Revised Mercedes-Benz A-Class boasts environmental credentials

July 21st, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

mercedes-benz-a-class-2009-fq

From March 2009 an ECO start-stop function will be available on the A 150 and A 170 with manual transmission and the three-door A 160 CDI will benefit from an optional BlueEFFICIENCY package which improves fuel consumption of the Coupe by more than 11 per cent, to 4.4 L/100km. Independent experts have awarded the A-Class with the internationally valid environmental certificate already held by the C-Class and S-Class.

The design has been revised and new technical developments have further enhanced levels of safety with crash responsive lighting and adaptive brake lights.  The car is even more comfortable as a result of new interior materials, with improved adjustment and support in the seats.  All models have new infotainment systems with Bluetooth connectivity, and the engines are now more fuel efficient as a result of three new BlueEFFICIENCY models.

The ECO start-stop function lowers fuel consumption and exhaust emissions by automatically switching off the engine during idling phases.  ECO start-stop will be available from spring 2009 for the A 150 and A 170 when twinned with the five-speed manual transmission and will both be badged BlueEFFICIENCY.  When travelling at low speed, the driver only needs to shift the manual transmission to neutral and apply the brakes. The engine is then switched off, and the ECO display appears in the instrument cluster.

The recycling concept of a vehicle is also considered.  95% of the A-Class can be recycled so already meets the EU regulation coming into force from 2015 and renewable raw materials are used during production including the use of flax, olive stones, cotton, coconut fibre, wood veneers and abaca fibres.

Drivers of the A-Class can now opt for active park assist.  This system which operates up to 25 mph scans the road to identify suitable parking spaces for the car. Once a suitable space is found the driver has the option to park.  By engaging reverse they accept the identified space and then just need to accelerate and brake.  Active park assist takes over the steering and automatically manoeuvres the car into the parking space. The parking space only needs to be 1.30 metres longer than the A-Class, there is currently no other car able to park automatically in such a small space.

The car also has Hill Start Assist, which prevents it from rolling backwards when the driver moves from the brake pedal to the accelerator when moving off on an uphill gradient.

Smart start/stop technology to be introduced

July 15th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

The Smart fortwo range will have start/stop technology form October in Europe, and is expected to follow in other areas soon afterward.

The already efficient Smart is said to show an 8% improvement in fuel economy when fitted with start/stop technology.

This new technology stops the engine when the vehicle is stationary and re-starts when the driver presses the accelerator. Whether we will see this new system or the forth coming Smart diesel in New Zealand reamains to be seen.

Mercedes-Benz unleashes the ultimate SL

July 14th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

benz-sl65-amg-black-f

Mercedes-Benz is launching an exclusive new model designed to perform equally well on public roads and on the race track. Based on a highly modified and lightened version of the company’s revered SL roadster, the new SL65 AMG Black Series coupe features a carbon-fiber fixed roof, front fenders, hood, trunk lid and front and rear aprons. With all these super-strong, lightweight parts, plus the absence of retractable roof hardware, the car is more than 550 pounds lighter than the standard SL.

The already formidable 6.0-liter AMG V12 engine has been modified to produce more than 650 horsepower and a staggering 738 pound-feet of torque. Its twin turbochargers are 12 percent larger, passages for intake air and the turbo wastegates have been modified, and the intake air intercooler is 30 percent more efficient. The result is zero-to-60 mph acceleration of only 3.8 seconds, and an electronically limited top speed of 198 mph.

Integrated within the trunk lid, a rear spoiler automatically raises nearly five inches whenever the car reaches about 74 mph, creating downforce on the tail of the car at high speeds. From the rear, the most eye-catching feature is its new carbon-fiber apron with air diffuser ribs. Hidden within it is an active cooling system for the final drive and 40-percent locking differential.

