Mercedes

Mercedes-Benz For 1998

By Carey Russ

Mercedes-Benz once had the reputation for long product life cycles and conservatism in design. That's not the case today. An aggressive new-product development and introduction schedule has seen new compact C-Class and midsized E-Class sedans, and the SLK sports roadster in the past few years. The process is accelerating with the recent debut of the M-Class sport-utility vehicle, the E320 wagon and E300 Turbodiesel sedan, and the CLK luxury sports coupe. What were the S-Class coupes are now the CL-Class. In addition, new V6 engines have replaced previous inline 6-cylinder engines in the C- Class and E-Class.

All 1998 Mercedes-Benz models have dual front and side airbags and antilock brakes. Most come standard with the "Brake Assist" automatic panic braking assistance system and the "BabySmart" front-passenger child seat recognition system. Mercedes-Benz has branched out into the zero-emissions vehicle field with a high-end full-suspension mountain bike and a new high-tech cruiser bicycle.

M-Class

The new "all-activity vehicle" from Mercedes-Benz is designed to combine the ruggedness, off-road abilities, and cargo and towing capacity of a truck-based sport-utility with the construction quality, performance, and safety for which the company is known. It is meant to compete directly with the most popular premium SUVs.

The M-Class is a completely new vehicle, built in a new factory in Tuscaloosa, Alabama that is dedicated to its construction. It is built with the body-on-frame construction commonly used in trucks and sport-utilities. The suspension is a rugged fully independent design, an uncommon feature on SUVs. This helps give the M-Class more carlike ride and handling qualities. A sophisticated, automatic full-time four-wheel drive with a 2-speed transfer case for true off-road capability is standard equipment.

The M320, powered by the new 3.2-liter, 215-horsepower Mercedes-Benz V6 engine, is the currently-available model in the M- Class line. Its body construction has all of the safety features expected in a Mercedes-Benz: safety-cell construction with front and rear crush zones, dual front and side air bags, and 4-wheel antilock disc brakes. The interior is as well-appointed as that of the E-class.

The 5-passenger M320 can tow up to 5,000 lbs.

CLK

The new CLK coupe is intended to give Mercedes-Benz a presence in the luxury sports coupe market segment in the same manner that the SLK has established it in the sports roadster segment. It combines spirited performance with grand touring luxury and everyday convenience.

Designed from the start as a coupe, the CLK320 only appears to share front-end styling with the E-Class. In fact, the two share no body panels, and the grille and lights of the CLK are lower and more raked back for aerodynamic efficiency.

The CLK is a true 4-seat car, with sedan-like room for its rear passengers. Standard luxury features include leather upholstery and burled walnut trim, power accessories, and a Bose 8-speaker audio system. Its 215-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 engine gives it sports car performance, and its 5-speed automatic transmission adapts to the driver's driving style.

E-Class

The E-Class sedans may look the same for 1998 as they have since their introduction, but there are some important changes under the skin. The inline 6-cylinder engine once used in the E320 has been replaced by a new, more powerful and more fuel-efficient V6. The normally-aspirated 3.0-liter diesel engine of last year's E300D has been replaced by a 3.0-liter turbodiesel with considerably more power. And, all E-Class cars can be ordered with an optional all-wheel drive system.

Although all E-Class sedans are unchanged in appearance, an new 7-passenger wagon has been added to the lineup. The E320 wagon uses the same new V6 as the E320 sedan, and, when fitted with all- wheel drive is a very luxurious all-weather alternative to an M320.

C-Class

The C-Class is the best-selling line in Mercedes-Benz's 112- year history. Although the current versions are only 4 model years old, they have been changed extensively for 1998.

There are two C-Class sports sedans for 1998. The C230 is powered by a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine, up from the previous 2.2-liter powerplant. The C280 has a new 2.8-liter V6, a relative of the engine used in the E and M classes. Both C-Class cars have been slightly restyled, with a more sporting look for 1998.

Other Models

The 1998 SLK sports roadster was introduced early in the 1997 calendar year and remains unchanged. The 6-cylinder SL300 has been dropped from the premium SL-Class line of sports luxury roadsters, leaving the V8-powered SL500 and V12 SL600. The premium S-Class sedans now have Brake assist and BabySmart, while what were the S- Class coupes are now the CL luxury coupes.

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