Signs of Our Times

Is the rejection of historical displays of excellence a sign of daring boldness – or the revelation of glaring ignorance?

photo (c)

For the sake of readership enjoyment, we shall not again repeat the litany about how Mercedes-Benz ‘ain’t what it used to be’ and how Swabian diligence has given way to Sensual Purity®.

NuMerc is upon us, there’s no doubt about it. So rather than focus on the diagnosis, this is about the symptoms of the changes that are afoot or have already taken place at Stuttgart-Untertürkheim. And these symptoms are, frankly, mind-boggling, for a number of reasons.

Sensual Purity®, as well as Hot & Cool (which would be much kooler written with a ‘k’, just like Gorden is a much kooler name thanks to the addition of an ‘e’) are by now household names, of course. In the case of the former, we know by now that the ‘Purity’ part is a mischievous piece of deception, or even a postmodern contradiction in terms.

MercedesG 650 Landaulet Press Test Drive South Africa 2017
This. Is. Sensual. Purity. ®. photo (c)

The ‘Sensual’ part, however, is more difficult to ascertain. The wise minds of define the term thus.


1. pertaining to, inclined to, or preoccupied with the gratification of the senses or appetites; carnal; fleshly.

2. lacking in moral restraints; lewd or unchaste.

3. arousing or exciting the senses or appetites.

4. worldly; materialistic; irreligious.

5. of or relating to the senses or physical sensation; sensory.

6. pertaining to the philosophical doctrine of sensationalism.

So just as NuMerc pretty much defies any variation of ‘Purity’ as we know it, the ‘Sensual’ part is simply spot-on. For a six-wheeled ‘Maybach’ Geländewagen can certainly be described as ‘lacking in moral restraints; lewd or unchaste‘.

The gin palace appearance of the current Benz range unquestionably caters to aesthetic desires of the ‘worldly; materialistic‘ kind. These shapes are not devoted to ‘dem Wahren, Schönen, Guten’, neither are they designed to last. For ideals are for old people. NuMerc is about now, and which shapes sell now.

Unlike Sensual Purity®, Hot & Cool has been somewhat intangible an entity though. Until now.

A glimpse into a beautiful mind, photo (c) Karl Ashley Smith/Twitter

Hot & Cool means, above all else, luxury. It also means different grilles. Eureka!

This explanation also proves that NuMerc is far braver than anyone could have ever have imagined. Just as the majority of automotive marques attempts and struggles to establish signifiers of stringent brand recognition – mostly through the application of an easily identifiable frontal aspect (aka down-the-road graphic), NuMerc finds it’s better off  without the baggage of more than a century of automotive history.

With the proud three-pointed star already fading from the skies, it is now time for the traditional Mercedes grille to turn into an obscurity. Its basic shape may survive for the time being, but that may be subject to change. For it’s already been substituted for the Determined Performance®/Panamericana snout on the Mercedes models at the ‘scorching hot’ end of the NuMerc Hot & Cool temperature spectrum.

Just as future ‘2 cool 4 school’ EQ electric Benzes will do with a projected derivation of what used to be the Mercedes grille. Yes, Mercedes-Benz is truly entering the virtual realm – Cupertino, it seems, is but a small jump away from Untertürkheim!

The face of the future is a projection, photo (c) Mercedes-Benz

Anyone betting against a Benzify® app to be offered in due course, allowing owners to personalise this DRG projection in any way that’s in keeping with The Gorden’s idea(l)s, would therefore be a brave soul indeed.

Hot & Cool leaves no space for as outdated a concept as that of a legacy though. The proud three-pointed star on the bonnet already is as good as gone. The traditional grille shape is gradually losing its significance. And all that is because these old markers of excellence are not needed anymore, simply due to the fact that NuMerc has turned its attention to no less than the redefinition of excellence. That EQ projector DRG? NuExcellence 2.0. The Maybach ‘waterfall’ grille? ExcellingExcellence. And so on and so forth.

NuMerc’s boldness confines the proud, proven symbols of yore to the scrapyard of history. The traditional, blue-on-silver laurel wreath badge that lent even a rusty, magenta-coloured first-generation CLK on cheap aftermarket wheels a whiff of dignity has therefore already gone.

NuMerc has no use for it, which is why it’s been almost clandestinely replaced with a simplified, silver-on-black modernisation that makes Landor’s changes to Citroën’s double chevron almost appear respectful. Mind you, these new badges are likely to be much cheaper to produce too, but their shine is far more glossy than the old, uneven emblem’s. In NuMerc terms, that makes this a win-win constellation.

To some, all this may add up to a ‘New Coke’ moment in automotive history: the needless abandoning of a hugely successful brand identity in favour of a vague concept that’s mimicking progress, but in truth diminishing the marque’s value.

But those naysayers are just increasingly desperate people clinging into the values of the past, who refuse to understand Sensual Purity® and don’t consider a concept like Vertical Affinity/Horizontal Homogeneity ‘forced’. People who prefer badges and grilles made up of, you know, real stuff.

NuMerc doesn’t need them. Because history is for old people. Glossy black stuff is for the future.

The author of this piece runs an obscure motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

4 thoughts on “Signs of Our Times”

  1. Having driven a beautiful W124 320 CE coupe last week, i can only … cry

  2. Like Roberto, I hugely miss the precision and care with which the Sacco era cars were designed. This lazy detail on the new A-Class particularly offends me:

    (Apologies for the poor resolution of the photo.)

    The shut line between wing and bumper meets the sharp lower corner of the headlamp unit, which is ok (ish) but the (inexplicably?) rounded upper corner forces the shut line above to be displaced forward, so it is misaligned. That would annoy me every time I looked at the car (not that I would buy one in the first place).

    1. It was clear that the A was going to be poor, but the reveal photos illustrate a car less carefully finessed than the Hyundai i30 it closely resembles and looks inferior to. It is, even by the famished standards of Nu-Merc, a deeply cynical product from a company which has not just lost its way, but under the Village People tribute act of Dr Zee, the carefully cultivated and nurtured Mercedes-Benz identity is being gleefully cast on the pyre for some ephemeral fluff masquerading as future-thought.

      I saw today that Nu-Merc is offering a Sport Line package for the Vito, Mixto and Tourer commercial line, which consists of, amongst other delights, “black stripes applied to the bonnet and doors, different side skirts and bumpers, chrome-plated radiator grille, roof railing and tinted windows. The Vito now sits on 18-inch light alloy wheels, but 19-inch ones are available as an option, alongside a large panoramic roof and all-wheel drive, whereas the sports suspension completes its dynamic appearance.”

      Inside, “users will find black artificial leather, velour floor mats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift lever, in addition to the Chrome Appointments Package.” Hot, and furthermore, cool.

      History will judge Zetsche and all who sail in him very harshly indeed and rightly so.

    2. It’s difficult to know how to respond to that panel gap. You’d never draw that line – you’d draw a shallow arc. In production that would result in a “corner” where there is presently a curve. Locally or seen up close it’d look better. Seen in context, seeing the car at 5m the lamp would seem wrong. As it it looks okay from 5m but wrong close up.
      I think Mercedes is quite happy to accept that it looks good from afar but is far from good. Not many people care about such fine details – shame on them. At least half of MBs competitors don’t do this and the other half charge half what Benz do.

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