Mercedes-Benz 4MATIC Vehicle History

Words John Clark | August 02, 2011
A Mercedes-Benz history with pulling power, 4MATIC vehicles premiered in the 124 series in 1987
Words John Clark August 02, 2011

In the mid-1980s, the time was right to introduce four-wheel drive in other Mercedes-Benz passenger cars; to meet the requirements for saloon cars, however, it would be necessary to redesign the system. At the 1985 International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt am Main, the engineers presented their new four-wheel-drive concept to the general public under the name 4MATIC. This used the latest technology, including electronics, to provide constant traction in any driving situation.

It was the anti-lock braking system (ABS) that had laid the foundations for this technology in 1978. It formed the basis for acceleration skid control (ASR), which not only controlled the linear forces acting between the tyres and the road surface during braking, but also during acceleration, and therefore acted on both the brakes and the engine torque. It was followed by the automatic differential lock (ASD, 1985) and – in the same year – the innovative 4MATIC four-wheel-drive system.

The common feature of these systems was that they registered and limited wheel slip with the help of the latest microelectronics and hydraulics, in order to improve the linear dynamics of an automobile. Other systems that made use of the ABS signals were Brake Assist (BAS, 1996), the revolutionary Electronic Stability Program (ESP, 1995) and the electro-hydraulic braking system Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC, 2001).

4MATIC was permanently active and distributed the drive torque between the front and rear axles during normal driving on a high-grip surface. The ratio could be set according to the vehicle configuration, e.g. to 40:60 or 48:52 per cent (front to rear axle). This maintained the dynamic advantages of rear-wheel-drive while giving the driver additional safety reserves.

4MATIC was premiered in the 124 series in 1987. The Electronic Traction System 4ETS, which performed the function of differential locks and ensured even better progress on poor road surfaces, was added from the 210-series E-Class onward, starting in 1999. 4ETS was integrated into the Electronic Stability Program ESP, whose control functions were specifically adapted for four-wheel drive. If one or more wheels lost traction on a slippery surface, 4ETS individually and automatically applied brief braking impulses to the spinning wheels while increasing torque to the wheels with good traction. This automatic braking intervention was able to simulate the effect of up to three differential locks.

4MATIC showed its strengths particularly in unfavourable weather conditions such as wet roads, ice or snow, by ensuring exemplary handling stability and perfect traction. When moving off, accelerating, cornering at speed or driving on difficult surfaces, the system provided additional reserves of traction. In this way the permanent four-wheel-drive system supported the already outstanding handling characteristics of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, also ensuring typical Mercedes safety and surefootedness when confronted with unusual dynamic requirements. Although the additional technology carried a small weight penalty and led to slightly higher fuel consumption, it proved extremely popular – especially in the mountainous regions of Europe and particularly North America.

4MATIC: debut in the 124 series

The new system was first introduced in 1987, initially in the six-cylinder petrol and diesel models of the 124 series. These were transition years, when petrol-engined cars were gradually being optionally equipped with catalytic converters. The following were the first models to feature 4MATIC:

  • 260 E 4MATIC (125 kW/170 hp without and 118 kW/160 hp with catalytic converter)
  • 300 E 4MATIC and 300 TE 4MATIC (138 kW/188 hp without and 132 kW/180 hp with catalytic converter)
  • 300 D 4MATIC (80 kW/109 hp)
  • 300 D TURBO 4MATIC and 300 TD TURBO 4MATIC (105 kW/143 hp)

This range remained unchanged during the model upgrade of 1989, though engine outputs were slightly increased – and all models with a petrol engine were now only available with a catalytic converter. In 1992, the smaller 4MATIC models were discontinued, leaving saloon and estate variants of the three-litre petrol and diesel models in the range. From the outset 4MATIC was available only in conjunction with automatic transmission and from 1989 also only with two-valve petrol engines.

The optional inclusion of 4MATIC was already taken into account in the basic design of the new 210-series E-Class, which was launched in 1995, but while the name of the system remained unchanged, the technology had changed considerably. The new 4MATIC consisted of a permanent four-wheel-drive system with a single-stage transfer case providing a torque distribution of 40:60 (front: rear). It was supported by the Electronic Traction System 4ETS, which could be deactivated for instance to allow more wheel slip on snow, especially with snow chains. These E-Class models were produced by the plant in Graz. The new 4MATIC system was first introduced in February 1997, in the E 280 (150 kW/204 hp), followed by the E 320 (165 kW/224 hp) in June, with an estate model also available in both cases.

