next year you will be able to have this debate as 2014 brings standard 4MATIC to the CLS AMG. At 150lbs, 4MATIC adds less weight than Quattro and will have a nearly 70% rear bias. If however RWD shenanigans are more important than grip, snag a 2013 while you can/

When it comes to driving dynamics this becomes a two-way fight between the BMW and the Mercedes. Aside from the fact that the RS7 isn’t officially out yet so few have driven it, we have to keep Audi’s platform designs in mind. The A6/A7 platform was designed with FWD base models in mind and that cause some inherent compromises most namely the weight balance. Although Audi has not officially said, I doubt the RS7 has improved much upon the S7′s 54.5/45.5 percent weight distribution. I recently had the opportunity to drive the S6 and a number of BMW and Mercedes models on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and the impact that Audi’s engine layout has on handling is obvious on a track. The S6 felt nose heavy and less willing to change direction than the other Germans. Some of that has to do with the AWD system but more has to do with where the weight is located. (And remember, Porsche wouldn’t lend us a Panamera which means it looses by default.) Weight balance is important with performance cars because big engines usually equal a heavy nose. This is the case with the 6-Series Gran Coupe in which the 640i model is a near perfect 50/50 but the M6 version bumps the numbers to 52.3/47.7 % and in the CLS as well with the CLS63 having a 52/48% distribution. You might think “there’s little difference between the S7 and CLS in distribution” which is true, but the difference combined with tire choices and suspension dynamics made the S6/S7 feel decidedly front heavy in comparison.

2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Our tester had the performance package suspension which turns the CLS63 into the best handling and the best feeling four door coupé. With precise steering, tenacious grip and excellent feel, the CLS is quite simply a willing dance partner. The M6 on the other hand comes off as a little artificial at times and a little less connected the rest of the time. That being said, I prefer the ride in the M6 because it’s not as punishing as the CLS63 with the stiffer springs. If you don’t get that $7,300 performance package, then the softer CLS63 gives a little away in performance to the M6 Gran Coupé, but has a ride more fitting of a Mercedes in my opinion. The performance package is without a doubt breathtaking, but in my mind it is at odds with the “mission” of a Mercedes-Benz.

While we’re talking options, if you plan on exercising your CLS63 on a regular basis, the $12,625 carbon ceramic brakes are a must. The stock brakes do a fine job keeping up under normal circumstances, but with this much power and 4,300lbs it is possible to overreach the ability of the stock stoppers. Also, the $2,030 limited slip differential is an absolute must have if you’re serious about applying this much power from a stop. That jacks up the price of the CLS63 to $127,247. If that price shocks you, just stick with the CLS550 since the RS7 and M6 are more expensive.

2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The CLS63 that Mercedes lent us is a serious performance machine, but it’s more than that, it’s the first AMG product I have driven lately that’s a better performance machine than BMW’s M line. I have long preferred AMGs to Ms because they were slightly softer, slightly more luxurious and easier to live with on a daily basis, but the CLS63 isn’t that Mercedes. While the 2014 AWD model might tame the beast, this 2013 model hustles with the M6 coupé, handles with greater precision than an M5 and the sense of urgency that 590lb-ft of torque bring to the party must be experienced to be believed. Is this the new Mercedes?


Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Endless torque.
  • Did I mention the torque? Yea, it’s that good.
  • Impeccable road manners and the last stand against numb steering.

Quit it

  • Mercedes needs to snag someone’s dual-clutch transmission or swallow their pride and buy ZF’s 8-speed.
  • COMAND needs to be replaced, stat.


Mercedes-Benz provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.0 Seconds

0-60: 4.1 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 12 Seconds @ 123 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy over 740 miles: 19MPG


M157 Engine M157 Engine M157 Engine 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Engine 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Engine, 5.5L twin-turbo V8, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Brakes, Wheel, Caliper, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-001 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-002 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-003 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-004 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-005 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-006 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-008 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-009 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-012 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-011 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-014 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Instrument Cluster 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-015 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Instrument Cluster-001 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Instrument Cluster-002 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Instrument Cluster-003 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-002 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-001 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-003 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-005 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-006 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-007 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-008 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-010 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-011 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-012 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Mercedes COMAND 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Mercedes COMAND-001 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Mercedes COMAND-005 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Mercedes COMAND-004 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Mercedes COMAND-003 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Mercedes COMAND-002 ]]> 45
Doug’s Review: 2007 Mercedes E63 AMG Wagon Fri, 22 Mar 2013 16:22:23 +0000

Last spring, I sold my Porsche to buy a station wagon. Car guys understand this, because it’s outlined in our unspoken creed: eventually we all trade in our beloved sports cars for a practical family vehicle that can haul our kids and whatever expensive musical instruments they’ve decided to learn this week. But for me, the swap came early: at 23 years old, single and without children, I swapped my 911 Turbo for a mommy-mobile.

Most car guys understand this, too, when they hear about my mommy-mobile of choice: a 2007 Mercedes E63 AMG station wagon. At 507 horsepower and 465 pound-feet, it had more of each than the Ferrari F430 or Lamborghini Gallardo of its day. This compares rather favorably to the car my own mom had when I was growing up, which was a 1993 Isuzu Rodeo with a stick shift and no airbags.

The Rodeo had more power than nothing, except maybe one of those little scooters you rent in the Caribbean from a place that just finished washing off the blood stains from the last guy who rented it (“No helmet … sorry … is okay?”). But the Rodeo was capable of hauling children, provided you didn’t mind springing for expensive dental work should their heads hit the rather vertical dashboard.

In addition to no airbags, Mom’s Rodeo also didn’t have a third-row seat, which I’m proud to say the Mercedes did possess. In true Mercedes wagon style, it was located in the cargo area and faced backwards. Yes, this was automotive heaven: a 500-horsepower car with a rear-facing third row. I pictured pulling away from an Audi R8 while a tuba-playing eight-year-old boy waved goodbye from my third row. Not that I ever street race. Or carry around eight-year-old boys.

Still, there were some enthusiasts who didn’t get it. A few weeks before buying the wagon, I was at a party and met a self-described car guy who owned a Monaro-based Pontiac GTO. When I told him I was planning to swap my Porsche for a three-row station wagon, he gave me a disgusted look and walked away. This actually happened.

I didn’t mind. I had always been into strange cars, and the E63 AMG wagon is among the very strangest. In the wagon’s three years on the W211 chassis, the US got only 153 units – the same number of Camrys that Toyota sells in three hours. In other words, it was about as common as the Ferrari Enzo, which couldn’t haul anywhere near as many eight-year-old boys, or their tubas.

Finding one, then, was a challenge best described in another story. After months of searching, I eventually located mine in Indiana and drove it home to Atlanta. I owned it for eight months and around 9,000 miles, nearly all of which were spent with an ear-to-ear grin across my face.


Generally speaking, I find the W211 E-Class wagon to be a handsome car in the same way that William H. Macy is a handsome man: not really at all, but you can sort of see it. The AMG version boosted its appeal with those enormous wheels, the rear diffuser and those little inlets on the front bumper that are the kind of thing I absolutely love, but my girlfriend would never notice unless she damaged them. Which is quite possible.

However, being a typical car enthusiast, I couldn’t help but notice a few flaws with mine. One was, quite obviously, the color. My wagon was painted a shade Mercedes called pewter, which I believe came from a focus group of 97-year-old men, 87-year-old women, and people who actually do find William H. Macy handsome. The color never should’ve been allowed on any AMG car, but unfortunately it was on mine. This may help explain how I was able to afford it.

The other flaw with my wagon was an issue I had with all 2007-2009 E-Class models. A facelift inexplicably gave the cars a pointy beak, which oddly resembled the 1997-1999 Acura CL. Mercedes never provided an explanation for this, though I suspect the car could double as an Arctic ice-breaking ship. It certainly has enough torque.


The interior of the E63 AMG’s main competitor, the E60 BMW M5, had attractive carbon fiber and aluminum on nearly every surface. The E63 AMG, meanwhile, had what I call “Mercedes wood,” which starts its life as real wood but then, after weeks of hard work at the Mercedes factory, ends up looking like plastic.

This was one low point. The other was the interior’s color, for which Mercedes probably devised some high-class-sounding name to take your mind off the fact that it was actually a somber shade of dull gray. Presumably, this one came from a focus group of lifelong Seattle residents.

However, the E63 wagon’s cabin had some benefits. One was, of course, the third-row seat, which every single one of my friends tried to sit in. They were unsuccessful, largely because they have legs. But while third-row room is tight, the overall interior volume is immense. I ended up using the E63 to move my entire apartment, which included my queen-size bed (broken down, of course). I also used it to transport my electric keyboard, proudly joining the ranks of those musical instrument-schlepping parents.

On The Road

Up until now, I’ve been a little negative about my E63 wagon. That’s because it’s not about exterior styling or interior design. The E63 AMG wagon is all about the monstrous engine you’re reminded of whenever you put down your foot or visit the gas pump, which happen equally often.

Acceleration is the car’s strong suit. There is no other car on earth that lets you go so fast and look in your mirror to see seven headrests and a rear wiper.

Acceleration is so massive that I just had to take the wagon to the drag strip. This occurred on a Friday night in rural north Georgia, where going to the drag strip is something people do, presumably instead of reading. There’s even an announcer, who initially made fun of the wagon (“Mom’s here, roof racks and all!”) until it ran a 13.1. I believe a twelve was in it somewhere, but I was embarrassingly unqualified since my previous drag strip experience came as a high-schooler in an automatic Volvo.

Handling, however, wasn’t the E63’s strong point. I once took it on a mountain drive that included Lamborghinis, Ferraris and even a Carrera GT. It kept up with the pack, mostly because of its monster engine and immense grip, which comes from tires as wide as a regulation speed limit sign. But it had some noticeable body roll – even in the “Sport” chassis setting. Still, for a family car, it was damn good. Far better than Mom’s Rodeo, which – on similar roads – probably would’ve gone the way of the Consumer Reports Isuzu Trooper.

One of the best parts about my E63 wagon driving experience came from other drivers. I once had a Lotus, which earned me commentary at every stop light from people whose brother’s cousin’s milkman had one. (Side note: how does one respond to this? I never figured it out. Eventually, I just sold the car.) Not so with the E63 wagon. The only people who ever approached me were true car people, which made virtually every conversation tremendously enjoyable.

