by Gunnar Heinrich ::: img Daimler AG ::: 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
STEP inside the original 190E, a compact sedan that transformed Mercedes’ 80’s lineup and brought tri-star prestige to the near-luxury masses market, and what you’ll find is a cozy German cabin that looks and feels unrelentingly cheap.
It’s as if MB boffins stuffed the Baby Benz full of the day’s most sophisticated engineering (like the multilink rear suspension) until accounting discovered that there was no money left for the rest of the car. Still, there are plenty who still love the 190E for its Teutonic charms. Will the same be said of the modern C-Class?
Them’s fightin’ words.
By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG Daimler
FOLLOWING a decade of decline in build quality and rankings in reliability surveys, Mercedes has exerted effort to link the current model lineup with the company’s golden over-engineered years, two decades ago.
The message has been simple: we get that we cut corners in the recent-past and we’re focusing on bringing our current range in-line with our vaunted vault-like past.
Today, the message was tweaked a little bit.
In a “practical implementation of theoretical discussion” aimed at teasing the old school brand faithful (yours truly), Mercedes engineers posed the question: how would the old , beloved (W201) 190D a.k.a. “Baby Benz” perform if fitted with the current C250 CDI’s 204 hp BLUE EFFICIENCY diesel unit?
Much, much better, insist Daimler’s publicity department.
So they took a 1988 190D in all its boxy, diminutive glory, removed the old 72 hp four banger and shoe-horned the modern engine in its place.
The result? Nought to 60 mph acceleration contracted from 18 seconds to 6.2 seconds, as did fuel consumption: from 7.8 liters of diesel in 100 miles of driving to 4.9 liters.
Incidentally, the C250 CDI manages 5.1 liters in 100 miles. Both mileage sets were measured using current NEDC standards.
The PR volk tut-tutted in response to the results:
“The playing field is by no means level: a Mercedes 190 D is 385 kilograms lighter than a current C 250 CDIBlueEFFICIENCY, for example. In addition to more interior space – the current C-Class model is 16 centimetres longer, and around nine centimetres wider and higher than a 190 – this is due to the high standard of comfort and safety features.”
The text that followed went on to list all the great technological nannies that the old Baby Benz didn’t have and that customers then, “enjoyed nothing like the passive and active safety features to be found in the standard in the current C250.”
So, in otherwords, you’ve really never been better off behind the wheel of a tri-star. Honest.
And the subtle put down of the old in favor of the new continued – the new C-Class offers a 6-speed auto, instead of a 4-Speed; the drag coefficient’s now 0.27 rather than 0.34; plus the new C-Class’ radiator fans run more efficiently.
In response, let’s pose a couple of questions:
In 20 years time – which car has the better chance of still being in service on the road: the tech-light 190D? Or the electronically complex C250 with in-built redundancy featured as standard equipment?
And then, finally, if we were to chart the progress in Mercedes-Benz engineering from a 1963 190D “Fintail” to the W201 190D’s 1983 debut, could we say that the engineering difference between those two eras is truly eclipsed by the progress in the last twenty years – as witnessed in the current C-Class?
Considering that the new C250 boasts a thirty percent reduction in diesel mileage from 1983 to 2009 and uses two extra gears?
C’mon. The Baby Benz wins.
According to The Motor Report, not since Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach scooted around on a tipsy trike, has Mercedes ever sold more cars – 1.185 million– than the marque did in the year 2007.
This sales victory runs in the face of the high cost of oil, stiff competition from Teutonic rivals, and a general slump in North American sales.
But the real story behind all this glory is not the 2% increase in sales over the preceding record breaking year. No, it’s the tale of hard fought battles, the insurrection of evil laxity, and all things that do not pertain to the cheap tea in China but the quality coffee in America.
HEARTS & MINDS
The new C-Class has won hearts and minds and (just important to corporate) sales by returning to the tradition of over-engineered autos.
With marketing to match Mercedes’ most exhaustive testing and design efforts, such is the excitement that never since the original Baby Benz (190E) has there been a compact sedan from Mercedes-Benz that has generated such enthusiasm by the car buying public for a compact sedan from Mercedes-Benz.
The last C-Class sedan was quite forgettable.
But so that we do not forget just how lame, lame can be, we’ll re-approach the W203 tomorrow.
— next update 09:00 EST * note * delay today due to technical setbacks now overcome. apologies.
Mercedes-Benz has never done entry level convincingly. Take the original “Baby Benz.” The 190E is now looked upon as a representative of the tri-star’s golden era of over-engineered excellence (1980s to mid 1990s).
Mercedes has even gone to some pains to link the current C-Class to the original with the hope that some of that old school cache rubs off on the new version and spur sales.
Except we must remember that the original 190E was pure crap.
Harsh? Well, aside from looks which were classic stolid Benz – no qualm from me – the diminutive car looked and felt really cheap.
Close the door and the sound issued from the pressed steel made some of us wonder if the door was made out of a composite of recycled Coke cans.
Add some insult to probable injury: there was just no room inside the cabin. The owner/driver had to be a contortionist to get in and out. And the li’l Benz might as well have been a two-door hatchback for all the good the rear seat did those poor souls unfortunate enough to have to ride back there.
For Baby Benz buyers, the car’s low price meant they had to settle for a high compromise. In the U.S., the little sedan served as a poseur vehicle – made expressly for those with champagne wishes and caviar dreams.
That having been said, Mercedes’ Teutonic rival BMW continues to do entry-level very, very well.
No one of sound mind can accuse the 3-Series of being merely a cheap variant of a 5 or 7-Series. The beauty of the small Bimmers is that a 335i seems to be assembled with as much care and high craftsmanship as is found in a 760Li. What’s more, there’s nothing about a 3-Series that smacks “social climber” so much as does a Mercedes C-Class.
Why is that? Simple. The 3-Series line has been BMW in its purest form; a straightforward performance sedan for the motoring enthusiast.
Now, with the onset of more luxurious packages and the overarching popularity of the 3s with badge conscious co-eds at campuses across America, that image has changed a bit. But the line’s freedom from patronizing scorn remains.
And here comes the 1-Series and with it rises the desires of performance enthusiasts and Teuton-philes everywhere. Hailed as the no-nonsense performance BMW that will stand as the spiritual successor of the 2002, the 1-Series will also manage to avoid being chastised as a poor-man’s Bimmer.
There’s every reason to believe (from media hype anyway) that any die-hard fan of the marque will want one – let alone those college folk who will just drive it for the name.
So, while we can see small and cheap can work for performance, there’s nothing directly luxurious or prestigious about a small entry-level sedan. That’s where the C-Class fails the American image for Mercedes-Benz.
Which brings us to another point. There’s nothing inherently marketable about an A-Class or B-Class hatchbacks that will appeal to the American buyer. Benz is known for opulence Stateside, which means that the Tri-Star will have great difficulty implementing a strategy to rival the 1-Series sedan, coupe, and convertible.
But you know they’ll try. They just won’t have an icon from the past to inspire would-be buyers today. The Baby Benz’s role is already assigned.
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