In June 1999, Mercedes-Benz presented the extensively revised 210 series, which introduced the E 430 4MATIC (205 kW/270 hp) and – a little later in November 1999 – the more powerful E 55 AMG 4MATIC (260 kW/354 hp), both of which were available as saloon and estate models. The performance of the AMG-Mercedes was equal to that of a sports car: the saloon accelerated from zero to 100 km/h in just 5.8 seconds, for example, and was therefore only slightly slower than the rear-wheel-drive model. Both V8 models with 4MATIC had shorter gear ratios than the models with rear-wheel drive.

The USA was the largest market for all-wheel-drive cars. In the high-volume year 2000 Mercedes-Benz delivered around 66 per cent of its four-wheel-drive E-Class saloons and estates (210 series) to the USA. The second-largest market is Germany, accounting for eleven per cent of E-Class 4MATIC production. With six and seven per cent respectively, Switzerland and Canada were other important markets.

In January 2003, Mercedes-Benz presented the new 211-series
E-Class at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. From the autumn of 2003, the series also became available with 4MATIC four-wheel-drive system in the models E 240 (130 kW/177 hp), E 320 (165 kW/224 hp), and E 500 (225 kW/306 hp), both as saloon and estate variants. To achieve better ground clearance, the body of the 4MATIC variants in the new E-Class was raised by ten millimetres. A further distinguishing feature compared with the rear-wheel-drive versions was the exclusive availability of the five-speed automatic transmission. From the E 320 upwards, the axle ratios were also shorter than in the rear-wheel-drive versions.

The diesel models E 280 CDI (140 kW/190 hp) and E 320 CDI (165 kW/224 hp) with 4MATIC followed in July 2005. The high-torque 4MATIC diesel engines were also available with five-speed automatic transmission and longer gear ratios than the two-wheel-drive vehicles. Combining 4MATIC permanent four-wheel drive with the up-to-date CDI V6 engines enabled new standards to be achieved in terms of safety, traction, torque, and fuel economy.

The major facelift in 2006 made all the six-cylinder models in the 211 series optionally available with 4MATIC, i.e. the E 280 (170 kW/231 hp) and E 350 (200 kW/272 hp), as well as the diesel models E 280 CDI (140 kW/190 hp) and E 320 CDI (165 kW/224 hp). There was also the eight-cylinder model E 500 4MATIC (285 kW/388 hp). All of these were equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission as standard.

Traction in the luxury segment: the S-Class 4MATIC

For model year 2003 Mercedes-Benz embarked on a four-wheel-drive initiative for its passenger cars, making a total of 32 models available with 4MATIC in five model series. This was in response to market demand, for especially in the luxury segment, 10 per cent of new vehicle buyers worldwide opted for a saloon with four-wheel-drive technology in 2002; in 1999 the proportion of such vehicles in this market segment had been 7 per cent.

As part of this four-wheel-drive initiative, the S-Class (W 220 series) became available with 4MATIC for the following models during the second half of its production cycle: S 350 (180 kW/245 hp), S 430 (205 kW/279 hp), and S 500 (225 kW/306 hp). This also applied to the long-wheelbase variants.

The last W 220-series S-Class to leave the production line in Sindelfingen in July 2005 was also equipped with 4MATIC. This cubanite silver S 430 4MATIC was destined for a customer in North America.

The successor model, the S-Class of the W 221 series, celebrated its debut in September 2005. One year later it became available with four-wheel drive, the venue for the premiere being the Paris Motor Show in September 2006. How times change: one of the cars on display was the S 320 CDI 4MATIC (173 kW/235 hp), the first diesel S-Class with four-wheel drive. 4MATIC versions of the S 350 (200 kW/272 hp), S 450 (250 kW/340 hp), and S 500 (285 kW/388 hp) were also available, both with a short or long wheelbase.

From March 2008, Mercedes-Benz then also offered the CL-Class (C 216) luxury coupé with all-wheel drive in the CL 500 4MATIC model. At its heart was the 7G-TRONIC 7-speed automatic transmission, which the engineers had developed specially for all-wheel-drive models and which incorporated a transfer case with central differential lock. From here, the drive torque is split between the front and rear axle at a ratio of 45:55. Another new feature was the twin-plate clutch at the central differential. This produced a basic locking effect of around 50 newton metres between the front and rear axle, which permitted even better traction and handling stability on slippery surfaces. At the same time, the all-wheel-drive system was exceptionally efficient: the CL 500 4MATIC consumed no more fuel than the corresponding rear-wheel-drive model.