Once, when I was in my wagon, I spotted an E55 wagon, which was made in only slightly larger numbers. This is the automotive equivalent of two black people passing each other on the street in Vermont. The response was similarly enthusiastic, with lots of waving and smiles all around. If this happened in my Lotus, the other driver would’ve been mad that someone dared to try and steal the attention from him.


In the end, I loved my E63 wagon, but my mechanic loved it more. That’s because I spent several thousand dollars keeping it in perfect condition during my tenure as its owner, from suspension work to a new differential. (Yes, a new differential. Your guess is as good as mine.) When I discovered that brake rotors cost something like two grand in parts alone, I had reached the final straw.

I sold my AMG wagon – with newly-installed brake rotors – four months ago. Still, in spite of the huge running costs, I miss it dearly and I occasionally check used car listings to see if any are available. By chance, mine went to a TTAC reader, long before I ever started contributing to this site. When he sees this post, he will undoubtedly e-mail me and say: “You took my car to the DRAG STRIP?!”

Hopefully, this will prompt him to sell it back to me for exactly what he paid.

Doug DeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Review: 2013 Mercedes-Benz E550 4Matic Mon, 21 Jan 2013 13:00:28 +0000

My daughter’s favorite flavor of Slurpee is all of them—in the same cup. To her, it’s more exciting to combine all available options than to pick one and roll with it. If you’re the same way, you’ll find the 2013 Mercedes-Benz E550 4Matic a very exciting car.

The basic shape of the E-Class could hardly be more staid. While Audis and BMWs are increasingly curvaceous, Mercedes has been going in the opposite direction, with sharper edges and clear corners. Long for the days when sedans were composed of three distinct boxes, and did not pretend to be coupes? Then Mercedes has the car for you. It even has a hood ornament. Sajeev’s favorite shade befits it. Not crazy about the bulge around the rear fender? Well, they’re excising it with the 2014 (which also gains larger, fancier headlamps).

If the top half of the E550 was going for Q-ship invisibility, the bottom half didn’t get the memo. All E550s are now sport models, so they’re fitted with an aggressive, mesh-filled lower front fascia and 18-inch “AMG twin 5-spoke” polished alloy wheels. Add $300 for a barely there decklid spoiler.

The E550’s interior styling is similarly rectilinear. Fine materials and plentiful details help it look expensive, but not luxurious. If you’re a Benz traditionalist, and expect a big analog clock in the main instrument cluster and a cruise control stalk where most cars have the turn signal, then get the 2013. The 2014 E-Class ditches both to go with the flow.

The E-Class sedan’s seat bottoms continue to be unusually firm for a luxury-oriented car. Stuttgart knows what’s good for you. Add $660 for the “Active Multicontour Driver Seat w/Massage.” (Your passenger is SOL.) The lower back massage proved relaxing, if not so much that the standard drowsiness monitor felt the need to illuminate its coffee cup icon. The active side bolsters, on the other hand, would benefit from more sophisticated logic. While the inward movement of the outer side bolster helps keep you in place when throwing the car hard through a curve, they’re just as aggressive when navigating a parking lot. The car’s many brains know its speed and steering wheel angle. They can apply this knowledge here. Yes, you can simply turn the feature off when it’s not needed. But, judging from the features exclusive to luxury cars, the class is all about the car knowing what you want without being told.

With the 2012 E550, Mercedes replaced the previous 382-horsepower, 391-pound-feet-of-torque 5.5-liter V8 with a turbocharged 4.7-liter good for 402 horsepower and 443 pound-feet. All of this torque is theoretically available at just 1,800 rpm, but my gut didn’t detect serious shove until about 3,000. Add in a lazy throttle and taller gearing than should be necessary with seven ratios, and the initial responsiveness of the engine underwhelms. (Though it might have been a minor participant in the sins I attributed to the throttle, boost lag wasn’t obvious.) The E550 can get to 60 in under five unmemorable seconds, but it’s really set up for the autobahn, not the American stop light gran prix.

Mercedes switched to a smaller, turbocharged engine to boost fuel economy, and the EPA numbers did increase from 15 city, 23 highway to 16 and 26, respectively. The trip computer reported about 20 in suburban driving, pretty good for a 4,400-pound, 402-horsepower, all-wheel-drive sedan.

You’d prefer to add a mpg or two and some driving thrills by having all of that torque channeled through only the rear wheels? Too bad, this is no longer an option. All 2013 E550s are 4Matics. Plant your right foot in slow turns, though, and you can still induce some tail-happy shenanigans. Just not for long, as the stability control system quickly and firmly cuts in. On this particular flavor of E-Class no button is provided to dial the system back, much less defeat it.

This being a “sport” E-Class, it has a sport suspension. In casual driving the chassis feels taut (through the seat of your pants, not the numb steering). The ride could even be too firm for those seeking luxury. Push the E550, though, and the motions of its rock-solid body become sloppy, its nose plows, and its stability control system forcefully communicates that you shouldn’t be driving a 402-horsepower, sport-suspended, big-braked sedan this way. Some cars feel better the harder you push them. The E550 is not such a car.

BMW has been taken to task for softening up the 5-Series, but its 550 still steers and handles significantly better than this one. Much of the motoring press, though, has concluded that the best-handling German mid-sizer is, quite ironically, the one without a rear-drive chassis, and thus with the most nose-heavy weight distribution. How did this happen?

You can still buy a $71,430 car where you must pull the key out of your pocket, stick it in the ignition, and twist. To fix this, add another $650. As tends to be the case with Mercedes lately, you’ll pay even more for one of the other Germans. A similarly-equipped BMW 550 xDrive runs about $3,000 higher. An Audi S6 lists for about $5,000 more after accounting for feature differences with Truedelta’s car price comparison tool. Compared to earlier decades, the German pricing hierarchy has been inverted.

It’s a Mercedes, but it costs less than its archrivals. Its passé three-box body is gilded with AMG bits. Its interior includes some luxurious elements, and some sporty elements, but no distinct character. A “stately” throttle and tall gearing blunt the responsiveness of the powerful boosted V8. The chassis feels sporty, even overly so, until called upon to corner. Perhaps with a psychology like my daughter’s I could make sense of the E550 4Matic. But, with my compulsion for coherence, I can’t.

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is not without its strengths. Its body never feels less than rock solid, its sophisticated electronic systems provide exemplary safety and convenience, and its exterior and interior are undeniably those of a premium motor car. Perhaps above all else, as noted by my non-car-person wife, “it is a Mercedes-Benz.” But these strengths are equally present within the more coherent, more fuel-efficient, $4,500 less expensive, plenty quick E350.

Mercedes-Benz provided a car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail E550 front quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh E550 side, picture courtesy Michael Karesh E550 rear quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh E550 interior, picture courtesy Michael Karesh E550 instrument panel, picture courtesy Michael Karesh E550 rear seat, picture courtesy Michael Karesh E550 trunk, picture courtesy Michael Karesh E550 engine, picture courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 50
Review: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 Thu, 03 Jan 2013 13:00:08 +0000

We’re all familiar with the Mercedes-Benz GLK, from its new-for-2010-looks-like-2002 exterior to its “they want how much for this?” interior. But the fourth model year is MCE time. Mid-cycle, has Stuttgart enhanced its compact crossover enough that previous rejecters should reconsider it?

This being an MCE, the “aimed for G-Wagen, hit late-model Forester” metal hasn’t changed. More Volvo than any post-Horbury Volvo, it remains the yang to the Audi Q5’s yin. New light assemblies and fascias address an LED deficit (and then some) while taking the box they append uptown.

Mercedes got the message that many people (or at least many reviewers) found the original GLK interior overly basic, to put it kindly.

The revised interior has more soft surfaces and looks more worthy of a price north of forty. Plain, hard-edged black plastic surfaces are out, displaced by some subtle curves (though the basic forms remain blocky), additional wood trim, and many not-so-subtle chrome bits. The new white-ringed instrument faces are classier. Unless it’s dusk, when the main thing you’ll notice is how hard it is to read silver digits on a white background.

Before you get carried away by visions of opulence, realize that the seat cushions remain flat and firm. Rear legroom also hasn’t changed, and so remains short of the segment average. A six-footer will fit behind a six-footer even if they’re wearing tall hats, but shins will be grazed. If you need more space, a dealer will happily show you something in a larger size.

The GLK brochure proclaims the “SUV embodiment of a sport sedan’s soul.” From the start, the fundamentals have been present: a big V6, nearly balanced weight distribution, and 19-inch wheels shod with low-profile rubber, all as standard equipment. For 2013, the V6 receives direct injection and a power bump from 268 to 302. Lay into it, and the GLK350 will scoot, but the powertrain’s initial response isn’t snappy as engine remains paired with an aging (if updated) seven-speed automatic. The newly offered (and standard) shift paddles don’t help. Add in the need to hit a button on the console to activate them (the P-R-N-D shifter is column-mounted), and they might as well sign up for unemployment.

The 2013 GLK’s retuned suspension feels tighter than I recall from the one one I drove two years ago. Body control is up while lean in hard turns is down. The steering, now electric-assist, contains less slop than the previous hydraulic unit while providing a similarly low level of feedback. Drive the GLK the way such vehicles are typically driven, and it behaves well, with the ride quality and quietness people expect from a premium brand and the evident solidity people expect from a Mercedes. Push the ute, though, and you’ll discover limited grip as the outside front Latitude Tour HP scrubs and a non-defeatable, far-from-transparent stability control system jerks your chain. If you’re looking for fun, you’re much more likely to find it in the competing Audi, BMW, Infiniti, or Volvo.

Fuel economy has also been enhanced. In addition to direct injection and electric-assist steering, the GLK350 has gained an automatic start/stop system. Unlike Munich’s contraption, which produces shudders unbecoming any machinery this side of a Tata Nano, Stuttgart’s operates almost imperceptibly. The EPA ratings of 19 mpg city, 24 highway might seem less than impressive, but they’re considerably better than last year’s 16/21! (Unlike with an Audi Q5 or BMW X3, but like the Infiniti EX37, you can get rear-wheel-drive. The EPA highway figure is then 25.)

