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Mercedes unleashes three dragons

POSTED BY admin ON 03 February 2012

The C-Class Coupe, the all-new third generation SLK 200 roadster and the new CLS 350 make their presence felt. Seen here is Kai Schlickum, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia (MBM) vice-president for sales and marketing

To kick start the New Year of 2012 as well as usher in the Chinese New Year of the Dragon, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia (MBM) is doing it in style with the launch of three new models.

Being niche yet sporty, these CBU (completely built-up) or fully-imported models are the C-Class Coupe, the all-new third generation SLK 200 roadster and the new CLS 350.

“With greater choices of Mercedes-Benz models available to suit customers’ individual lifestyles, we are confident that our niche CBU models will contribute between 10 and 15 per cent of total car sales with these three models as CBU top sellers,” said Kai Schlickum, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia (MBM) vice-president for sales and marketing.

“We are excited to start the year with these three stunning models and are confident that they will do well in the local market. We already have customers keen to view the cars.”

Viewing all three cars at its launch in the Saujana recently, these sporty looking models are each individually stunning in their own right.

The C-Class Coupe being a less fussy (cleaner design) interpretation of its more common four-door brethren, the SLK (R172) a premium compact coupe-cabriolet, while the CLS (W219), the world’s pioneering four-door coupe, has evolved into its second generation (C218).

Two can be better

The W204 C-Class probably needs no further introduction since it accounted for over 40 per cent (2,249 units) of MBM’s total passenger car sales, making it the most popular Mercedes model officially sold locally.

The new C-Class Coupe is both the Merc CLC’s (hatchback-coupe) successor as well as the replacement for the CLK. The Mercedes-Benz CLC has only one generation, while CLK had two generations which ran production for some 12 years.

The new C-Class Coupe – in its C180 and C250 forms, looking much like its sedan counterpart, is sleeker and sportier looking, especially complemented with a different side profile and glass greenhouse from its A to C pillar.

With tauter metal surfacing and slimmer profile than its cousin, the E-Class Coupe, this C-Class is also significantly more affordable at RM305,888 and RM388,888 for the C180 Coupe and C250 Coupe respectively.

A quick question posed by this puzzled writer to Kai Schlikum in regards to the rationale behind having two coupes based on the same W204 platform, with similar powertrains and general dimensions, revealed that the new C-Class Coupe as being marketed as the more youthful, agile and sportier among the two close cousins. More importantly, Mercedes-Benz has made this premium Coupe more accessible with lower price tags wearing a “C” prefix emblem instead of “E”.

An initial impression of the C180 Coupe being driven on highways from Penang to Kuala Lumpur gave a sense of deja-vu of the locally-assembled new generation (facelift) C200 sedan. Of course, in all fairness, the exterior of double-louvred Big-Star front grille, interiors at the door trim and sport seats imparted the sense of a higher premium level of classiness.

The C180’s lower state of tune of the ubiquitous M271 DEH engine – 156hp of maximum power and 250Nm of maximum torque – gives this “entry-level” coupe good fuel economy. We managed 9.5L/100km at mostly law abiding highway speed, keeping to it as constantly as permissible by the highway traffic conditions. By contrast the SLK200 and CLS350 easily breached the 12L/100km mark of fuel consumption in our test drives as we were guilty of gunning the throttles more often.

Topless luxury

Moving on, the Mercedes SLK (R170) was the compact roadster that defined this segment with its first-electrically powered, fully retractable metal roof back in 1996. Continuing on its tradition of luxury open-air motoring, the new SLK 200 (R172) with its turbo- petrol direct injection engine is up to 25 per cent more fuel efficient than its supercharged predecessor (R171).

Further refining on the original SLK roadster proportions, the end result is a compact passenger section positioned far back with a short tail end – all of these behind a long yet well-proportioned bonnet, now highlighted by an upright grille, much like the SLS AMG. Once you get inside, you will notice the same about the latest SLK interior’s dashboard design.

In the SLK 200, sampled briefly with top-down, we couldn’t tell the difference the draught-stop system AIRGUIDE made to air turbulence over your hair and into the exposed cabin. However, the Dynamic Handling package made the SLK easily the most agile and responsive to steer among the three brand new models of Mercs.

There wasn’t much fun to be had on straight-line highway cruise for this junior version of the SL here and to be honest, this writer found it hard to connect and feel the rhythm and beating of this pretty-looking roadster’s heart. At least not in this 4-cylinder charged-inducted form that wears the moniker of SLK 200 with an asking price of RM460,888.

Thankfully, there’s the SLK 250 and the probably more meaningful SLK 350 available upon request from MBM via its dealers.

Doing suave four-door again

Last but hardly the least, is Mercedes’ latest CLS-Class (C218) which has undergone a full model change resulting in the latest trend of upright grille with single louvre, with even more reminiscence to the flagship supercar from M-B, the SLS AMG. With the front grille’s three-pointed star in all three models almost looking larger-than-life (like they were nicked from Mercedes buses), these new successors are hardly short of presence when viewed squarely from the front.

Another brief drive has made this writer smitten by the feel of how a proper Mercedes sedan should drive. And that is to move with aplomb through undulating surfaces, gripping well on corners and tracking through it obediently despite some “comfortable” and absolutely safe body roll.

Since the CLS is indeed based on an E-Class (W212), it is hardly surprising that the overall drive and ride quality dynamics represent what a true M-B luxury sedan – or in this case, a 4-door coupe – should be like. Despite the highlight of a new electromechanical assisted steering that allegedly slows down global warming, we are happy to report that the rack’s feel, weight and feedback remains affably talkative with the standard issued Pirelli P-Zeros.

There’s almost nothing like a nice – 306hp capable – large-bore V6 like the 3.5-litre petrol direct-injection powerplant found in the new CLS 350. It’s just happily, linearly torquey with a mid-range naturally-aspirated punch that serves a seamless shove right up to redline. Even Merc’s famed 7G-Tronic slush-box is at its happiest here. So much so that it leads to a nagging suspicion that the CLS 500 BlueEFFICIENCY will be even more effortless to drive and will return more smile (not kilometres) per litre to the driver.

The new CLS 350 retails at RM760,888. Who says money can’t buy happiness?

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