Eye to eye with the other saloons: the C-Class with 4MATIC

The 203-series C-Class also became available with 4MATIC as part of the four-wheel-drive initiative in 2003. The 4MATIC range now included the six-cylinder models C 240 (125 kW/170 hp) and C 320 (160 kW/218 hp), in both saloon and estate form. These were equipped with a newly designed front suspension with McPherson struts instead of the three-link system, and the steering gear was moved further back. Both models featured a five-speed automatic transmission as standard.

These two models were produced at the plant in Bremen, where the four-wheel-drive variants already went their own way at the body shell stage, as the drive system required a modified body structure, which for example affected the front side members and the integral supports for the engine, transmission, and front axle.

Shortly after the market launch of the C-Class from the 204 series in spring 2007, all-wheel drive was available from that summer in the six-cylinder C 280, C 350, and C 320 CDI models, and from the autumn in the C 320 CDI 4MATIC estate. The 4MATIC system had been thoroughly revised: now the latest-generation all-wheel-drive technology was not only more efficient, it also weighed less and was more compact than the previous 4MATIC. These benefits paid dividends in terms of improved fuel consumption and even better traction. The all-wheel-drive C-Class models were also equipped with the modified 7G-TRONIC 7-speed automatic transmission as standard.

Sport Utility Vehicle from Mercedes-Benz: the M-Class

In 1997, Mercedes-Benz entered a young market with the launch of the M-Class (W 163 series). This Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) was just as suitable for business trips as for recreational activities of all kinds, in short the whole gamut of mobility needs for active people. Accordingly the M-Class was equipped with 4MATIC four-wheel drive from the start. As another first it was built completely in the USA, with appropriate backup from the specialist departments in Germany. The company built a dedicated plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and development, planning and production came under the aegis of the newly-formed Mercedes-Benz U. S. International (MBUSI).

The project development manager Gerhard Fritz and his team had the rare opportunity to create a completely new car straight from the drawing board, and in 1997 the technical details of the M-Class were first made known to the public. The chassis was a frame composed of closed box-sections on which the body was mounted. The side members were offset and welded to three cross-members, ensuring great strength and torsional rigidity. Naturally the design also incorporated the latest findings from safety research: deformation elements in the front and rear cross-members absorbed low-speed impact energy and prevented it from acting on the side members. With independent suspension all-round, this concept ensured enormous stability combined with outstanding ride comfort.

In the case of the M-Class, belonging to the category of SUVs mainly driven on good roads and seldom used on loose or difficult terrain did not mean that off-road capabilities were compromised. The drive train was designed for permanent four-wheel drive from the start. A transfer case with an integral centre differential distributed the torque to the front and rear axles on a 50:50 basis. As in the other 4MATIC models from Mercedes-Benz, differential locks were replaced by 4ETS in the M-Class. An anti-lock braking system was standard equipment; this was specially configured for off-road use and prevented the wheels from locking at speeds of 8 km/h and above, whatever the nature of the ground. Once the low-range gearbox was activated (reduction by 2.64), a special programme for speeds up to 30 km/h shortened braking distances on loose surfaces.

The M-Class was officially launched in May 1997 – in Tuscaloosa of course. It received an enthusiastic welcome, and at first the plant was hardly able to keep up with demand. This was no doubt due to the intelligent concept, an appealing design and the high level of safety for which the company was known. The M-Class combined the comfort and handling safety of a passenger car with the robustness and all-terrain capabilities of an off-roader.

The USA and Canada were the first markets to benefit from the
M-Class, in the form of the ML 320 (160 kW/218 hp). In March 1998, the first units were delivered to Europe, where the ML 230 (110 kW/150 hp) was also introduced. In 1998, these were followed by the ML 430 with an eight-cylinder petrol engine (199 kW/270 hp), once again initially for North America. In October 1998, the torque distribution to the front and rear axles was changed to 48:52 to improve cornering agility on asphalt roads.

The 100,000th M-Class left the production line in February 1999. In May, the plant in Graz was taken into commission as the second production location – particularly for the ML 270 CDI, which was extremely important for the European market – joining the G-Class and the E-Class 4MATIC, which were also produced there. Other European variants of the M-Class were also produced, however. To quote Jürgen Hubbert, the member of the DaimlerChrysler Board of Management responsible for the Mercedes-Benz Passenger Car Division at the time: ‘Having already increased our production capacity of our American plant in Tuscaloosa by 30 per cent, we are now starting to produce the M-Class in Graz to meet the extraordinary demand for this successful model in Europe, and to reduce waiting times.’

