In 2011, they launched the B-Class, followed in quick succession by the A-Class and CLA, soon to be joined by the GLA. They were supposed to be revolutionary, based around a new modular platform that makes them sporty and alive, but somehow they also represent an involution for the brand.
A Mercedes mechanic once told me all their big engines are awesome, but the engineers don't know anything about making small ones. This appears to be painfully true. I still remember riding shotgun in the old SLK 200 "Kompressor", not being able to comprehend how bad the performance and fuel economy were as a balance.
The compact cars created by Mercedes, especially the A-Class, have landed smack bang in the middle of the hardest hitting market, where all the best champions are gathered and do battle. If you like, the European compact segment is like pro middle weight boxing, and the Golf 7 is the undisputed champion. It also has a lot of help from another boxer who trains in the same gym, the Audi A3.
Mercedes trains some of the best heavyweight champions, but for compacts it enlisted the help of Renault. The collaboration started when Daimler and Renault co-developed the Citan and Kangoo. That is also where it should have stopped!
Instead, they chose to use Renault's 110 hp 1.5-liter diesel engine in a number of application and will use another diesel, the 1.6 dCi on the next C-Class. This week, they did the unthinkable and dropped and even more basic engine. The A- and B-Class will be available with a 1.5-liter diesel making just 90 horsepower and 220 Nm (162 lb-ft) of torque. This takes both cars from 0 to 100 km/h in 14 seconds.
I wasn't going to say anything on the record about this, but forums are buzzing about this subject, calling these the first Mercedes cars with Dacia engines. This for something that costs from €25,882 in Germany. It's really bad marketing when the guy buying the cheapest A-Class, dreaming of an SLS for 1/7 the money, gets a Dacia Sandero for 3 times the money.
It's not just the idea that the 1.5-liter engine shared with Renault, it's the way Mercedes has thought this through. The automaker always has a defeatist attitude when it came to these small cars, saying that it's too expensive for them to develop platforms, while Audi and VW gang up with Skoda and SEAT joining in as well.
But looking purely at the facts, the A 180 petrol model has a turbo 1.6-liter producing 122 PS. Meanwhile, Audi has a 1.4-liter turbo with 122 PS since forever and the power is delivered lower down. And that's just the base model, the new EA888 engine is miles ahead of the competition. And just think how many Engine of the Year awards VaG has to its name in the sub-2-liter range.
So maybe Daimler needs to shape up, stop wasting money on stupid projects that stroke its ego, like powerful electric cars, and open a development center to make really good small engines.
If you like, Mercedes makes heavy hitters that forget to do their roadwork, forget to score points in a match and just go for the KO all the time. It's spectacular to watch, but you're always expecting them to fail. That's not how you describe champions. I don't want to sound like a pessimist, but if Daimler keeps on using Renault engines, sooner or later it's going to fail.