The Truth About Cars » 4Matic http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 29 Aug 2015 15:27:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » 4Matic http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Mercedes-Benz Removes Two Doors from C-Class, Creates Real Coupe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/mercedes-benz-removes-two-doors-from-c-class-creates-real-coupe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/mercedes-benz-removes-two-doors-from-c-class-creates-real-coupe/#comments Sat, 15 Aug 2015 15:00:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1142849 Some may argue that Mercedes is responsible for the prevalence of four-door coupes on the market thanks to the popularity of the CLS. While the tri-star brand might be found guilty in the court of public opinion for slagging upon us such an abomination, it’s refreshing that the German brand still knows how to make a real, […]

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2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe

Some may argue that Mercedes is responsible for the prevalence of four-door coupes on the market thanks to the popularity of the CLS. While the tri-star brand might be found guilty in the court of public opinion for slagging upon us such an abomination, it’s refreshing that the German brand still knows how to make a real, honest-to-goodness coupe — and this is the latest one: the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe.

Up front, the C-Class Coupe looks almost the same as its four-doored sibling. The large disco ball grille is similar to that found on the CLA, while new headlights and remaining front body work is pulled almost directly from the C-Class sedan.

2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe

As soon as you get to the roofline, everything changes. The silhouette — already swooping toward the rear on the sedan — shows a tightened rump and much more horizontal rear lamp wrap around sections. At the rear, the C-Class Coupe looks to have more in common with the Mercedes-AMG GT than the C-Class sedan. That’s sharp, Herr Geschäftsmann.

The new two door will go on sale in the spring of 2016 as a 2017 model, available in C 300 and C 300 4Matic guises. Expect the usual levels of AMG-ness to follow shortly thereafter.

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2015 Mercedes S550 4Matic Review – The Luxury “Tweener” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/2015-mercedes-s550-4matic-review-luxury-tweener/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/2015-mercedes-s550-4matic-review-luxury-tweener/#comments Mon, 10 Aug 2015 14:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1130945 Luxury shoppers have an interesting “problem.” If you want something spendier and more unique than a Lexus LS, but aren’t ready for a baby-Bentley or Roller, you have but one option: the Mercedes S-Class. Trouble is the last generation S-Class lagged behind more plebian options in both gadgets and luxury. That was a serious problem since the price […]

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Luxury shoppers have an interesting “problem.” If you want something spendier and more unique than a Lexus LS, but aren’t ready for a baby-Bentley or Roller, you have but one option: the Mercedes S-Class. Trouble is the last generation S-Class lagged behind more plebian options in both gadgets and luxury. That was a serious problem since the price tag on the S spans from just under $100,000 to nearly a quarter of a million. Like the new C-Class, the redesigned S-Class is restoring my faith in the premiere German luxury brand.


Exterior
The S-Class has been the pinnacle of the Mercedes line since 1972. There have been long ones, short ones, coupés, sedans and limos. Regardless of the shape, the S-Class has long been the standard by which full-size luxury cars are judged. That was a little bit of a problem for the previous generation Merc which had a somewhat dowdy exterior with a plain profile, small grille and headlamps that looked like Shrinky Dinks that had spent too long in the oven.

The new S-Class receives Mercedes’ latest exterior design cues from the CLS and CLA with a bolder grille and angry headlamps blended with the quaintness of a tri-star hood ornament. As you’d expect from a car destined to chauffeur diplomats, royalty and heads of state, the side profile is upright and traditional, and the greenhouse bends slightly rearward to allow your royal personage a better view of your subjects.

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At rear, Mercedes blended the corporate style-book with classic S-Class cues we’ve seen since 1991, such as tail lamps that won’t wrap onto the trunk lid. This particular style choice has a notable downside: the trunk opening is smaller than many of the other luxury sedans.

Although the new S-Class may look like a re-skinned W220 S-Class, the W222 is an entirely new animal. The biggest change is a new body that is nearly half aluminum. Rather than going all-in on Alcoa like Jaguar and Audi, Mercedes took the more cautious approach by strategically using aluminum to adjust the car’s weight balance as well as shed a few pounds. The result is an S550 that tips the scales at 4,600 pounds and has a weight balance closer to 50/50 than ever before (a hair better than 52/48 we’re told.)