The production figures confirmed the success of the M-Class: around 140,000 units had been produced by August 1999. For model year 2000 the interior was significantly upgraded, as the company had come in for sometimes harsh criticism concerning the overall impression of quality, and the safety features were improved even further.

Two new models were added to the range, plugging a gap in the European line-up with the ML 270 CDI (129 kW/163 hp). This model was equipped with a state-of-the-art CDI diesel engine, and excelled in its class with outstanding fuel economy. It quickly became a great success in the ‘Old World’.

The ML 55 AMG (255 kW/347 hp), on the other hand, was entirely to the taste of North American customers, with plenty of power, refined handling, and an extensive range of standard appointments. In addition to AMG body styling, the distinguishing features of this flagship model included two ‘power domes’ familiar from the Mercedes-Benz SLK on the bonnet, and two chrome exhaust tailpipes to mark its special status at the rear. An auxiliary tank increased the fuel capacity by 25 litres. At first the ML 55 AMG was only produced with left-hand drive, right-hand drive versions only becoming available from model year 2002. Owing to a modified suspension setup, the ground clearance was smaller than in other M-Class models, and the angle of approach was also reduced – but this was of secondary importance in a vehicle primarily designed for superior ride comfort on asphalt roads. And many a customer already had a G-Class in the garage for more demanding excursions anyway.

From autumn 2000 the range of exclusive designo interior features also became available for the M-Class. This enabled customers to specify a highly individualized interior with striking colour combinations for their off-roader.

At the same time the vehicle was equipped with a further development of the four-wheel-drive system for even better off-road capabilities. 4ETS was enhanced with new functions that offered particular advantages on steep uphill and downhill gradients, and an actively controlled brake servo unit was introduced, which built up pressure extremely rapidly. This enabled the system to brake spinning wheels at an even earlier stage than before. 4ETS metered these braking impulses according to the vehicle speed, wheel acceleration, and accelerator position.

When the low-range ratio was activated by pressing the Low Range key in the M-Class, any necessary 4ETS braking intervention now also remained constant at speeds below 20 km/h to provide even better traction than before. The modified 4ETS also offered another benefit when moving off on steep gradients: in low-range mode the system continued to operate when the driver depressed both the brake and accelerator pedals, preventing the M-Class from rolling backwards when moving off slowly. Previously 4ETS had not been active in these situations.

The modified traction system also improved handling safety on slippery downhill gradients and steep off-road stretches. The onboard electronics automatically detected these situations and intervened if a wheel lost ground contact, which meant that the engine torque could not be put to full use. In this case, 4ETS braked the wheels with good ground contact, thereby carrying out the function of an engine brake. The brake force exerted by the traction system precisely corresponded to the braking torque normally provided by the engine on the overrun. This metered brake pressure ensures that the M-Class travels downhill at a constant speed – without any additional driver intervention.

In April 2002, the 400,000th M-Class left the production line in Tuscaloosa – a remarkable figure considering the production period of just five years. A sophisticated package of model face-lifting measures was introduced for model year 2002, providing even more safety (e.g window airbags), dynamism and driving pleasure. The appearance, interior, technology and standard equipment of the off-roader were all significantly upgraded. The bumpers were redesigned, the headlamps were given clear lenses, and indicators now appeared in the exterior mirrors. The redesigned centre console in the interior featured exotic wood trim as standard in all model variants, and the air conditioning system was thoroughly revised.

Two more engine variants were also added. The 184 kW (250 hp) diesel engine of the ML 400 CDI was among the world’s most powerful diesel power units. It accelerated the off-roader from zero to 100 km/h in just 8.1 seconds, allowed a maximum speed of 213 km/h and was happy with only 10.9 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres (NEDC). Even more performance was offered by the new ML 500 (215 kW/292 hp), which replaced the ML 430. Its V8-engine generated a torque of 440 newton metres from 2,700 rpm, and accelerated the M-Class from zero to 100 km/h in just 7.7 seconds. The top speed of the ML 500 was 221 km/h.

Following an established tradition, in 2002 the Vatican took delivery of a ‘Popemobile’ from Mercedes-Benz with its glass ‘bubble’, this time a modified ML 430. Like its G-Class predecessors the papal M-Class featured mother-of-pearl paintwork and a white interior.

