Magazine article The Spectator

Mercedes Manners

Magazine article The Spectator

Mercedes Manners

Article excerpt

With what do we associate Mercedes? Reluctantly putting aside the Count of Monte Cristo's concubine, we tend to think of German engineering excellence, status, comfort, luxury, power, performance, that elegant star on the bonnet, those wonderful Nazi staff cars, a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of motoring and, more recently, the notorious and rather unfair elk test. We do not tend to think of offroading as a Mercedes activity, though we are vaguely aware of those uncompromisingly box-like G Wagons that are said to be virtually indestructible but very expensive to run (now much sought-after in Russia, apparently).

I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to be invited by Mercedes for a day of offroading in their new M-Class, their entry into the four-wheel-drive fashion (as opposed to utility/G Wagon) sector. Last month's article speculated on the reasons for the continued flourishing of this sector, which will now be yet further enhanced as life-long Mercedes owners are tempted into it by the knowledge that they can do so in the capable hands of their familiar friend. Even BMW and Porsche enthusiasts will soon be able to do the same.

And capable those Mercedes hands are, and tempted those Mercedes drivers shall be. With its sophisticated array of electronic traction systems and stability programmes, the M-class coped impressively with the worst that Sussex weather and conditions could throw at it - steady rain, hidden tree stumps, lurching angles, alarming hills and then lakes, fens, bogs, dens and shades of death amidst heavy, glutinous, sucking, devouring Sussex clay. It was initially reported of this car that it could not really do the business off-road, but that was probably because someone forgot to switch off the ESP (electronic stability programme) when engaging low range. If you don't as I discovered in one particularly tree-ridden hill-bog - you soon start to lose it, but so long as you do the car will do everything that all but specialist off-road drivers are likely to ask. If it has a fault in this area, it is that it is all too easy to forget to switch off the ESP. Why not link it to the lowrange switch, so that one goes off as the other comes on? After all, the benefits of ESP are mainly concerned with normal onthe-road driving.

Back on the road, meanwhile, the MClass has all the manners we normally associate with Mercedes, plus - in the 430 version I had for a week - all the power and performance you are likely to want. …

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