Mercedes-Benz ConceptFASCINATION reinterprets shooting-brake

September 12th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Mercedes-Benz ConceptFASCINATION fq

Mercedes-Benz has released pictures and details of its ConceptFASCINATION design study. With unconventional proportions it manages to pull off sporty, elegant and practical at the same time. It features wood, aluminium and smoked glass in the luggage compartment, which incorporates a refrigerated compartment and a humidor as well as offering a large load space.

Mercedes’ two objectives of ConceptFASCINATION were to provide a high level of practical usability and to create a coupe which appeals to the heart with fast, thrilling lines. In developing this design study, Mercedes-Benz has given fresh impetus to the long-established (although now rarely seen) “shooting brake”, a vehicle category with its own distinctive charisma.

The design study’s elongated body is dominated by the dynamic front-to-rear sweep of its lines which gives it a dynamically charged look, evoking movement even when the vehicle is stationary. This impression is emphasised by the long, frameless, side-window line which creates a continuous arc from front to rear, uninterrupted by a B-pillar.

Rhomboid headlamps which are set against a grey background reveal technical details of the light units which feature the latest LED technology as well as C-shaped fibre-optic inserts which serve as discreet running lights.

The bonnet of the design study has pronounced contours with a central ridge which picks up the V-shape of the front end and continues it along the vehicle body. A single-louvre radiator grille with the central Mercedes star makes a very dominant brand statement.

To give more light and a feeling of space, there’s a large panoramic glass roof.

The interior is inspired by the world of equestrianism. Recalling the look and feel of a saddle, thick, dark leather covers the aluminium centre console which, like a bridge extending from the front to the rear, spans the space between the four individual seats and translates the taut lines of the exterior to the interior of the vehicle with minimalist elements. This leather also covers the upper section of the dashboard while its supple, flowing character means that it also lends itself to enhancing the look and feel of the door armrests.

Contrast is provided by light, fine nubuck leather which is used for the other surfaces and the four individual seats as well as by the deep-pile carpet with heavy fibres. The seat centre panels are covered in strong, high-quality fabric. Trim strips in American walnut with a fine chrome surround complete the portfolio of materials.

It is powered by the new four-cylinder diesel engine which features BlueTEC and AdBlue technology and develops 204 hp from a displacement of 2.2 litres.

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG 2008 Review

August 5th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

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As a child I was fascinated by dinosaurs. I had plastic models and lots of books. It’s amazing that after 25 years I can still vividly remember specific pictures — the Allosaurus standing over a half-eaten sauropod carcass, and the Ankylosaurus defending itself against a marauding pack of theropods.

What reminded me of this was the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG’s muscular and predatory stance. The bonnet’s two power bulges are like ossicones on the skull of a prehistoric carnivore. It’s a refined, intelligent and lithe meat-eater that will make short work of the lumbering herbivores that cake our roads. In fact, this Merc is so rapid that you could drive through a whole geological era in about 25 minutes.

The pumped-up bodywork differentiates the C63 AMG from lesser models. Starting at the rear, it’s not the prettiest, but it does have quad AMG sports exhausts that sit astride a three-finned diffuser-style rear apron. Move a little around to the side and you begin to get a peek at the flared front wheel arches that terminate the bold, forward-sloping waistline crease. These wheel arches form a neat circumference for the 18-inch AMG wheels, low profile tyres and gigantic 360x36mm cross-drilled brake discs at the front (rears are 330x26mm). Six pistons grip the discs at the front, and four at the rear.

There may be a smattering of 6.3 badges around the car (the front fenders, boot lid, and on the rev counter), but this car’s heart is a 6.2-litre AMG-built 336kW powerhouse featuring a build plate by the engineer that assembled it, and a staggering 600Nm of torque — enough to strap the continents together and reform Pangaea.

As you would expect on a car of this calibre, everything is adjustable electronically, including the steering wheel’s position both telescopically, and up and down. The seats have at least several hundred thousand ways of adjusting them, including two lumbar supports and adjustable lateral support. And you can have the C63 AMG remember up to three seating positions. These AMG buckets held my latissimus dorsii firmly, making me feel more involved and integrated.

Time to press the big silver start button and see what apocalyptic fury erupts from under the power bulges. Roaring into life the AMG mill immediately reminds you why its 6.2 litres of V8 strikes fear into the crankcases of lesser engines. Select your desired gearbox mode from Comfort, Sport or Manual (whereby you’d use the paddles or gear lever to change the seven-speed gearbox), and give chase.