In August 2002, the ML 320 was succeeded by the ML 350, whose engine was the enlarged 3.2-litre unit now generating 173 kW (235 hp). Production of the W 163 series was discontinued in December 2004, after total sales of around 650,000 units.

In 2005, the success carved out by the 163-series M-Class was continued by the succeeding 164 series, which was first presented at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. Since 2001 DaimlerChrysler had already invested a total of 600 million US Dollars in expanding the Tuscaloosa plant, doubling its production capacity from 80,000 to 160,000 units per year. This capacity increase not only benefited the M-Class, but also the R-Class launched in the same year.

With this completely new premium off-roader development, a new chapter was being written in the success story of this model series, which was of particular importance for the US market. The new M-Class was launched with the very latest technology, for example three powerful new engines, the 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic transmission as standard, the further improved 4MATIC four-wheel-drive system, AIRMATIC air suspension, and (optionally) the anticipatory occupant protection system PRE-SAFE®. Its design was decidedly sporty, with an angled windscreen, prominent wings and shoulder-lines rising towards the rear. All this was reinforced by the proportions of the body: compared to the preceding model, the new M-Class was 150 millimetres longer (now 4780), 71 millimetres wider (now 1911) and five millimetres lower (now 1815 mm with roof rails). The wheelbase was increased by 95 millimetres to 2915 millimetres.

The V6 diesel engine OM 642 with two output ratings celebrated its debut in this vehicle class. It featured third-generation common-rail direct injection and the latest piezo-injection. The ML 320 CDI generated 165 kW (224 hp). Six-cylinder smoothness and dynamism were also offered by the ML 280 CDI with 140 kW (190 hp). The fuel consumption of the diesel models was 9.4-9.6 litres per 100 kilometres (NEDC combined consumption), which made the new M-Class one of the most economical off-roaders in its class. Another new unit in the M-Class was the M 272-series V6 petrol engine of the ML 350 with 200 kW (272 hp). The engine line-up was headed by the M 113-series eight-cylinder engine in the ML 500, which now had an output of 225 kW (306 hp).

Mercedes-Benz also improved the permanent four-wheel-drive and 4ETS traction systems, adding additional functions such as Downhill Speed Regulation, start-off assist and off-road ABS. There was now a choice of two four-wheel-drive variants with which off-road drivers could meet their different requirements: in addition to the basic version, a new Off-Road Pro engineering package became available, which enabled the M-Class to master even the most difficult terrain. This included a two-stage transfer case with low-range ratios, manually or automatically selectable differential locks (100 per cent) between the front and rear axles, as well as at the rear axle, and AIRMATIC air suspension modified for off-road driving, which increased ground clearance by 110 to 291 millimetres and fording depth up to 600 millimetres.

The latest support systems from the Mercedes-Benz luxury class assisted the driver, increasing comfort and safety. On request the M-Class could be equipped with the newly developed multi-zone THERMOTRONIC automatic climate control system, the parking aid PARKTRONIC, and the control and display system COMAND APS with Europe-wide DVD navigation. Bi-xenon headlamps with the active light and cornering light functions (optional) improved driving safety in the dark.

The M-Class came with ESP® trailer stabilization to eliminate dangerous oscillations when towing a trailer – movements around the vehicle’s vertical axis. Depending on driving conditions, these could increase to a critical level above which it was impossible to stabilize the combination, making a skid and the potential for a serious accident inevitable. ESP® trailer stabilization detected these oscillations early on, and cancelled them out in two stages: in many cases they could be prevented altogether with gentle intervention at the front axle if detected early enough. The system only adjusted the driving speed if additional braking to stabilize the combination was unavoidable – increasing comfort for the driver and passengers. The fundamental control characteristics of ESP® continued to have absolute priority, and its braking intervention was always able to override that of the trailer stabilization system.

In August 2005, the new ML 63 AMG flagship model celebrated its debut. It was powered by the 6.3-litre AMG V8 engine (M 156 series) developing 375 kW (510 hp). This off-roader likewise excelled with performance figures on a par with many sports cars: only 5.0 seconds were needed for the sprint from zero to 100 km/h, while the maximum speed was electronically limited to 250 km/h.