Like Toyota’s hybrids, the updated GLK grades your driving. The grades are more precise than in a lowly Prius c—out of 100 rather than on a five-point scale—yet they are considerably less helpful. In a Prius c, the grades are for the current accelerate-cruise-brake cycle. In the Mercedes, they’re for the entire period since the car was started or the system was manually reset. Consequently, the link between what you do and the grade you receive is far less intuitive. You start out with a 50. From there, it’s easy to sink your score into the teens, and surprisingly difficult to nudge it over 80. On one suburban drive I managed a 98 with a feather-light foot and a sharp eye for anything that might require the brakes. The trip computer reported 28 mpg. When paying less attention to my driving, but still driving far from aggressively, the trip computer reported a score in the 40s and about 21 mpg. If your foot is at all heavy you won’t observe north of 20 in the suburbs, with 16-17 a very real possibility. Require better fuel economy? A GLK250 BlueTec powered by a 190-horsepower, 2.1-liter diesel arrives next spring.

Of course, most people don’t buy Mercedes for how they handle or how far they go on a gallon. What likely matters most—beyond the three-pointed star—is the amount of technology packed into the vehicle, and especially that focused on safety. To remind you of the priority the GLK puts on your well-being, the front seat belts are given a very firm tug each time you start the car.

Every redesigned or refreshed Mercedes beginning with the 2010 E-Class has received a drowsiness monitor as standard equipment. The system works entirely by evaluating the frequency and amplitude of steering corrections. So, if you are not aware that you’re falling asleep, a “coffee cup” icon below the speedometer will inform you.

Blind spot and lane departure warnings are available in passive and active forms. In “active,” the system doesn’t only warn you via a large graphic between the tach and speedometer. It also selectively blips the brakes and tugs the wheel to help get the car back where it’s supposed to be. I found the blind spot system helpful, perhaps because the warning light in the mirror alone was sufficient and I never tripped the “active” level. The lane departure system, on the other hand, proved a PITA. Touch the lane marker (quite easy to do with the one on the blind side) and you’d think death was imminent from the strength of the system’s reaction. To be fair to Mercedes, I haven’t yet encountered a lane departure system that wasn’t a nuisance. This one was only the most intrusive of the bunch.

The optional adaptive cruise control impresses, even in traffic. On some of my trips around town I let the GLK do most of the driving. (The car gave its own driving style a grade of 46%.) Even if it’s not on, the Distronic system will sound a warning if you approach the car ahead too quickly. If you don’t react, it will attempt to stop the car itself. In a major ergonomic revolution (for Mercedes, at least), the turn signal and cruise control stalk have swapped positions. I made it through the entire week without setting the vehicle speed in an attempt to signal.

The GLK is also now able to steer itself into a parallel parking space. Unfortunately, life in the burbs provided no opportunity to test this system.

The Lighting Package now includes, in addition to steering-linked xenon headlamps, “adaptive highbeam assist.” Theoretically, this means that the car determines the appropriate and safe amount of forward lighting, and automatically provides it. In practice, it meant I had to switch the lamps out of “auto” to get the high beams. In “auto,” the car almost always rescinds your request for the brights the moment you release the stalk.

On the infotainment front, the GLK can now connect you to news, Google search, Yelp, Facebook and (when parked) the entire Internet for $14 a month on top of the $280/year basic “mbrace” telematics fee. Yes, it all costs money. Load up a GLK350, and the price jumps from $39,995 to the tested car’s $55,015. Even at this price the tested GLK lacked proximity key ($650), premium audio ($810), an Appearance Package (20s, shiny roof rails), and an AMG Styling Package that includes the previous and adds more aggressively styled fascias and wheels ($1,990). For the sake of comparison, let’s add the first two options, yielding an MSRP of $56,475.

This only seems like too much money for a compact SUV until you compare the competition. A loaded BMW X3 xDrive35i lists for $620 more—and running both through TrueDelta’s Car Price Comparison Tool finds that over $3,000 of the stuff on the Benz isn’t available on the BMW. Adjust for this, and the BMW is $3,700 higher. An Audi Q5 3.0T lists for a scant $45 more. But back in the 1990s, the idea of an Audi costing even a dime more than a Mercedes would have been written off as just another one of Piech’s insane ambitions. After adjusting for feature differences the Audi is $500 more. Of course, if you’re willing to go non-German, an Infiniti EX37 or a Volvo XC60 is about $3,000 less. Or, if you don’t need 300+ horsepower, the 240-horsepower X3 xDrive28i is about $1,200 less than the GLK while the 211-horsepower Q5 2.0T (not available with some of the 3.0T’s pricey options) undercuts a similarly decontented Mercedes by about $4,000.

Which leaves us where? Those who liked the GLK’s exterior before will like it more now. Those who didn’t like it before most likely still won’t, unless their issue was insufficiently fancy lights. Performance and handling have both improved, but not by enough to win over driving enthusiasts. The array of available technology could impress some people. Competitors offer many of the same features, but the GLK could have the most in the class, at least for now. Most of all, though, the dramatically upgraded interior could warrant another look. When you think of how people actually use this class of vehicle, an upscale look and feel matters a great deal, and the 2013 GLK is a much more credible luxury vehicle than the 2012 was.

Mercedes-Benz provided a GLK350 with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2012 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 Cargo Van 170 Sun, 27 May 2012 16:52:48 +0000

“Could I get hold of a Sprinter?” Alex was putting together a review series on cargo vans, but wasn’t able to get one from Mercedes. Perhaps I could? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t have a clue about how to evaluate such a beast. Then Alex posted his series, and commenters lamented the absence of the Sprinter. So here you go, my best shot, courtesy of the good folks at Mercedes-Benz of Novi…

Offered for a few years as a Dodge, the Sprinter introduced Americans to Europe’s idea of a proper van, which is quite different from traditional American vans. Get used to this big foreign-looking box: Ford and Ram (remember, it’s now a brand) have similar vans on the way. Soon GM and newcomer Nissan will be the only players offering traditional American vans.

The European van concept has some clear advantages, beginning with the driving position. The driver sits high behind a minimal instrument panel and huge windshield. The engine intrudes into the passenger compartment, but much less than in the GM vans, so foot room is only slightly constricted. From the knees rearward there’s no engine cover (GM) or massive console (Nissan) to get in the way. The seats, much firmer than you’ll find in other vans, look and feel German, though more VW than Mercedes (this is a commercial vehicle, after all). Shaped to provide good support, as the hours accumulate they’d likely prove more back-friendly than the mushy seats in other vans. An option package includes front height, rear height, recline, and lumbar adjustments. These manual adjustments might be a little less convenient than the power controls in other vans, but they also have no motors to break.

Mercedes offers the Sprinter in four body styles: 144-inch wheelbase regular roof, 144-inch wheelbase high roof, 170-inch wheelbase high roof, and 170-inch wheelbase extended length high roof (cargo van only). Even the regular roof offers a higher ceiling than you’ll find in a GM van, 60.6” vs. 52.9”. The high roof adds another foot, such that anyone up to six feet in height can walk around inside without fear of hitting their head on the ceiling. For people who actually work inside the van, this is a major selling point. Among current competitors, only Nissan also offers this feature from the factory. The rear cargo opening is also wider, 61.6” to 57.0”, and this width is maintained floor to ceiling by nearly vertical body sides (American vans are jelly beans in comparison). [Commenters report that the tall, virtually flat body sides harm crosswind stability at highway speeds.] Cargo length is 128.5”, 169.3”, or 185.0”, depending on the body length, compared to 124.6” or 146.2” in the GM vans. In terms of cubic feet, the Sprinter’s 318, 494 or 547 easily beats the GM van’s 270 or 314. Even the short, regular roof Sprinter can hold more than the long GM, and over twice as much as the typical minivan.

Bottom line: there’s a lot more usable space inside the Sprinter. This volume is easily accessed through wide, floor-to-ceiling door openings (right slider standard, left slider optional). The rear doors can be opened 270 degrees. The Sprinter 3500 can carry up to 5,375 pounds (vs. 3,992 in the GM van) and tow up to 7,500 pounds (vs. 10,000). The tested 2500 has a 2,872 pound payload, vs. 3,009 in the GM 2500 van.

Passenger capacity ranges from two to twelve people—the Sprinter can be equipped with one, two, three, or four rows of seats. Even with four rows installed, there’s over six feet of cargo space in the 170-incher. Theoretically, Mercedes could fit a couple more rows, but has ceded the 15-passenger market to the domestics. Passenger-pleasing factory options are limited to roof-mounted rear HVAC vents; this Mercedes isn’t remotely about luxury.

With such high cargo and towing capacities, you might think the Sprinter has a monster engine lurking under its stubby, steeply sloped hood. But the sole engine option, a 188-horsepower (at 3,800 rpm), 325 pound-feet (at 1,400 rpm) 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel V6, is much smaller and far less powerful than the V8 engines offered by GM, Ford, and Nissan. The only available transmission is Mercedes’ tried-and-true five-speed automatic. Is this somehow enough? Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to adequately test powertrain performance. During my test drive this powertrain accelerated the van as quickly as I’d desire in such a vehicle, with no apparent strain, even at 80 on the highway. Thirteen seconds to sixty might seem sluggish in a contemporary car, but this is a box big enough to swallow the contents of 3.5 minivans. Unless you’re up to no good (white vans being the preferred conveyance of TV terrorists) or out to stop people up to no good (SWAT, the A-Team), you’re not seeking an AMG variant. The problem: sixty arrives in 13 seconds with no add-ons, no passengers, no cargo, no trailer, and no big hills. Add one or more of these and the relatively small diesel might seem overwhelmed. [Update: commenters report that engine performance isn't an issue with heavy loads. Braking performance might be more of a concern.] The engine is obviously a diesel only when idling and at low speeds. There’s not much engine noise even with the accelerator pressed to the floor. The transmission could be quicker to react. Surprisingly, shift paddles are not an option.

Fuel economy is a major selling point. Craig Astrein, Sprinter specialist at Mercedes-Benz of Novi, claimed that the Sprinter manages low 20s around town and mid-20s on the highway. Given the vehicle’s size and 5,545-pound curb weight, this seems hard to believe. But following a 2/3 suburban, 1/3 highway loop with a few foot-to-the-floor acceleration runs the trip computer reported 17.6, which is better than my family’s 7-passenger, 85-cubic-foot Ford Taurus X in similar conditions. Adblue is required, but this isn’t nearly as expensive or as hard to find as it used to be.

Having never driven such a large vehicle before, I was most concerned about handling. Thankfully, the view forward could not be more open, especially compared to the Nissan. Looking through the huge windshield, there’s little sense of the big box behind you. The view rearward depends on whether the Sprinter in question is a cargo, passenger, or crew (two-row) van, as the first can have no windows behind the first row. Large dual-element mirrors compensate. For operating in close quarters, front and rear obstacle detection is an option. The steering is, no surprise, slow and very light, but seems almost natural after just a few minutes on the road. Body motions are more tightly controlled than in the typical van, yet the ride is just a touch jiggly even without a load, at least in the 2500. (A Nissan NV 3500 rides like the truck it is in comparison, but it’s likely not fair to compare a 2500 with a 3500.) Stability control is standard, but with visions of a big white box on its side I didn’t push the Sprinter hard enough to test its operation.

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter starts at $37,285 for the 144 and $42,395 for the 170. The high roof (standard on the 170) bumps the price upward by $2,670, the extended wheelbase adds $2,440, and the extended rear overhang tacks on $950. Basic amenities (such as the seat adjustments, power mirrors, cruise control, and a trip computer) add about $895. For vehicle wearing the three-pointed star, this is cheap. For a cargo van, not so much. A Chevrolet Express 2500 extended length van with the 280-horsepower 4.8-liter gas V8 and similar features lists for $31,740. Opt for the 260-horsepower 6.6-liter Duramax diesel, though, and the GM van’s price advantage entirely disappears. The choice then becomes one between cubic inches and cubic feet.

Until the new Euro-sourced Ford and Ram vans arrive, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is in a class by itself, with a high roof, huge cargo volume, well-behaved suspension, and efficient (if possibly inadequate) diesel engine. According to Craig, tradespeople who visit wealthy clients’ homes also value the prestige conveyed by the three-pointed star. Even if their actual client is a dog.

Craig Astrein at Mercedes-Benz of Novi (MI) provided the tested vehicle. He can be reached at 248-426-9600.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

Sprinter front, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sprinter front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sprinter rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sprinter slider, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sprinter instrument panel, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sprinter interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sprinter instruments, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sprinter view forward, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sprinter cargo area, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sprinter cargo area 2, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sprinter engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sprinter sticker, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 42
Review: 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 Sun, 22 Apr 2012 17:20:34 +0000

While Lexus generally gets credit for pioneering the car-like luxury SUV, the 1998 Mercedes-Benz M-Class actually beat the RX to market by a year. Unlike the car-based RX, the original ML was too much a truck and not enough a quality vehicle. Substantial revisions were made with the 2006, and again this model year. In its third iteration, is the ‘Bama-built Benz now what it should have been from the start?

The 1998 ML320 was so plainly styled—the fascias weren’t even body color—that various Korean knock-offs looked more upscale. The 2006’s exterior was a major improvement, with the sophistication and detailing appropriate to a $40,000+ vehicle. It was also far more attractive. The 2012’s shell dials the sophistication up another notch, but isn’t as pretty. Mercedes-Benz’s current design language is busier and less fluid, and the 2012’s chunkier front fenders throw the proportions off. You’ll find a more svelte snout on competitors that must package an engine ahead of the axle. But does this matter? The same criticisms apply to all of Mercedes-Benz’s 2008+ redesigns, yet in each case, public reaction has been highly positive.

The 2012 ML’s interior doesn’t seem like much of an upgrade—until you jump from it into a 2011. Then the new interior seems significantly more solid, more sophisticated, and simply nicer—even with MB-Tex (i.e. vinyl) on the seats. It doesn’t hurt that many people will mistake MB-Tex for standard-grade leather until it fails to crack. The second-generation interior was itself a huge improvement over the downright chintzy original, so the ML has come a long way in this area.

The 2012’s exterior dimensions are almost identical to the 2011’s, while its interior dimensions are actually tighter, with an inch less headroom, an inch-and-a-half less shoulder room, and three-and-a-half inches less total legroom. The original M-Class was about as roomy as the new one (and even offered a kid-sized third row as an option) despite being over eight inches less lengthy and three inches narrower. Why is the 2012 so much less space efficient? Perhaps to improve safety and infuse the vehicle with the bank-vault solidity people expect from a Mercedes (but which was lacking from the original ML). The availability of the GL for those who want more room might also play a role.

But official specs can be deceiving. From the driver’s seat, the 2012 actually seems like a significantly larger, somewhat roomier vehicle. Credit a more distant windshield, a more massive instrument panel, and other, more subtle tweaks to the interior design. Rear seat room remains easily sufficient for adults. One thing hasn’t changed: Mercedes seats remain firmer than the luxury car norm.

For some reason, Mercedes had the odd idea that people would use its first modern SUV as an SUV (“crossover” wasn’t yet in the lexicon). So they gave it body-on-frame construction and a standard two-speed transfer case. BoF went away, and the low range gear became optional with the 2006 redesign, disappearing in the United States for 2012. The 3.5-liter gasoline V6 does gain direct injection this year, for a power bump from 268 to 302 horsepower. Good thing, as curb weight is up about 250 pounds, to a hefty 4,753. The off-road-ready original weighed a quarter-ton less. The transmission remains a seven-speed automatic and (unlike in the smaller GLK) all-wheel-drive remains standard.

Given the typical mission of midsize SUVs, the V6 feels plenty powerful, and even sounds good at high rpm. Despite the power and weight increases, EPA ratings are actually up a bit, from 16 city / 21 highway to 17/22. The 215-horsepower 1998 managed only 15/20. Still, these are incremental fuel economy improvements. For better numbers, get the 240-horsepower (455 lb-ft, vs. 273) diesel (which returns 20/27 mpg) or wait for a more efficient gas engine.

Perhaps because of its more even weight distribution and tighter damping, the ML does feels more balanced and poised than a Lexus RX, while gliding down the road about as smoothly and quietly. Some German cars continue to pound across road imperfections. Even shod with low-profile 19-inch rubber this isn’t one of them. But, like most other Mercedes, no one will mistake the ML for a driver’s car. Its ultra-light steering communicates nothing. A $5,150 Dynamic Handling Package (not on the tested vehicle) includes height-adjustable air springs, adaptive dampers, and active stabilizer bars. These no doubt reduce body roll, and perhaps they also lend the ML a sportier feel. But they also tend to be problem areas in Mercedes (based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey), and an ML equipped with them won’t get the kids to school or the goods home from the mall appreciably faster.

Mercedes created the M-Class primarily for the American market—and you know what happens to German cars when they’re developed with Americans in mind. But at least the SUV’s lesser build was reflected in a lesser price. The all-wheel-drive 1998 ML320’s $34,545 base sticker undercut that of a rear-wheel-drive E320 wagon by $12,500. Very odd, considering that Detroit got hooked on SUVs because they could be sold for much higher prices than station wagons could. Over the years, M-Class prices have risen faster than E-Class prices—the ML350 now starts at $49,865. This seems justified, as materials and build quality are now roughly the same between the two lines. The SUV will still cost you about $7,500 less than the wagon. Add $3,200 for a Premium Package that includes nav, a rearview camera, auto-dimming mirrors, and memory for the driver. A Lexus RX runs about $7,500 less, a BMW X5 about the same (based on TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool).

For Mercedes-Benz, the third time seems to be the charm. The 2012 redesign removes the M-Class farther from its subpar origins. Even compared to the already much-improved second-generation model, the new one looks and feels more substantial and sophisticated. Now optimized for on-road driving, the ML outhandles the Lexus RX, while riding about as well. Exciting? Without AMG power under the hood, not in the slightest. But thoroughly pleasant, and very much what buyers in this segment are looking for. The BMW X5 and Infiniti FX are more fun to drive. The ML outsells both put together.

Eric Wheeler at Mercedes-Benz of Novi (MI) provided the vehicle. He can be reached at 248-426-9600.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

ML350 2011 vs 2012, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ML350 front, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ML350 front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ML350 side, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ML350 rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ML350 interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 2011 ML 350 interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ML350 instrument panel, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 2011 ML350 instrument panel, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ML350 rear seat, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ML350 cargo, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ML350 engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ML350 view forward, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 55
Review: 2012 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic Sun, 26 Feb 2012 14:00:59 +0000

People form lasting impressions at an early age. This might explain why, among the general population over 35, neither Audi nor BMW can match the mystique of a Mercedes. Even the bottom-of-the-US-range C300 raises eyebrows from people who’ll give an Audi A7 nary a passing glance (and who’d view spending an extra $8,000 for a hatchback as lunacy). But will this continue to be the case with subsequent generations, or will Mercedes follow in the footsteps of Cadillac? A brand is only as strong as its weakest link. Does the C300 justify the cachet attached to its three-pointed star?

The previous C-Class, the W203, was a prettier car. But it was also a plainer one. The W204, with its squarer cut, crisper creases, and more complicated graphics, has considerably more road presence and, of at least equal importance, looks more expensive. Most important of all: it’s widely recognizable as a Mercedes-Benz. Proof, in case you need it, that Mercedes retains latitude to break with current convention: a standing hood ornament. A Cadillac that attempted the same would be dismissed as hopelessly out-of-touch.

The interior similarly won’t win any beauty contests but through the sophistication and sheer quantity of details sufficiently suggests you’re not in a mainstream car. Materials were upgraded with this year’s refresh, and generally avoid any charges of seeming cheap (though the HVAC dials could feel more solid). Leather seating is increasingly rare on Mercedes-Benz lots, and you won’t find it inside this $43,980 specimen. But people are prone to assumptions, and the MB-Tex vinyl is hard to distinguish from the standard grade, heavily processed leather. How many people have owned a Mercedes without ever realizing that their upholstery was petroleum-based?

In an attempt to minimize the number of buttons by pairing a console-mounted knob with a multifunctional display, BMW has iDrive, Audi has MMI, and Mercedes has COMAND. That latter is neither as sophisticated nor as easy to use as the latest iterations of the others, but as with all such systems, you’ll eventually sort it out. Or not. More of a bother: Mercedes doggedly continues to position the cruise control lever where other manufacturers position the turn signal (the stalk is mounted just  little lower.) Even towards the end of my week in the car I unintentionally activated the system multiple times per day. Also in need of tweaking: power seat adjustments that react too quickly for frustration-free fine-tuning.

A more positive sign that you’re in a Mercedes: the doors latch closed with a solid mechanical thunk. Though considerable engineering hours were expended refining this sound, the car comes by it honestly. The C300’s body structure oozes rock-hard solidity. Crash tests back up this impression. In a 35 mph frontal offset crash test, the structure deforms by only one to three centimeters. The side impact structural deformation figures are even more impressive. (Note: Lower numbers are better in these stats.) Mercedes are arguably unworthy of their reputation in some ways, but safety isn’t one of them.