AMG has developed a fully adjustable sport suspension for the new SL65 AMG Black Series. Adjustable coil-spring struts provide a proven motorsports solution that allows fine tuning of shock absorber jounce and rebound, ride height and wheel alignment.Spring links camber struts, push-pull rods and wheel carriers have been specially developed for this vehicle. Track width is nearly four inches wider on the new Black Series car. A three-stage ESP feature provides outstanding driving dynamics. With ESP on, the system senses understeer or oversteer and applies the brakes on one wheel to counteract the slide. In the “ESP Sport” mode, the driver can purposely slide the car to its limit of control before the system reacts, while in “ESP off,” the system is fully turned off.

Mercedes-Benz C320 CDI Avantgarde 2008 Review

July 1st, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Mercedes-Benz C320 CDI Avantgarde fq

I drove the C220 CDI a couple of months before the C320 CDI. What difference does an extra 100 in the model name mean? At lot more power (165kW), a significant amount of torque (510Nm), and an improved interior spec, especially with the AMG kit that this Avantegarde model sports.

One burning question, though, are electric headrests just slightly too much luxury? An electric headrest means a motor with switches that are connected by wires. I know the reason for it — there may be two drivers, one of whom is a basketball player called Tyrone and the other a size 8 marketing manager called Amanda, and the C320 can store three seat position memories, conveniently accessible via buttons on the door. But, do we need it? While automakers are attempting to get better handling and better fuel economy, not all of them are adhering to Colin Chapman’s mantra of ‘absence of weight’ which gave his various Lotus models such stunning performance in relation to fuel economy.

Perhaps Mercedes-Benz doesn’t feel the need to in this diesel demon. It has managed some serious fuel economy feats while I’ve been driving it. The quoted 7.4 litres per 100km (which we managed to better on our normal road test) from a vehicle that is capable of 0-100kph in 6.9 seconds is not far from Series 1 Lotus Elise territory. But then all you can fit in a Lotus Elise is two people and enough luggage for a trip to the movies.

Is Mercedes-Benz creating a rod for its own back, though? Even sub-$20,000 cars are coming with parking sensors and ESP, so the differentiating factors are things like electric headrests, so they become the new benchmark (not that they’re anything new — they’ve been around for years).

Of course, the other differentiators are badge (brand snobbery) and performance (ride and comfort). So, while a Kia Picanto may have reversing sensors like the C320, I’m always going to pick the C320 because of the overall feel. It is a beautiful car not only to look at, but also to drive.

I said of the C220 that it was the most relaxing car I’d driven. Well, the C320 still has the same comfort, but with a Muay Thai kickboxer in the engine bay. It’s a 3-litre V6 turbo-diesel which weighs a paltry 208kg — a result of the aluminium crankcase. This is connected to a seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic transmission to keep the revs in the most appropriate place.

The savage torque is beautifully transmitted to the road by the Agility Control package, which features shock absorbers which detect the driving style. When driving normally the dampers provide a ride that’s like floating in amniotic fluid — tranquil, insulated from the outside world, nurturing. Unleash the full fury of the engine, though, and it takes on a different character, biting into the corners and giving more feedback through the steering.

It may be a beautiful ride, but it’s even more beautiful on the outside, especially in white with the optional AMG sports package wheels.

This is also the Avantgarde version which is the top of the pile over the Classic and Elegance variants. It wears the wide radiator grille that accommodates the large three-pointed star in the middle rather than being on the bonnet. An Avantgarde badge on the flank, and chrome highlights on the bumpers, door and boot handle complement the polished aluminium shoulderline trim and the darker tinted taillights.

The Avantgarde styling is carried back through to the interior with leather inserts and brushed aluminium trim on the doors, and a titanium silver backplate on the instrument cluster.

The seats are trimmed in man-made Artico leather, but surprisingly don’t have an electronic lumbar adjustment as standard. They are suitably comfortable, though.

Our C320 CDI came with the COMAND DVD APS Plus option, containing a reasonably intuitive satellite navigation. The standard voice is a bit more like a newsreader than Audi’s slightly softer-spoken navigator. The 7-inch screen pivots upwards out of the dashboard and shows the audio controls as well as integration for a phone. Voice recognition makes this system invaluable for hands-free operation of the functions available. You can even store up to 1000 MP3 tracks on the navigation system’s hard disk.

