Life Motoring

Saturday 25 May 2019

An estate of mind to entice you

Mercedes-Benz has a long history of success - and big hopes for the future, writes Campbell Spray who prefers more humble offerings to behemoths

The C-Class estate, above, is probably one of the best cars in the world
The C-Class estate, above, is probably one of the best cars in the world

The Motor Distributors building on Dublin's Naas Road is a strong piece of commercial and industrial architecture. A tower stands proud over what was once an assembly plant and is topped off with a massive Mercedes-Benz logo which reflects what the German company believes is its rightful place at the very top of the automobile world. Didn't Benz himself invent the motor car and doesn't the marque still sell 2.3 million cars a year, making it the top premium brand?

So last Monday I could have been intimidated when I turned up in a very small German car, the Volkswagen Polo, to view the new Mercedes GLE - a simply massive SUV which has been beloved by the country stock for pulling their horseboxes, trailers and boats. Now it has been restyled, fitted with the €3bn E-Class engine and given extra length and another level of plushness so that it might be seen as often in Dublin 4 as in the vales of Tipperary and Kildare.

There is also the possibility of an extra row of seats, at between an additional €2.9k and €4.9k, to give the full seven-seat vehicle that everybody aspires to but is mostly vastly under-used.

All this could double sales of the GLE SUV to around 300 vehicles a year, which will be mainly using diesel until a plug-in diesel hybrid arrives at the end the year with an electric range of 100km. Sales manager Ciaran Allen is firmly convinced that together with a ''more progressive look" the car will attract an altogether wider segment of SUV owners".

It is impressive and I doubt that it will fit my half of the garage at Spray Towers - however, my colleagues all agreed that it didn't drive like the behemoth it appears to be. Mercedes also claims that it has the lowest drag coefficient of any SUV on the market. The company says there is now more than €9,000 of extra spec on the new model against its predecessor. It believes this gives the GLE a strong price advantage over main competitors, the BMW X5 and the Audi Q7, but, as I have seen with these models the entry prices, which in the GLE case are €78k for the most basic GLE model and €84,762 for the likely to be popular 300AMg version, are only the starting line.

It is relatively easy to start soaring above the €100k mark and begin hitting around double the entry prices. This is crazy stuff and I don't want to take Mercedes's and its rivals' lunch away from them but we are going back here to mad Celtic Tiger levels which ended in a bust so severe that you almost couldn't drive a big SUV in the city without being spat on. OK, use it on the farm or the stable yard but become a Ballsbridge tractor at your peril. Remember winter is coming.

The Mercedes-Benz GLE is an impressive addition to the manufacturer’s range
The Mercedes-Benz GLE is an impressive addition to the manufacturer’s range

Few have that money but enough have. It's a pity in a way, for, as the SUV begins to take over the world, the more humble and less-in-your-face estate car is being left behind even as manufacturers try and reinvent the concept with Sportbacks and the like. One of which , the Audi A7 Sportback, I was pleased to see won the Luxury Car category at last week's World Car awards at the New York International Auto Show.

But it was another Mercedes which I had recently that convinced me of the use of the traditional estate.

The C-Class is Mercedes-Benz's bread-and-butter car. Twenty per cent of the company's passenger cars are of the C-Class, and, including the 190 Series which it replaced, some 10 million of what was once the smallest Mercedes have been sold. The C-Class was launched in 1993 and quickly became an ambition of so many people who wanted to join the Mercs and perks brigade.

There was nothing overtly flashy about the C200d estate automatic I was driving recently, even though it was an AMG line. This fourth-generation model looks much like its predecessor although some 6,000 components are said to have changed. It was more solid Teutonic practicality. Which gives you many options but always presents confident, well-built family motoring without being too long or overly expensive. You could easily get away with under €50k for a very well-specced model although the test car had €10,500 worth of extras on the €45,183 more basic AMG model, which is still €8,000 above the entry version. Unfortunately, over here the push is still on diesel while I hear from my British colleagues of the petrol version which is a mild hybrid and quite brilliant.

The great thing about the C-Class is that the startling innovations we first saw on the super-premium S-Class have trickled - or rather cascaded - down. The C-Class estate is good value, especially when lots of far inferior cars have versions which quickly approach €40k, and, as the ad says, if you always wanted to buy a Mercedes this could be your time. But stay practical, and, unless you really need it, eschew the SUV monsters.

It is a busy time for Mercedes. The company is out to broaden its ownership base by both gender and age. Next up will be the new A-Class saloon and CLA. Although I am on the wrong side of their new customer wish list, I will be interested to see them.

But, for now, the C-Class is enough for me. It is probably one of the best cars in the world - tried and tested over decades - with Stuttgart-like Teutonic correctness. After a week of using it in all its guises, I really appreciated it. It was a lot more presentable and acceptable. In all, a very long way from the GLE and its ilk, and for that I was grateful.

*****

I mentioned earlier the World Car awards and the Audi A7's success but the overall winner was the all electric Jaguar I-Pace.

In fact, the car was a triple winner, taking two other categories as well as the overall 2019 World Car of the Year, The Jaguar also won the 2019 World Green Car and the 2019 World Car Design of the Year.

This is the first time in the World Car Awards' 15-year history that one car has achieved a win across three categories.

It is the second time in 15 years of the awards that one company has achieved a triple win. Mercedes-Benz previously attained this honour in 2015.

Sunday Independent

Also in Life