While it slipped into second place in the U.S. luxury market last year, Mercedes-Benz has plenty of momentum going for it, especially as it rolls out an assortment of new products that fill in much of the white space between existing models.
The maker is showing off an assortment of its newest offerings at the North American International Auto Show this week, though one of the most significant of those products will be noticeably absent when Cobo Center opens its doors to the public.
Though the German maker’s stand will feature the completely redesigned E-Class sedan, coupe and convertible range unveiled at the NAIAS today, Sunday night’s unveiling of the new Mercedes-Benz CLA was a preview reserved for journalists alone.
The debut of the all-new E-Class is certainly worth watching. This is “our bread-and-butter car,” stressed Steve Cannon, the head of Mercedes’ U.S. operations, both the brand’s best-seller and the top model in this critical luxury segment.
Among the headline updates, the 2014 E-Class abandons the distinctive four headlight layout that has been a signature for several generations. The new model gets a more sculpted, smoother profile, losing the muscular bulges found over the rear wheels of the previous E-Class.
The interior undergoes some significant changes, meanwhile. There’s now a widescreen navi and infotainment display atop the center stack and the COMAND system will be updated to the latest technology. Redundant, 5-point controls are mounted on the steering wheel.
Mercedes is also boasting of a variety of new high-tech safety features including the Stereo Multi-Purpose Camera system it will share with the 2014 S-Class. It’s capable of seeing the world as we do, in three dimensions, expanding the capabilities of the car’s Forward Collision Warning and other systems – at distances up to 1,650 feet – to spot both cars and pedestrians, when driving in-town.
The E-Class will be offered with a range of powertrains, including a 190-horsepower four-cylinder diesel that will replace the current 6-banger in the E-Class and several other upcoming models. The V-6 E350 and V-8 powertrains will hold over, but the line-up adds a new E400 Hybrid later in the model-year, bringing fuel economy of 24 city, 30 highway.
The maker’s 7-speed gearbox will be shared by all and every engine package but the Hybrid will be available with 4Matic All-wheel-Drive. All conventional gas engines will also get automatic stop/start capability.
While the E-Class may be Mercedes’ best-seller, the maker is clearly aware of shifting trends in the luxury market. It has added an assortment of crossovers in recent years, including a newly-updated version of its compact GLK.
Downsizing is a fact of life in the luxury market and that has convinced the German maker it is finally time to offer something even smaller than the old “Baby Benz” C-Class. So, Sunday’s preview gave journalists from around the world a first look at the CLA, the production version of the Concept Style first shown at the Beijing Auto Show last April.
Based on the all-new A-Class platform, it’s a smaller take on the popular and trend-setting Mercedes CLS coupe-like-sedan.
“Our goal is to repeat the success of the CLS in the youth segment,” explained Joachim Schmidt, Mercedes’ executive vice president of sales and marketing.
Schmidt and other Mercedes officials emphasize that while the CLA might be small they aren’t positioning it as a stripped-down version of the bigger coupe-like sedan. It will feature a lot more features, as well as a more upscale interior than might once have been expected when size and price were indelibly linked in buyers’ minds.
In a break with tradition, the CLA will use a front-drive layout, rather than Mercedes’ traditional rear-wheel-drive design. But like the E-Class, the sleek small car will be offered with an optional 4Matic system.
Expect to see the CLA in U.S. showrooms by autumn 2013, not long after the E-Class, and Mercedes has strong aspirations for its sales potential, says Dieter Zetsche, the marque’s global brand boss and CEO of parent Daimler AG. “With its unique design language, I am convinced that the CLA will make a powerful mark on the image of the Mercedes-Benz brand.”