STUTTGART - When new versions of the C-class range are unveiled at September's Paris auto show, Mercedes-Benz will choose its words carefully. They will not be called hatchbacks or C-class compacts.
They will be referred to as Sports Coupes to underline the fact that they were developed as standalone models within the C-class range, styled and engineered to appeal to younger buyers.
'The name 'Sports Coupe' really sums up what this car is all about,' said Jurgen Hubbert, DaimlerChrysler board member responsible for Mercedes-Benz passenger cars. 'It underlines the progressive nature of the C-class range clearly.'
Mercedes-Benz is hoping the extra time and money invested in the Sports Coupe will give it a greater profile than the BMW 3 series Compact, developed as part of the last 3 series range.
In Germany, the C-class sedan range starts at DM49,880 (E25,265). Prices for the Sports Coupe have not been finalized, but they will undercut the sedan's. Company spokesman Andreas Brozat said: 'At Mercedes-Benz, two doors do not cost more than four doors.'
The Sports Coupe will be built at Sindelfingen, Germany, where the C-class sedan is also produced.
The Sports Coupe will be equipped with a panoramic electric sliding sunroof. From the front windscreen through to the rear spoiler, everything is glass. The front half of the roof glides toward the rear to create an opening that is claimed to be a third larger than a conventional sunroof's. The car also benefits from an Evolution package that offers alloy wheels, wider tires and sports suspension.
A new automated six-speed gearbox - called Sequentronic - will make its debut on the Sports Coupe. Available as an option, Sequentronic uses electrical impulses conveyed via shift lever to change gear, eliminating the need for mechanical links and clutch pedal. It can also be used in fully automatic mode.
The Sports Coupe, at 4343mm long, is 183mm shor-ter than the sedan version. Its height - 1406mm - is 20mm lower, helped by a more road-hugging suspension system.
Top-of-the-range versions of the sports coupe will be equipped with the SLK roadster's 2.3-liter, 197hp engine.
l A new V-8 diesel version of the Mercedes-Benz S-class - the S400 CDI - has just been launched in Germany, France and Italy. Other European countries will follow shortly afterward - although the car will not be made in right-hand-drive format, and will not be exported to the USA.
'Our main markets for this car are Germany, France and Italy,' said S400 CDI Project Manager Joachim Kramer. A strong diesel tradition exists in these countries, he said, and rising fuel prices have resulted in an increased demand for diesel vehicles.
'With 97 percent of S-class sales being company cars, neither fuel prices nor fuel economy are decisive factors (for buying a diesel), really,' said Kramer. 'But there are quite a few people who care about ecological aspects and enjoy the high-tech solutions applied (on the 4.0-liter diesel engine) to minimize the impact on the environment.
'These people get a lot of pleasure purely from knowing about the efficiency of their car.'
But although the S400 CDI meets European EU-3 emission standards, a particle filter system would have to be added to meet stringent US regulations. Mercedes-Benz technicians say they are not satisfied with current versions of the system. There is also decreasing demand for luxury diesel sedans in the USA.
Dorothee Ostle contributed