Mercedes-Benz. Effectively the inventors of motoring and emotionless purveyors of conveyances that exude the subtle whiff of wealth and possible control over a standing army, this Teutonic outfit has been big on my radar over the past few days. This is how they did it:
Day: Thursday October 20, 2016
Event: Anniversary TT
Venue: TGRV Circuit, Mai Mahiu
What would you do if you had to drive a Mercedes-Benz on a go-kart track? Would you:
- a) take the U boat that is the E Class saloon, or
- b) unwind the slightly unhinged crossover that is the GLA45 AMG with a 380hp grenade under the bonnet?
At Mai Mahiu, we had a chance to see both. The black E Class was a registered racer and it was with some amusement that we watched the driver wrestle his Panzer tank into submission through the inconvenient chicane I had intentionally included as track master.
The car handled surprisingly well, given the tightness of the track, its weight and its Cold War-era dimensions. However, if that driver intends to get anywhere close to the podium, there is another Benz that he should take into consideration.
That Benz is the GLA45 AMG. The base GLA is essentially a lifted hatchback (CLA) with 4WD to help achieve its crossover pretensions. It still looks like a hatchback anyway. Now, to get the AMG version, the engine builders took a 2.0 litre engine and turbocharged it halfway to the moon. The result is you need that 4WD, not to go driving over rocks in, but to help channel the resultant rocket power onto the ground; 360-odd horsepowers are what you are blessed with, and it helps if you know how to corral them.
The little AMG made short work of the racetrack without even trying, and with the added handicap of having ballast in the form of passengers. The car itself was making an unplanned cameo appearance, given that the driver was a guest, not a racer. He showed us that even guests can mix it up with the dedicated, single-minded, glory-seeking pack that is the starting line-up, and come out looking shiny. Well in, sir.
Date: Saturday October 22, 2016
Event: Maximum Attack Drags & Gymkhana
Venue: Nyaribo Airstrip on the outskirts of Nyeri Town
There is something graceful about a Mercedes-Benz, even if it is a dark green 2.0 litre W124 E Class spiralling out of control on a cordoned-off airstrip somewhere in Central Kenya. The huge saloon majestically unstuck its driven axle off the loose chippings, coating the grossly underused tarmac (or parody thereof) and went sideways in what looked like slow motion – but was actually just the slow, ponderous motion that has lately been associated with these vehicles as far as Kenyan time trial motorsport is concerned – before coming to a regal rest, followed by its driver calmly resuming his stately progress towards the finish line. You cannot find style and composure like this anywhere else. You really can’t.
When American cars (which we see on TV) lose it, it’s like a hurricane passing through. Death and destruction are part of the package. When Japanese cars wipe out, it looks both frantic and frenetic, and their inherent flimsiness and delicacy is almost always brought to the fore with observations about their lightness and the thinness of their skins. That’s why they used to make such good base cars for rally attempts.
When a Mercedes-Benz has an accident, it looks scripted. First, it has to appear classy doing it. It won’t cartwheel or spin wildly about its own axis or perform any hectic, high-strung cartoon-like histrionics. It is like an orchestra – carefully arranged to reach a finale that will please anybody listening (or watching), but not as much as the person sitting inside it who realises that he is not going to die after all. Stand up and claim your “Most Composed Time Trialler”, oh calm-and-composed driver of Car No. 05. You did well.
Day: Tuesday October 25, 2016
Event: Mercedes-Benz X Class Concept Reveal
Venue: Stockholm, Sweden
The mass of the three-pointed star gets tossed grille-first into the increasingly heated war theatre that defines the world of double-cab pickups. Undenied rumours have it that this car can also be described as a Nissan Navara wearing a German mask. Don’t toss the papers aside yet; I know the allegation sounds preposterous but hear me out.
Sure, the current Navara might not be the last word in the rock-solid granite groundedness that has been a defining characteristic of the Mercedes-Benz marque, but anybody who has driven or ridden in one will admit that it is the most comfortable pickup within three galaxies. It also drives and handles like a dream (for what it is), and surely those two qualities have to count for something.
Now, a new one is coming out which I hope to try in a few days’ time, and it is this new car that the Mercedes utility is based on – or basically is. This is a strange conclusion because word on the street is, Daimler spent the astronomically imposing figure of $1 billion (Sh101 billion) developing this vehicle, which Nissan will apparently build for them. That must be one very expensive sheet of paper they signed that agreement on.
DIFFERENCES CENTRED ON ENGINE AND DRIVETRAIN
There will be differences and there will be distinctions between the two, though. The differences are centred mostly on the engine and drivetrain. Mercedes-Benz has a thing for torque and is, therefore, likely to sling its own powerplants — presumably V6 engines with turbos — under the bonnet to ensure this vehicle can maybe tow a freight train and is not easily overtaken by the competition, while given the overall structural limitations of a pickup as far as weight distribution are concerned, we should also expect a raft of electronic driver aids such as electronic brake force distribution, traction control and stability management programmes. Sure, the Navara might have these too, but Mercedes will more likely than not develop their own bespoke (and ruthlessly effective) systems.