The driving position in the C300 could hardly be better, with a more open view forward than you’ll find from behind the BMW 3-Series’s more imposing instrument panel. (My suspicion: Cadillac studied the C-Class very closely when designing the architecture for the new Cadillac ATS.) Opinions vary about Mercedes-Benz’s traditional sehr flach, sehr fest Sitze. Some people will find them properly supportive for hours. Others will simply find them flat and hard. Count me among the latter group, perhaps because I took no long trips in the car. Thankfully the seatback curves more than the bottom cushion, and so provides decent lateral support. Typical of the segment, the rear seat will accommodate adults in a pinch. A little more toe room under the front seats would go a long way. For long distance room and comfort you’ll want to step up to the E-Class or even the S-Class.

The C300 4Matic’s specs aren’t promising. While the V6s in mainstream midsize sedans start at 3.5 liters, that in the Mercedes is a mere 3.0. The mill’s 228 horsepower (at 6,000 rpm) and 221 pound feet of torque (from 2,750 to 5,000) must contend with 3,737 pounds of curb weight. And yet, through whatever magic that made the 1990s S300 viable, acceleration feels more than adequate even right off the line, and spirited with a heavy foot north of 4,000 rpm. The seven-speed automatic isn’t the quickest or slickest, but the right ratio is always in there somewhere. Two modes are provided, E and S. I could detect no difference between them. Though much has changed over the decades, the engine note retains traces of Mercedes’ traditional mechanical thrum—it doesn’t sound like any old six.

All-wheel drive is exclusively available on the C300 and no rear-drive option exists. The rear-wheel-drive C-Class is offered with either a 201-horsepower, 229-pound-feet turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder or a 302-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. Though the latter is no doubt a strong performer, few dealers stock it. If even the 3.5 isn’t strong enough for you, there’s also the AMG C63 with a 451-horsepower V8.

The argument against the six: fuel economy. A larger, heavier, and more powerful BMW 528i xDrive manages EPA ratings of 22 city, 32 highway. The next 3-Series xDrive should do even better. An Audi A4 quattro: 21/29. And the 333-horsepower Audi S4: 18/28. The C300 4Matic: only 18 city, 25 highway. The trip computer backed up these subpar numbers, reporting about 20 in suburban driving. The C300’s six might punch above its specs, but this comes at a price.

The C300 is available in both Sport and Luxury trims. I’ve steered people towards the former over the years, as it adds a body kit and more athletic suspension tuning at a very un-German price: free. Scratch that: this year the better looking, better handling C-Class variant actually costs a little less. For their own reasons (that I cannot fathom) Mercedes provided the latter. Even in Luxury trim the suspension is firm enough to remain composed in enthusiastic driving—and to fidget on some roads, despite shocks that allegedly adapt to road conditions. Power is shunted to the front wheels only when the rears slip, and even then the torque split is 45/55, so the feel remains that of a rear-wheel-drive car—complete with tail-out oversteer on slick surfaces. (Don’t worry, the apparently undefeatable stability control will intervene.)

The biggest problem, in either trim: light steering that feels numb even compared to others I’ve described as numb. As in the current E-Class, the steering wheel conveys virtually nothing about the direction the front wheels are pointed or the degree to which they’re slipping. As a result there’s little joy—and even less confidence—in exercising the capable chassis.

Don’t care to exercise the chassis? Simply want to quickly consume mile after mile of concrete slab stretching straight as far as the eye can see, and beyond? Then the Mercedes is in its element and performs admirably. The C300 isn’t silent as a tomb inside, but low quality noises are filtered out. Should you become drowsy, a standard system will detect this and do its best to wake you up.

The tested car listed for $43,980, including $1,515 for sparkly white paint (another sign that Mercedes was trying to handicap the car). A different metallic shade will set you back only $720. Don’t need the embrace of a telematics system? Then you can shave another $660, bringing the sticker down to $42,525. For fancy features like nav, xenons, and passive entry you’ll have to tick more boxes. Seem steep? Well, a similarly-equipped four-cylinder Audi A4 is only about $1,000 less, a much smaller difference than in past decades. While Mercedes still has a sizable edge in cachet among the masses, they’re no longer trying to charge more for it.

And costs down the road? While some Mercedes remain notoriously unreliable (e.g. the SUVs), the C-Class isn’t among them. The W204 C-Class consistently has been about average, based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey.

Mercedes-Benz’s image isn’t entirely in its favor. As with Cadillac in the past, many people who could afford a Mercedes—and who do buy similarly-priced competitors—simply cannot picture themselves in one. If these people got over their preconceptions and took the C300 for a drive they’d find…a car with a very solid structure, but little else to separate it from the crowd. The seats might prove supportive on long drives, but around town they just feel hard. The 3.0-liter V6 feels like a larger engine, but will also drink some much more powerful engines under the table. The chassis is sure-footed, but the steering is disconcertingly numb. The electronics are sophisticated, but the same can be said of German competitors. We’re back to that solid structure and safety. Seeking a rolling bank vault with tidy dimensions? Then the C300 is your car. But is this enough, when even Volvo feels the need to talk naughty?

Mercedes-Benz provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2012 Mercedes SLK350 Convertible Thu, 19 Jan 2012 23:28:24 +0000

Luxury roadsters have always been niche vehicles. With the economic implosion over the last decade, that niche has become even smaller. Last year the Mercedes SLK and BMW Z4 each sold less than 3,500 units on our shores, down from over 10,000 each back in 2006 and Canadian sales are roughly a tenth of that. While Mercedes is likely crying in their delicious geflügelsuppe, roadster shoppers benefit by being able to drive one of the most exclusive Mercedes models available on our shores. While the last model awkwardly aped the unholy union of a Mercdes F1 car and a bottlenose dolphin, the new model sells itself with sexy new sheet metal, 29 MPG on the highway and a $54,800 base price.

Now in its third generation Mercedes has finally found a style that fits the SLK. The first generation SLK in 1997 was described by all my college buddies as “cute” – not exactly how a dude wants his potential ride described. The second generation in 2005 struck me as more awkward than Ugly Betty in a southern beauty pageant. I’m not sure what the 2005-2011 SLK looked like inside because I couldn’t bring myself to get close enough to find out. Fortunately for the 50-something, six-figure earning, multiple car owning target buyer as well as the 30-something Silicon Valley professional, the SLK’s new duds are decidedly delicious. From the aggressive hood to the pert little trunk, the SLK looks like the hot love child of an SLS AMG and the recently announced 2013 SL550. Adding to the appeal is one of the best expressions of Mercedes new-found love for angles that (to me at least), is considerably more aggressive than the Porsche Boxster’s slippery sheet metal.

Luxury cars are all about options and features, and the SLK is no different. Our tester wore one of two optional wheel packages; the 5-spoke “AMG” wheels included in the $2,500 “Sport Package.” While AMG doesn’t use said wheels on any AMG car, they are quite attractive, as are the $500 wheels in the stand-alone wheel upgrade. Either option will get you 5-spoke rims and identical tire selections. The sport package also adds a more aggressive (and more SL-esque) front and rear bumper, faux-carbon fiber gauges, and more expressive side sill treatments. Our tester also wore a $720 premium metallic paint job, and had the $1090 lighting package which added bi-xenon headlamps that steer into corners and headlamp washers. The Xenon lamp upgrade seriously aids vision at night, and if you are balking at an $1090 option, it is time to pick a cheaper car.

According to Mercedes, SLK stands for “sportlich leicht kurz.” In English this means sporty, light and short. 300+ HP? Sporty: check. But at 3400lbs, light must be a relative term. The SLK is 17-inches shorter than a Toyota corolla, 10-inches shorter than a Boxster, and 3-inches shorter than a Golf, and the “short” part becomes obvious when anyone over 6-feet tall tries to gain entry into the SLK with the top up. You don’t so much get into the SLK as “put the SLK on.” Despite being a tight entry (due as much to the dimensions as the low ride height) once inside, the 38-inches of headroom and 42.5-inches of leg room are similar to the baby-Porsche and even a Volvo C70 (a four-seat hard-top convertible). Being 6-feet tall, I had no problems getting comfortable in the SLK. My six-foot-five friend however fit snugly ( yet with ample leg room) and found the ride a bit more claustrophobic with the lid up.

The SLK350’s cabin is all high rent as long as you don’t look skyward. Oddly enough some of the mechanicals of the two-piece folding hard-top remain completely uncovered with the lid closed, something you don’t even see in the bargain basement Chrysler convertibles. Aside from this haptic mis-step, the rest of the interior is absolutely top-notch from the soft, cross-stitched leather seats to the thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed sport steering wheel. Our model was equipped with the standard aluminum trim which many reviewers seem to favor, but I’d pony up the $990 to get the burl walnut trim to satisfy my deforestation desires. The real-tree upgrade includes highly lacquered walnut door and center console trim as well as a wood/leather steering wheel and wood shift knob. Strangely not available at any price is Mercedes’ excellent radar cruise control and collision warning system dubbed “Distronic Plus.”

Since our tester was equipped with the aforementioned “Sport Package,” our interior was bathed in red ambient lighting from the doors and a glowing red stripe down both sides of the center console. Also included was the $2,590 “Premium Package” which brings a few options that really ought to be standard on a $54,000 car, namely: the iPod/MP3 player interface and heated seats. On the flip side, the package does also buy the 11-speaker, 500-watt Logic 7 sound system by Harman/Kardon and a pair of “Airscarfs” (yes, I’m told that is the correct plural). The up-level sound system is as crisp as the Logic 7 sound systems in the rest of the top-tier Mercedes lineup but it lacks any bass punch at all. Apparently there was no room to squeeze a subwoofer so if thumping bass tunes are required for your cruising, you might want to look elsewhere. As gimmicky as the “Airscarf” sounds, they proved worthy of the name and kept our topless napes warm as December temperatures in California “plummeted” into the 40s.

