Merc raises the bar for its A-Class

Things are busy at Mercedes-Benz‚ not least of all in response to a jump in sales yet again during the first half of 2016.

The company is busy developing the next generation of its A-Class‚ which will not only have a larger boot in the hatchback version but will also be launched in proper sedan form‚ although probably only for China.

The AMG SL63 (white) boasts 430kW and 900Nm‚
The AMG SL63 (white) boasts 430kW and 900Nm

It is also working on major upgrades to its S-Class to take on the tech of BMW’s 7 Series and has a number of new models still to launch in 2016‚ including the plug-in hybrid version of its popular C-Class‚ the GLE coupe and the updated CLA.

So it is not surprising that it chose to launch three different models on the same day.

It was supposed to be four‚ but the new S-Class convertible has not been homolo- gated for SA yet.

That left the new SLC‚ SL and AMG C63 coupe – not a bad trio to have to deal with on a chilly winter’s day. The SLC, you say? Yes‚ because Mercedes has ditched the SLK name after selling more than 670000 of them and changed it to SLC. That’s the biggest change.

the quick‚ but more refined SL65 (blue) features 463kW and a huge 1000Nm of torque
The quick‚ but more refined SL65 features 463kW and a huge 1000Nm of torque

There have been some styling tweaks for the exterior‚ but the interior stays virtually the same. There are power hikes for the engines‚ with the 200 getting 135kW and the 300 getting 180kW.

Then there is the new SLC43. While most of the car is the same as the old model‚ the engine is mostly not. Merc has taken its 3.0-litre V6‚ made it a biturbo and boosted power to 270kW and torque to 520Nm. It is also linked to the 9G-Tronic nine-speed gearbox. Priced at R988000, it is the first model to get this engine in SA before it is rolled out to other model lineups.

So that was the SLC‚ which brings us to the SL – the flagship roadster of the three-pointed star until the GT drops its lid next year. Here‚ Merc really has kept the changes to a minimum‚ in the style of rival BMW. There are new power domes in the bonnet‚ a diamond look to the grille and a standard LED intelligent lighting system.

The interior is superb but the lack of improvement is disappointing. It gets a few new colours and some changes to the design of the seats‚ but while other Mercedes models are moving ahead with new technology and design‚ the SL‚ and for that matter the SLC‚ are still languishing back in 2012.

There is one new trick though. You no longer have to open the boot separator manually – you can do it at the push of a button. Important, that.

Mechanically the SL400 and 500 get the 9G-Tronic gearbox and Active Body Control.

Power sits at 270kW and 335kW respectively. The mighty AMG SL63 boasts 430kW and 900Nm‚ while the quick‚ but more refined, SL65 features 463kW and a huge 1000Nm of torque.

Due to the large torque numbers‚ both still use the AMG seven-speed gearbox.

While the changes might not be extensive‚ the new design gives the SL a better look‚ much sharper at the front with better lines. The interior is still comfortable and you get all the bells and whistles‚ while on the track it was superb in its handling‚ power delivery and driving position. It is still one of the best luxury roadsters.

The 63 is the one to have if you want that incredible soundtrack and have the chance‚ and desire‚ to give it a good thrashing from time to time. If you just want status‚ the SL65 with its V12 offers the bragging rights.

This brings us to the C63 coupe‚ Merc’s answer to BMW’s M4 and Audi’s RS5. It is more than just a coupe version of the sedan. Mercedes-Benz Cars SA marketing amnager Marcel Perez says the “coupe needs to offer additional design and dynamics over the sedan”. This means a different chassis setup and a newly developed rear axle. It also boasts much wider axles front and rear.

That wider track fits into a wider body than the sedan‚ in spite of the obvious curvature of the body towards the roof.

It is one of the better coupe rear designs in my opinion and finally says goodbye to the terrible curves that featured in models like the early CLS.

It is different to the regular coupe models‚ with Perez saying that only the roof‚ doors and boot lid are unchanged.

It features a revised front splitter that aims to reduce front axle lift and more design features that improve cooling.

“It’s the sportiest C-Class of all time‚” Perez says.

“It has more AMG genes than all its predecessors.”

Actually that depends on which model you are talking about. The standard model at R1268700 offers 350kW and 650Nm.

Then there is an even sportier “sportiest C-Class” in the form of the 63S at R1382000 with 375kW and 700Nm.

You could also opt to spend a couple of hundred grand more for one of the Edition 1 models‚ although all 25 of the S-based versions are sold out.

On the track it provided that brilliant AMG soundtrack‚ although emanating more from the rear of the car these days than bellowing in the cabin.

The seven-speed gearbox required quick changes between second and third which can catch you out in manual mode on the paddles.

Take too long – by which we mean a fraction of a second – and it will change up for you‚ even in Race mode.

Leave it in auto and it does a rather impressive job of doing exactly what you ask it to do with your right foot.

It feels a little heavy – heavier in fact than the SL, which is odd‚ but hurl it into a corner and it performs all the right moves‚ provided you have turned off (or at least reduced) those nanny controls which have a tendency to be overcautious.

Mercedes has moved beyond producing sledgehammer machines with rock-concert soundtracks.

Those characteristics are still there‚ but the latest AMG models offer more precision and comfort. No surprise SA still ranks as one of the most popular countries in the world for the performance brand. — BDlive

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