An awesome guided missile
RESTRAINED CHARACTER HIDES WHAT IS, IN FACT, A MINI-SUPERCAR
When it comes to status symbols, you must admit that MercedesBenz is right up there with the best. Janis Joplin sang to the Lord to buy her one because she needed to make amends, as her friends were all driving Porsches. In Africa, the upper classes and political elites have long been known as the “waBenzi” for their taste for the quality German vehicles.
And, while the brand is all about luxury and insulated elegance, it has a sporting history which stretches back into the early years of the last century.
Today, the Mercedes-Benz Formula One cars – headed by soon-to-be World Champion Lewis Hamilton – have been locked in a titanic battle all season with arch-rivals Ferrari.
That was pretty much as it was back before the Second World War when Merc’s nemesis on the racing tracks was Auto Union, the forerunner of Audi.
While there are those who might think Mercedes-Benz is one of the leaders in new automotive technology, the reality is that it has always been so.
Take the W154 Grand Prix car from the pre-war years (which I speak about on the opposite page).
While most cars of the time had basic four-cylinder, sidevalve petrol engines, the W154 had an ultra-sophisticated 3.0-litre V12, with four-valve cylinder heads running on an exotic chemical combination, rather than pump fuel.
The W154 was top of mind for me when I sat down to record my thoughts on the newly launched Mercedes-Benz C Class performance sedan, the C43 AMG. It is at the head of the new C Class range in terms of firepower, packing a muscular 287kW in its 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol motor.
Yet it looks nothing like the mini-supercar it is.
The C43 AMG will hit 100km/h from a standstill in less than five seconds and has a top speed limited to 250km/h. You’ll have to wait for the exact figures from my road-test colleagues Mark Jones and Ntsako Mthethwa in Citizen Motoring.
What I can say is that the acceleration of this guided missile is awesome. There is very little on the streets of Gauteng which can seriously offer it a challenge.
Outside, the C43 maintains the air of muted elegance which has become a German automotive speciality.
There is no need for garish wings, scoops or graphics along the flanks to prove you’re fast. That happens on the tarmac.
That said, I found the alloy wheels on this edition underwhelming and a bit like something you could pick up at Tiger Wheel and Tyre.
The restrained character of the C43 is in keeping with the likely buyer of this R1-million machine: someone who has been successful but who shuns the trappings of the nouveau riche and has no need for vulgar showing off.
Such a person will welcome the comfortable ride, courtesy of adjustable suspension, as well as the host of creature comforts and the additional safety features.
The feeling of smooth progress is helped by a silky nine-speed automatic gearbox.
Lest you feel boredom approaching because of the clinically efficient way the Merc does its job, there is a “hooligan button” on the transmission tunnel.
When activated, this opens a flap in the exhaust which liberates the raucous sound of the V6.
That noise is addictive, if you’re a petrolhead like me … the V6 wail begins at just on 3 000rpm and goes all the way to the electronic ignition cut-out at beyond 6 000.
On downshifts or full-throttle upshifts, there is spluttering and popping, which reminds you this is, at heart, a machine whose root do go back to the Silver Arrows W154 cars.
Of course you can’t compare apples with pears, but the cars also share another trait if you trash them: they guzzle fuel.
Even travelling with a light foot, I struggled to keep consumption below 13 litres per 100km in the city and on occasion saw it soar past 17 litres per 100km. On the highway, it gave less than nine litres per 100km at legal speeds.
But the best thing about buying a Merc is that you never have to explain why. Everybody knows.