2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA: Mercedes-Benz has been in a slow launch mode for the new front wheel drive 2014 CLA sedan since the beginning of 2013. The car has just gone on sale and advertising is blanketing the airwaves. So, what’s the story?
Target – Millennials – Does it Have Enough Rear Seat Room? The CLA is Mercedes’ price leader in the USA. Mercedes proudly touts its $29,990 base price and admits its attempt to intercept drivers under 35 before they buy their first premium brand car from BMW or Audi. Most CLAs will be priced in the $35,000 range when you get the $2,300 premium package (garage door opener, premium sound w/iPod interface, heated front seats, dual zone climate control) and the $2,370 multimedia package (rear view camera and navigation system). For that mid-thirties price you get a fully featured front wheel drive 4-cylinder four door sedan and the Mercedes three-pointed star.
I have to admit that I’m rooting for Lincoln. I used to work there and the Lincolns were “my” cars – Lincoln Continental Town Car, Lincoln Continental Town Coupe (yep, there was a Town Coupe in 1981), (eh hem, the Granada/Monarch-based Lincoln Versailles dubbed the “Mini Mark”), the Fox-based Lincoln Continental, and the Lincoln Continental Mark VI Coupe and Mark VI 4-door.
Background of AutoPacific’s IVAs: AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Awards for 2o13 are given to brands and vehicles that best meet the expectations of their buyers. The person driving the truck does not want it to be bigger or more powerful or have better info/entertainment systems. Based on the results of over 52,000 respondents, the IVAs are owner-based awards that can serve to give truck buyers an idea of how well manufacturers have designed vehicles with their customers in mind.
As you read through the brief descriptions of the winners’ results you will notice some similarities where owners of most vehicles want change. Visibility Among all trucks about 22% of owners want better driver’s seat visibility. Roominess About 19% of truck owners want more passenger roominess than now. Power vs Fuel Economy Even when talking about today’s high gas prices, truck owners want good power and acceleration. About 21% want more power and acceleration and only 9% of the respondents would sacrifice power and acceleration for better fuel economy. Ingress/Egress About 19% of all truck owners want their vehicles to be easier to get in and out of. Info/Entertainment Technology Design of the info/entertainment technology is one of the most hotly contested areas of vehicle design today. Some manufacturers have a good handle on this, but 22% of truck owners want more info/entertainment technology than they have now. These folks are offset by 14% who want their info/entertainment technology to be easier to use.
With that preamble in mind, here are the Ideal Vehicle Award winners for trucks for 2013…
Background of AutoPacific’s IVAs: AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Awards for 2o13 are given to brands and vehicles that best meet the expectations of their buyers. The person driving the car does not want it to be bigger or more powerful or have better info/entertainment systems. Based on the results of over 52,000 respondents, the IVAs are owner-based awards that can serve to give car and truck buyers an idea of how well manufacturers have designed vehicles with their customers in mind.
As you read through the brief descriptions of the winners’ results you will notice some similarities where owners of most vehicles want change. Visibility Among all cars about 29% of owners want better driver’s seat visibility. Too often visibility is sacrificed for swoopy styling. Roominess About 24% of car owners want more passenger roominess than now. Of course, some people bought a vehicle that may be smaller than they like so they want something bigger, but many are also reacting because passenger roominess has been sacrificed for style. Power vs Fuel Economy Even when talking about today’s high gas prices, owners want good power and acceleration. About 26% want more power and acceleration and only 7% of the respondents would sacrifice power and acceleration for better fuel economy. Ingress/Egress Going with the basic package challenges like roof height vs styling and rear seat room vs styling there is also ease of getting in and out. About 26% of all car owners want their vehicles to be easier to get in and out of. Info/Entertainment Technology Design of the info/entertainment technology is one of the most hotly contested areas of vehicle design today. Some manufacturers have a good handle on this, but 25% of car owners want more info/entertainment technology than they have now. These folks are offset by 13% who want their info/entertainment technology to be simpler and easier to use.
With that preamble in mind, here are the Ideal Vehicle Award winners for cars for 2013…
Very Nicely Done “Front and Rear Six” The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a dramatic mid-cycle update that takes a relatively milquetoast car and gives it a striking personality make over. The major change is a much more aggressive front end appearance including all-LED headlamps with integral running lamps. The lower front fascia includes larger scoops and is accented by a chrome strip at the leading edge of the front air dam. Given these are the sporty models of the E-Class, the coupe and cabriolet include Mercedes’ bold three pointed star in the grille opening. All-in-all, the front appearance change practically makes the E-Class coupe and cabriolet look like all-new cars.
