Top-Line, Entry Level

DTW once again abases itself at the bottom rung.

Image: The Author

I am no expert when it comes to the subject of car design, lacking as I do the in-depth knowledge, training, vocabulary, or indeed, ‘eye’ to interrogate or illuminate a car’s form in a truly meaningful manner – mercifully, others upon these pages are better placed to do just that.

Nevertheless, I do spend more time than is either productive or conducive to a healthy mind (or body) studying cars and attempting to better understand both them and the intentions of their creators. Over time I have constructed a number of amateur theses, one of them being that if a car design appears acceptable in base-level trim, it probably is an acceptable piece of work.

Last week, we reviewed a design where the discrepancy between base and top-level was notable for all the wrong reasons, but today, we tentitively approach a more formidable barrier, in the shape of the current-series W222 Mercedes S-Class.

I took this solitary photo a number of months ago during one of my stints in West Cork, a place where entry-level Mercedes’ are a good deal more common a sighting than they might be elsewhere. Several aspects about this example coalesced to capture my attention. The fact that it was a short-wheelbase model (a rare sighting in itself), that it wasn’t finished in private hire black or dark blue (suggesting an owner-driver) and that it appeared to be in base-model specification – or as close an approximation to it as I have encountered.

Without dipping into the price-lists (Mercedes’ Irish website is an impenetrable nonsense), I think it’s probably safe to assume that AMG rip-snorters aside, all S-Class models offered in the Irish Republic still imbibe the black stuff. Equally safe to imagine that entry level is probably a 3.0 litre six –  up to 2017 allegedly, of the angled variety. (An in-line six came after that date). Smallish wheels (I’d hazard a set of 18 or 19 inchers) on probably the default-option style choice (again, it wasn’t possible to confirm).

I don’t think I would necessarily be a lone voice in the wilderness to suggest that the current Sonderklasse, from a stylistic perspective, falls into the ‘not terrible, but not quite satisfactory’ category. It lacks two of the essential characteristics common to all of the best of its breed – bearing and gravitas. In its creators’ headlong rush towards their goal of Sensual Purity, too much was cast away, with what remains leaving a rather over-flavoured taste.

However, to this observer’s eyes, the example pictured here, while still no S-Class for the post-millennium age, suffers less in this manner than its larger, more emboldened brethren. Does it back up my thesis? Not quite. But while it remains some palpable distance short of adequacy, to these untrained eyes it nevertheless moves closer to it. Perhaps then, for the S-Class, as seems to be the case with Porsche’s eternal Nunelfer, and indeed so much of life, less really is more.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

21 thoughts on “Top-Line, Entry Level”

  1. Hi Eoin,

    I don’t read Dutch but Autoweek.nl regularly have a ‘Back to basics’ articles (once a week I think) where they show, usually recently launched cars, in all their basic glory. if one types ‘back to basics’ in their search engine I would imagine that all their articles will come up. Talking about Autoweek I noticed they regurlarly have articles with subjects that remind me of DTW ! Even though they have no car industry of their own Dutch people seem to love cars and analyse them.

    1. That defender is not bad at all. I like the wheels, but the A-pillars are weird: why not simply blacked out or body coloured?

  2. Great picture. The slabs in the background obliterate any sense of scale, I was sure this was an E-Class.

  3. It´s not plain to me that it is a base-model. I don´t mean to say it isn´t, I mean to say a base model S looks quite alright to me in the sense of not being terrible or hateful. I think we can say that today most manufacturers don´t make a painfully bad base model in the way they did in the 1980s – recall those utterly bare Corsa, Fiestas and Renault 18s or even skeletal BMW 518s with not even a rear-centre armrest or radio.
    Speaking of private owners, I saw this car in mid-metallic green in central Dublin and it changed the car´s character. It made the car look valuable and attractive rather than expensive and unapproachable. These cars don´t have to be dressed like contract killers. I would like to see one in flat avocado or industrial orange.

  4. Good morning, Eóin. When I saw your photo, at first glance I assumed it was of a C-Class, so similar are they in profile and even detailing. (The falling upper and rising lower bodyside creases are common to both, whereas the E-Class has a straight crease running through the door handles.) Of the three, the E-Class is the most recent iteration of this generation and probably the best, albeit by a small margin.

    That said, I think you’ve nailed it by describing the current S-Class as ‘not terrible, but not quite satisfactory’ and this would apply equally to its smaller siblings. That level of achievement, coupled with the coveted badge and a restoration of the marque’s reputation for quality, is enough to keep these selling strongly, so job done as far as Daimler-Benz is concerned. It remains hard to enthuse about these from a design perspective, however.

    1. The new A-Class saloon is also pretty similar. Here are the four siblings for comparison:


      The E-Class is marginally the cleaner profile, but the C and S-Class are virtual doppelgangers.