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Interior
Mercedes is a conservative company when it comes to interior style, so this generation doesn’t bring any massive design departures. Although restrained, everything is undeniably premium and this interior escapes the “upscale Buick” vibe the last generation gave off. Our tester has a nearly $6,000 optional leather package which undoubtedly helps. The option consists of premium two-tone hides and contrasting piping throughout the cabin, from the dashboard to the door panels. Even the portions of the door panels that are hidden when the doors close are perfectly stitched cow-hide. Laser cut metal speaker grilles are scattered throughout the cabin, a look that is also featured in the new C-class at more affordable prices.

European shoppers will likely be confused by this statement: Legroom is excellent but not epic in the S550. While the S-Class is ginormous by European standards, it is only 3.6-inches longer than a Ford Taurus and less than one inch longer than a Lincoln MKS. As a result, the 41.4 inches of front leg room is actually slightly lower than some large American sedans. Rear legroom is generous, but not much more than the large sedans by GM, Ford and Chrysler. The back seat is unquestionably comfortable, especially in our tester which came with the reclining rear seat option. However, folks taller than 6-foot-2 won’t be able to stretch completely out on the foot rest. (Your writer’s modest 6-foot frame fit like a glove.) Disappointed? Consider that the XJ, A8 and 7-Series are all available in two lengths and their long-wheelbase models are equivalent to the base S-Class in rear accommodation. Need more room? For a cool $189,350 you can get the S600 Maybach which stretches the S-Class by 8 inches, improving both leg and headroom in the process. Sadly, however, the champagne refrigerator and comfy rear thrones also eat into the trunk space, dropping the S500’s trunk down to a slim 12.3. Tell Jeeves to pack light.

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Mercedes-Maybach
Maybach was to be the German answer to the soaring popularity of Rolls Royce and Bentley. Unfortunately, Mercedes tried competing head-on with a previous generation S-Class stretched to an insane 244 inches that wore a price tag stretched even further to nearly $400,000. It’s no wonder the Maybach 57 and 62 failed to light the sales charts on fire. As of 2013, Maybach as a brand ceased to exist and a new strategy was born. Since the old Maybach was instantly recognizable as a stretched S-Class, they applied the Maybach label to the longest S available and thus the Mercedes-Maybach S600 was born. With a stretch of a more modest 8 inches (versus the three feet that was added to make the Maybach 62) and a similarly more modest price tag, think of the Mercedes-Maybach as a limo version of the S-Class. Oddly enough, the Maybach is not the most expensive S — that’s where the S65 AMG comes in starting at a cool $220,000.

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Infotainment & Gadgets
No luxury car would be complete without a bevy of gadgets and gizmos to entertain and protect (and brag about).

The first thing you notice when you get inside are the twin 12.3-inch LCDs spanning from the center of the car to the driver’s door. The right LCD runs the latest Mercedes COMAND infotainment software while the left handles the gauges and night vision display.

Although the software interface looks familiar, it has been significantly updated for the W222 with a faster processor and more features. The speed difference and smoothness of the graphic transitions is easily noticeable when you compare the S-Class to the E-Class sitting next to it on the dealer lot. Mercedes has improved the voice recognition system in this generation and voice commanding specific tracks on your USB/iDevice is easier and more reliable. Sadly, the online functionality is not as “fully baked” as iDrive or MMI at this point. There is Google Earth driven satellite imagery, but it’s not integrated into the default navigation screen. Likewise, the streaming radio and Yelp location finder apps could be better integrated. Also on the gripe list: there is no dedicated track forward/backward button which makes changing tracks more complicated than other vehicles.

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I am often disappointed by LCD instrument clusters. They offer so much theoretical potential, yet no manufacturer has fully exploited this yet. So far, Cadillac is the only brand whose LCD cluster allows limited customization from a selection of different gauge layouts, colors and themes. The Mercedes display, like essentially everyone else, shows you two views. One with and one without the night vision camera display.

