Heft. That’s what Mercedes-Benz has, both literally and figuratively. When we think of a Mercedes-Benz, we think of a car that has a certain solidity, a certain engineering integrity, a certain, well, heft about it. But there’s that other kind too: the kind that comes from being descended from the company that made the very first car in the world.
Forget, if you ever knew, that the first car to call itself a Mercedes-Benz didn’t turn a wheel until 1926 and so, as a brand, it is younger than both BMW and Audi, for it doesn’t feel that way. Because the first car was a Benz and that’s how many of us still describe the product to this day – ‘it’s a long way, think I’ll take the Benz…’ And most of us know at least some Mercedes from even the pre-war era, be it a road car like an SSK or 540K, or one of the fearsome Grand Prix machines that so dominated racing. Audi was racing too, but only as one of the four rings that made up Auto Union.
And Mercedes is successful too. In racing, it has won multiple championships at the very top level, something neither BMW, Audi or Porsche has achieved. Ferrari has won more, both in F1 and sports car racing, but the Mercedes 35hp was racing when Enzo was still a toddler. Literally.
Today, and in whichever field it chooses to represent itself, this unequalled legacy means we expect more of a Mercedes. Sometimes it delivers on the promise it has been making since Gladstone was Prime Minister, sometimes it does not. The kinds of car it always did well, such as big luxury saloons, it still does better than anyone. But in market segments where it’s not always set the pace, like mainstream SUVs, it seems less assured, very much part of the crowd, rather than standing above it.
For some rivals, that would be enough, but that heritage is both a blessing and a curse: it gives the brand a head start over the opposition, but also writes a cheque the car had better be able to cash in full. For Mercedes-Benz, ‘enough’ should never be remotely enough.