Mercedes-Benz’s recent Aesthetics A concept appears to signal a new dimension in Sensual Purity®. Is this the end of the Line? We hold our noses and investigate.
For some time now we’ve been pretty unequivocal as regards our impressions of Mercedes-Benz’s latter-day form language. Because, at the risk of labouring the point, it’s been pretty dismal. But for those of us who bewail the three pointed star’s descent from its automotive Mount Olympus, is salvation at hand?
Well, yes and no. The first signal of change came as far back as Autumn 2015 when Gorden Wagener’s studio released Concept IAA, a radical aero-influenced piece of future thought aimed at instigating a dialogue towards the Mercedes’ of the coming decade. A second a broader hint came to light last year with the announcement of the (C213?) E-Class Coupé, which eschewed its predecessor’s busy surfacing for a sort of blobular formlessness. Speaking to journalists at the car’s launch, director of exterior design Robert Lesnik stated – (with one assumes, a straight face) – “We started with cars that were a provocation – the CLA for example, where the proportions were so good you didn’t need many lines.”
[You will have to excuse me for a moment, while I go outside and scream].
Okay, that’s better. Lesnik continued by saying, “In 2009 or 2010 we set up this philosophy – sensual and pure, and by coincidence we started with our front-wheeled cars [like the A-Class] as we didn’t want to do another VW Golf. We wanted a very low progressive car.” Forward march to January 2017 and with the current generation A-Class family set for replacement, Aesthetics A appears as the next piece in the PR jigsaw; a means of telegraphing to customers that the next A-Class and its derivatives will represent not only a retreat from the visual spaghetti of the current model but will embody the next piece of the Sensual Purity® v2.0 puzzle.
What can we expect? Well, from the visual evidence an even more pronounced frontal overhang, a heavily sculpted bonnet treatment, an even larger, more ostentatious front air intake, and a more upright, truncated rear. A single prominent swage-line runs from nose to tail, but elsewhere the lines and creases appear to have been absorbed into the sensually pure reduction. A further development is what has been dubbed the Panamericana grille treatment. This hyper-aggressive vertically slatted arrangement, also described as the ‘predator face’ is to be adopted by AMG versions, which is something to look forward to.
In addition to the expected A-Class hatch, CLA coupé-saloon, GLA CUV and B-Class minivan, Mercedes are said to be planning a compact SUV to share the same wheelbase as the B-Class – the GLB perhaps? They have also hinted at another four-door saloon model to take on BMW and Audi’s offerings in this segment. (Answers on a postcard for the name of that one). At this rate one imagines a B-Class coupé isn’t utterly beyond the scope of reasoned imagination.
“Form and body are what remain when creases and lines are reduced to the extreme. We have the courage to apply this purism”, Gorden Wagener informed journalists while stroking a large fluffy cat in his darkened Sindelfingen lair. “In combination with sensual surface design, the upcoming generation of the compact class has the potential to herald a new design era.” Dear lord, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel isn’t it?
Now on one hand, it’s pleasing to know we are to be spared the surface entertainment of Sensual Purity® V1.0 for a newer less frenzied evolution. However, if the E-Class Coupé is any barometer, I’m somewhat unconvinced it will prove to be the improvement so many of us crave, and given Mercedes’ current global sales success why fiddle needlessly with a winning formula?
Robert Lesnik was recently quoted as saying; “This is the next chapter. We are taking lines out of everything.” I would contend that it wasn’t necessarily the lines that were at issue. It was the profusion in which they appeared and the manner in which they were handled. That’s before we get to the tacky detailing and surprisingly lazy shutline management. Removing character lines entirely I suspect will change little in this regard, but one should be thankful for small Mercedes’ I suppose.
19 thoughts on “Aesthetics A – Visibly Reduces the Appearance of Lines”
Generally Mercedes design seems a bit better to my eyes than it was ten, or even five years ago. There are still aberrations of course, but if you feel you have no choice but to follow the BMW X6, what do you expect? But, at best it’s OK. There is nothing that special about it. It is designed to look (self) important and it certainly isn’t subtle. As such, who are these navel-gazing pronouncements of Gorden and Robert aimed at?
The ‘Design Community’? I doubt it, they might give out the bullshit, but they don’t like taking it.
Journalists? Well, with honourable exceptions, aesthetic appreciation never seems high on the course curriculum at auto-journalist college, so they might naively recycle some of this.
Punters? Surely not Gorden. Do you think that guff fools anyone at the golf club or wherever it is Mercedes drivers congregate these days? The chances of hearing “it’s so great that Mercedes have the courage to apply this purism” is pretty unlikely. As much as a new, simpler, confident design language, can we expect a new simpler (yet still confident) written language to describe it. Repeat after me Gorden. “Our new GLA looks the fuckin’ dog’s bollocks, You gotta problem with that Da Silva?”.
“With the new H class we’ve simply tried to make it look good while using improved assembly processes. We messed with the bodyside sculpting a bit. The car’s taller because customers are. The strakes help reduce the apparent height. That’s it really. “
My personal take is that Mercedes’ current styling direction works on the heartland saloons and estates, the C, E and S. With good proportions and sober detailing, these cars (to my eyes at least) look expensive and luxurious. I also like the recent saloon-based coupés and cabriolets. Unfortunately this is not the case across the rest of the range. The A-Class plus variants (including the CLAs and the B-Class) are cheap-looking, ill-proportioned blobs. The CLS and Shooting Brake have been butchered with unnecessary creases and are no longer sufficiently differentiated from the mainstream cars. The roadsters (AMG-GT aside) have effectively been killed by a succession of awful facelifts. And don’t get me started on those horrific weaponised SUV/coupé things that all look like ED-209 from Robocop.
