Across the tracks at the Trento, Italy train station, two black eyes locked into mine. She peered for three seconds longer than it is suitable for strangers, so I shyly returned to the safety of my book. The pages glowed and my back was warmed by the mid-afternoon sun high above blue mountains behind me. A breeze carelessly flipped my place backwards.
I looked again: she was chewing gum and bouncing her white Adidas on the shadowed cement. A small backpack occupied the spot beside her. She was playing the role of Bored Teenager better than any Pizza Hut commercial portraying a stilted family dinner I’ve ever seen. Schoolmates milled about the platform, sharing earbuds, and laughing sarcastically. Her apathetic gaze returned, this time more curious. She reminded me of when zoo animals inexplicably change their attention from immediate surroundings to those on the other side of the glass: the gawkers, the tourists. I immediately understood why, as I stuffed my too-large novel back into my pack; I didn’t fit in. No, it wasn’t so much my clothing that gave me away (on this trip I made sure not to bring the usual tourists ware: wide brimmed hat, fanny pack, last year’s running shoes). It was simply my expression—perhaps punctuated by a Tolstoy beard. I have, after all, been told that I’m no good at hiding my thoughts.
More pronounced in every way from its slippery predecessor, the new CLS is simply bold to behold. You might even say that it’s the essence of the current Mercedes design language. With a pure and unmistakable curbside presence, it manages to be aspirational without being insecure. Even ignoring the tapered silhouette, the lighting alone, as in so many German cars today, tells much of the design story. The refined lighting and creasy bodywork make the CLS, particularly in buff AMG trim, look like a Mercedes from 2035.
Thanks to an old friend in Vancouver, I had the opportunity to spend 20 minutes behind the wheel of the fastest (4.4 seconds to 60) and most expensive (~CDN$115,000) car I’ve yet piloted. I was only hoping for a passenger ride, but by the time I showed up to his weekend abode at the Four Seasons in Whistler, he’d had a few and was feeling generous. Hell to the yes.
He tossed me the key fob, I nestled into the driver’s throne, adjusted my seat is sixty bajillion ways, and fired up the new Bi-Turbo 5.5L. I twisted a dial by my right hand towards “S” for Sport, thinking this a fine compromise between “C” and “S+”, fumbled with the Atari-inspired gear lever, and gingerly backed out of the dimly-lit parkade stall.
Somehow or other, the second-generation entry-level Mercedes flew under the radar at this week’s 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show. Ok, it’s not so surprising. It is, after all, a practical German hatchback shown in production form, vying for the media’s attention against an onslaught of vapourous wares and exotic ephemera. What chance did it ever have against the Jaguar C-X16 concept, Audi S6/S7, Citroen Tubik concept, Ferrari 458 Italia Spider, Ford Evos concept, Kia GT concept, Lamborghini Gallardo Super Trofeo Stradale, Maserati Kubang, Mercedes F125 concept, 7th gen Porsche 911, Peugeot HX1 concept, VW Nils, and Volvo Concept You? Not much. Which is exactly why we’re taking this opportunity to provide you with yet another bit of CarEnvy Car Buying Advice:
It’s been 10 years to the day since American’s aura of invincibility was irreparably pierced by four hijacked airplanes. We all know where we were when it happened. It was the defining moment for a generation of youth who’d never known the horrors of a “real” war like WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. But that morning, our innocence was snapped over Osama’s knee like a twig (or was it, my dear conspiracy theorists?). Since then, the US economy – already beaten down by dot-com 1.0′s burst bubble – briefly rose like a Phoenix from the literal ashes, before economically imploding and returning once more. And so here we are, 10 years on. No wiser. Just older.
If times were uncertain then, they’re unknowably uncertain now. The intervening decade has done little to mend the scars that were torn into the world’s psyche on that cool Fall morning. After September 11, the world renewed its right to fear outsiders starting with radical Islam, followed by our greedy bankers and, ironically, the governments who were forced to save us from said bankers. Everything from airport security to the completely coincidental increase in the sale of 100mL bottles have since created a peculiar kind of conformity as citizens of the world are treated increasingly like numbered sheep for “their own protection”. In 2001 we talked about the world at 6 billion people. Today, we’re too scared to even bring up the subject, lest we offend someone.
