While it has been a challenging year for the auto industry, there are exceptions to the rule. As of end of September 2015, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia (MBM) had sold 8,196 cars (or 9,285 units till October) representing an uptick of 70 per cent over the same period in 2014. 3,033 cars were sold in the third quarter alone, with 2,188 units accounted for by the C, E and S-Class. There’s little doubt they’ll blast past the 10,000 sales mark this year, which not only makes Mercedes-Benz the best selling luxury car brand in the country, but the best-selling European car brand too.
With their main staples selling so well, MBM has the luxury of tackling smaller more specialised niches of the luxury car market with their huge range of offerings. In 2015, they’ve launched their ‘Dream Car’ range to cater to buyers who want more power, style and luxury from their cars and can afford to pay for the privilege. We’ve had a go in these dream cars recently and here’s a run down of the range plus a few driving impressions.
Fans of BMW M and Audi Sport should look away now.
Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S Edition 1
The successor to the SLS loses its iconic gull-wing doors and barking 6.2-litre V8 engine but is a better car in every respect. Smaller than its predecessor, the GT is a Porsche 911 rival rather than a Ferrari F12 alternative and offers a more focused and delicate driving experience. This was clearly shown on the tight winding roads of Pulau Langkawi as the compact dimensions allowed the car to be threaded neatly through the numerous tight corners that typify the island’s road system.
Power comes from a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, which is good for 510hp at 6250rpm and 650Nm at 1750rpm. Drive is directed to the rear wheels via an AMG Speedshift DCT seven-speed transmission and claimed performance figures are 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds with a 310km/h top-speed. Just in case you’re wondering, Mercedes-Benz claims an economy figure of 10.6km/L though you’ll undoubtedly see far less when using the full complement of horses available.
What’s it like to drive? Like all V8 powered AMG cars, the engine dominates the experience not just for the amount of performance it delivers, but also for the sound it makes. The 4.0-litre V8 isn’t as aurally gifted as the old 6.2 but it mixes in a booming bass with a high-rev howl reminiscent of a racing V8 motor. You can even press a button to allow the pipes to operate at full-noise, which will undoubtedly wake the neighbours and cause car alarms to go off at 3am.
On public roads, there’s no doubting the performance levels, which are instantaneous and a match for most junior supercars up to, perhaps, the 911 Turbo. Full throttle applications are measured in tenths of a second and ultimately you’ll need a race track to experience the full gamut of talents the GT S possesses, but even driven at less than 50 per cent of its limit, the quality of the shifts from the DCT gearbox and the way the car steers with a light touch at the helm are readily apparent.
Let’s be honest. 99 per cent of owners will spend 99 per cent of their time driving the GT S on the public road and most of that will be done at legal cruising speeds in traffic. Therefore, it’s a good thing the car has looks that will be universally admired. The stance, proportions and detailing offers a heady mix of classic GT cab-backward design with modern Mercedes-Benz touches and when you mix in the throbbing exhaust note it becomes the perfect Saturday night show-off special.
At RM1,145,888 (for the Edition 1) the Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S Edition 1 is actually good value. A BMW i8 costs more, is a lot slower, sounds like an electric toothbrush in comparison and, to these eyes, is less interesting to look at. Admittedly, the BMW will get you from KL to Penang and back on a single tank of fuel and costs only RM90/year in road tax (the GT S costs RM6,549/year) but when you can afford cars with telephone number price tags, running costs will be far down the priority list.
Mercedes-Benz AMG C63 S
If you can’t afford a two-seat coupé with less practicality than a string bikini like the AMG GT S, fret not because the MBM Dream Car range has a sedan with the same engine and gearbox, but for about 60 per cent of the price.
The AMG C63 S is based on the C-Class but as the name suggests, it’s powered by something a bit more potent than the 2.0-litre inline-4 in the C200 and C250. Stuffed beneath the bonnet is the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 found in the GT S and since this car also carries the S moniker, it gets the full compliment of horses with 510hp at 5500rpm and 700Nm at 1750rpm. The gearbox is likewise a DCT seven-speed transmission and Mercedes-Benz says the 0-100km/h sprint time takes just 4.0 seconds. Top speed is limited to 250km/h but you can opt for a performance package that’ll remove the electronic shackles.
