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 Mercedes-Benz 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?