Mercedes-Benz premiered its all new S-Class sedan in Hamburg on May 15, 2013. Held at the Airbus factory where final assembly of the Airbus A320 and A380 is occurring, Mercedes took advantage of an over-the-top venue for an over-the-top introduction to their new Flagship. While an introduction like this should showcase the car (which it did), the showmanship used by Mercedes in this occasion was second to none. A very official looking YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U94OftPwcAc) shows the event up to just before Deiter Zetsche announced Alicia Keys who was sitting in the back of the center stage S-Class. They probably were prevented from showing her performance for contract reasons, but it was pretty darn good. She even worked very well with the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra that was playing original compositions prior to her arrival.
USA sale of the 2014 Mercedes Sprinter will begin on September 1, 2013 via 218 dealers in the USA. 161 are Mercedes Benz dealers and the remainder is Freightliner dealers. About 80% of the 20,969 Sprinters sold in the USA in 2012 were Mercedes. The only difference between the Mercedes and Freightliner is the grille texture and badging. Prices are the same.
Almost There – IS350 F-Sport Nears 335i Performance Feel The all new 3rd Generation Lexus IS is a near luxury sport sedan to be launched during June 2013 as a 2014 model year entry (the 2013 IS C hardtop convertible based on the 2nd Gen IS continues for another year selling along side the 4-door sedan) . The major question is whether it is ready to take on the Germans in its class. To answer that question, Lexus served up three IS350 F-Sports, a BMW 335i and Mercedes C350 and a nice little track outside Austin, Texas – Driveway Austin Motorsports. You could drive each car for two laps per outing as many times as you wanted or time allowed. The conclusion is that the BMW retains the Ultimate Driving Machine crown, the IS350 F-Sport is very, very civilized and competitive, and the C350 approaches land barge category. The 335i is very sporty, very precise and tuned for performance. The IS achieves its competitive position only when you opt for the IS350 with the F-Sport package giving the car upgraded suspension and steering. The more mundane IS models – IS250 and IS350 – are softer and more tuned to the casual driver. But, the F-Sport is a gas to drive. Unfortunately, an Audi A4 was not available for the track exercise. It would have provided an interesting comparison.
So, with the excitement of the track experience out of the way, we were able to drive the IS on the great Texas Hill Country roads around the area.
We began this year with a string of new high performance Audi sedans – S6, S7 and S8. We have not gotten to the S8 yet, but the S6 and S7 are pretty similar cars so lets concentrate on the S7 fastback. Think of the A7/S7 as Audi’s answer to the Mercedes CLS and the BMW 6-Series Grand Coupe. The S7 is a four-door coupe with a very fast backlite and large rear hatch. Opening the rear hatch reveals a huge rear cargo area. While the S7 has a very sporty profile, its design has sacrificed ingress/egress in the front and especially rear seats. The style limits rear seat headroom and the legroom in the rear is also down a bit from the three box S6 sedan.
Interior Par for the course, the S7′s sport interior is special with great attention to detail, great fit and finish and a very upscale ambiance.
No Fingerprints, Please Audi ‘s multi media interface (MMI) continues with controls on the center console not a touchscreen. The Audi MMI is easy to use and somewhat intuitive once you have used it a few times, but it would fail the rental car test (unfamiliar car in a rental car lot at midnight in the driving rain). Unlike its brethren Volkswagen and Porsche that now use touchscreens, Audi has stayed away from them because fingerprints on the screen are unsightly.
Get the Comfort Seat Package In the S7, the black and lunar silver interior is tasteful, but the seat bolsters are too aggressive for casual driving. At this price, the seats in the S7 should have power adjustable cushion and back bolsters so you can have either a very supportive seat that you fit snugly in or a wide open seat that lets you move around however you want to. Sure the “S cars” are sport performance models, but at $94,570 for the S7, there should be loads of comfort as well. Recognizing this, Audi offers a comfort seat option for $1,950 that provide heating, cooling, massage and memory functions. Unfortunately, the comfort seats are available only in black Valcona leather not the silver/white leather in the evaluation S7.
Featherlight Toe on the Accelerator But the sport seats weren’t the only thing that presented a problem. The S-Cars are powered by a 420-horsepower 4.0L V8 with twin turbochargers and cylinder on demand. Mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission and Audi’s great Quattro all wheel drive system, this car should be a real pleasure to drive. Lots of horsepower and torque. Effortless V8 with turbos! Wow. But it isn’t a pleasure to drive. Tip-in the accelerator and there is a hesitation that makes you shy about merging into traffic from a stop unless you stomp on it. Maybe it’s the performance setting in the MMI? Comfort? The same. Auto? The same. Dynamic? The same… even worse. Once you get the S7 rolling, it is delightful. The throaty rumble of the engine is joyous. But getting up to speed takes a featherlight touch of the toe to do smoothly.
So, the S7 is really for a person who wants upscale coupe styling and a lot of power. It’s not for a person who needs to provide rear seat space or comfort. The S7 is a car that turns heads and likes to be driven at speed, but it is a touchy low speed cruiser.