Rounding out the gadget list is the $2,150 “Multimedia Package”, also known as Mercedes COMAND. The system comes with XM radio, XM weather (and a short 6 month subscription), voice controlled navigation, voice controlled Bluetooth phone interface, 10GB of usable storage for your music, an SD card reader, and a 6-disc DVD/CD changer. If you have read any of my other late-model Mercedes reviews you will know I’m not the biggest COMAND fan, I find it somewhat awkward and a decent step behind iDrive. I’d rather have COMAND than nothing, but the price tag is a bitter pill to swallow. Also on our option list was the $760 dual-zone climate control option, $650 for keyless-go and a whopping $970 for ultrasonic parking sensors. While parking sensors on something as big as a size-10 cross-trainer seems silly, rearward visibility isn’t that great with the lid closed so you might want to consider coughing up the cash before bashing your $60,000 roadster into a pole, or accidentally cracking the center surround speaker with your elbow as I did. Oops.

Click here to view the embedded video.


If the options above have your head spinning already, as they say on TV: but wait! There’s more! While the SLK doesn’t have a “sunroof” that opens like the VW EOS, in the front section of the two-piece hard top you still have some choices. You can opt for the basic all-metal lid, a “panorama sunroof” which is a fixed, slightly tinted piece of polycarbonate for $500, or the $2,500 variable tint sunroof dubbed “Magic Sky,” which, at its darkest setting, comes as close as you can get to an actual cover in the SLK. Our tester had the $500 plastic porthole option and I have to say, I’d skip it or jump up to the active window. (Given the price, just skip). On a bright sunny day I found myself jamming envelopes, papers, anything I could get my hands on, into the seams around the “sunroof” to block the hot sun and glare. Regardless of your choice, the SLK350 goes topless in 21-seconds flat.

Once the two-piece top is stowed, trunk space drops from 10.1 cubic feet to 6.4. While I find this number a bit disappointing given that there are no back seats to use as a padded cargo area, it is on par with a wide variety of four-seat convertibles and significantly better than the 1.99 cubic feet the Infiniti G37 convertible is left with. There is just about enough room for a weekend away as I was able to fit one computer bag, one camera backpack, and one carry-on rollerbag in the trunk with the top down. Since Mercedes doesn’t offer a feature like Volvo where the roof segments lift up and out of the way to make cargo retrieval easier, the top must be closed to stow or retrieve those larger bags. The Boxster on the other hand gives you 9.9 cubic feet of cargo space at all times, but splits it into his and hers trunks in the front and rear. For safe topless driving the new SLK350 also includes head airbags that pop out of the sides of the seat, active headrests and tiny roll-over hoops behind the seats.

Putting out 302HP at a lofty 6,500 RPM and 273 lb-ft of twist at 3,500 RPM, the new engine drops the SLK’s sprint to 60 by just over half a second (to 5.06 seconds) compared to the former SLK350, thanks to a broader torque curve and a reworked transmission. In addition to being a hair faster, the new 3.5L V6 features a 60-degree bank angle making it considerably smoother than the outgoing 90-degree V6. Joining the new engine is a revised Mercedes 7-speed automatic with three drives modes: Eco, Sport and Manual. As with other Mercedes products, Eco mode causes the transmission to be reluctant to downshift but supposedly improves economy by 7% in mixed driving. Sport mode makes the transmission hold a lower gear for longer and in addition allows this new 7-speed unit to downshift directly from 7th to 3rd for improves padding performance. “Manual” attempts to replicate the paddle shifting tendencies of Infiniti and Jaguar with rev-matched downshifts. Unfortunately the Mercedes transmission has absolutely no sense of urgency when it comes to the flappy-paddles and treats flaps like mere suggestions, not commands. Just leave the transmission in Sport and mash the pedal or put it in Eco and enjoy the “greener” leanings of the new V6. For 2012 EPA numbers are up from 18/25 MPG to 20/29 MPG, and in our 578 miles with the SLK we averaged a respectable 24 miles per gallon.

While the SLK’s primary mission is to be a stylish luxury roadster that’s a cheaper alternative to the six-figure SL, the 2012 baby-Benz makes a compelling argument against the likes of the Porsche Boxster S. The optional ($990) dynamic handling package which includes a variable suspension system and a torque-vectoring rear axle is an absolute most for anyone that wants to have a bit of fun in the twisties and remain parallel to the lane lines. The well-weighted steering, balanced chassis and an engine that sounds like a banshee when pressed to the limit, make getting sideways in the SLK easy, entertaining, slightly unexpected, thoroughly butt-clenching and strangely addictive. Compared to the Boxster S, the more compliant suspension, narrower 225-width front and 245-width rear rubber and nearly 400lb heavier curb weight mean the SLK will never handle as well as the small Porsche (or indeed a Subaru WRX STi that was my mountain dance-partner for a short while) but in my heart of hearts I would have to say I prefer the softer GT characteristics of the SLK. If crazy is what you seek, the SLK55 AMG is dropping soon with a 412HP 5.5L V8 under the hood and a rumored base price around $70,000.

Speaking of pricing, our SLK started at $54,800 and ended up at $67,565 after options. ($720 Diamond White Metallic paint, $630 Bengal Red Premium Leather, $2590 premium package, $1070 lighting package, $2150 Multimedia Package, $500 Panorama Roof, $2500 Sport Package, $760 dual-zone climate control and $970 “parktronic” parking sensors). Price aside, roadsters are such a niche market that somehow the first and second generation SLKs came and went without TTAC taking one for a spin. If the sales numbers are anything to go by, the same happens on dealer lots.  Largely forgotten by shoppers who lay down similar cash for E350s, ML350s or GL350s at Mercedes dealers, buyers are walking right past one of the best Mercedes models available. Forget about the school run, forget about the trailer you never tow and buy an SLK350 as your commuter car. After all, a pair of commuters in an SLK can drive in the 3+ HOV lanes in California and Texas. Sounds practical to me.


Statistics as tested

0-30: 2.08 Seconds

0-60: 5.06 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 13.46 @ 105.5 MPH

Mercedes provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.


2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, left side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, left side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, rear top down, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, rear, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, roll over protection, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, SLK350 badge, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, 3.5L engine, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, 3.5L engine, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, Mercedes logo, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, headlamp, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, folding top operation, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, folding top operation, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, top up, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, top up, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, passanger seat, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, COMAND screen, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, driver's door, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, driver's door, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, steering wheel, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, driver's seat with air scarf, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, cockpit, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, dashboard, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, seat and airscarf controls, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, AMG package speedometer, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, steering wheel controls, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, hard top switch, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, trunk space, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, trunk space, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, trunk space, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, driver's door, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes slk350 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 36
Review: 2012 Mercedes CLS 550 Sun, 18 Dec 2011 12:54:02 +0000

I appreciate the novelty of a new design as much as the next guy, but have never understood the four-door-coupé. I mean, aren’t these terms mutually exclusive? A coupé can’t have four doors and a car with four doors can’t be a coupé? Mercedes started this conundrum with the CLS back in 2004, and then Volkswagen decided to jump on the bandwagon to bolster Passat sales with the CC in 2008. It was only a matter of time before VAG decided to compete with the CLS head on with the A7. After all, Audi has had model envy for years, and if they are to stay on track with world domination, they need to attack the mainline Germans at every body style. Not one to rest on laurels, Mercedes has redesigned the CLS for 2011. Michael Karesh wrangled an A7 out of Audi back in July, and Mercedes let me take theirs for a week. Let’s see if the CLS has what it takes to reign supreme in this extremely small niche.

The new CLS, like the outgoing model is essentially a Mercedes E-Class styling exercise. From the outside, the new CLS is larger than its predecessor by an inch in almost every dimension. Mercedes’ new love of angles mixed with curves is an attractive blend of Bentley, Jaguar XJ and “a whole lot” of old CLS. When the old CLS was released back in 2004, I thought to myself “it looks like it was laid,” and I wasn’t thinking about eggs. The new Merc’s sheet metal strikes an aggressive pose from almost any angle but the rear end still looks a bit pinched-off. On the bright side, the all-LED headlamps look like they could pierce your soul; and that’s what I want in a German car. The Audi A7 on the other hand is almost boring in comparison. Sure, the A7 apes the R8’s haunches, but the front is decidedly pedestrian A3/A4/A5/A6/A8/A-insert-your-number-here.

Flamers, get your torches ready! Let’s dive into the interior. “Got headroom?” No, headroom in the rear is far from impressive, but who cares? This is a coupé after all, so the rear seats have little impact on my impression of the car. Please note that the primary mission of the four-door coupé is not to carry four in comfort, it is to carry four “when required”. As a result, both the A7 and CLS “suffer” from limited headroom in the back, but what are those seats really for? Not the kids. No, the seats are for business lunches where you jam someone in the back for a 5-minute trip to Il Forniao and wow them with your car’s acceleration. The CLS accomplishes this task with ease, the A7 however feels flustered. More on that in a bit.

Despite pricing the CLS above the E, the majority of the interior bits and pieces are pinched from the E rather than the more expensive S, including the E’s fairly small COMMAND screen and controls. Also lifted from the E are the steering wheel, seat controls and window switches. Thankfully Mercedes borrowed only the high-rent parts for use in the CLS. The snazzy switchgear conspires with the stitched dashboard to make the CLS interior a considerable improvement over the E’s haphazard fit and finish. The A7 on the other hand seems to borrow more heavily from the A8 than the A6 with an interior that is top-notch, decidedly more modern and perhaps even less German than the Mercedes..

About that flustered A7, here’s the reason: Audi may have decided to compete with the CLS head-on in terms of interior and exterior design, but (in the American market at least) the engine specs tilt the table heavily in Mercedes’ favor. This is because under the hood of the CLS550 beats the same all-new 4.6L twin-turbo V8 as the CL550 we reviewed back in September. The new M278 engine uses lightweight aluminum construction, direct-injection, variable valve timing and twin intercooled turbochargers (delivering up to 12.9psi of boost) to paradoxically increase horsepower by 5% to 402 HP, torque by 14% to 443 lb-ft while reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by some 20%. Not a bad trade statistically.  The A7 on the other hand has yet to be blessed with the long rumored VAG turbo V8, making the only model currently available in the USA the 3.0TFSI trim which uses a 3.0L 90-degree V6 mated to a supercharger to yield an impressive (yet paling in comparison) 310 HP and 325 lb-ft.  When you take into account the A7 Quattro’s heavier curb weight of 4,210lbs vs 4,158lbs for the RWD CLS, you would be right in thinking this big Benz is a rocket ship. (When equipped with 4Matic AWD, as was our tester, the weight increases to a not-too-crazy 4,268lbs.)