On the gadget front, Mercedes has packed in everything but the kitchen sink. We have an optional split-view screen (right side LCD only) so the passenger can watch a movie while in motion, and a rear seat entertainment system for the rear passengers that can display an airline-esque slideshow of your location, the elevation profile of your journey and the weather at your destination. The front seats massage, the rear seats recline, the shades are all powered and even the rear folks get 3-position seat memory. Sound systems start at impressive and head to “do you really need that?” with a 24-speaker system pumping out 1,940 watts (because 2,000 was too opulent).

More radar sensors than Frankfurt Airport, a bevy of ultrasonic sensors, all around cameras, a separate stereo camera system for forward 3D imaging, and an infrared night vision camera all combine to give the S-Class a bionic view of the road. The radar sensors allow adaptive cruise control functionality, tell you about cross traffic and prepare safety systems for impact when the car behind you decides not to stop. The S-Class will parallel park itself, detect pedestrians and brake to keep from hitting them, and highlight deer and select other animals in the night vision system. Magic Body Control will scan the road ahead and program the suspension to handle a road imperfection before you encounter it. Sadly the snazzy multi-beam LED headlamps don’t make it to the USA because of some silly headlamp regulations on our shores, but the system that automatically injects air freshener into the HVAC system is America bound.

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Drivetrain
Instead of making the hybrid a range-topping model like you see with the Lexus LS 600hL, Mercedes continues to view the S550 plug-in hybrid as more of a volume option. For the same price, shoppers can choose a 449-horsepower, 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8, or a 436-horsepower hybrid system built around a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6. (The turbo six makes 329 horsepower on its own.) The 449 ponies and 516 lb-ft of torque in the V8 model combined with Mercedes’ latest 7-speed automatic transmission and optional 4MATIC AWD allowed out tester to scoot to 60 in an impressive 4.6 seconds.

If you need to get to The Hamptons faster, the S600’s twin-turbo V12 spools up 523 horsepower and 612 lb-ft, but sadly can’t be had with AWD. The S63 AMG gets a 5.5-liter, twin-turbo V8 making 577 horsepower and 664 lb-ft and, thanks to standard AWD, will get the German tank to highway speed in under 4 seconds. The range topping S65 AMG makes the most oomph at 621 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque (88 more twists than a Dodge Hellcat) but because AWD is not offered, it’ll take slightly longer to run to 60 than the S63. Even if you can’t afford the top-end trims, all S class owners can bask in the opulence of a transmission that has two speeds in reverse. Why? Just because.

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Drive
I was a bit skeptical about the Magic Body Control system and, as it turns out, I was right to be. The system uses a stereo camera system to scan the road ahead, but aside from damping speed bumps to the point where it feels like running over a garden hose, I didn’t notice much difference in a dealer provided car. The system seemed to have little or no effect out on the rough highways or potholed streets in the Bay Area. Some of this has to do with the way the system detects the road (it is camera based), but most has to do with the standard air suspension already being very compliant.

Although the S550 has lost weight, it is still one of the heavier options in this segment. The contrast with the Jaguar XJ is sharp. At 3,854 lbs, the English entry is the lightest, beating even the aluminum A8 by 511 pounds. Jaguar ditched their four-corner air suspension in the latest XJ model (the rear has load leveling still) which, combined with the light curb weight, makes it by far the most athletic entry in this segment. However, the XJ isn’t just light for this segment, it’s also 147 pounds lighter than an E350. The S550 on the other hand offers a more traditional large luxury attitude. The air suspension creates a ride that’s like a pillow floating on a cloud.

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Funny thing about clouds: If you pay attention, you realise they’re moving pretty darn fast. Seemingly in defiance of physics, the S550 scoots to 60 mph as fast as a BMW M235i and, thanks to some serious rubber at all four corners, matches a run-of-the-mill 335i in the skidpad. Keep the pedal down too long and you’ll hit the 1/4 mile in 12.8 seconds while doing 110 mph. In silence. In a 17-foot long sedan. The cabin of the S550 is eerily quiet at all times.