There’s nothing significant to complain about with the C320 CDI: the dashboard materials could be a bit nicer, and the engine tone (which is a bit strained and harsh under heavy acceleration) doesn’t will you to use the throttle (perhaps a good thing in these times of escalating fuel prices).

Mercedes has a winning formula with its C-Class range. If you need more practicality there are the Estate variants, using the UK terminology for a station wagon. With a high level of safety (eight airbags and all the driver protection acronyms under the sun), an options and trim list to allow you to determine a unique specification that suits you, desirable looks and sensible fuel economy, Mercedes’ C-Class will undoubtedly continue its successful run.

For full specifications of the C320 CDI, including the options fitted to this car click through to the next page.

Price: from $103,900 (base model); $118,100 as tested

What we like

  • It’s a damn fine looking machine
  • Every interior feature you’d ever need, including electric headrests
  • Rides like a dream, as they’d say in the 1950s
  • Performance + miserly fuel use

What we don’t like

  • Engine tone isn’t so nice
  • I’m not a fan of the dashboard plastic (texture)

Mercedes-Benz C320 CDI Avantgarde Specifications

Paint:

  • Metallic

Trim:

  • ARTICO man-made leather

Equipment:

  • 2-zone “THERMATIC” automatic climate control, separate temperature controls for driver
  • and front passenger, dust filter and air recirculation with Instrument cluster with three
  • displays and three analogue dials
  • 17″ light-alloy wheels – 12-spoke design – 7.5 J x 17 ET 47, tyre size 225/45 R 17
  • ADAPTIVE BRAKE function
  • AGILITY CONTROL steering with safety steering column
  • AGILITY CONTROL suspension with selective damping system
  • Airbags and sidebags for driver and front passenger, windowbags for driver, front
  • passenger and rear-seat occupants
  • Anti-lock braking system (ABS)
  • Armrest in rear with double cup holder and stowage compartment
  • ASSYST maintenance interval indicator
  • Audible warning signal if front seat belts not fastened, lights not switched off or parking
  • brake left on
  • Automatic-locking doors with emergency opening
  • Brake Assist system (BAS)
  • Brake pad wear indicator
  • Direction indicators with one-touch convenience function
  • Electronic immobiliser including “ELCODE” locking system with infrared/radio-frequency
  • remote control and visible locking-verification signal
  • Electronic Stability Program (ESP®) with acceleration skid control (ASR)
  • ELEGANCE lettering on rub strip
  • First-aid kit
  • Foot-operated parking brake with hill start assist
  • Head restraints (5), adjustable; crash-responsive NECK-PRO front head restraints; three
  • rear head restraints, manually height-adjustable
  • Headlamp Assist (automatic headlamps)
  • Headlamp range adjustment
  • Heated exterior mirrors left and right, electrically adjustable
  • Interior lighting switched on automatically when vehicle is unlocked
  • ISOFIX child seat attachment points in the rear
  • Lighting package comprising: Illuminated air vent thumbwheels, Front footwell lighting,
  • Illuminated door-handle recesses inside car, Reading lights in rear, left and right, Exit
  • lights in front doors
  • Luxury multifunction leather steering wheel with 4.5″ display in instrument cluster and
  • leather gearshift lever
  • Outside temperature display
  • Seat occupancy recognition for front passenger seat
  • Side impact protection
  • Side-folding front armrest with stowage compartment
  • Sun visors with illuminated vanity mirror
  • Trip computer in multifunction display
  • Tyre pressure loss warning system

NZ Features:

  • Parameter steering
  • Parktronic
  • Electric passenger seat with memory
  • Anti-dazzle mirror
  • Front driver’s seat with memory package
  • Leather steering wheel
  • Through-loading feature with load-securing facilities and 1/3:2/3 split-folding rear seat
  • Rear sidebags
  • PRE-SAFE
  • Rain sensor
  • Phone pre-installation
  • 7G-TRONIC 7-speed automatic transmission, incl. Cruise control, code 440
  • Cruisecontrol with SPEEDTRONIC
  • Multi-function steering wheel with enhanced screen
  • Electrically folding mirrors
  • Audio 20 with CD changer
  • Paintwork preservation
  • Anti-theft
  • Packaging for export
  • Spare wheel
  • Burr walnut wood trim
  • Interior monitoring system
  • Elegance package
  • Child seat recognition

Options on this model as tested

Advanced agility package $2,700

Comand DVD APS Plus $5,500

AMG Sports package $6,000

Words and photos Darren Cottingham


Smart swallows thirteen contortionists to celebrate 10 years of production

June 27th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

13-in-a-smart-f

How many people can you fit into a diminutive Smart fortwo?

The amazing answer is 13 following a car cram staged to help celebrate smart’s 10th anniversary. Owners and visitors to the annual smart Destination Brooklands event held at Mercedes-Benz World, in the UK were invited to take up the Smart-packing challenge.

With the drivers and passengers of 1,200 smarts attending the event there was no shortage of potential participants but the winners proved to be the aptly-named ‘Smart car-tortionists’, a group of body-bending specialists chosen for their gymnastic feats. They included Iona Luvsandorj, semi-finalist in this year’s Britain’s Got Talent TV series.

With remarkable flexibility, a total of 13 contortionists managed to climb aboard the micro smart which measures just 2.7 metres long by 1.6 metres wide, proving that the fortwo is small on the outside and big on the inside.

Renntech power-up the Mercedes-Benz McLaren 722

June 26th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

renntech-722-mclaren-fq

When Mercedes-Benz introduced its SLR McLaren 722, there was a bit of confusion about the special-edition’s name. Many believed the car would offer a fire-breathing, 722 hp supercharged V8, but it doesn’t (it makes 650 hp). Some believed that “722″ meant there would be 722 of the cars made, but that was wrong, too. In the end, the 722 badge actually referred to 7:22AM – the starting time of Sterling Moss’ epic 1955 Mille Miglia run in a then-new Mercedes SLR.

Renntech have rectified the confusion, and more, by turning the wick up on the the McLaren with upgrades to extract 740hp out of the supercharged V8.

Modifications include upgraded intercoolers, a larger crankshaft pulley, adding a less restrictive, motorsports-style exhaust system and re-mapped ECU software to achieve the headline 740hp figure and a whopping 950nm of torque. Scary.

Smart Police switch to electric

June 26th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

police-smart-fq

Smart is helping the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) cut carbon emissions in London as they take part in the market trial of the fully electric, smart ed (electric drive).

Four versions of the low emission, two-seater car will be used in congested urban areas for routine police operations.  Two of the cars have Metropolitan Police livery and will be deployed in Central London and at Heathrow Airport.

The smart ed is powered solely by electricity and is charged using a standard three-pin plug. The car emits no carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons or particulate matter. It is economical and can achieve the equivalent of around 300 miles per gallon.

The smart ed has a top speed of 60 mph and has a range of up to 70 miles in between charges. The car has all the safety equipment that customers expect: ABS, ESP, passenger and driver airbags and seat belt pre-tensioners.

Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI 2008 Review

April 3rd, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI 2008 fq

Almost every week I get a massage. It’s not that kind of massage. I’m talking about the kind of pain-filled, deep tissue ‘tune-up’ massage to keep my levator scapulae loose and my trapezius toned. My masseuse shall remain unnamed so that legions of readers don’t beat a hasty path to her door with their ailments because this might prevent me from getting an appointment with her thumbs of Detroit iron.

The Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI is a car that is perfect for driving to a massage. I’ve never been overtaken by as many other vehicles as driving in this car. I’m relaxed. I’m ready to be kneaded. I’m driving at the speed limit¦this coming from a guy whose ideal afternoon would be spent exceeding 2G on a racetrack in a Radical SR3, and who regularly uses up the majority of the 9kph grace the police give above the speed limit. This is not because the C-Class is mushy or wallowy under sharp cornering — it’s not at all; it’s possibly because of the intelligent suspension that adapts the damping force automatically depending on the road surface. It leads to a very quiet, composed and comfortable drive, but without the car wandering all over the place on the road. And this also translates to a feeling that you’re sitting in total command of the wheels in the perfect centre of gravity of the car.

