Mercedes launches its first four-cylinder S class to race BMW, Audi in green luxury
Mercedes is the first of the world's biggest luxury carmakers to put such a small engine on its top-of-the-line model. To meet emissions standards and win environmentally aware customers, premium manufacturers are flaunting their environmental credentials. BMW has invested 1.2 billion euros in fuel-saving technology, while Mercedes nearly doubled its investment on “green” development to 1 billion euros this year.
Mercedes aims to maintain S class performance even with a downsized engine. The S250 CDI, which will arrive at dealers early next year, has a 2.2-liter diesel engine that has a peak power output of 204 hp and delivers maximum torque of 500 Newton meters at 1600 rpm.
Mercedes says the high torque at low engine speeds is a result of two-stage turbocharging and the engine's torque figures are equal to a six-cylinder diesel.
With stop-start technology as standard, the S 250 CDI has fuel consumption of 5.7 liters per 100 km and CO2 emissions of 149 grams per km, making it the first car in the luxury segment to run on under 6 liters of fuel per 100 km and the first vehicle in its class to attain CO2 emissions below the 150 gram mark, Mercedes says.
'Green luxury is feasible'
The 2- ton sedan has a top speed of 240 kilometers (149 miles) per hour and accelerates to 100 km per hour in 8.2 seconds. The top-of-the-line S65 AMG hits the mark in 4.4 seconds, but spews more than twice the emissions, and, at 192,500 euros, costs more than three times as much.
“Green luxury is feasible,” said Verena Mueller, a Mercedes spokeswoman. “We expect to attract environmentally conscious customers who are seeking the lowest possible CO2 emissions. Besides private customers, that could of course also be fleet buyers.”
Engine downsizing is also a reaction to the financial crisis, which sapped demand in the U.S. for high-end cars amid historic job losses. BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer said on Nov. 3 that U.S. luxury car sales will likely remain below pre-crisis levels until 2013 or 2014.
Smaller engines are cheaper, so therefore offer a financial incentive to keep customers from trading down to less-expensive model lines. The S250 CDI, which will be targeted mainly to European customers, costs 3,700 euros less than the V6 version, but 27,400 more than entry-level E class.
“The business models of Mercedes, BMW, and Audi wouldn't support a massive migration of customers to smaller models,” said Christoph Stuermer, a Frankfurt-based analyst at IHS Automotive. “We're going to start seeing extreme versions of bigger cars to keep customers from drifting down.”
BMW turns to electric motors for green performance
BMW this year swapped a six-cylinder engine for an eight- cylinder in one version of its top-of-the-line 7 series. Still, the company, which is building a hybrid supercar and an electric auto for city driving, isn't planning to follow Mercedes by rolling out a four-cylinder version of its flagship line.
“I like selling 7-series cars with six- and eight- cylinders,” Reithofer said last month at the Paris Motor Show. “What we need to offer with these cars in the future is electrification.”
BMW is developing a production version of the Vision Efficient Dynamics concept car for sale in 2013. The four-person sportscar combines a three-cylinder combustion engine with two electric motors and can accelerate to 100 kilometers per hour in 4.8 seconds. With CO2 emissions of 99 grams CO2 per kilometer, it's equivalent to the most efficient Volkswagen Golf.
Audi will counter with 4-cylinder A8
Audi is following a similar approach and plans to couple smaller engines with electric motors. The carmaker is developing a version of the A8 that will combine a four-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor. The hybrid sedan is slated for 2012, spokesman Eric Felber said, adding that smaller engines on their own can risk performance.“Downsizing shouldn't limit driving characteristics,” said Eric Felber, a spokesman for Audi. “It's important to offer a certain degree of performance in this segment.” Felber said.
Ahead of the arrival of the hybrid flagship, Audi will provide more efficiency by introducing a front-wheel-drive version of the A8 with a six-cylinder diesel engine starting early next year.
Mercedes' four-cylinder S class is likely to be popular in countries such as France, the U.K. and the Netherlands, which are raising auto taxes based on carbon-dioxide emissions.
“They're going to love this car,” said Stuermer. “It allows them social prestige and comfort, without punishing them with costs for performance that they can't even legally use.”
A customer's experience
Simon Empson from Colchester, England, who has owned an S class since buying his first in the 1970s, hasn't touched his V8-powered S500 for 18 months. Instead of cruising in the flagship Mercedes model, which starts at 60,400 euros ($84,000), he's driving a 9,000-euro Rio from Kia Motors Corp. because the Korean compact burns 70 percent less fuel.
“We have to start making some significant changes” in our driving habits because of the environment, said Empson, 52, who is managing director of U.K. discount car website Broadspeed.com. “In the new greener world, we will all have to learn how to drive fewer, shorter journeys, much more slowly.”
Aside from an S class, Empson also owns a Ferrari, a Bentley, a Triumph motorcycle and several French and English classic cars. But he's turning sour on these toys.
“I have owned dozens of exotic cars over the years and now feel that the investment status many now possess will collapse,” he said. “It's the end of an era.”
Paul McVeigh contributed to this report