The steering is isolated but surprisingly accurate, the body tips, dives and rolls with the best of the luxury set but never feels upset or uncomposed. Thanks to the all-wheel drive system and a near 50/50 weight balance, the S550 is extremely neutral and confident on practically every road surface. A statement like that wouldn’t be surprising when talking about a compact luxury coupé, but we’re talking about a nearly two and a half ton sedan.

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Pricing – Why is it a “tweener”?
I’ve touched on this already, but the most unique thing about the S-Class is the fact that it sits almost in a segment of its own. The 2015 S550 starts at $94,400, which is about $20,000 higher than a base 2015 BMW 7-Series, Lexus LS 460, Jaguar XJ or Audi A8. (For 2016, the 7-Series and A8 rise to just over $80,000 and we should expect a slight increase from Mercedes keeping the distance around 15-large.) A lightly configured S550 can easily sticker for $115,000 and our tester (which lacked a number of options) came in at a cool $137,500. Keeping in mind this is simply where the S550 starts. The sticker on our S-Class with the base engine was already higher than possible for most of the competition.

The next step up is the $141,450 S63, which is about as expensive as an A8 gets. Want a 12-cylinder engine? That’s at least $166,900, about a loaded Honda Accord more than an A8 W12. The Maybach stretch is $189,350, and if you want one of the most powerful 12-cylinder engines made, that’ll be $220,000. The only other vehicle with this kind of price range is the Porsche Panamera. The Porsche has a slightly more premium interior but it’s mission is quite different. The Panamera is more direct, more engaging, but less comfortable, less roomy and I’m told by the old guard in Atherton that it’s too flashy as well. Looking for something spendier? The S65 AMG ends around where Bentley starts.

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The new S-Class has restored my faith in the Mercedes brand. Is it the best value in the luxury car segment? No. But that’s an asset in this category. (If you don’t like that statement, then you’re not the S-Class demographic.) If you want a “value luxury sedan” this size, check out the $60,000 Kia K900.

The S550 4Matic is exactly what I want out of a big luxury sedan. I want it to be big and bold but avoid brash by a hair. I want it to be impossibly quiet, perfectly smooth, insanely powerful, able to stop on a dime (okay, so that part is a little lacking), handle like a sports coupé and get silent nods from the folks at the country club. You can get some of those things in the competition, but this big Merc succeeds at all of them in a way no other sedan does.

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

0-30: 1.99 Seconds

0-60: 4.6 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 12.8 Seconds @ 110 MPH

Fuel Economy: 18.2 MPG over 782 Miles

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4MATIC: Lookin’ for Love http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/2015-mercedes-benz-gla250-4matic-lookin-for-love/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/2015-mercedes-benz-gla250-4matic-lookin-for-love/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 15:00:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1117377 The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 lives within the margins. The compact — which shares more in common with a hatchback than an SUV — has a life thanks to America’s all-things-crossover obsession. It dodges definition, shirks consistent fuel-economy ratings and even has me guessing on my own feelings toward it. For sure, I can’t find a […]

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The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 lives within the margins.

The compact — which shares more in common with a hatchback than an SUV — has a life thanks to America’s all-things-crossover obsession. It dodges definition, shirks consistent fuel-economy ratings and even has me guessing on my own feelings toward it. For sure, I can’t find a single offensive thing about the GLA. Even more, I can’t find a single thing to love.


The Tester

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250

Engine: 2.0-liter inline, turbocharged 4-cylinder (208 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm; 258 pound-feet @ 1,250-4,000)

Transmission: 7-speed DCT transmission with paddle shifters

Fuel Economy (rating): 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway/27 mpg combined
Fuel Economy (observed): 25.3 mpg according to trip computer in 60/40-split city/highway driving.

Options: Cocoa brown exterior paint; Satin light brown poplar wood trim; Blind-spot assist; Bi-xenon headlamps; 19-inch wheels; Premium package (satellite radio, heated front seats, harman/kardon audio, dual-zone climate control); Multimedia package (navigation, 7-inch high-resolution display, DVD player, traffic information).

Base price: $33,300
Price as tested: $41,950


Exterior
From beak to butt, the GLA looks like adolescent hatchback growing into its tall frame.

