Mercedes-Benz C320 4Matic
Mercedes-Benz C320 4Matic. Click image to enlarge

by Paul Williams
photos by Laurance Yap and Paul Williams

Mont Tremblant, Quebec – Mercedes Benz is poised to become a major purveyor of four-wheel drive vehicles in Canada. With the introduction of E-Class four-wheel drive cars this fall, all five Mercedes Benz classes, C, E, S, M and G will be available with the “4-Matic” feature. This is the first time four-wheel drive has been available across the range of Mercedes Benz vehicles. 16 models will be available in Canada.

“70% of C-Class vehicles and 60% of S-class cars will be sold in Canada with four-wheel drive,” said Andrew le Bret, Mercedes Benz Canada Sales Training Manager. The percentage of four-wheel drive E-Class vehicles is expected to be similar.

“Customers are demanding a lot more traction in all conditions,” explained Mr. le Bret. “People who were attracted to other brands in the past can now put Mercedes on their list,” he added.

Mercedes-Benz 4Matic models
Mercedes-Benz C320 4Matic. Click image to enlarge

One can infer an obvious reference to Audi, who have offered their Quattro system on the majority of their vehicles for years. That company’s lack of an SUV, similar to the Mercedes Benz M-class, may make it additionally vulnerable once Mercedes also becomes known for its four-wheel drive system.

The full range of Mercedes Benz four-wheel drive vehicles, including pre-launch E-Class vehicles, was recently assembled for a press introduction in Montreal, starting at the luxurious Ritz Carleton hotel. After a meal at Jacques Villeneuve’s “Newtown” restaurant, journalists left the comfy surroundings for the highways and secondary roads of Quebec. Further testing was conducted on private-access trails.

The weather couldn’t have been better for this event. The Quebec skies were blue, the temperature a bracing -25 C, and the roads were covered with snow, ice, mud, gravel and salt.
A selection of US journalists, some in Canada for the first time, was also on hand to experience the four-wheel drive Mercedes vehicles in what were for them, extreme conditions.

The Canadians pretended it wasn’t cold at all.

Mercedes-Benz C240 4Matic
Mercedes-Benz C240 4Matic. Click image to enlarge

The row of 24 pristine luxury cars and SUVs, their chrome three-point stars flashing in the sunlight, had been shipped directly from Germany. They looked like lambs ready for slaughter.
Ten minutes on the slushy and salty roads obliterated their fine metallic paint and sporty alloy wheels. By late morning, all the vehicles were covered with salt and dirt, and icicles hung from the sills and wheel wells. The chrome grilles were encrusted in frozen mud, and the European specification windshield washer fluid froze on contact, covering the wiper arms with a sheath of blue ice. Except for the washer fluid, it was a normal day on a Canadian road in winter.

The Mercedes Benz 4Matic four-wheel drive system is very effective. It has a mechanical centre differential that can vary front-to-rear torque distribution. The 40% front and 60% rear bias makes the car feel like a rear-wheel drive car.

The system operates in conjunction with the Electronic Stability Program, standard on all Mercedes Benz vehicles. It uses an electronically controlled traction system called 4ETS to move power between the wheels. If one wheel loses grip, the system applies brake pulses to that wheel, and redirects power to the opposite wheel. If both rear wheels spin, the brake is applied to both wheels, and the power moves to the front axle. Up to three wheels can have brake pulses applied.

Mercedes-Benz S430 4Matic
Mercedes-Benz S430 4Matic. Click image to enlarge

This all takes place in a manner that’s transparent to the driver. On the road, the experience is that an excellent car is made even better. The system maximized traction when starting, accelerating and cornering. It supplies a level of traction that cannot be provided by a rear-wheel drive car in adverse conditions.

Even the substantial S430 was able to ascend steep and slippery roads without wheel spin. The smaller C320 felt nimble and sure-footed — a real performer, in fact. All the vehicles were equipped with automatic transmissions, and 4Matic is only available with cars so equipped.

The experience underlined the usefulness of four-wheel drive (or all-wheel drive, as competitors call it) especially in adverse conditions. Even on luxury vehicles, the feature is appropriate and desirable.

Mercedes-Benz C320 4Matic
Mercedes-Benz C320 4Matic. Click image to enlarge

Rear-wheel driver Mercedes Benz cars are already loaded with an array of sophisticated electronics to assist with stability, handling and braking. Four-wheel drive made the vehicles reluctant to misbehave in all but the most slippery conditions.

But they’re not invincible. A couple of our US colleagues did come to grief, one getting stuck on a photo shoot, the other shooting off the road at speed, and ploughing into a ditch with an ML500.

The premium to purchase 4Matic on a C-class car is $4450, and on an S-Class car it’s $4100. The Mercedes Benz system either has no effect on fuel consumption, or adds a fuel penalty ranging between 0.1 and 0.9 L/100km, depending on the vehicle.

Mercedes Benz vehicles with 4Matic range from $42,900 – $122,550.

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