China is now the biggest market in the world for most luxury and premium car brands. Once you know that, it comes as less of a surprise that Mercedes chose to show this new concept car at the motor show in Beijing this week, rather than New York two weeks ago.
And poring over it in the metal, we’d say that with the rather clumsily named Mercedes Concept Style Coupe, the company has a winner on its hands. "But it’s a concept car," we hear you cry. That’s true, but there are massive clues you get when looking around this car that it’s set up to be produced. And we talked with Mercedes designers in Beijing, so trust us when we say that what you see here is 95 per cent of what the production car will look like when it comes to market, probably some time in 2013.
Yes, you’ll lose the lights with their frankly bonkers upper section, which ripple, like someone wiggling their eyebrows. And you won’t be able to spec it with demon-like red headlamp bulbs either. Inside, we wouldn’t expect to see the Day-Glo yellow piping to make production or quite so much Alcantara/suede either. But other than that, what you see is what you get.
It’s based on the A-class so you get a very high-quality dashboard architecture with a primary tablet-like screen for the infotainment display. You’ll control it through the latest version of Mercedes’ excellent "COMAND" interface – either via the steering wheel buttons or a rotary knob and button controller on the centre tunnel. The screen itself is a 9-inch unit and is fixed – projecting from the top of the dash at all times, as seems de rigueur these days.
Because it’s based on the A-class, it’s front-wheel drive. For those of you who know anything about Mercedes-Benz saloons, that’s a massive change for the brand. Everything they’ve done with a boot until now, has put drive through its rear wheels. But using the A-class platform is cheaper. Front-wheel drive cars are easier to package – meaning Merc’s designers can shoe-horn in a pair of half-decent rear seats, while still creating that lovely flowing roofline over the top and making the car shorter than a C-Class.
We think the exterior design is much more coherent than a lot of recent Mercs, too. In side profile it reminds us of the original CLS, the one which many people described as looking like a banana. Some people hated it, we thought it was awesome. And you can’t deny it was a success. The CLS was the original four-door coupe, a car for people who wanted four doors and seats but needed to put people in the back only occasionally; thus valuing style over practicality.
Think of this car as a little brother to the CLS and you won’t be far wrong. Bet on it being named CLA in production form and being a big success. Because get this, the best bit is that it’ll cost less than a C-class saloon when it goes on sale.
So if Merc can hold on to the looks of this "concept" car, we think it’ll be a pretty compelling proposition. Expect it to be just one of many new models from Mercedes in the near future, as it moves into an all-out-attack period in an effort to try and establish premium car supremacy in the battle against BMW and Audi.