That’s not an indictment on the GLA’s overall looks. The GLA’s stretched sheet metal from front to back look downright futuristic compared to the BMW X1 and Lexus NX. Maybe not as classically handsome as the Range Rover Evoque and a coin-flip compared to the Audi Q3, but there is nothing about the GLA that outwardly screams “half-baked.” It’s clear that German engineers set out to build a handsome crossover that happened to be a Mercedes, and not a Mercedes crossover that happened to be handsome. In my opinion, the GLA is too busy to look “classic” Mercedes.

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Even the tail, which has the unenviable task of tying together the multiple body lines and profile curves, looks solidly modern and scrutinized. If I had to nitpick — and I think I have to — the bulbous tail lamps have a whisper of ugly.

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Up front, however, the GLA’s nose and grille present a compelling argument. The car, which starts at just over $34,000, looks more expensive from the front. It’s a case of Mercedes putting a better foot forward for entry buyers. I prefer the GLA’s nose over, say, the boxy approach of the GLK, but the GLA’s face is much less polarizing.

The thick C-pillar visually lengthens the GLA’s abrupt end and gives the car a longer approach than its 179-inch measurement would indicate. From all approaches, the GLA looks bigger outside than it actually is, and that’s not a bad thing.

Shod with our optional 19-inch wheels the GLA sits tall and muscular without being gaudy. If the Subaru Forester had a Y chromosome, it’d look like a Mercedes-Benz GLA.

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Interior
If intention was everything, the GLA’s interior would shine as a paragon for what luxury crossovers should be. Unfortunately, execution factors into the final result so we have to look at these things as they are — not as they could be.

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First, the familiar: the Mercedes-Benz three-spoke wheel in the GLA is an exceptional touch. The wheel feels solid and confident, and its steering wheel controls and paddle shifters are among the best in the business right now.

Additionally, Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND system (its infotainment interface) is clear and fabulously unfussy. Pairing a smartphone or dictating an address is a breeze, and the 7-inch high-resolution display is seamlessly integrated into the GLA (albeit for $2,480 extra) without looking like a 80-inch HDTV in a trailer home.

The GLA even looks the part too. The ballyhooed cross-hair air vents are impressive, and even the beige faux-leather seats would have me second-guessing shelling out $1,700 for the privilege of more hides between the doors.

But it doesn’t take long for impressions to settle into reality.

The three-spoke wheel hides the stalk and makes setting cruise control nearly impossible. The controls for the COMAND system are awkwardly placed somewhere between my elbow and my wrist, and the dash sounds unsettlingly too hollow.

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Even the comfortable-looking MB-Tex seats started to flatten the longer I was in the car and after 2 hours in a hot car driving through the city, I found myself itching to get out.

If I can use a small example: the GLA’s electric-adjustable seat controls are in the doors, like every other new Mercedes-Benz. Unlike some of them, the GLA doesn’t have electrically adjustable headrests, but there’s still a piece of fixed-molded plastic where that slider would go. In short, the GLA has all the look inside that a Mercedes should have, but it’s just not as special.

(Spring for the leather seats and you get a MB-Tex-stitched dash upper, which could kill two birds with one stone.)

The rear seats are comfortable for adults on short to moderate trips. My 6-foot-2-inch frame could fold into the back behind the driver, but not with someone my size driving up front.

Infotainment
As a $2,480 option on a $33,300 car, Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND system is no minor detail. The big, bright 7-inch high-resolution display rises prominently from the middle of the dash and is distinctly an added extra — there’s no hiding that the GLA was built first without it.

However, the COMAND system is thoughtfully integrated and wasn’t much of a distraction for me. I’m incredibly familiar with the layout and controls, so it’s hard for me to comment on the system’s learning curve. However, I can report that after teaching passengers how the small-ish knob placed near the cup holders could slide AND rotate, very few people had trouble learning the system.

The good: The radio controls mimic a tuner, and the system is detailed without needing too much attention.

The bad: Adding a phone, then adding that same phone as a Bluetooth streaming device is a head scratcher.

The ugly: The control knob is far-too small for my big mitts.