  5. Good morning everyone, after a long lurker time in which this site slowly came to be one of the first I visit daily, not for the first time I feel somehow urged to write something under one of the beautiful articles (or should I write essays?) DTW is composed of, turning from silent admirer of the arguments, and of the ways they are here treated, into one of the many interacting commenters.
    So, why am I writing now? Because in a far past, in the middle of the Nineties, I have been exactly in the situation of the Irish gentleman with the short wheelbase, light blue S Class: I bought an S Class in its basic specification, and indeed I never regretted it.
    At that time I needed to cover many European kilometers, and I was getting out from a love story with a newly bought XJ 3.2 Sport, which had let me on the verge of a nervous breakdown (so can be one-sided love stories…).
    As a disappointed lover I decided therefore to go, cruel and loveless, for the “German housewife” qualities, which I already knew from a W124 I had previously, and entered a Mercedes dealer.
    In that time the W140 was not selling very well, and I had a (quite) brand new Jaguar to give in partial exchange, so the deal was quickly made.
    However, as every disappointed lover, I exerted my revenge on an innocent, and I refused all the salesman’s offers about accessories, alloys, leather seats and so on, up to the incredible Designo catalogue, which he showed to me marking slowly with a finger all the different marble and stone types I could have had around me on the dashboard and doors. Like a little mammal before a cobra, I was at the same time fascinated and horrified……
    He later confessed to me that, nothwithstanding his best efforts, he could never convince a client to buy such horrid (and very costly) combinations, but, you know, you have to give it a try.
    Anyway, I also steadily refused the optional dark oak which was the normal choice, brutally saying: “I suppose that at Sindelfingen they will cover the holes with something, and that’s enough for me.”
    So the final combination was: steel wheels, unknown dashboard decor, textile seats.
    I could not avoid the metallic paint, so silver it was, with a blue interior, which was in my eyes the matching choice.
    On arrival of the car I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the idea they had in Sindelfingen of a basic, stock dashboard decor was not a piece of sad nondescript plastic, as I expected, but a beautiful and warm orange-shaded wood, which as I understood later was called zebrano.
    This wood was so warmly glowing that it gave the whole interior of the car more light, very much different from the dark oak normally used (and paid for) in these cars, which absorbed light, rather than reflecting it.
    The blue interior (seats, dashboard, steering wheel and door panels) helped also in this, being visually lighter than the normally used black.
    All in all, the combination silver -blue – orange was, for me, unexpectedly beautiful.
    I can still remember the comment of the salesman, who had never seen the basic decor: “I am impressed, this is really beautiful, and I am lucky nobody knows it, otherwise I would never sell one more dark oak decor!”.
    In addition to that the car had basic steel wheels, with the plastic all-wheel covering, which were already present on the W124 series and which I always visually liked.
    The car behaved perfectly in the following 300.000 km, letting the Jaguar’s memories of a broken one-sided love fade away (although every time I see an XJ I can’t avoid a little heartbeat… ).

    1. Hi anastasio,

      This is a really good anecdote in itself, very interesting to have the detailed description of the beast.

    2. Thanks for this nice story, Anastasio. I have never specced and bought a new car, but when buying used ones I rather tend to go towards the ones with full options. Quite easy in Switzerland where nobody ever buys base models, by the way. But still I remember that one base model CX (with 5 gears, though) with quite some fondness, and honestly I didn’t really miss a lot. Air condition was not common at all in these years anyway, and a decent radio and speakers I added by myself.

      The colour combination you describe sounds very good indeed, although I always find silver a bit too bland. But as a driver, dashboard and interior trim is what you see most of the time anyway. Do you happen to have a photo of this interior, I’d really be interested to see that.

    3. Anastasio, thank you for your warm endorsement of our efforts here and for sharing your experiences with us. Sorry to hear that your leaping cat was more of the limping variety, but it sounds as though the W140 proved a sound choice by way of replacement. Do please feel free to join in the conversation elsewhere on the site. Ditto David Janner-Klausner. Always good to see a few new faces below the line.

      Thanks too NRJ for the Autoweek link. That 1-Series! Dear heavens….

    4. Welcome, Anastasio, and thank you for a great story for your first contribution!

      A base W140 SWB on steel wheels must have been incredibly rare*. Well done for resisting the salesman’s blandishments. I would imagine his boss wasn’t best pleased with the loss of potential profit on all those usual options!

      *Here’s one I found via Google images:


      In this specification it has something of the honesty of the W124 E-Class about it, quite modest and not at all bombastic, as one expects with the W140.

      Your torrid time with the XJ would also make interesting reading, I imagine.

    5. For me there was no lurking period on the site. I was driven to write second rate jokes for my own amusement from day 1.

