5 April 2004

Mercedes-Benz is preparing for an unprecedented flood of new and improved models over the next three years as it seeks to extend annual sales from today’s 1.2 million to a once-unimaginable 1.8 million by 2007.

To achieve this goal, the German car maker will mix up its traditional model lines with a series of radical new offerings, each carefully conceived to meet the growing expectations of today’s car buyers. In this special report, Autocar reveals the surprises Mercedes has in store – from this summer’s all-new A-class right down to the secret new X-class.

A-class

The covers are – literally – off the second-generation A-class. Caught during an advertising shoot on the Spanish island of Majorca late last week, Stuttgart’s new entry model will first be shown at the Paris Motor Show in September.

British sales kick off in December with prices held close to the current car’s £13,580 to £18,040, despite the offer of stronger performance, greater versatility and more equipment.

The three-door, scooped here undisguised for the first time, will be pitched as a coupé, in much the same way it markets the C-class Sports Coupé. The more practical five-door model will offer much the same recipe as today, but will be joined by an open-top version.

In size, Merc’s new baby is close to today’s long-wheelbase A, with an overall length of nearly 3800mm. Only one wheelbase is offered this time.

Merc has developed seven new four-cylinder engines for the cars, all meeting Euro4 emissions standards. Petrols include a 90bhp 1.5, 110bhp 1.7, 130bhp 2.0 and 170bhp 2.0-litre turbo – the latter offering Mini Cooper S-challenging grunt. Diesels consist of three turbo 2.0-litre units, with 82bhp, 110bhp and 130bhp. Each benefits from Bosch’s latest common-rail tech and the most frugal averages 58mpg.

All new A-class models have a six-speed manual; a five-speed torque-converter auto and new continuously variable transmission will be optional. Warding off a repeat of the original A-class’s handling crisis, Merc has kept MacPherson struts up front, but replaced the torsion beam rear axle with a new multi-link arrangement, known internally as Omega. Wider tracks and standard 16-inch wheels and tyres will improve high-speed stability.

B-class The new A-class will splinter into more niches, offering a new B-class midi-MPV from the end of next year to challenge the Renault Scénic, Vauxhall Zafira and VW Touran. The B will come as a five-seater, but seven seats are optional. Prices will start under £20,000.

A lightly veiled concept B-class will be revealed at the Paris show under its internal working title of Compact Sports Tourer (CST). Although based on the A-class, the new five-door receives unique styling like a shrunken R-class and rides on a wheelbase that’s almost 200mm longer for interior space claimed to match that of today’s M-class.

Although front-wheel drive at launch, rumours abound that Merc will eventually provide the B-class with four-wheel drive. Engines are as for the A.

C-class

After a recent facelift to freshen its appeal, the C-class will continue unchanged until early next year when it will receive Mercedes’ new four-valve-per-cylinder V6 petrol and diesel engines and optional 7G-Tronic seven-speed auto. Under discussion for the UK is a four-wheel drive C350 4matic model.

Early development work on the third-generation C-class has started but don’t expect anything before 2007.

C-Class Sports Coupé Having just received a subtle mid-life facelift and reworked four-cylinder engines, the C-class Sports Coupé won’t see much change until early 2005 when it, too, adopts the new four-valve 3.5-litre V6. A second-generation model is due in 2007 and will be based on the same rear-drive underpinnings as the new SLK; expect a separate coupé and soft-top.

CLK-class The CLK, too, switches to the 3.5-litre V6, but little else changes before a minor facelift next year.

A new CLK, due in 2008, could adopt the four-door layout of the forthcoming CLS. ‘The four-door approach has its supporters and we are considering it for other future models,’ said an insider. CLS-class Saloon or coupé? Both, says Mercedes of its new CLS (pictured). Based on the rear-drive E-class platform, the CLS goes on UK sale in early 2005 and is barely removed from the sleek Vision CLS concept.

At 4110mm in length, 1851mm in width and 1391mm in height, Stuttgart’s new ‘coupoon’ is longer, wider and lower than the E-class. The B-pillars are cleverly masked by dark paneling and frameless side windows.

Rear-seat passengers benefit from the sort of space usually found in luxury saloons – rear knee, head and shoulder room is only fractionally smaller than in the E. Luggage capacity is 505 litres, some 55 litres more than the larger CL.

Powering the CLS are the 272bhp 3.5-litre V6 and 306bhp 5.0-litre V8, offering 0-62mph in 7.0 or 6.1sec. Eighteen months after launch, two new four-valve-per-cylinder V8 engines will arrive: a 4.6 with around 360bhp and a 5.5 with 410bhp.