While the Audi A7 uses the latest ZF 8-speed transmission, Mercedes has stuck to their tried-and-true in house designed 7-speed automatic. We can be thankful of two things in regards to the 7-speed: it hunts far less than the ZF 8-speed unit, and Mercedes thankfully used a torque converter instead of a clutch ala some recent AMG products. If you opt for one of the AMG wheel packages Mercedes ($760 or $1,260) Mercedes will throw in a manual shift mode for your steering wheel paddles. Since the A7 comes only in Quattro guise on our shores, we requested the CLS in 4Matic to get the comparison as even as possible. Out on the drag strip the A7’s 5.4 second 0-60 time proved optimistic with the car actually yielding 5.5-5.6 second times. On paper this appears to compete well with the CLS550, however, our 4Matic tester delivered 4.3 second runs to 60 back-to-back with heat soak only knocking the times down to a maximum of 4.5 with repeated runs. We were unable to test the RWD CLS550’s 0-60 time ,but I don’t expect it to be much higher for most drivers despite the reduced weight and loss; with this much power, traction is your enemy. I should point out that 4.3 seconds is faster than a decent number of Mercedes’ late model AMG products. Speaking of AMG, because the CLS63 AMG is RWD only, I was unable to get much lower than 4.2 seconds during a brief flirt with a dealer provided vehicle. With Audi expected to release a turbo charged V8 S7 at some point, stay tuned for a rematch.
Coupés are supposed to be all about spirited driving on the windy roads of California’s central coast. This is where the differences in design between the A7 and CLS become more apparent. The A7, much like the A6 on which it is based, may now have a rear-biased Quattro system, but design is still front heavy. The combination of a heavy nose and a two-foot larger turning-circle make the A7 a chore to steer on the tight and questionably-cambered corners of Highway 1. The CLS on the other hand may deliver less road feel and a more compliant ride, but the tendency to “plow” less frequently leads to a decidedly reduced pucker-factor on roads where “plowing”  is  followed by a 400ft plunge into the Pacific ocean. How much does this really matter? Not much for 99% of drivers honestly. While the 1% may rave over the CLS’ road manners, the other 99% will probably find the CLS’s air suspension seals the deal.

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but I’d take a snazzy infotainment system any day, so would many luxury shoppers by all accounts. This is where the sharp dressed, quick off the line CLS loses to the Audi in a big way. Sure, the CLS550 has DistronicPlus cruise control, lane departure warning and a navigation system. The problem is COMMAND. It’s old, it’s slow, the screen is small and the graphics haven’t been updated in some time. It is the first generation Rio MP3 player to Apple’s iPod Touch. Audi on the other hand has stuffed the A8’s large 8-inch high resolution MMI system into the A7. While I have to say the MMI system is far harder to learn than iDrive, it is still miles ahead of COMMAND. If ease of use is not enough to sway you, it also has the CLS beat on the graphics front. Audi decided that the BMWesque 3D topographic maps weren’t fancy enough and teamed up with Google to put satellite imagery on their maps that is constantly updated via an embedded 3G cellular connection. Also on offer is the ability to use Google’s massive database to search for addresses and points of interest. The system works very well if you are in a 3G coverage area, “eventually” if you are in a 2G area, and not at all if you are out in the middle of nowhere (which is apparently where I live). Fear not however, it is backed up by a traditional hard drive based nav database. While this all sounds good, nobody was able to tell me how much this Google connectivity would cost me monthly and the MMI “finger gesture pad” is about as useful as Lexus’ mouse doohickey. Read: just give me some buttons.

Cargo capacity and rear seat accommodations are usually not a huge deal for two-door coupé shoppers, but the four-door buyer may want to take a quartet golfing someday. The CLS delivers a respectable 15.3 cu ft which can easily accommodate clubs for four. The A7, as a hatchback, was made with practicality in mind and offers 17.7cu ft with the cargo cover in place, 24 without, and thanks to standard folding rear seats and the hatchback design, it is possible to stuff a large BBQ from Home Depot in the trunk. (I didn’t say it would close however) The CLS’s rear thrones also fold (a $440 option), but the cargo “hole” created by their contortion is fairly small. Rear passenger room is more of a mixed bag than the trunk. Both the A7 and CLS deliver 36 inches of headroom out back but suffer from rear seats that are a hair more reclined than you would find in a sedan (this helps it seem bigger.) While the A7 does provide 2-inches more rear leg room, because of the head room is no larger than the CLS, it didn’t seem to help “normally-proportioned” tall people fit. If however your passengers are all-legs, the A7 is your better buy.

Buyers of $80,000 luxury cars still seem to care about fuel economy, so let’s talk numbers. My daily commute is 53 miles one-way and involves 30% rural mountain driving, 40% freeway at an average of 75MPH, 30% city streets and a 2,200ft mountain pass. The CLS550 4Matic over 641 miles averaged 22.2 on my daily commute and saw around 26MPG on a 40 mile trip on a level highway at the speed limit. The A7 in comparison averaged 26.3 MPG over 860 miles and 33MPG on that same level-highway trip. While the CLS doesn’t deliver the frugality of the A7, I can forgive it because of the extra hundred ponies under the hood.

Our CLS550 wore a base price of $71,300, however as ours was loaded with everything from 4Matic to LED headlamps, our tester’s out-the-door price was $82,765. A comparably equipped E550 sedan would cost $73,265 so the increase in style costs CLS shoppers about $9,500. The Audi A7 in comparison starts at $59,250 but lacks the standard equipment the base CLS posesses. Comparably equipped to our CLS tester, an A7 would have rung in at $78,605 or only about $4,000 cheaper. (As Michael Karesh pointed out, the A7’s fashion penalty over the A6 is $8,000.) Unless you are shopping for the value (at which point you’d have decided to just buy a regular sedan) the E550’s $4,000 premium over the A7 and ho-hum infotainment system seem a small price to pay for the CLS550’s performance.

You know the phrase: bigger is better, faster is better. Always. But is it? I’m the kind of shopper that a company like Mercedes loves: I option the car up to the gills when I buy, and I always get the fastest version available. Until now. With the CLS550’s twin-turbo monster under the hood, I do believe Mercedes has outdone themselves and in the process made their own AMG brand less relevant. The CLS is only a hair slower, and when shod with similar rubber handles almost as well as the AMG model for considerably less cash. Is the AMG faster? Yes. Nicer? Yes, but, is it enough to justify the premium? That’s a tough sell for me. On the other hand, the CLS550 is without a doubt the king of the four-door coupé market.

Mercedes provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas.

Statistics as tested

0-60: 4.32 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 12.7 Seconds @ 113 MPH

Fuel Economy: over 641 miles, 22.2MPG

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Review: 2011 Mercedes CL550 4Matic Tue, 20 Sep 2011 18:00:45 +0000
The Mercedes CL550 is one of the most exclusive Mercedes models sold on our side of the pond. With the highest base MSRP of any non-AMG product, and rarer on American roads than all but the boxy G-class and the incredibly rare SLS AMG, the CL plays in quite a different league than the S-class on which it is based. I am told that Ford sells more F150s in a day the CL’s yearly sales figure and judging by the number I see on the road, I am inclined to agree. The CL was separated from the S-Class line in 1998 to help aid in the exclusive reputation of the model. For those that wonder, CL supposedly stands for Comfort Leicht (or Comfort Light in my native tongue). The comfort is obvious (and mandatory at this price point), but “light” must truly be a relative term as the CL tips the scales at a biscuits-and-gravy fed 4,700lbs. Does this matter? Let’s find out.

Why is the CL so exclusive? Aside from the fact that personal luxury coupés generally sell like ice to Eskimos in the US, the answer is mostly price. The “base“, CL550 starts at $113,150. Distinction is alluring to premium luxury buyers; the price affords them a level of uniqueness that can’t be found at the $80,000 pricing level. Strangely enough, what appealed most to the luxury car shoppers I quizzed at a local luxo-barge meet, was the CL’s blend-in-ability. When the CL arrived, it did so with a much lower sense of occasion than the (cheaper) Range Rover Supercharged I had the week previously. Sure the front grille is menacing, but the overall profile is swoopy and sedate. The CL just doesn’t lend itself toward becoming “rolling bling” like an Escalade or GL and for that I am eternally grateful. Instead of bling, the CL exudes grace and large proportions. The side profile is dominated by sashless windows and absent b-pillars. For 2011 Mercedes has tweaked the exterior with a revised front and rear clip integrating the ever-so-popular LED running lamps. The real changes for this year however are under the hood.

Although the model number remains the same, Mercedes tossed out the 5.5L V8 in the CL550 in favor of an all-new 4.6L twin-turbo V8 engine. You may be wondering why the 2011 model isn’t called a CL460 (I know I still am). Nobody seems to know why the name remains, other than to placate buyers who might turn their noses up at trading in their old CL550 for a lower number. Sound silly? You’ve never spoken with a certain segment of car buyers.

Proving once and for all there is a replacement for displacement, this new smaller V8 puts out 429HP and 516lb-ft of twist (47HP and 125lb-ft more torque than the outgoing V8) and does it all with a power curve as flat as Kansas. If you own last year’s CL63, it may be time to trade-down to a CL550. Our tester served up 60MPH in 4.6 seconds, only one-tenth slower than a 2010 CL63 I was able to get my hands on. If that’s not enough of a reason here’s another: The CL550’s standard 4Matic AWD means I arrived at 60 in 4.6 seconds with zero drama on wet pavement, broken pavement, or around a corner. Try that in your CL63.

Should you be in the market for something faster and have an even fatter wallet, Mercedes offers not one but three engines above the CL550 to choose from including no fewer than two AMG trims. What’s the cost of this extra thrust you ask? The CL63 AMG is one-rung up from the CL550 at $150,250, and it gets you to 60 in 4.4 with its 536HP blown V8. If 12 cylinders are more your style, the 510HP CL600 will scoot you to freeway speed in 4.5 for $157,000. The big-daddy CL65 AMG is the king of the pack at $209,300 sporting an insane 621HP, 739lb-ft twin-turbo V12 good for a 4.2 second sprint to 60 [Ed: and is the last two-door available with this Götterdämmerung of an engine].

