Detroit Auto Show: Mercedes Unveils New C-Class, Concept S-Class Coupe

Mercedes S-Class Concept
Mercedes S-Class Concept
 AP Images

DETROIT – Underscoring the brutal competitiveness in the luxury-car category at both the top and bottom of the segment, Mercedes-Benz officially unveiled its reconstituted C-Class sedan and a limousine version of its flagship S-Class at the North American International Auto Show. 

The company also revealed a sassy-looking S-Class coupe concept, introduced by Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche with the quip that the rakish car might disabuse the notion that "passion is not part of Germany's core competencies." (A photo depicting the famously moustached Zetsche, a former engineer, in a white lab coat, was projected as he spoke.)

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Mercedes spent $1 billion remaking its S-Class into a paradigm of the tech-laden, high-performance luxury liner that is now compulsory at the top of the segment, which includes the BMW 7 Series and Audi A8.

The S-Class is equipped with stereoscopic 3D cameras and other technology that allow the car to drive itself semiautonomously, a precursor to the fully autonomous cars that Mercedes and most carmakers, as well as third-party interlopers such as Google, which is testing self-driving cars in California, see as inevitable.

Once derided by purists as the "Baby Benz," the C-Class has sold more than 8.5 million units in the U.S. since its introduction in 1982. "Based on volume alone, the C-Class is our most important car," Zetsche said.

Acknowledging the competition within the compact luxury class it helped create, Mercedes migrated some of the S-Class's new tech accoutrements to the revamped C-Class, among them an Intelligent Drive option that allows the car to park itself and keep itself in its lane, as well as adaptive cruise control and active collision avoidance. 

Although the new C-Class is nearly four inches longer that its predecessor, a new structural design comprised almost 50 percent of aluminum allows the car to shed nearly 200 pounds. Pricing hasn't been announced but the new C-Class will probably sticker for around $36,000.

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With the demise of its Maybach brand and the rising demand, particularly in Asia, for super-premium limousine-like sedans, it was inevitable that Mercedes would relaunch the top-of-the-line S-Class 600. 

This is not a vehicle for the retiring or selfless. The brute is powered by a bi-turbo 6.0 liter V12 and glutted with standard features that are expensive add-ons on lesser Benzes, among them a heads-up display that projects the instrumental cluster onto the windshield and a suspension that analyzes data gathered from the car's 3D stereoscopic cameras and adjusts the ride to changing road conditions in real time.

Mercedes says it will offer a stretched "Pullman" version of the the 600. It's worth noting that the 600, introduced in 1963, was the car of choice for the young lions of movies and music in the '60s and '70s -- The Who's Pete Townshend owned one, outfitted with JBL speakers.

Francis Coppola extracted a promise from then-Paramount Pictures president Robert Evans that the studio would buy him a 600 Pullman when The Godfather passed $50 million at the box office. After the movie hit $100 million, Coppola, with George Lucas in tow, convinced a San Francisco Mercedes dealer to order him one.

"'Send the bill to Paramount,'" Coppola later recalled he told the startled salesman. "And they did."

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