Inside, the C63 S is typically C-Class but slathered with sports seats and loads of leather, Alcantara and carbon fibre trim. The Edition 1 version costs an extra RM25,000 but it’s worth the premium as you get diamond pattern leather seat trim, Dinamica microfibre and special trims on the wheels, exterior and interior. Besides, even with the premium toys, the Edition 1 is still only RM723,888 thus making it nearly RM17,000 cheaper than the less powerful BMW M4.
If you’ve never driven the previous generation C63, the prospect of a 500hp+ C-Class is one you approach with some trepidation. Even with the AMG addenda, it looks like a family sedan you’ll feel comfortable taking down to Tesco, but once you open the door there’s little doubt of its performance potential.
The interior is a real highlight of this car and gets you in the mood to drive quickly, which is heightened by the noise emanating from the 4.0-litre V8. Like the GT S, the engine plays a large part in raising your pulse rate and there’s a sports exhaust button to make driving though tunnels an exercise in restraint.
As with most modern performance cars, you can tune the chassis and engine response to suit your mood, so just like YouTube star Chris Harris, I decided to drive it with everything set in comfort mode. The softer throttle response and muted steering were a great match for the controlled ride and even driven in a hurry, there was a sense of serene controllability to the car. Yes, there’d be some lean in corners and the ESP light was almost constantly lit at more than half-throttle openings but overall the C63 S felt like a big teddy bear.
A bit later I flicked the engine into sport mode but left the chassis in comfort, which turned out to be a hilarious exercise. With full power available, the C63 would try to oversteer out of every corner and downshift at the mere hint of throttle. Drifting wasn’t a choice but a default mode, which is fine on a racetrack but more than a bit scary with tourists on mopeds coming the opposite way. Putting everything in Sport mode firms everything up and allows the chassis to at least have a chance at controlling the power of the engine, but overall, just like the AMG GT S, the public road isn’t the best place to fully extend the C63 S.
Still, the intoxicating soundtrack, premium interior and understated looks alone are worth the price of admission. And when you meet a BMW M4 at the traffic lights, flash the extra RM17,000 you saved by leaving it for dead in a sprint.
Mercedes-Benz CLS 400
The CLS 400 was the first of the MBM Dream Car range model to be launched, making its Malaysian market debut in April this year. Powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6, it has 333hp at 5250rpm and 480Nm at 1600rpm that gets sent to the rear wheels via a 7G-Tronic automatic. The car is priced at RM598,888, making it one of the more affordable large performance coupes to don the Mercedes-Benz badge.
The third generation CLS carries on the tradition of offering a sleek four-door body with saloon car practicality. In the flesh, it’s an attractive design with just enough musculature and detailing to hide its E-Class underpinnings and differentiate it from the smaller CLA. Inside, there’s a typically opulent leather lined Mercedes-Benz interior with seating for just two in the back.
After the drama and speed of the GT S and C 63 S, the CLS 400 initially feels underwhelming. It’s quick, as the 0-100km/h time of 5.3 seconds proves, but after the near instantaneous thrust of the other two, it feels merely fast instead of thrilling. Give it some time though and its talents as a long distance cruiser shine through.
This car is all about velvety smoothness, from its power delivery to the way the gearbox slurs through ratios and the suspension absorbs bumps. At three figure speeds, body control is excellent while wind noise is ably suppressed so you could imagine driving from JB to Penang and arriving fresh as a daisy.
Of course, as a dream car, the CLS 400 also needs to impress with its static abilities and on this front, it ably does the job. Perhaps it doesn’t engender the same wanton longing as a GT S or even the C63 S but overall, it’s a perfect example of how subtlety and the Mercedes-Benz badge can combine to become an attractive package.
Mercedes-Benz E250 Coupé
The baby of the MBM Dream Car range is the E250 Coupé that’s just received a facelift to bring it up to date. The Malaysian market spec car gets full LED headlights and 18-inch AMG double spoke wheels and with a list price of RM428,888, it’s also by far the cheapest car in the range.
There’s a reason for that of course. Powering the E250 Coupé is the same 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine also found in the E250 and C250 sedans. With 211hp at 5500rpm and 350Nm at 1200rpm, it gets to 100km/h in 7.1 seconds so it’s a considerably more sedate ‘Dream Car’ than the others.
