Mercedes-Benz For 1997
By Carey Russ
German automotive pioneer Mercedes-Benz has been extremely active recently. New versions of the compact C-Class and midsized E-Class made their debut over the past few years. The SLK, a new sports car, makes its appearance this year as an early-release 1998 model. All cars now have the electronically-controlled five-speed automatic transmission introduced on the premium models last year. More new cars, and the company's first U. S. - market sport-utility vehicle, are on their way.
Mercedes-Benz has always been in the forefront of automotive safety. Safety-cage construction was patented by the company in 1951. It was one of the first manufacturers to equip its cars with antilock brakes and air bags. In the interests of safety, all 1997 Mercedes-Benz cars have an occupancy detection sensor that deactivates the front passenger seat air bag unless a weight greater than 26 pounds is detected in the seat. All models also now have improved security systems.
Another example of the change in thinking at Mercedes-Benz that began with the introduction of the newest C-Class three years ago is the SLK230. It is a moderately-priced sports car that complements the premium SL line. Meant to be "a sports car for all seasons and reasons", it is a convertible without a cloth top. The steel hardtop folds into its compartment at the touch of a button in less than half a minute.
"SLK" means Sport, Light, Kompressor. Like the fabled Mercedes-Benz sports and racing cars of the 1920s and 1930s, it is supercharged. The supercharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine makes as much power as a 2.8-liter six, and is smaller and lighter.
The SLK is designed for handling, safety, value, and comfort. Use of systems and components from other Mercedes-Benz cars kept the cost down. A new design makes the height-adjustable seats very comfortable. A rigid chassis has fully-independent suspension, antilock brakes, and ASR traction control. Front and rear crumple zones, frontal and side air bags, and integrated roll bars add to safety.
All models of the top-of-the-line S-Class now have door- mounted side airbags, ASR traction control, new wheels and taillights, and windshield wipers that automatically adjust their speed according to rain intensity. Extra-bright Xenon-discharge are standard or optional depending on model, as is the "Parktronic" electronic parking assistance system.
The premium sports cars of the Mercedes-Benz line have an new optional "Panorama" hardtop that has a tinted glass top with a sunshade. ASR traction control and rain-sensing windshield wipers are now standard on all models.
All C-class models have redesigned headlights with brighter bulbs this year. The entry-level car has a new engine, a normally- aspirated version of the 2.3-liter 4-cylinder used in the SLK, and is now known as the C230. The limited-production C36 has even more power.
All-new for 1996, the first of the 1997 E-Class models was the V8-powered E420, introduced last spring. The other mid-sized E-Class cars, the 6-cylinder E320 and diesel-powered E300D, get the 5-speed automatic transmission this year.