In the new C-Class, the COMAND system is nearly impossible to beat. In the GLA, it’s very good.

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Drivetrain

The GLA250 sports a 2.0-liter turbo four that makes an entirely approachable 208 hp. According to the manufacturer, the GLA250 runs up to 60 mph in around 7 seconds, which may not be blinding, but may not be the engine’s fault. The 7-speed DCT transmission does its very best to keep the GLA in low-rev, fuel-saving territory on the tach and it’s apparent. More than a few times, I guessed I was in third gear by the other side of the intersection, and the GLA’s long legs are built for wringing every last mile from its 15-gallon tank.

Unfortunately, it’s a losing attempt.

Despite my best efforts on long highway jaunts, I couldn’t approach 30 mpg consistently, and the GLA may be thirstier than its 27 mpg combined rating would indicate.

In combined driving, over nearly 200 miles, I managed only just over 25 mpg without over-taxing the GLA or touching the paddle shifters.

The GLA is offered in front- or all-wheel drive, which Mercedes calls 4MATIC, configurations. Our tester was the latter, but without much snow or mountain driving to be found over the past week, it’s hard to report whether the all-wheel drive is necessary. We’ll blame El Nino. Or something.

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Drive
Despite being one of the least expensive cars that Mercedes-Benz offers, the GLA is surprisingly confident and nimble on the road. Its grippy, direct steering was surprising for a car that weighs nearly 3,500 pounds and forces all its energy through the front wheels under normal circumstances. I could coax the GLA250 into a push, but not without plenty of drama from the wheels first. (And that’s the way it should be.)

The GLA is easy to park and remarkably maneuverable around an Ikea parking lot (if you’re wondering what I did with it instead of driving into the Rockies.)

There are some niggles, however. The GLA is far from quiet inside. A considerable amount of road noise comes through into the cabin and it feels like Mercedes just skipped some of the sound deadening material in the final checklist.

Also, Mercedes’ collision prevention assist system isn’t any more advanced than anyone else’s, which means that it’s entirely too intrusive. In stop-and-go traffic, the system tripped a few times and warned of a low-speed collision that wasn’t going to happen anyway.

And if I could coax the transmission into shorter shifts at the risk of less impressive fuel economy (on paper), I would. Mash your right foot, count to three and then the GLA clambers forward. There’s too much time between action and reaction for a car that costs more than $40,000.

But there’s nothing wholly unsatisfactory about the GLA. It looks impressive and delivers a product that’s nearly better than anyone else’s. It’s better looking than the NX, more modern than the X1 with more interior potential than the MKC at a price that’s on target for what I’d expect from the three-star folks.

It’s just, coming from the company that recently made an extremely good C-Class car, the only thing I could define about the GLA was my extremely high expectations before I drove it. And maybe that’s just not fair.

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Review: 2012 Mercedes CLS 550 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/review-2012-mercedes-cls-550/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/review-2012-mercedes-cls-550/#comments Sun, 18 Dec 2011 12:54:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420675 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 […]

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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: 2010 Mercedes GLK 350 4Matic http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/02/review-2010-mercedes-glk-350-4matic/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/02/review-2010-mercedes-glk-350-4matic/#comments Tue, 03 Feb 2009 13:45:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=236531 The ad for the new Mercedes GLK is targeted straight at owners of MB's ML and GL SUVs. After all, the new GLK gives you the "same innovation in a smaller design." Same agility. Same suspension. Same luxury. Same depreciation (my add). So, why bother paying more for one of Mercedes' more much macho trucks? Sure, this baby brother routine hurts the automaker. The Nissan's Rogue's Murano-i-cide is but one example where a new, smaller vehicle robbed Peter to pay Paul less. But that's the way it is. In Bailout Nation's new era of hunker down austerity, downsizing is almost as fashionable as having a job. Big ticket buyer meets smaller ticket price on the dark side of town. The carmakers must figure that what they lose in profit they'll recover in volume. Ask GM how well that works. In that sense the Mercedes GLK is a born win - loser. Or is it?