While I’m laying in agony as her forged fingers part the muscle fibres, I can look forward to the Merc’s wafting and smooth ride, ably assisted by its torquey diesel engine, as it’s also the perfect car to drive home from a massage in. You see, after I’ve experienced an hour of pain, I want to be cosseted and caressed automotively. Until I get home, that is, where I will continue to be relaxed as long as Paul Holmes isn’t on the TV, and there’s not a hungry mosquito performing low altitude flybys on my head.

So what about the Merc’s muscles? It sports a 2148cc diesel with 170hp and an impressive 400Nm of torque mated to a 5-speed automatic. This gives a satisfying surge to 100kph in a respectable 8.5s, and will return a quoted combined fuel consumption of 43mpg, or 5.5l/100km (I couldn’t get anywhere near this, though, recording 7.3 on a run from Hauraki to Grey Lynn in light traffic where I really tried to be economical, and 6.1l/100km Hauraki to Stanmore Bay at night using cruise control on the motorway to keep the car at 90kph).

Two settings are available in the gearbox — comfort and sport — and the gears can be changed manually using Mercedes’ non-intuitive left/right sequential shift. Comfort changes up earlier and down later.

Three brushed-aluminium style, bevelled dials are nestled behind the steering wheel. The centre larger one shows speed, and forms the periphery of a white-on-black display for the trip computer, cruise control/speed limiter, temperature and gear indicator.

A sliding panel covers the rectangular screen in the centre of the dashboard that shows system parameters and audio functions. These functions are controlled using the rotary data entry wheel and two buttons where your left arm rests. A suitable CD in the six-disc changer can add to the experience. Or you can connect an auxiliary music device. Look, I’ve even got Classic Hits tuned in – I must be relaxed because I usually listen to George!

Knight Rider-style proximity warning lights for the front and rear sensors only beep when you’re very close to an object. Before that, they progressively light up. Most other manufacturers use audible warnings and/or a screen with a representation of the car and where the obstacle is getting close, so this system takes some getting used to, but is effective.

A multitude of other safety functions help both you and other cars. For example, the brakes will periodically dry themselves in the rain, and will prepare themselves for an emergency stop if the accelerator is lifted quickly. During an emergency stop the brake lights flash, and hazard warning lights are activated. The car even warns you if a tyre loses pressure. And if all that fails to keep you out of trouble, there are seven airbags (including a driver’s knee airbag).

Available in three trim levels, Classic and Elegance trim get the three-pointed bug shredder on the bonnet above the chrome-plated grille, while Avantgarde models get a more muscular overall stance the Mercedes emblem embedded in the grille.

The C-Class was nominated as Car of the Year in New Zealand, and that’s no mistake as it’s a very competent car. Like all Mercedes, the options list is large including a panoramic glass sunroof, digital music system with surround sound, bi-xenon headlamps, sports suspension and more.

As an entry-level executive cruiser Mercedes has priced it well (I would have guessed eighty grand, others in the office guessed higher, but it’s a shade under 73, so it’s a bargain). Its forte is elegant and reasonably frugal executive motoring. It’s a relaxing end to the day driving the C220 from the office. I don’t have to worry about enormous fuel bills, I’m in leather-clad comfort (man-made Artico leather), and I have the three-pointed bug shredder dealing to the mosquitoes on the way home. Bliss.