Technological progress and the relentless drive of scientific advance make this following statement blatantly obvious, but never before has the world changed so much in so little time. Never. And, as fortune would have it, we were alive to witness it. But before you run to the car dealership, blessing your lucky stars with wallet open and ready, you deserve some car buying advice.
Let’s say that you don’t care what size of hair gel you can take on the plane, you don’t care how many people live on the planet, and you’re more scared of snow drifts than the stock market. You’re more interested in soft leathers, off-roading, and seating for five. If somehow, someway, you actually exist, we suggest that instead of going to the Mercedes dealership to look at that new (German) ML350, you pay a visit to the Chrysler dealer to check out the (mostly German) Jeep Grand Cherokee first. Wait, since when does a Jeep qualify as “German”?
Electric cars are being hailed as the future. No, it’s not 1901, but 2011. Over a century ago, gas-powered cars fought for early adopters of horseless carriage technology against electric-powered cars. Yes, what’s old is new again. Except gas won last time. Now, it’s all a bit murky.
Half-upstart/half-vapourware shillers like Tesla and Fisker, as well as old guards like Morgan, are tripping over themselves to electrify your driveway. Despite compromises such as limited range, heavy batteries, and tortuous charge times, car makers (with a little nudge from government regulators) aspire to wean us off petroleum and reduce the carbon emissions from our tailpipes.
And it’s easy to see why. It’s where the money is. Governments are investing in the crucial infrastructure needed to charge the hobbled beasts by installing electric charging points and giving out massive loans to companies who promise to build electric cars in their country. The government has picked a side, which means that you will too.
But there are alternatives, and not just corn-based ethanol – that grotesque shell game that subsidizes American farmers so that they can grow fuel that would otherwise make perfectly good food – but Hydrogen. Yes, it’s a bit combustible (see Hindenburg) and it requires extremely high pressures to be kept stable, but it also allows for refuelling in 5 minutes, a lot less than the 5 hours an electric car currently needs. If Hydrogen received the same kind of government support, it could prove to be a more viable alternative to plug-in electric power. The only way to find out is to invest. Just like these companies are…
Last year, right around this time, I hyped up the Mercedes GP team with fervour and zeal. Mercedes was returning to Formula 1 for the first time in 55 years and their history in the sport needed no further explanation than the iconic term “Silver Arrow”. In the end, the team’s 2010 results landed them in 4th place overall with fewer than half the points of the winning Red Bull Racing. This, despite the combined brain trust of Schumacher and Brawn. So that puts my life-long F1 predictions at 0/1.
To bring my educated guesses record back to a more respectable ½, I’m going to use the power of motion picture, and a stretch of the definition, to make my case.
Starting this weekend in Melbourne, Australia, drivers Rosberg and Schumacher will be working with the very pretty W02 car to return some measure of pride to the Mercedes-Benz name. Unfortunately for them, they’re not carrying the Silver Arrow torch anymore.
The Mercedes-Benz Winter Driving Academy, or MBWDA, was in Calgary this past weekend at Race City Speedway, and I hauled myself down from Edmonton just for the occasion. Well, that and ACAC Badminton Nationals Qualifying at Mount Royal University. Two pretty good reasons, if you ask me, and both reasons left me panting, sweating, and grinning like fully-toothed Ovechkin.
It would be too easy to assume that Ross Brawn, despite the driver in the seat, is a sufficiently brilliant strategist to conjure up Formula 1 victories from nothing more than willpower. Mr. Brawn is that special. To say nothing of his newest driver, one fourty-one year old Michael Schumacher, the umpteen-time World Champion. Reuniting those previously-Maranellan forces alone should be enough to convince you that Mercedes GP should be taken very seriously. But to assume that those two alone will win the Championship would be to miss something much bigger.