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The ad for the new Mercedes GLK is targeted straight at owners of MB’s ML and GL SUVs. After all, the new GLK gives you the “same innovation in a smaller design.” Same agility. Same suspension. Same luxury. Same depreciation (my add). So, why bother paying more for one of Mercedes’ more much macho trucks? Sure, this baby brother routine hurts the automaker. The Nissan’s Rogue’s Murano-i-cide is but one example where a new, smaller vehicle robbed Peter to pay Paul less. But that’s the way it is. In Bailout Nation’s new era of hunker down austerity, downsizing is almost as fashionable as having a job. Big ticket buyer meets smaller ticket price on the dark side of town. The carmakers must figure that what they lose in profit they’ll recover in volume. Ask GM how well that works. In that sense the Mercedes GLK is a born win – loser. Or is it?

It takes a couple of miles to warm up to this trucklet. The Mercedes GLK’s exterior won’t fire you up on your approach. The 90s-style orthogonal body looks like it’s already due for a refresh. I’m not saying everything on the road needs to be modeled on a suppository. I love the righteous Geländewagen, a machine which shipping crates have envied for over 30 years. But the authority of the creases found on the G and GL SUVs simply doesn’t scale down. Sometimes, emulating your big brothers makes it all the more obvious that you’re the baby of the family.

The diminutive outside cons you. The interior appears so incredibly roomy A) because you’ve lowered your expectations and B) because it is. Two sunroofs help. Headroom and shoulder room are ample enough to make you forget this is the runt of the litter. The detail is stark but accentuates the safety deposit box theme. The silvery rings on the controls and the dials put you inside a Breitling chronograph. If I owned a big ad agency I’d do my office this way and everyone would respect me.

The seats are exquisite. The seat controls’ traditional door-mounted position makes them easy to use and keeps snow off the armrests.  One assumes they won’t short out. An electrical problem is not what you want in this mobile Brookstone showroom. The tester had more than $6k worth of extra electronics, including a 600-watt Harman Kardon surround-sound system; 7-inch color monitor; a 6GB hard drive with media database and an entirely superfluous in-dash six-disc changer. Everything is voice controlled.

I didn’t fiddle with all the gizmos. Who has that kind of time? My only complaint with the inside: getting inside, through the rear passenger doors. The rear side glass intrudes on the top right, making the porthole smaller than you think.  It’s needlessly awkward on an otherwise carefully thought-out design.

I approached the driving part of the Mercedes GLK program with a prejudice: I like wagons. The GLK has more suspension travel than the C-Class upon which it’s based. It’s far more supple, without being soft. I could feel the ruts in the road (Yes, ruts. I didn’t baby this thing) without being jarred. The use of hydraulic dampers and blow-by valves sounds like steampunk technology, but it works.

This is especially true when combined with the 4Matic all wheel-drive, traction and stability control and thrown about in a square mile of fresh snow. Even with all-season rubber, this was a yak. Thanks to the power-to-weight ratio, with the all the processing tech being equal, this could be the best ski trip vehicle in Mercedes’ line up . . . or on the market.

Power comes from a 3.5-liter V6, putting out 268 horsepower. It’s as quick as it should be. The automatic transmission was a seven-speed Zen koan. So many gears, so much wheel-spin management and suspension adjusting and brake control. In other words, I have little idea what it was doing at any given moment, but whatever it did seemed appropriate to the situation. If you consider the best transmission the one you never have to think about, you don’t need to think about this one.

The Mercedes GLK’s brakes are as expected: powerful enough to haul you down from speed before the cops can haul you off to jail. Mercedes has always taken their stoppers seriously and it shows. Everything is firm and fluid. Again, I’ve got to compliment the suspension, which sucked up inertia in ways I don’t fully understand.

And slowly, as the miles clicked by, I became a fan. I still don’t get the whole tall wagon deal. This one is derivative in intent and purpose. It won me over with genuine driving chops. The GLK was not the first to the small SUV market, but it’s the best. The vehicle will find favor amongst financially-challenged Mercedes SUV fans. But it’s also Mercedes’ best “entry level” product in decades. If it was a book, it would be called “How to Win Friends and Win More Friends.”

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