The Mercedes-Benz press conference at the Frankfurt motor show wasn’t one to miss. Never is. Germany’s blue-chip car-maker has the venue’s ‘Festhalle’ all to itself – a multi-storey space right at the heart of the Messe – and within it must have been crammed at least a quarter of all the 10,000 registered media that are here.
The floor show was absolutely first rate: so good you wondered if you were watching a car unveiling or a variety performance. Dancers, singers and trapeze artists followed a live band, and there was just enough time in between the cabaret acts for Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche to unveil the new GLA compact crossover, and three additions to the S-class range: the 94mpg S500 Plug-in Hybrid, the 577bhp S63 AMG and the S500 Intelligent Drive. The latter’s the modified S-class that, using mostly series-production technology, demonstrates Mercedes’ intent to put a self-driving car into the showroom before the end of the decade.
Zetsche paused to confirm a few interesting titbits about the GLA. The new A-, B- and CLA- classes are already delivering sales gains for Mercedes, giving the firm a 60 per cent year-on-year gain at the compact end of the European market – and that’s before the GLA hits one of the fastest growing segments there is at the moment. ‘Doctor Zee’ hinted that there will indeed be a GLA45 AMG model - an interesting prospect.
He also suggested that there’s still one more model to come from the ‘MFA’ platform, but stopped short of confirming whether that would be a convertible, a coupe or anything else.
But headline billing went to the S-class Coupe concept: an elegant, elongated two-door done as only Mercedes knows how, which Zetsche said would go on sale largely unchanged for the 2014 model year. It's a lovely piece of kit; lovely enough that nobody on the stand’s got eyes for the brand new GLA parked three feet away.
What’s more, it’s only the second of several S-class derivatives we’ll see over the next couple of years, among them a four-seater convertible and an added-luxury Pullman limousine intended to plug the gap left by the demise of the Maybach brand.
From where I’m sitting, finally making the most of the S-class brand looks like a smart decision by Daimler; a bit like the Range Rover brand, it’s been somewhat under-exploited to date. The S-class transcends the normal bounds of the niche it’s in; people who don’t know cars know it, and more importantly, instantly associate it with a luxurious lifestyle. And at the end of the day, what would you rather sink your retirement nest-egg into: a Mercedes CL, or an S-class Coupe?