Topping the CLS family is a rapid CLS55 AMG model. Due at Paris in September, it uses the supercharged 5.4-litre V8 engine already seen in a variety of AMG-fettled offerings. E-class With sales of the E-class running well up to expectations, Mercedes will wait until early 2005 before making any changes to its traditional mid-ranger. Along with the rest of the range, new V6 petrol and diesel engines will be added. G-class The first all-new G-class in over 25 years lands in 2006. Merc hopes to raise the profile of its military-inspired off-roader, by setting the seven-seater against the Range Rover.

Throwing off the boxy outline of today’s model, the new G-class flaunts more contemporary styling without losing its macho appeal. It will be built in the US factory at Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and shares hardware with the long-wheelbase R-class.

For serious mud-plugging, the G will feature a transfer case offering low and high range gears, stabilisers that can be hydraulically de-coupled for extra ground clearance, electronic diffs with 100 per cent lock-up and air suspension.

Power comes from four-valve-per-cylinder V6 and V8 engines, while the gear ratios of the 7G-Tronic seven-speed auto will be altered for its off-road focus.

M-class The new M-class will be shown at January’s Detroit show before reaching the UK in the middle of next year. This time, it’s engineered to a tougher standard, ditching the ladder-frame chassis in preference to the unitary body construction used by the X5/Touareg/Cayenne.

New engines include four-valve-per-cylinder V6 and V8 engines, ranging from a 245bhp 3.5 petrol all the way up to a 300bhp 4.4-litre diesel with a gut-wrenching 516lb ft of torque. An AMG version will run a new 500bhp naturally aspirated 6.3-litre V8.

The M will use a single short-wheelbase four-wheel-drive platform, shared with the Euro R-class. Expect prices from £35,000 to £60,000.

R-class Like the M, the R-class also appears at Detroit and then a showroom near you in summer 2005. Previewed in the GST concept, the R-class is a crossover like no other: it’s a big MPV, off-roader and posh saloon all rolled into one, slotting between the E- and S-class.

Starting price should be around £45,000. The R-class will be built in two wheelbases offering five or seven seats, although the UK is likely to receive the shorter version only. S-class/CL-class On sale since 1998, today’s strong-selling S-class will be replaced by an all-new model late next year – but not before one final flourish later in ’04 when it receives a new base engine, the widespread 3.5 V6.

Stuttgart’s new range-topper will offer rear- and optional four-wheel drive, and is being positioned as a slightly sportier drive this time round. Buyers choose between a comfort-oriented air-sprung Airmatic suspension and a steel-sprung option touting Merc’s active body control.

Along with the new base petrol engine, the new S-class will receive a 227bhp 3.0-litre V6 common-rail turbodiesel, 360bhp 4.6-litre and 410bhp 5.5-litre V8s, and 500bhp 5.5-litre V12 petrol engines. Also planned in early 2006 is an S63 model to replace the S55. It will run a new naturally aspirated 6.3-litre V8.

The S-class’s coupé spin-off, the CL, has little more than two years left to run. In early 2006, a replacement arrives based around S-class rear-wheel-drive mechanicals. Svelte new styling will be complemented by a host of new technologies and powerful V8 and V12 engines.

SL-class The SL might be selling like hot cakes, but Merc is busy readying an F1-alike nose as on the SLK/SLR for late next year. At the same time, the big roadster will also get Mercedes’ new 410bhp 5.5-litre V8 engine.

But the craziest SL is a new SL65 AMG model. Sharing the same 612bhp twin-turbo 5.5-litre V12 engine launched last year in the S65 and CL65, it promises to dish up SLR-like performance at half the price.

No official acceleration claims exist, but with 112bhp more than the SL55, the new SL65 should be good for 0-60mph in 4.2sec and a theoretical top speed way beyond the 186mph (300km/h) ceiling imposed by most tyre makers.

X-class The final entrant in Mercedes’ off-roader offensive is a new X3-rivalling mudslinger based on modified underpinnings from the C-class 4matic. It is due here in 2007.

Its clear emphasis is on-road dynamics and what insiders describe as ‘modest off-road ability’. Details remain sketchy, but it’s rumoured the X-class will be assembled at Mercedes’ Juiz de Fora factory in Brazil alongside the mechanically similar but stylistically differentiated Smart ForMore.

The X-class will likely be sold with V6 petrol and diesel engines exclusively, so as not to encroach too much on the M-class.

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