It’s a simple question. Why did you choose the car you are driving right now?
Well, you probably thought about what you want to use it for. A Mercedes Benz CLA would not be a great choice to negotiate the Baster Voetslaan Pass in the Eastern Cape.
But the opposite doesn’t always seem to apply where the most rugged 4x4s are piloted by the fairer sex on the school run and, in the most extreme situations, to mount Sandton sidewalks.
And you may be severely limited by the health of your bank balance in this ailing economy, where even the well-priced Maserati Ghibli may be out of reach.
So here is one of the main factors motivating your decision – styling.
According to international market research company, JD Power, styling is one of the biggest reasons customers select their chosen wheels from the showroom floor.
A surprising number of potential buyers will even walk away from their favorite model if it doesn’t come in the color they want! And that’s after surveying tens of thousands of new vehicle owners about their final verdict.
Sure the number-one selling point is reliability… not only of the engine and drive chain, but of the infotainment system.
But is there any clear leader of reliability in the premium luxury segment where the Teutonic trio seem to offer similar standards of highly advanced engineering?
With this background of new age selling points there are signs that Mercedes are not only winning on the Formula One track but are also more racy in the Style Wars.
The design philosophy for the past eight years has been “sensual purity”. It is the concept of Gorden Wagener and the driving force behind his international design team who are responsible for all brands and products within Daimler AG.
“The key is not to make it right for everyone. The key for any luxury brand is keeping design authentic, and true to its roots,” says the man who worked as an exterior designer for Volkswagen, Mazda and General Motors.
“You also have to be way ahead of your time. We’re already thinking of the next decade from 2020 to 2030. This isn’t about asking what things will be like. It’s about creating the future.”
You don’t have to look too far for examples. The new C-Class Coupé demonstrates how far the Wagener team will go to embody that “sensual purity”.
The word coupé is often an excuse for leaving out a couple of doors and removing the window frames. But this is a total redesign with flowing lines that are captivating to say the least.
Wider, longer and lower, the coupé provides a striking and sporty silhouette. Gently dropping from the imposing trademark Merc front end, through more muscular shoulders, to the totally refashioned rear, which has been inspired by the S-Class Coupé.
The effect is enhanced by the wide, horizontal tail lights and the tailpipes nestling in the bumper.
The trade-off, as with the CLA, is headroom in the back seats. Six-foot passengers riding to Cape Town may not feel the love.
Upfront you will drive in encapsulated splendor – the seats are especially supportive and the trendy controls and trim are highlighted in silver chrome.
I sometimes wonder if it is not time for a quiet revolution with car interiors with a more logical and minimalist approach to controls.
A car that may be leading the way in a new approach is the Audi TTS. You want to change the ventilation flow? Well the controls are on the air ducts! And there is no pop-up screen requiring a sideways glance for your navigation. It is squarely displayed in front of you on the instrument cluster between the rev counter and speedo.
But the ever expanding Mercedes stable (there are more than 40 models on offer) is focusing on the stars above right now.
Last year was the “Year of the SUV”… now they are raising the roof in the “Year of Open Top Driving.”
The C-Class Cabriolet hits the local market in October and I can already visualize the smooth operators of the Cape snaking past Clifton beaches at the wheel of this ultra stylish multilayer soft-top. It certainly was one of the star attractions at the Geneva Show.
And you can even enjoy open-air driving on brisk mornings thanks to the standard Airscarf system that blows warm air through the headrests and the Aircap wind deflector that rises from the windshield frame to counter the Cape Doctor.
But hold on to your wallet. There is also an S-Class Cabrio on the horizon which will be the first open-top luxury four-seater from Merc since 1971.
Before the cabriolets hit South African roads, there is the imminent arrival of two stellar roadsters. The legendary SL is back with a curve tilting function that will definitely handle the bends and to coincide with its 20-year anniversary, the SLK is to be relaunched with a new name, the SLC, along with enhanced looks and dynamics.
Mercedes-Benz are not just keeping the new models flowing into the country. They are one of seven manufacturers who invest heavily in the economy and employ around 5,000 staff.
“Our business model positions us as a net exporter, with approximately 90 percent of all local C-Class production units exported to more than 80 markets globally,” says Executive Director, Florian Seidler.
“As such, we are well positioned to manage currency and global market volatility.”
“We are expecting a subdued economic cycle ahead which will be countered with a continued product offensive with new products to meet the needs of our customers,” says Seidler.
Looking at the open-tops waiting to be unleashed and the tenth-generation E-Class waiting in the wings, that could be a massive understatement.