Suits You Sir - or Madam
New models with shorter life cycles and creating new niche models are two of the ways the new car industry is fighting back against the drop in demand being experienced throughout Europe. With today's market conditions it's either do it that way or reduce the prices.
Mercedes have not had a good time in their home German market and in the UK sales are decreasing not increasing as they now lie behind BMW and Audi.
The latest sales innovation is the launch on 22 March of the Mercedes CLS-Class, a striking four-door coupe, and a long-legged grand tourer.
This range of three models is loosely based on the Mercedes E-Class but with the persona and appointment of the executive S-Class. In short it is a classy four-door coupe. Mercedes are well known for saloons, estates, two-door coupes SLK, CLK, SL and CL coupes and cabriolets but the four-door CLS is quite different.
It is designed for owners who no longer require an executive saloon or estate but find a two- door coupe with four seats just does not give them enough flexibility for part-time passenger carrying. Anybody who has struggled into the rear seats of a four-seater coupe through the two front doors knows exactly what I mean. Not a very dignified situation. The CLS gets over this by having two full-sized rear doors, good-sized rear seats with enough legroom for us six-footers at a pinch yet it has the elegant appearance of a sleek coupe. The tapering rear roofline does not provide too much rear headroom but there is enough - just.
The load area is a conventional saloon car type boot with enough room, 450-litres, for four people's weekend luggage.
So who will buy and where are the customer likely to come from? Mercedes say that already they are receiving interest in the CLS-Coupe from current owners of Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus and Porsche brands. There are those who no longer want to drive a saloon and feel they want a sportier car. There are those who have a two-door coupe but access to the rear seats is difficult and there are those who have two-door, two-seat coupes who find they occasionally need more passenger space. Models which fall into this category include the BMW 6 Series, the Jaguar XK, Lexus LS and SC430, Porsche 911 and of course Mercedes own CLK, SL and CL models.
Mercedes UK also say that the majority of sales of the CLS-Coupe will be to conquest customers. Of those, 20 per cent will be fleet customers but the vast majority will go to private company directors or business owners. Around 2,500 CLS Coupe models are expected to be sold in the UK this year and this should increase to around 4,000 in a full year. Although there is no diesel version available at the launch, Mercedes confirmed last week that a 320 CDI model would be added to the range, probably by the end of the year. As 84 per cent of current E-Class sales in the UK are for diesel models this seems a sensible move.
Currently the new CLS-Coupe range consists of the CLS 350 with a V6, 3.5-litre petrol engine producing 272hp and 350Nm of torque. A seven-speed automatic transmission is fitted. Top speed is limited to 155mph with a 0-62mph time of seven seconds. Average fuel consumption is 28mpg. Price ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£43,115, car as tested ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£47,865. Really this model is the sensible pick of the bunch. Cost versus performance it is ideal.
Next in the range is the CLS 500 with a V8, 5-litre petrol engine with 306hp and 460Nm of torque. This too has a seven-speed automatic transmission. Again the top speed is restricted to 155mph and the 0-62mph time is down to 6.1 seconds. Overall fuel economy is 25mpg. This model will account for 30 per cent of sales and is priced at ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£52,115 and the car as tested cost ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£60,765. More power, more torque and lots more money over the CLS 350 but the useable power difference is marginal so I say go for the 350 unless it's a 'mines bigger than yours' decision.
Top of the range is the awesome CLS 55 AMG with a 5.5-litre, V8, supercharged petrol engine producing 476hp and a monstrous 700Nm of torque. A five-speed AMG automatic transmission is fitted. Price of this thoroughbred is ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£70,565 and it will account for five per cent of sales. This model has all the Mercedes AMG high performance sports specification you would expect ranging from a body kit, high performance brakes, sports instrumentation, boot lid spoiler, sports seats, sports AirMatic suspension, stability programme, skid control and AMG alloy road wheels. Further extras and options can add another seven to eight thousand pounds to the price. This car is really awesome to drive and to be seen in. The reason some customers will choose this model over the 350 or 500 is because they are well enough off to do so.
The equipment levels and interior quality of the new CLS-Coupes are very good. The dish-shaped facia panel is attractive and the controls well positioned. I'm not sure I like the dull wood trim and perhaps a polished aluminium finish would have been more in keeping with the sporting, grand tourer image. Only time will tell if Mercedes have sorted their quality issues out but on the face of it they have and let us hope that new models like the innovative CLS-Coupe are able to re-establish them as a manufacturer of quality products with a reputation second to none.