The CL550 may be the “cheap” CL, but in my mind it seems to have nailed the personal luxury coupé as squarely as its fire-breathing siblings have missed the mark. The CL550’s air suspension delivers a glassy smooth ride, and while it does seemingly little to quell body roll in the corners, the grip is still more than adequate. The real springs found in the other CL models may sound sporty (and they do improve the corner-carving ability) but a stiff suspension is at odds with both the [almost] 5,000lb curb weight of the V12 and the CL’s luxury pretensions. Similarly the 7-speed auto found in the CL550 suits the role of a large luxury coupé to perfection with shifts that are fairly quick and glassy smooth. This is far more than can be said of ye-olde 5-speed that connects the V12s to the rear or the herky-jerkey “Speedshift” contraption the CL63 is “blessed” with.

Aside from the mechanical differences, few technological goodies separate the CL550 from the upper-crust CLs. The CL550 still comes standard with standard navigation, stitched dashboard bits, key-less go, iPod/USB interface and all manner of standard luxury amenities. Although options like the radar cruise control, split-view video screen, massaging seats and heated steering wheel may be included in the other CL models; you can get essentially everything in the base CL as well, with the exception of the heavily bolstered AMG seats with quilted leather. If you recall my review of the S400 hybrid , I complained that the S-Class’ interior just didn’t look special enough when compared to the LS600. I was afraid the CL would give me the same let down but I was pleasantly surprised to find the CL delivers all the same shapes, but covered with stitched leather and pleather. The extra effort dresses up the interior more than I could have expected and easily brings the CL into firm competition with interiors from Maserati and Aston Martin.

Let’s talk gizmos. The Mercedes Command system is not quite as intuitive as the BMW iDrive and isn’t capable of voice controlling your music device in the same way Ford’s SYNC product can, but all is not lost for the tech weenies like me. The optional split-view screen allows the driver to see the navigation system and the passenger to see something else like watch a DVD or play with the radio. The system works far better than I had expected with the display remaining completely crisp while in operation and totally indistinguishable from the regular command system screen.

The iPod interface worked well with my iPods and my iPhone4, but it is a little strange that Mercedes doesn’t put track forward/backward buttons on the steering wheel instead making you use the in-speedometer menu and buttons to change tracks. The Navigation system’s voice command system utilizes a very natural voice and readily understood every address I threw at it, more than can be said for many luxury car systems. In addition to the usual goodies, the Command system lets you adjust all manner of strange options you didn’t know could be adjusted like the footwell temperature, how “direct” you want the air blowing on your personage, what color you like your LEDs to glow and how high you want your trunk lid to open.

So what’s it like to drive? I should first state that I have a large soft spot for large, softly sprung vehicles that go like stink. If that’s what you like in a luxury car, the CL delivers in spades. Body roll is well controlled even on the twistiest of mountain highways, and despite the porky curb weight, the wide tires deliver plenty of grip. When you do try to toss this 5,000 luxurious pillow into the corners, the chassis is very predictable and rather forgiving when you reach the limit of adhesion. In the end however there is just no denying the laws of physics; the hefty curb weight of the CL550 (the lightest CL) consorts with the numb steering to make the CL seem less than nimble than it is.

Still, I wouldn’t call a large Bentley coupé “nimble” either, and with these prices in mind, it should be no surprise that the CL competes with the likes of Aston Martin, Maserati and Bentley. A BMW 6 you ask? Too cheap. This means cross shop¬pers are logically looking for something slightly cheaper and more discrete than a Continental or Roller, and in this light the CL550 might even be considered a value. While words like “practical” and “value” should never be used in the same sentence as a $126,000 car (as tested), it is the fact that the close siblings (CL600, CL63 and CL65) are so rare and only a few tenths faster that the best “deal” under 200K might well be the CL550. How’s that for a TTAC bombshell?

Mercedes provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas.
Statistics as tested
0-30: 1.91 Seconds
0-60: 4.6 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 12.9@106

IMG_2743 IMG_2747 IMG_2748 IMG_2752 IMG_2753 IMG_2754 IMG_2755 IMG_2758 IMG_2759 IMG_2760 IMG_2761 IMG_2762 IMG_2763 IMG_2764 IMG_2765 IMG_2767 IMG_2769 COMMAND IMG_2771 IMG_2783 IMG_2785 IMG_2799 IMG_2801 IMG_2805 IMG_2807 IMG_2808 IMG_2809 IMG_2810 IMG_2812 IMG_2813 IMG_2814 IMG_2816 IMG_2818 IMG_2819 IMG_2821 4.7 V8 twin turbo Interior IMG_2831 IMG_2832 Leg room Rear vents IMG_2836 Look Ma! No B pillar! IMG_2838 IMG_2839 Trunk Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 44
B-Class Picture Orgy Thu, 25 Aug 2011 10:01:31 +0000 The new Mercedes B-Class has been extensively discussed here, it was shown at the Shanghai Auto Show, where it found itself upstaged by the requisite Chinese copy. Slowly, it is time to show the production model. Which will happen at the Frankfurt Auto Show. After the rest of the world has seen the B-Class, now Germany can too.

“No model change in the history of Mercedes-Benz has ever seen so many new developments introduced in one fell swoop,” promises Dr. Thomas Weber, Member of the Board of Management responsible for Group Research and Head of Development, Mercedes-Benz Cars. “Future B-Class customers will benefit from this quantum leap in terms of exemplary low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions combined with driving pleasure, plenty of space and the highest standard of safety that has ever been available in this class.”

The new B-Klasse will be making its way to European dealers in November 2011.

And in case you haven’t seen enough pictures of the B-Class already, here it is, the biggest B-Class picture collection in recorded history.

11C818_042 11C743_007 11C743_010 11C743_022 11C743_028 11C743_030 11C743_046 11C760_25 11C760_29 11C760_32 11C760_34 11C760_37 11C760_39 11C760_42 11C760_44 11C760_47 11C760_51 11C760_54 11C762_003 11C762_014 11C762_016 11C762_018 11C817_063 11C817_093 11C817_099 11C817_119 11C818_021 11C818_026 11C818_027 11C818_032 11C818_034 11C818_036 11C818_039 b-class-thumb ]]> 18
Review: 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 Fri, 15 Jul 2011 19:09:12 +0000

To highlight the “BMW difference,” the marque traveled from dealer to dealer with not only the redesigned X3 but a few competing compact crossovers as well. Among the bunch, one stuck out as not like the others. But it was the Mercedes-Benz GLK350, not the BMW. Different in a good way? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for.

First off, styling. Unlike other compact crossovers, the Mercedes GLK350 makes no attempt to look sleek or even conventionally attractive. Instead, it’s for those who want the chunky look of the classic G-Wagen, without the six-figure price tag or horrendous fuel economy. Sure, there’s an aesthetic similarity to the related C-Class, as this model was introduced only a couple of years ago (as an early 2010), but with an upright, square profile that’s all truck. (Or all late model Subaru Forester, if we’re being less charitable.)

Inside, the GLK350 is similarly much more trucky than competitors. There’s hardly a curve to be seen, and the overall ambiance one of durability and functionality rather than luxury (despite plentiful wood trim). The MB-Tex upholstery should last much longer than leather—while fooling many who don’t suspect vinyl in a $46,000 car. As in other Mercedes, the cruise control lever is easily mistaken for the turn signals.

The GLK’s windshield is upright in the traditional SUV idiom. The instrument panel is tall—all but the tallest drivers will want to raise the seat. The pillars all around are thinner than most these days. The seats are firm. In back, there’s less rear legroom than in the revised X3 despite the GLK’s upright packaging. Shins can uncomfortably contact the lower edge of the front seatback. In terms of cargo space, the GLK joins the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 at the low end of the segment’s range.

Like many other Mercedes, the GLK350’s powertrain is a 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 paired with a manually-shiftable seven-speed automatic. The numbers are competitive, but subjectively this powertrain feels somewhat sluggish compared to the Audi, the BMW, and even the Lexus. There’s enough power here to move the GLK350 4Matic’s 4,200 pounds, but the throttle and transmission programming prioritize something other than on-road responsiveness. Unlike in the BMW, rear-wheel-drive is available, but most buyers will no doubt opt for the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, which channels torque to the rear wheels until they slip. Despite the trucky looks, there are no fancy off-road-oriented features, or even a low-range. The GLK should do fine in light off-roading, but so will many more car-like competitors. The larger ML might be a little more capable, but is no longer offered with a low-range in the U.S.—no doubt because there was little demand for the option.

The GLK350 handles with commendable balance—the rear-wheel-drive platform pays some dividends—but leans considerably more than the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 in turns. Change lanes quickly at high speeds, and the tail wags in a way it doesn’t in the others. The Mercedes-Benz’s steering is light, with a little slop on center. Here as well the GLK makes little attempt to pass as a car, much less a driver’s car, despite standard low-profile 235/50R19 tires (even larger 20s are optional). On the other hand, the ride is smoother than in the Audi and BMW. Even so, the GLK doesn’t quite have a premium feel to go with its premium price.

The tested 2011 GLK350, with the Premium and Multimedia Packages and heated seats, lists for $46,045. A similarly-equipped Audi Q5 lists for about $800 more, but according to TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool includes about $2,100 in additional features—including leather upholstery and xenon headlights. The X3 xDrive28i with similar features and the $1,550 Sport Activity Package (to get 18-inch wheels, 19s are only available with the xdrive35i) lists for $1,690 more but includes about $2,400 in additional features. Bottom line: once you adjust for feature differences (or spec the GLK up to the same level as the others) the Mercedes is the most expensive of the three, but not by a large enough margin that many people are going to pick one over the others based on sticker prices.

With the exception of BMW, the Germans (and Swedes, for that matter) arrived very late to the compact SUV party. With the Q5, Audi offers the segment’s most car-like entry, and the redesigned BMW X3 shifts in the same direction. Mercedes-Benz, perhaps consciously opting to take a different tack than everyone else, perhaps simply not paying attention to industry trends, went in the opposite direction. The GLK350 is the segment’s most truck-like entry—even the Land Rover LR2 looks, sits, and drives more like a car. As a result, the GLK is far from the best choice for driving enthusiasts. But few buyers in this segment are driving enthusiasts. In what has recently become a very crowded field, it helps to stand apart from the crowd. The GLK350 achieves this. Want some traditional SUV flavor in your premium compact SUV, but care more about the badge or German engineering than luxurious appointments? Then the GLK350 has that space largely to itself.

BMW provided the vehicle for this review at a ride-and-drive event for BMW owners.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

GLK350 side GLK350 instrument panel GLK350 rear quarter 2 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Who are you calling a cute ute? GLK350 front GLK350 cargo GLK350 rear seat GLK350 interior GLK350 front seats GLK350 rear quarter ]]> 54