The current S class certainly looks better than its hideous predecessor. But is the current E better than the previous version? I’m not so sure.
The A family of front drive cars look awful and are awful, with literally nothing to recommend them. The Golf, Focus, Mazda 3 are all better – hell, I’d prefer a Giulietta even. The old A class was, at least, technically interesting and visually different – but it was also a sales flop. Wagener and co. will feel vindicated, then, even if the real story is that car buyers are inherently conservative and will choose any old rubbish with a premium badge, just not an oddball design with a premium badge.
The fact of the matter is that Mercedes have dropped most of their former core customers (S-class excepted) in favour of a less staid and conservative clientele. The current A-class owner is pretty much the exact opposite of the kind of people who bought a 190E back in the day.
Sales figures do speak for themselves, but the cost of this success is that Mercedes is now the most vulgar of the premium trio. Which isn’t bad news to Zetsche, Wagener et al for the time being, but I’m waiting to see how certain model’s residuals stack up and how a long-term change in perception of the brand may eventually end the idea of a Benz being at least half-a-notch above BMWs and Audis.
When I read Gorden and Robert (again) I am (again) reminded of the Tony Hancock / Galton & Simpson film The Rebel. Particularly the protagonist’s invention of the Shapist movement of art and his declaration of its style as “… all the shapes are different colours”.
“Form and body are what remain when creases and lines are reduced to the extreme.” Did Gorden really say that reductive nonsense?
“We didn’t want to do another VW Golf. We wanted a very low progressive car.” Practically everyone else wants to ‘do a Golf’ but can’t manage it. Gordy ‘n Bob could, of course, with one hand behind their backs, but they’d rather make something gaudy with less headroom. Courage!
Form is the highest category in the hierarchy. It can´t be expressed in more general terms: “what it looks like”. “body” would come under the category form, but would also be hard to define. With examination, “body” is a term dependent on “form” as in the body is the word we give to the notion of “what it looks like” to be a car. So, “body” might be a general notion of the appearance of a thing we recognise as a car. Turning to the second part of the phrase “when creases and lines are reduced” we find the claim: if there are no creases and lines, the car´s body remains. That´s not a very great claim as the lines and creases depend on the body for their situation. A body is a requirement for there to be creases and lines.
Wagener was getting at something (if I am to be fair) but simply couldn´t express it. He is welcome to come to my course on science theory for designers. It´s very good.
In my opinion the themes of the current S-class design work much better expressed on the C-class than the S-class. I find the new E-class quite hard to differentiate at first glance from the C, other than by size.
Having kicked Gorden Wagener, I will now say the current crop of MB saloons are nearly okay. The grille and bumper arrangement is not good enough for MB. It could be that the C and E have blended in my mind: I can´t separate them without recourse to a Google image search. That said, E class buyers probably don´t mind and nor to C class buyers. The current C is the first one I have not disliked since the original 1993 car: that´s 24 long years of hard-to-please. These are the Benzes, (along with the E) I want to rust as fast possible with only a few kept in collections to warn future generations.
Yes, the W213 (sic?) E his hard to identify indeed. And I’m still baffled by M-B’s decision to drop the differentiation between S/C and E class, in favour of adopting BMW’s and Audi’s policy of utter homogeneity. This isn’t the course of action of a confident company.
But, with a clenched fist, I have to join the chorus of the backhanded compliment singalong: the C & E aren’t as dreadful as the small cars, in particular. Neither are they very good. Which is what a brand of Mercedes’ cachet should always strive for (and did, to varying degrees of success, up to the dreaded W210).
Nowadays, they’re just a brand among many others. They’re not terrible, like during the Hubbert years, but terrible unexceptional.
May I put in a good word for Mr Doyle’s article itself? It is extremely well-written and quite hilarious in spots. Coffee has been spilt here over the italicized need “to go outside and scream”.
Along with the theme article on brochures by Mr. Kearne, I realize it is my good fortune to be able to read mature writing with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek. In fact, although I constantly check the web in the vain hope of discovering a new car blog worthy of more than five minutes attention, I have found only DTW in the last decade. Yes, decade.
No doubt the site’s founders are well-inured to each others skill in the writing department, for the comments are directly to the point on Mercedes’ styling, and nobody directly congratulates the writer himself. Let me correct that omission! Good work.
We don’t congratulate each other because we are highly reluctant bedfellows. No other site will have us and the only thing we have in common is mutual loathing. Nevertheless, thank you for the kind words. Doubtless the vain Richard and preening Eoin will puff themselves up with them, whereas I just start asking myself which of them you are related to.
That’s kind of you – I am sure Eoin will appreciate such a nice review.
I don’t know what it says about the rest of the automotive press that with our nugatory resources we manage to please so many.
All I can say is “spread the word”.
See, I told you.
Thank you Bill. High praise indeed. Very pleased you’re enjoying the site.
Sean: you’re being a curmudgeon.
We shouldn’t let Simon see this. I’m glad he only reads paper and not screen text.
I don’t think he’s ever looked at a screen in his life. He insists on everything being printed out and presented to him as galleys. I’m not entirely sure he even realises that this is a website.
Sean: no, he’s not that bad. He’s knows it’s to do with the internet which means he doesn’t ask for the printed edition. He reviews the draft and sends it back with corrections (if we’re lucky).
Hmm. Mercedes didn’t do a Golf, they did a BMW 1 series. All nose and no arse. As far as I can tell, make a bigger nose has been the trend for at least the past 10 years. Only the Italians have refused to join in but in doing so made it difficult to fit your number plate. You can’t win ’em all.