It’s like being hit from behind by a charging Stegosaur, the roar builds until the gearbox almost seamlessly changes up. You’re at the legal speed limit in 4.5 seconds, but you just want to carry on going and test how far around the 320kph speedometer that needle will go.

Brake heavily and the C63 downshifts while electronically blipping the throttle to match the revs — it sounds great, and it works. Turn into the corner and it bites hard. The C63 changes direction like a hungry Velociraptor who has set his sights on a nimble morsel that’s hell-bent on escaping.

The steering is a bit sharper than other Mercedes’. I think it could have been even sharper, but it is a good compromise that allows relaxed cruising, or confidence when pressing-on.

If I was to build a C64 AMG, the changes would be minor. Wider wheels at the back would prevent the traction control light from blinking while you’re in third. There would be a glove box that would fit more than just a glove. And, the transmission tunnel wouldn’t get unbearably hot while you have the heater activated.

So, if I had the spare cash, I think I would seriously consider buying one. This is the Mercedes that’s aimed at the younger affluent buyer. You can see the intent in the bulging wheel arches and carefully positioned vents, and it’s all backed up by the performance; the driving feel is engaging, and the interior comfort is exceptional; and the Logic7 surround sound system will challenge the interior plastics of cars parked next to you at the lights.

Externally it’s the perfect C-segment size; internally the driving position is great, but there’s a dearth of interior storage (perhaps the wealthy don’t carry ‘stuff’ around with them).

But that’s a minor quibble. Spotting a C63 AMG will be like hunting for fossils in Utah — you know they’re out there, but it’s not like they’re everywhere, and when you do find one, you might just get that rush of adrenaline. Of course, owning one is like being the T. Rex, hunting the plains and asserting your dominance in the food chain.

Click through to the next page to view the specifications of the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG.

Price: from $154,000 (as tested with optional intelligent lights pack $154,900)

What we like

  • Everything about it reminds you of why its 6.2-litre V8 is so phenomenal  (and sounds better than the 4-litre V8 in BMW’s M3)
  • Sensible proportions
  • I would buy one
  • Comand APS sat nav/Bluetooth phone system

What we don’t like

  • Transmission tunnel gets very hot when the heater is on — you can’t rest your leg against it. Mercedes is currently investigating.
  • The wealthy obviously don’t need much interior storage
  • I know I whine on about this (C220 and C320 CDI are the same), but I don’t like the dashboard plastic

Active bi-xenon headlamps

Airbags for the driver and front passenger

Aluminium trim panels on dome, doors and centre console

Anti-theft alarm system with IR interior motion sensor

Acceleration skid control (ASR)

Armrest with roller-top compartment

Electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors

Electric tilting/sliding glass sunroof

Outside temperature display

Brake Assist

ADAPTIVE BRAKE system with hill-start assist

Through-loading facility and armrest with double cup holder, load securing and 1/3:2/3  split-fold rear seat backrest

3-stage ESP®

Intelligent Light System with Hadlamp Assist

Power windows (4)

Belt tensioners and belt force limiters for the front and outer rear seats

Air-conditioned glove compartment

Black roof liner

Steering column electronically adjustable for height and reach

Lighting package

Front fog lamps

Tyre pressure loss warning system

ELCODE locking system with infrared/radio remote control

Sidebags for driver and front passenger

Bag hooks in the boot/luggage compartment

Cruise control with SPEEDTRONIC variable speed limiter

Front seats electrically adjustable for height and backrest angle with memory function

Leather selector lever

Tinted glass

Windowbags

Central locking with crash sensor

Sidebags in rear

Harman Kardon LOGIC7® surround-sound system

THERMOTRONIC comfortable automatic climate control system with three-zone air conditioning

Bluetooth connectivity

COMAND navigation, including 6-disc DVD changer and LINGUATRONIC

PRE-SAFE

KEYLESS-GO

Engine

No. of cylinders/arrangement     V8

Valves per cylinder     4

Displacement (cc)     6208

Performance

Rated output (kW/hp at rpm)[1]     336/6800

Rated torque (Nm at rpm)[1]     600/5000

Top speed (km/h)     250[2]

Acceleration 0-100 km/h (s)     4.5

CO2/Fuel

Fuel tank capacity (l)     66

Fuel consumption (combined cycle)[3]     13.4

CO2 emissions combined (g/km)[3]     319

Dimensions & Weights

Turning circle     11.75

Kerb weight (kg)     1730

Tyre size, front     235/40 R 18

Tyre size, back     255/35 R 18

Words Darren Cottingham, photos Darren Cottingham and Jessica Mills


Revised Mercedes-Benz A-Class boasts environmental credentials

July 21st, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

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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

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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

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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

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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.