  6. Industrial Orange or Flat Avocado; wouldn’t that make a Sonderklasse a sight for sore eyes. I was lucky enough to visit the Sindelfingen factory earlier in the year and the tour included the S class line. As far as the eye could see, black, long wheelbase mostly headed China way. I’m certain that offered enough wonga, Mercedes would paint your wagon any hue you wish for. But then the ugly head that is re-selling situation rises. Pantone Orange 021U would make the contract killer a little more approachable, perhaps?

    1. Offbeat colours were of course available and not that uncommon back in the times when actual people bought S-classes and not fleet managers. Yellows and greens were standard colours in the 70s and early 80s, although I don’t remember ever having seen an orange S-class – at least not such a bright one as 021U. Maybe some brownish or pale yellowish shades?

  7. Thank you, everyone, for the warm welcome.
    I will for sure explain my adventures with the leaping cat when the occasion will arise, for the moment I will just say that it was not the appropriate car for the use I made of cars in that time, when after long trips prompt starts the next morning in some city were needed, without frantically looking for the nearest Jag service in an otherwise unknown town trying at the same time to book a taxi.
    On the other side I had always wanted a Jaguar, and the car was beautiful in its BRG, and the approach to get in it was always a feast for my eyes. So I had my bitter-sweet experience, but as I said, the main error was mine, I should not have chosen it in those times.

    Regarding the W140 colours, and also its predecessor, I can remember more than one “Almandinrot” or “Malakitgrün” around, but, how Simon says, they were for sure private buys, which in the Eighties-Nineties were still present in this car category.

    Daniel, you are correct in pointing out the similarity in “basic honesty” of a non-loaded W140 to a W124, it is exactly the feeling I had driving it; it appeared to me as being substantially a slighty larger W124, with the same excellent driving qualities. A noticeable difference was the total aerodynamic silence of the external rear-view mirrors also at extreme speeds of 200 kph +, something I never experienced before or after.
    In light of this level of attention to the detail, I imagine that this car can really be defined as Sacco’s swan song.

    1. Your comments on the Benzes are very interesting. W201/124/126/140 come from the same engineering ethos and therefore should feel very similar. These cars are tools and are supposed to grow on you, which they certianly do provided you drive them over a longer period of time.
      The W124 was still the best selling model in the Mercedes range. If I remember correctly about sixty percent of Mercedes’ production were W124s and about three quarters of them went to private buyers – at the same time two thirds of BMW’s production were Threes and most of those were 316s and 318s and a lot of them already went into corporate lease contracts, an explanation why Mercedes earned lots of money and BMW didn’t.
      The W140 was designed to be very silent and even got double glazing for its door windows which might explain why you didn’t hear much from the door mirrors.

  8. What a nice article and thread.

    Anastasio’s story is a prime example of how overstated everything about the W140 was, and how wise it was
    to order one in a down-to-earth specsheet.

    What has always puzzled me, though (haven’t found the time to properly investigate), if there was ever a W140 ordered
    (or custom made by special order) in MB Pueblo Beige?

  9. On the German classic-Mercedes market the bare-bones versions can trade with a premium as the so called “Buchhalterausstattung”, the bookkeeper’s spec.

    I vividly remember coming across some particularly beautiful W126 “Buchhalter” in the classifieds some time ago, which is a car that looked particularly impeccable in its most basic trim level, even though with regard to looks I believe there wasn’t much to spec anyway.

    The W140 just makes pretty much any wheel look small, so I think the proportions remain a bit off. An effect somwehat mitigated by the long wheelbase version and earlier models’ the two-tone exterior with the Sacco-panels in a slightly different colour than the body. (Dark blue body (199) with grey Sacco-panels might be my favorite combination. Almadin red very good too, but extremely rare.)

    Nice and at least twice on the road in Berlin: W140 in “Hellelfenbein”, aka German Taxi colour. At least one of them also with a Zebrano wood – blue velvet interior which just looks ace.

    The W222 has aged much much better than I expected. I thought it was too fashionable when it was revealed and one would grow tired of it quickly. For the interior this holds true. I can’t quite explain why, but the exterior looks the part in much the same way it did, when it first came out.

    (P.S.: As to last week’s Evoque: I think the wheels spoil the look much less than they do on the Jaguar i-Pace and give the car an unexpected honesty that I don’t find hard to appreciate. Hopefully this series will continue!)

  10. A large discrepancy does exist between the S-Class you photographed and say the S65 L or S-Class Maybach variants of the W222 series. Perhaps – and this is just my speculation – entry level vehicles do not lack aesthetic appeal because they cannot be any better. Perhaps they are modified slightly to account for the price differences between the entry level and the top of the range models. In this way, profiteering on the part of the manufacturer still continues.

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