There are few more recognisable emblems in the world than the three-pointed star of a Mercedes-Benz. Little wonder perhaps, as one of the company’s founders was responsible for inventing the car itself in 1886. Car manufacturers may have many claims to fame, but that achievement surely trumps them all.
The Mercedes-Benz story has been nothing but interesting since that single-cylinder car completed its first mile 129 years ago. Iconic models such as the SL300 Gullwing are dotted across the company’s history, while its flagship S-Class has consistently showcased innovative technological and safety features that take years to filter down to lower echelons of cars.
The company quickly became famous for building cars of incredible quality with features that by today’s standards often appear over-engineered. As a child, my first model car was of a 1990 Mercedes-Benz 500SL, and like the real Mercedes of the era which you’ll often find covered in leaves on gravel driveways in the more affluent areas of Dublin, it has survived to this day.
This quality and engineering came at a price however, and in the late 1990s, it was decided that this was a price too high. The quality of their cars declined as Mercedes-Benz cut costs and introduced ever more sophisticated technology to the range. Perhaps too much was made of the electronic woes suffered by many Mercedes owners’ cars, but the three pointed star was nonetheless tarnished due to reliability issues well into the naughties.
A shame, as during this era, the company made some of the most beautiful cars in its history. Every model from the C-Class to the sublime and critically acclaimed SL55 AMG was a masterpiece of coherent design, flowing curves and elegant lines, and when the technology worked, boy did it work well.
Like all good companies, Mercedes was quick to react. The E-Class introduced in 2009 was perhaps the most dramatic statement of the company’s intent to return to the values of models such as the legendary W124. Gone were the curved surfaces and lines of its troublesome predecessor, replaced by an altogether sharper design with simple straight line styling that harked back to the Mercedes of old.
It was during this era however that Mercedes-Benz lost out to its arch rivals, and particularly to the exponential growth of Audi. The bland design and mediocre interiors of models such as the C-Class were no match for the hewn from granite appearance of cars like the Audi A4, while performance and handling wise, the company’s model line-up was invariably eclipsed by class leading models such as BMW’s 3-Series.
However, I am delighted to report that Mercedes-Benz has finally regained it mojo – the company’s current line-up is better than ever.
The first model to showcase the new Mercedes-Benz design language developed by Professor Gordon Wagener (Mercedes-Benz Design Chief) is the current CLS, the car that pioneered the concept of a four-door coupe in its previous generation, a bandwagon other manufacturers didn’t hesitate jumping onto!
The CLS’s taut muscular lines and in particular, its retro front grille and dramatic swooping swage line towards the front of the car’s profile soon found their way onto the other models in the range. Like arch rivals Audi and BMW, every model in the Mercedes line-up is now immediately recognisable as a Mercedes. In addition, the optional AMG styling available on each model is to Mercedes what S-Line and M-Performance are to Audi and BMW.
Perhaps the Mercedes most transformed in appearance was the humble A-Class, a car whose predecessor’s claim to fame was failing the elk test as it tumbled onto its side while performing a slalom through the traffic cone course.
Yet the current car, launched in 2012, could not be further removed from its boxy ancestor. The A-Class’ appearance was transformed from a tall MPV type body style to a sporty hot hatch in a successful bid to attract a younger clientele.
The four-door coupe version of the A-Class and essentially the CLS’ smaller sibling, the CLA, is not only one of the most handsome cars on the road, but also somewhat of a bargain with a starting price of c. €31k. The estate model again draws inspiration from its larger sibling, its sleek design bringing the CLS wagon’s ‘Shooting Brake’ styling to a smaller platform.
Yet it wasn’t just exterior styling that was required to match the onslaught of German Teutonic rivals Audi and BMW. Faced with the sophisticated and minimalistic interiors of Audis, Mercedes responded by raising the bar considerably.
While sports seats, SL-inspired turbine style air vents and an iPad style infotainment display brought a modern sporting vibe to the A-Class’ interior, at the other end of the range, the sumptuous and luxurious ambience of the S-Class’ cabin represented a further narrowing of the gap between Mercedes’ flagship model and cars such the Bentley Flying Spur. The recently launched uber-luxurious Maybach model all but closes the gap entirely.
The efficiency and performance of the current Mercedes range is also a match for its rivals while the S-Class continues to innovate and pave the way showcasing the latest technology, from small touches such as the scented air conditioning system to a concept model that can drive itself unaided into the centre of a busy city, identifying road markings and avoiding obstacles along the way.
The prowess of the AMG division has also strengthened, with models such as the critically acclaimed C63 AMG appealing to those looking for a car as characterful and entertaining to drive as a BMW M3. Even the aforementioned A-Class received the AMG treatment, its 360bhp 2.0 litre power plant being the most powerful series production four-cylinder engine in the world. For those seeking the ultimate AMG experience, the Black Series skunkworks division has delivered race-bred models such as the SLS AMG Black Series, arguably the most hard-core car produced in the company’s history.
The pinnacle of the current line-up is the car that represents the beginning of the next chapter in Mercedes’ future, the simply stunning AMG GTS. The GT3 version of this car which will be taking part in the most hotly contested customer race series in the world, signifying the intent of Mercedes-Benz to dominate both the track as well as the road.
The three-pointed star will have its work cut out though, as its key rivals are equally ambitious. One thing is for sure, it will certainly be an interesting battle!