Still, there’s a lot to like about this car and its previous generation C-Class underpinnings. The chassis for instance responds well to hard driving and on winding roads, you don’t feel the surfeit of power too much. The 7G-TRONIC automatic also works very well though ultimately, you’ll probably have more fun in a BMW 4-Series.
Long distance cruising though is something this car does really well, and I suppose if you’re going to use it everyday, it’s probably the most able daily driver of the lot. So, while it may not wow with its looks and performance, the combination of style and comfort the E250 Coupé has will undoubtedly prove to be irresistible to many Mercedes-Benz fans.
Finally, for recipients of large donations…
Aside from the four cars already launched in the Dream Car range, Mercedes-Benz has added two more to tempt its well-heeled customers. Well, technically it’s actually three cars, but two are from a sub-brand.
The first is the Mercedes-Benz AMG S63 Coupé. Priced from a cool RM1,493,888 before options, the two-door S-Class carries on the Mercedes-Benz tradition of offering luxury limousine style accommodation in a sporting body style. None of its luxury car rivals offers a comparable model and if you really want to find a rival, you’ll need to start looking at the Bentley Continental GT.
The Bentley would be out muscled though because the S63 Coupé is powered by a 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 – carried over from the previous car. With 585hp at 5500rpm and a massive 900Nm between 2250-3750rpm, there is no shortage of ‘grunt’ and it’s accessed via the AMG DCT seven-speed transmission. 0-100km/h takes just 4.3 seconds, and since the interior is a sea of soft leather, wood and noise suppression, the experience must be akin to sitting in a very fast drawing room.
Externally, there can be no mistaking the car for any other Mercedes-Benz. It’s immensely long wheelbase and sporty silhouette are unique and this latest car is equipped with all the usual exterior ‘jewellery’ you’d expect from a top-of-the-range Mercedes. Options include 20-inch wheels, AMG ceramic brakes and if you really want it, 4Matic all-wheel drive too but as is, there’s very little that isn’t part of the standard kit on this car. Then again, at these prices, customers have a right to expect the ‘full monty’.
Despite the spec and price though, the S63 Coupé doesn’t top the MBM Dream Car range because that honour goes to the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class.
Both the S500 Maybach and S600 Maybach will be available to Malaysian buyers and this time around, Mercedes-Benz has decided to use the Maybach badge for stretched versions of its current range-topper instead of building a Rolls-Royce rival. With a 3365mm wheelbase and an overall length of 5453mm, the Maybach is 337mm longer than the long wheelbase version of the S-class, which is reflected in its immense interior.
The two-seat rear cabin offers Business Class style seating with 325mm of available knee room to accommodate NBA sized occupants. Interior trim has been taken to another level of opulence though the cockpit will be familiar to S-Class owners. Even the exterior looks the same save for a different grille and longer rear doors.
Power is provided by a 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8 with 455hp and 700Nm in the S500 or a 6.0-litre twin-turbo V12 with 530hp and 830Nm in the S600. The bigger torque figure means the S600 is mated to the 7G-TRONIC gearbox but the S500 Maybach gets the new Mercedes-Benz 9G-TRONIC auto. Performance figures are a moot point, but just in case you were wondering, both get to 100km/h in 5.0 seconds and are limited to 250km/h. Prices start from RM1.35 million for the S500 Maybach so only seriously rich car freaks and politicians with sizeable donations need apply.
Mercedes-Benz Malaysia are on a roll right now and it seems like there is very little its rivals can do to curtail their momentum. Sales have gone through the roof despite the bleak market outlook, which is a result of not only having the right products at the right time, but pricing them at attractive levels too. The days of when an equivalent Mercedes-Benz was 10-15 per cent pricier than its rivals are gone and buyers have already acted on it.
In the overall scheme of things, the MBM Dream Car range won’t be contributing huge numbers to the bottom line. Total sales will barely hit three figures but that’s a result they’ll be happy to live with. The whole point of the exercise is to show a Mercedes-Benz is no longer just a car for rich old fogies because if there were one common thread linking all the cars above, it would be youthful appeal. So now, rich young berks wearing Hackett t-shirts with upturned collars will also find them cool, which is a sentiment shared by some people currently driving cars sporting a blue and white propeller or four interlocked rings.
Note: Proof that when you’re a star, you can wear a drum behind your back and still look so cool.