Sunday 21 January 2018

slim, sleek and 'shaven'

T his car sets out to do something akin to an Olympic swimmer shaving his or her eyebrows, eyelashes and the hair follicles in their nostrils to gain a zillionth of a second.

In effect, Mercedes have targeted ways to reduce weight, wind resistance and anything else that will sip the fuel equivalent of a butterfly on a dewy flower in mid-summer.

In fairness, it all adds up. Shaving micrograms or millilitres in enough places can have a serious impact -- as this car proves.

It is all in the interest of -- depending on who you listen to -- the environment, the consumer, the carmaker, or all three. Ultimately it comes down to hard-headed people somewhere in the bowels of Emissiondom who have decreed that the amount of pollution a car spits out its tailpipe has to be reduced or the carmaker will have to share some of its wealth with the great European state. Carmakers don't like doing that.

Hence the extent to which they are prepared to go to lighten the load on prestige motors that for years have been the symbols of weighty affluence.

The Mercedes C-Class has always been a serious rung on the ladder to executive summitry. It still is, but now you can climb without stepping too heavily on the fingers of the environment.

Which is why you can buy a car called the Mercedes 200CDI BlueEFFICIENCY.

Here's just a few of the 'specific measures' they have undertaken to lighten its load, and the price, and the road tax.

They omitted the spare-wheel well panelling and they reduced the size of the washer fluid reservoir to 3.5 litres.

They also reduced the thickness of the windscreen -- now that is the motoring equivalent of shaving the old eyebrows.

They've also given it the eyelash treatment by making some areas more aerodynamic. These include the seal around the headlamps and different, more aerodynamic exterior mirrors. They also changed the ratio of the rear axle, tweaked the engine and chose tyres with lower rolling resistance that are easier to get, and keep, moving.

Put in that 'optimised' 2,143cc common rail diesel engine whose DNA predisposes it to frugality, mix in a virulent infusion of marketplace competition, and you get a trim but fully clad Merc for €35,000 or so.

In my test-car case, however, they slung in an automatic transmission and insisted on spoiling me with avant-garde equipment that banished any thought of privation.

But a Merc is a Merc and one does, no matter how hardened in the ways of the motoring world, always derive a sense of 'importance' from driving one.

Yet I wasn't that madly impressed initially. I just got out of the Subaru Legacy diesel (yes, I rate it highly) and it took a while to get to the pitch of the Merc. For a start, it held on to lower gears for what I considered to be too long in urban traffic. This is where you want to get up the gears and down the revs as quickly as you can.

Additionally, I'm not sure I'm as fond of its looks as I was. Is this starting to date already? God forbid. And you know it is not a 'big' car in the strict sense of the word. These compact executives are exactly that: compact cars for executives.

And yet, when we got acquainted and set out on highways to the midlands and the west in all sorts of weather and road conditions, the great Teutonic attribute of a car for the long haul eased seamlessly to the fast lane, like a swimmer turning and surfacing after completing a length of the pool.

And that, I think, is where there is a looming contradiction, if not conflict, between luxury cars and lower emissions. You can go so far -- call it the eyebrow limit -- but after that you risk undermining what your product is about in the first place. It could get to the point where they would cut off the nose to spite the face.

Thankfully, the C-Class BlueEFFICIENCY has managed to steer clear of such pitfalls.

The manual version of this costs from €36,350 and emissions range from 130g/km to 148g/km (16pc-20pc VRT, €156-€302 road tax).

But the automatic model I had starts at 144g/km and ranges to 164g/km (20pc-24pc VRT, €302-€447 road tax) and it costs €44,000. That is the sort of gap that gets people's attention.

Conversely, if they hadn't done the Olympic swimmer job on it there is no doubt both manual and automatic would be markedly less green and more expensive.

It was strange, in a nice sort of way, to drive a car like this and not really notice anything different, yet feel that this has had flab cut and muscle toned like never before. By all accounts, they have only started.

No doubt the pen pushers from Emissiondom are greatly encouraged.

I hope they don't lose the run of themselves. That can happen when excess is encouraged by success. And, my goodness, this Mercedes will encourage them. Imagine some bright spark coming up with the idea that drivers and occupants have be under a certain weight to avoid pushing the car into a higher VRT and road tax bracket.

The way things are going, you won't be able to eat for 12 hours before driving a car, like the old Catholic Church days when you had to fast for so long before receiving Holy Communion.

I'm off to check the weighing scales.

Irish Independent

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