SwipeLife was invited by the good folks at Mercedes Benz to come check out what they had in store for the Frankfurt Auto Show last week. Needless to say, the presentations of the various autos for the event was nothing short of spectacular. We were also lucky enough to come up close and personal with their show stoppers such as the BlueZero Concept, S-500 HYBRID, and the breathtaking SLS AMG. We spent quite a bit of time at Daimler AG’s “halle” during the Frankfurt Auto Show, and the meticulous planning and amount of effort put in by the company to promote their brand was overwhelming. Overall, Mercedes-Benz did more than just wow the crowd. They also were on hand to educate and inform the audience on what the future holds for the company in terms of technological advances and what it means to be a top auto manufacturer.
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The IAA really began when, with a captive audience, Dr. Dieter Zetsche drove out onto the main stage in the brand-new S500 Plug-in HYBRID. Citing Carl Benz’s century-old philosophy to offer the “best of the best,” Dr. Zetsche set what would be the tone for the rest of the day: The best of the green. With its flagship S-Class, Mercedes is very often the first to debut new technology, always focusing on the areas of safety, comfort, and performance. Often times, other manufacturers wait with baited breath to see the revolutionary and industry-leading mechanics that have long defined the heralded German company. This time around, fuel economy and sustainability were at the core of their interests, in keeping with worldwide demand for more efficient vehicles.
Benz did not disappoint; the S-500 HYBRID boasts a high-output V6, coupled with capable hybrid technology and an easily chargeable lithium-ion battery. My favorite feature? The S500’s ability to drive locally as a full-electric, resulting in an emissions-free luxo-sedan. Riding the coattails of the S400 HYBRID’s wild success, the S500 is already undergoing rigorous testing and is expected to debut with the next generation S-Class. So, for now, it is just a thought, and certainly a positive one…and for those who doubt that Mercedes will be able to get such a terrific vehicle to the marketplace, look no further than the words of the good Doctor himself: “Back then (in 2007), we heralded a ‘green product offensive.’ And, since that time, we have indeed delivered the vehicles we unveiled. That is why, today, they are no longer on the stage but beside it.”
For those of you who have been following our website, I wrote about the Mercedes BlueZero Concept in July (reference previous article here http://swipelife.com/2009/07/17/mercedes-benz-bluezero-concept/). Like most, I take concept vehicles, especially multiplatform hydrogen-and-electric luxury compact cars, with a grain of salt. After all, who wouldn’t want to own such a vehicle? Even at the time, however, I had put a lot of my faith in M-Bs ability to produce such a vehicle: “A lot of electric cars make a lot of bold claims, but this new Benz is relying on existing architecture, practical ideas, and strong support from confident clientele; we hope to see this in production soon.” Well, according to Dr. Thomas Weber, who works with the research and development department of Daimler AG, the BlueZero may be closer to being realized than we thought.
With several models on display, and with a captive audience, Weber detailed Mercedes’ plan to take the company into the future with the BlueZERO. The 5-seater promises a total range of 600 kilometers, of which, around 100 kilometers are electric only and promise to be emissions-free. By utilizing familiar sandwich floor technology, Mercedes can create three distinct vehicles that share the same goal: practical sustainability and versatility in a rapidly changing environment. Why do I think this is possible? Because Mercedes has once again taken the reigns and, a little more than a week ago, launched the “H2 Mobility” initiative, which would lead to the creation of twice the amount of available hydrogen fill stations. So, by not only creating the vehicles but the infrastructure to support them, Benz has proven themselves once again to be leaders in this segment.
As a general rule of thumb, Americans never will understand the purpose of the station wagon (see: estate). Thankfully, the European market continues to carry the segment and is always looking to improve it. Lest anyone forget, Mercedes does make some so-called normal vehicles that are neither supercar nor hydrogen-powered; the E-Class Estate fits their “normal” niche nicely, and looks great doing so. Introduced by Dr. Klaus Maier, who is responsible for Sales and Marketing at M-B, the E-Wagon has grown quite a bit and comes with a bevy of engine choices, at least for its preferred market (three diesels, and two petrol burners). Whereas most companies try to market crossovers as downsized SUVs with the heart of an offroader, Mercedes’ wagon is merely a luxury sedan with more trunk space. One great upside from the added space is that Benz has made available a third row of seating, which can also be stowed to make room for extra cases of apfelwein. Also cool? The revised suspension with auto-leveling, which makes sure that ride quality is not compromised if the boot is full or you are taking a group of friends out on the Autobahn. Early thoughts of the new W212 E-Class are very positive; it looks like Merc is one again looking to stand alone rather than fit in, if you judge it by its angular styling. The face of the car is terrific and I really like the new take on the dual-headlight look, which is a huge improvement over the outgoing generation of E-Class. The more purposeful grille and now-familiar LED lights also fit well with the angular design, and build quality throughout the vehicle has unquestionably improved. Slotted in between the BlueZero and the SLS AMG, the E-Class estate was not engineered to be the center of attention at the show, but it is a totally practical car that reinforces Mercedes’ ongoing theme at the IAA: a functional, comfortable car that is both powerful and environmentally friendly.
Mercedes then brought the room to a standstill by finally introducing the SLS AMG. Once again Dr. Dieter Zetsche emerged, this time with a gleam in his eye. As the SLS slowly emerged, then rotated, its smoke-shadowed outline immediately evoked thoughts of its spiritual predecessor, the 300SL Gullwing. The long, swooping bonnet was unmistakable, and when the lights came on it was impossible to ignore the massive three-pointed star that was must have been proportionally identical to the original. Dr. Zetsche then recalled an earlier message: “Our promise is to offer ‘the best of the best.’ And the SLS AMG keeps that promise. In 1955 Mercedes-Benz first presented a gullwing – and this car was even voted ‘Sports Car of the Century.’ Now we have a new century – and also a new contender for the title.” The SLS is indeed beautiful. While the shape of most contemporary Mercedes vehicles is angular, modern, and practical, the stylish cues given to their AMG conterparts can occasionally make them seem brutish and one-dimensional (and don’t get me wrong, I love AMG cars). Such is not the case here. By updating a classic look with distinctive design cues, Benz has made believers again out of a whole new generation of drivers and enthusiasts.
To view the supercoupe from any angle is a treat, and with the doors open, the experience is complete. Aestethics aside, the SLS boasts a bespoke AMG engine, aluminum spaceframe, and transaxle gearbox that makes it more of a true driver’s car than any of its brethren in recent memory. In fact, the SLS bested the SL65 Black Series around Sachsenring recently, despite a horsepower and torque deficiently of 98 and 259, respectively. The doctor continued on, undoubtedly making some very salient points, but the collective focus of the crowd was dead set on the Gullwing. The confidence that the Germans had exuded throughout the show was palpable, and once I saw the Gullwing I could see why. It is indeed a car for the future, and I think it will be the measuring point for many great vehicles to come.
Feature by: Gordon Welsh
Photos: Dan Ubinski
More Mercedez Benz images from the Frankfurt Auto Show: