The Truth About Cars » 4Matic The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 28 Jul 2014 10:00:52 +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 » 4Matic 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: 2010 Mercedes GLK 350 4Matic Tue, 03 Feb 2009 13:45:37 +0000 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?

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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