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- Prestige & Luxury Cars
...each one personally signed by chief Horst von Sanden. Letters like this are often about a safety recall or mechanical drama. Not these.
They are a personal apology because Benz cannot supply cars to the 500 Australians on the waiting list for its A45 and CLA45 AMG. It's not good news for the frustrated buyers, but it's a reflection of the way Benz has changed from an elitist brand for the right people with no crowding to a prestige company that's running and growing close to the mainstream.
Benz still does ultra-luxury and ultra-costly cars like its S-Class limousine and the SLS gull-wing supercar, but more and more people are shopping the brand against a VW Golf or a Holden Calais or something from the middle-class mainstream. So you're more likely to see a three-pointed star on the road, a giant change.
There was a time when that emblem on the nose was worth about $15,000 to the group, and a similar bonus for the owner at second-hand time. That's different now, with starting prices from $35,600 for an A180.
"Think Mastercard. Priceless," company spokesman David McCarthy says of the current value of the Benz badge. "Luxury is not just about price. It's about how the product makes you feel, how well it's made and how well it works." He argues the company is still a prestige brand, even though Mercedes-Benz is currently ranked 12th overall among the 60-plus makes selling in Australia.
"We are a premium brand in every way. That means premium equipment, premium safety and premium performance. Does that justify a premium? Yes," McCarthy says. "Luxury car buyers in Australia choose Mercedes-Benz more than any other brand, and there is a reason. It's because of the product we offer and where we are positioned. I don't accept that premium and some volume don't go together.
"How many seats on a plane are first class? Two or three per cent. That's about where we sit, too. We're premium, not premium economy." Lots of top-end stuff technology trickles down through the range after starting life in the S-Class flagship. That's already true of the impressive E-Class, which got a major update in 2013.
But it's also true someone driving an S63 AMG that cost $385,000 - before dipping into the extras - is unlikely to be totally happy about the number of three-pointed stars hitting the road in Australia. "I don't agree it's devalued. Someone buying an S-Class might not be in market for an A-Class, but there could be someone else in the family who wants one," McCarthy says.
And there is one other point, which also works for the company and its customers. Back in the 1990s, the average age of a Benz buyer was 57 and many had one foot in the grave. These days the average is in the 40s and there are plenty of 20 and 30-somethings in the A-Class family. "Our customers have the choice of luxury, and the luxury of choice," McCarthy says.
Price: from $74,900
Star rating: 4/5
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 265kW/450Nm
Transmission: 7-speed twin clutch auto; AWD
THE LOWDOWN Carsguide's Prestige Car of the year is fun at every level. Though powered by the usual AMG V8, but its turbo four is hugely impressive and the go-faster division has tweaked almost everything to ensure it sits comfortably in the range with cars like the C63 and SLS gull-wing.
Price: from $59,990 (C200)
Star rating: 4/5
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl turbo, 135kW/270Nm
Transmission: 7-speed auto, RWD
THE LOWDOWN You can get a great deal on the current C-Class and it tops the 3 Series from BMW without much trouble despite hitting its run-out period. But it's the new one you really want. The new C is a condensed S-Class and that means it will easily lead its class as well as delivering more luxury than anything ever seen for its size and price.
Price: from $82,900 (M250)
Star rating: 3.5/5
Engine: 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel; 150kW/500Nm
Transmission: 7-speed auto, AWD
THE LOWDOWN When Benz dropped the price of its M-Class starter into the $80,000 range it made a BMW X5 look pricey. The BlueTEC diesel engine loses nothing in performance and provides remarkable economy, while the rest of the package is exactly what you'd expect in a Benz.
AUSTRALIANS love SUVs, but the best bet in a second-hand Benz is a wagon. The C-Class and E-Class haulers have been remarkably good cars for decades and the latest models bring everything from AMG go-faster ability to a seven-seater cabin in the E-Class.
The choice is not as broad because fewer people buy them new, but the rise of SUVs also makes a second-hand wagon a good-value buy. Best of all, when you're driving one you would never know you were driving a wagon and not a sedan - until you reach the supermarket or go to load up the kids' bikes.
Range and Specs
|A45 AMG||2.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$34,888 – 54,990||2014 Mercedes-Benz A-Class 2014 A45 AMG Pricing and Specs|
|A200 BE||1.6L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$23,888 – 34,800||2014 Mercedes-Benz A-Class 2014 A200 BE Pricing and Specs|
|A200 CDI||2.1L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO||$21,990 – 29,888||2014 Mercedes-Benz A-Class 2014 A200 CDI Pricing and Specs|
|A200 CDI BE||1.8L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO||$22,990 – 29,990||2014 Mercedes-Benz A-Class 2014 A200 CDI BE Pricing and Specs|