Price: from $72,990

What we like

  • It’s the consummate laid-back executive cruiser
  • Comfort
  • Price is excellent
  • Quiet at speed
  • Very easy to drive
  • Perhaps if we could build a massaging device into the driver’s seat¦

What we don’t like

  • Indicator stalk in the wrong place — it’s too low for 10-2 or 9-3 hand positions
  • Too much delay between pressing the pedal and acceleration happening (from standstill) — this can catch you out if you’re trying to pull out of a junction quickly
  • Left/right sequential shift isn’t intuitive and there’s no delineation between when you’re in sequential mode and not

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

New Zealand Standard ‘CLASSIC’ Specification (C 200K & C 220 CDI)

Paint: Metallic
Trim: ARTICO man-made leather
Equipment: 16-inch light alloy wheels (7-spoke design)
2-zone “THERMATIC” automatic climate control, separate temperature controls for driver and front passenger, dust filter and air recirculation with Instrument cluster with three displays and three analogue dials
5-speed automatic transmission with Cruise Control & Speedtronic speed limiter
ADAPTIVE BRAKE function
AGILITY CONTROL steering with safety steering column
AGILITY CONTROL suspension with selective damping system
Airbags and sidebags for driver and front passenger, windowbags for driver, front passenger and rear-seat occupants
Anti-lock braking system (ABS)
ASSYST maintenance interval indicator
Audio 20 with CD changer
Automatic-locking doors with emergency opening
Brake Assist system (BAS)
Brake pad wear indicator
Central locking with interior switch and crash sensor
Child seat recognition
Electronic immobiliser including “ELCODE” locking system with infrared/radio-frequency remote control and visible locking-verification signal
Electronic Stability Program (ESP®) with acceleration skid control (ASR)
First-aid kit
Foot-operated parking brake with hill start assist
Front seats with power height, backrest and squab angle adjustment; driver’s seat with manual lumbar support
Head restraints (5), adjustable; crash-responsive NECK-PRO front head restraints; three rear head restraints, manually height-adjustable
Headlamp Assist (automatic headlamps)
Headlamp range adjustment
Heated exterior mirrors left and right, electrically adjustable
Interior lighting switched on automatically when vehicle is unlocked
ISOFIX child seat attachment points in the rear
Leather steering wheel
Multi-function steering wheel
Multi-function steering wheel with enhanced screen
Outside temperature display
Parameter steering
Parktronic
Phone pre-installation
Piano-lacquer-effect trim parts
PRE-SAFE
Rain sensor
Rear sidebags
Seat occupancy recognition for front passenger seat
Side impact protection
Spare wheel
Stowage compartment in centre console
Sun visors with illuminated vanity mirror
Through-loading feature with load-securing facilities and 1/3:2/3 split-folding rear seat
Trip computer in multifunction display
Tyre pressure loss warning system
The table below shows figures for both manual and automatic transmission. Automatic transmission data where different is shown in brackets.
Insurance Group 14E
Arrangement / Cylinders / Valves Inline / 4 / 16
Displacement (cc) 2148
Rated Output (hp at rpm)¹ 170 / 3800
Rated Torque (Nm at rpm)¹ 400 / 2000
Compression Ratio 17.6
Acceleration from 0 to 62 mph (s) 8.5 (8.5)
Top Speed, approx. (mph) 142 (141)
Tyre Size
Front
Rear
205/55 R 16
205/55 R 16
Fuel Consumption (mpg)²
Urban
Extra-urban
Combined
35.8 (31.0)
60.1 (55.4)
47.9 (42.8)
CO2 Emissions (g/km)²
SE
Elegance
Sport
156 (173)
156 (173)
160 (177)
Tank Capacity (l) incl. reserve, approx. 66/8
Boot Capacity (l) 475
Turning Circle Diameter (m) 10.84
Kerb Weight (kg)³ 1585 (1605)
Perm. GVW (kg) 2070 (2090)

¹ Figures calculated according to Directive 80/1269/EEC, version 1999/99/EC

² Figures calculated according to Directive 80/1268/EEC, version 1999/100/EC

³ Figures calculated according to Directive 92/21/EC, version 95/48/EC, (kerb weight with fuel tank 90% full, driver, 68 kg, and luggage, 7 kg) for standard-specification vehicles. Optional extras and accessories will generally increase the kerb weight and reduce the payload capacity.