Distinctions come with the nose and tail treatments, as well as the interior. These have to be undeniably Mercedes, and if the press photos are anything to go by, the nose and the interior sure are. The nose looks like a graft from the AMG GT sports car with extra chin while the interior looks futuristic. The tail is unlike anything I have seen before, which, on the positive, will assist in uniqueness but on the negative, looks a little strange, particularly with the off-road biased Powerful Explorer Pack.
Yes, the car was shown in two trims. First up is the “Powerful Explorer”, sporting chunky tyres and a gnarly mesh tailgate that will give nightmares to anyone trailing you off the beaten path where this vehicle is intended to be driven. The other trim package is the “Stylish Adventurer”, the “stylish” aspect being 22-inch, 12-spoke rims and the absence of a winch. This pickup will look good dropping off the over-privileged progeny of the fabulously wealthy at their private schools where they will be taught the tricks of how to mint enough money to buy X Class trucks of their own before they hit 25. The world is a funny place, I know.
Global press reports call it the first “premium” pickup, conveniently overlooking the ridiculously over-the-top Yank Tank offerings such as the Cadillac Escalade EXT, Ford F150 and the Lincoln Blackwood. The prices of, and accoutrements in, these giant pickups scream nothing but “premium”, and with prices well within range of Landcruiser money, they certainly do qualify. There is also the fact that, not too long ago, the self-same Mercedes-Benz intimidated all of us with the G Class 6X6 AMG, which is also a double-cab pickup, but not as you know it…
Expect the X Class here sometime next year. Price ranges are still as nebulous as my hopes of owning one, but one thing I can bet is they will be much higher than those of the Navara, with which this vehicle shares more than just a platform.
Day: Thursday October 27, 2016
Event: Mercedes-Benz E Klasse Launch
Location: Nairobi Arboretum
So now we come back to the city, where DT Dobie was so kind as to lower my self-esteem by introducing me to the rarefied atmosphere of the potential Mercedes-Benz client. They had a new car to sell and they wanted me to see it.
The Mercedes-Benz E Class W213 is the latest iteration of the Stuttgart taxi that we have come to know and shamelessly covet. Gone are the split headlamps, reverting to the single-unit look that initially went out after the W124. In comes the new bulbous, soapy appearance that has festooned both the C and the S Class ranges, and this is where I have a problem.
First accused at Audi, Mercedes-Benz has followed the trend of making its saloon cars all look the same, with only the differences in size separating one range from another. Given that the smaller C is slowly growing bigger to boost practicality while the larger E is slowly shrinking (rear legroom has been slowly vanishing since the W212 age) to make it more tractable in our increasingly packed metropolises, telling them apart is a lot more difficult. Distinctiveness is going out the door, and if there ever was a quality sought by Mercedes clientèle, it is distinctiveness. The whole effect was underlined by the puny rims and chunky rubber that the launch E200 car was shod with. Coloured brown, it did not look as special as I had hoped it would.
All these criticisms and feelings of disappointment are flushed down the toilet once you step inside. Who cares if your E looks like a C when you have an interior like this? What you are looking at, touching and feeling is excellence personified. There is a reason German cars have always been respected, and it is this. What you are looking at is engineering like you cannot imagine. What you are looking at is the future.
NO MORE ANALOGUE DIALS
I will not go into details about the interior — that will come in the review after a test drive — but I have to mention that dashboard. Gone is the traditional cluster of analogue dials, centre console and separate screen. What you have instead is, for all intents and purposes, a stretched iPad. All those fiddly things that require several hundred buttons to control in a Lexus have been embedded into that giant wall of glass that stretches across slightly more than half of the dashboard to create less a “driver area” and more the control room of a digitally advanced surveillance facility. The displays are infinitely customizable, with the party piece being the real-time satellite navigation (available with a zoom capability) that in true Mercedes fashion, singles out places of interest to the default Mercedes driver. And yes, some of these places of interest are petrol stations. Suddenly, the E Class not so much impresses as further awes my already fascinated eye. This is amazing.
The car can park itself. The interior lighting is available in 64 selectable colours, all in the same car. My eyes can’t detect 64 colours. The leather looks and feels expensive. The voice command system is bang on. Despite the presence of that oversized tablet in front of my face, there are still a few hundred buttons scattered all around the front part of the passenger cell, most of which I’m tempted to prod curiously but I dare not lest I inadvertently activate an ejector seat or send a distress signal to the Mercedes headquarters in Germany. I cannot wait to make this car park itself while talking to it and select 33 of the 64 mood lighting hues all at the same time during the upcoming test drive. I might even ask it to brew me a cup of tea.
For now DT Dobie will sell you the entry level E200, though given how well kitted it is, if that is entry level, then a fully-specced range topper probably comes with its own helicopter perched on the roof as standard.
Later on, there will be an E250 followed by an E300 but get this: for the first time there will also be an AMG version available – the E43. It might not be the harbinger of the Armageddon, that the hairy-chested E63 is, but it should be enough to get you from A to B faster than 99 per cent of everything else on the road.
You want one? For the E200 you’d better have €90,000 (Sh9.9 million) or thereabouts.