8 October 2004

Mercedes-Benz has been overtaken in the sales chart by its greatest rival BMW for the first time in almost a decade. But the battle of the German giants should swing back in Stuttgart’s favour in 2005 with a host of new products to boost the brand’s popularity, take the company into new segments and give Munich a bloody nose.

Heading the new-model blitz is the second-generation M-class, shown here in our artist’s impression (above). Due to make its debut at the Detroit Motor Show in January, the new off-roader has been redesigned from the ground up to more closely challenge the likes of the BMW X5, Land Rover Discovery and Volkswagen Touareg when UK sales get underway next summer. Out goes the old ladder-frame construction, replaced by a more contemporary unitary structure aimed at significantly boosting refinement, comfort and safety.

The new car’s dimensions remain close to the outgoing model’s with a length around 4700mm. Its wheelbase is stretched slightly to increase accommodation and the exterior styling adheres closely to the first-generation model introduced in 1997. But it’s a vastly different story inside, where there’s been a revolution in terms of design, quality and versatility.

‘We’ve learnt from the mistakes of the first M-class,’ said a Mercedes official. ‘The new one will be a vastly more attractive product.’

Engines will include both V6 and V8 petrol and diesel units and a powerful naturally aspirated 6.3-litre V8 in a range-topping M63 AMG model. All but the base engines will be offered in combination with Mercedes’ new 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic gearbox and Airmatic DC air suspension.

The new 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine, revealed at the Paris Motor Show in the Vision R concept car will arrive before the next M-class reaches the UK. The first model to benefit from the new oil-burner will be the C-class. Two versions of the engine will be offered: one with 190bhp in the C280 CDi and another producing 228bhp in the C300 CDi.

Heading for Mercedes’ burgeoning line-up next April is another new niche product in the form of the front-wheel-drive B-class, unveiled at the Paris show as the Vision B.Priced from around £18,000 in the UK, the new five-seater is based around the same mechanical package and uses the same interior fittings as the new A-class. However, unique exterior styling and bigger dimensions help provide the B-class with its own distinctive visual character. At 4270mm in length, Stuttgart’s new mid-sized MPV is just 100mm longer than the Renault Scénic, but a good 432mm longer than the A-class, improving rear-seat legroom and luggage capacity.

Engines will range from a base 82bhp 1.7-litre four-cylinder petrol to a 190bhp turbo 2.0-litre powerplant. Alongside a standard six-speed manual will be Mercs’ new Autotronic CVT (continuously variable transmission).

Mercedes will also unveil a facelifted version of the CLK next spring. Along with new V6 petrol and diesel engines, the coupé gets a series of styling tweaks and new features.The undoubted highlight of 2005 for Mercedes, however, will be the appearance of the new S-class at September’s Frankfurt Motor Show.

The luxury saloon, due on sale in the UK late next year, has been completely re-engineered with a new platform, aluminium-intensive chassis, efficient new engines – including a planned petrol/electric hybrid – and a host of advanced electronic and safety features.

Clothing Mercedes’ future flagship model is a new aluminium-and-steel bodyshell that takes many of its cues from the German car maker’s Maybach luxury limousine, not least at the rear where it adopts a so-called separate-fender arrangement and free-standing boot lid.

The changes are even more dramatic on the inside, where the designers have created a bold new look for the dashboard and instigated a number of radical changes, including a rotary controller similar to the MMI (multi media interface) system used by Audi, and the repositioning of the auto’s gearlever to the steering column.

Insiders promise big improvements in quality over the existing S-class and, despite similar external dimensions to today’s car, improvements in luggage space and accommodation.

The introduction of the new S-class will be followed closely by the arrival of Mercedes’ four-wheel-drive R-class. The new US-built six-seater is planned to be sold in both short- and long-wheelbase guises and sees Mercedes create another new niche – the MPV-cum-SUV crossover.

It uses the M-class as a base and will share its engines, but the lower ride height means none of the jacked-up 4x4 handling compromise.

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