A minor anniversary was celebrated in July 2007: ten years of the Mercedes-Benz M-Class. To mark the occasion, the brand brought out the ‘Edition 10” special model, specifications for which included 20-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlamps, darkened headlamp housings, special bodywork highlights in titanium-look as well as dark-tinted tail lights. Interior features included, for example, two-tone all-leather appointments, sports instruments, and stainless steel sports pedals. The second-generation M-Class proved to be highly successful: from its market launch in April 2005 until October 2007 around 250,000 vehicles were supplied to customers all over the world.

One new product from Mercedes-Benz at the IAA Frankfurt International Motor Show in 2007 was the ML 450 Hybrid. With market launch scheduled for 2009, this vehicle was hailed as the most economical petrol hybrid in the SUV class worldwide. Its two-mode hybrid system allowed for purely electric driving, but when required it could also support the internal combustion engine (205 kW/279 hp) – giving a combined system output of 250 kW (340 hp), with fuel consumption of just 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres. Carbon dioxide emissions were an exemplary 185 grams per kilometre.

A comprehensive model refinement package in March 2008 brought the M-Class several new features. In optical terms, for example, the off-roaders face was now defined by a restyled bumper, recontoured headlamps, and a larger, even more dominant radiator grille. The rear view also revealed a redesigned bumper with integrated reflector strips and tail lights with a smoked-glass look. The ML 63 AMG was also given new front and rear aprons. Standard equipment was also substantially upgraded. This now included the PRE-SAFE® accident anticipatory occupant protection system and NECK-PRO active head restraints, as well as a new telematics systems developed by Mercedes-Benz with further optimized user-friendliness, high computing speed and many new functions, including a Bluetooth hands-free system and aux-in connection for linking up external music devices.

The new generation M-Class features a range of five drive units with an output ranging from 140 kW to 285 kW (190 hp to 388 hp). Careful detail work has made it possible to reduce its consumption by up to 0.4 litres per 100 km. Since 2009, the M-Class has also been available with the BlueTEC system. Model ML 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC which – in Europe – it was possible to order from May 2009 and available since autumn 2009 belongs to the cleanest premium-class SUVs in the world.

In 2009, the M-Class also celebrated a production jubilee, as the millionth M-class rolled off the assembly line at the Tuscaloosa plant. The ML 350 BlueTEC Diesel was delivered to a West Coast distributor.

In 2010, Mercedes-Benz presented its top model of the M-Class, which had been gone over thoroughly, the ML 63 AMG. The front view reveals a new bonnet with powerdomes and darkened bi-xenon headlamps. At the rear the ML 63 AMG features darkened lamps in clear glass with LED technology.

The era of model series 164 ends in summer 2011 with the presentation of the entirely redeveloped series 166 M-Class

A new space concept on wheels: the Mercedes-Benz R-Class

New York in March 2005, where Mercedes-Benz staged the world debut of the R-Class at the International Auto Show. With its vehicle concept, this combined the advantages of familiar vehicle categories such as a sporty saloon, estate, van, and Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) into a new, distinctive character. Dimensions, design and dynamism were its outstanding attributes. The R-Class was first launched in the USA, in autumn 2005, and became available in Europe as of 2006.

The R-Class was available in two versions, with external lengths of 4922 and 5127 millimetres. This gave the new Mercedes-Benz model the dimensions of a luxury class saloon, but with a considerably more spacious interior.

Standard equipment included the 4MATIC four-wheel drive developed by Mercedes, and the range of models in this high-traction series was correspondingly wide. It comprised the R 280 CDI (140 kW/190 hp, only with short wheelbase), the R 320 CDI (165 kW/224 hp), the R 350 (200 kW/272 hp), the R 500 (225 kW/306 hp), and the flagship R 63 AMG (375 kW/510 hp).

The concept of the 4+2 seater met the needs of modern drivers for a versatile automobile that suited a family and meets business, pleasure, and travel requirements equally well. The new R-Class not only offered generous spaciousness, exemplary safety, and first-class comfort for up to six occupants, but also shone by virtue of its visual design, prestigious presence, and dynamic driving pleasure.

The R-Class was upgraded in summer 2007. Along with the familiar configuration of up to six individual seats, the range was complemented by a five-seater and a seven-seater version. From the outside, the R-Class for the new model year was identified by a restyled front and rear, circular fog lamps, and 18-inch light-alloy rims for all V6 versions. The top-of-the-range R 500 4MATIC sported 19-inch wheels. There were also new entry-level models – the R 280 CDI, R 280, and R 350 with rear-wheel drive. New features could also be found in the interior, including for example an aux-in connection for linking up external music devices.

Spacious automobile with traction and safety reserves: the Viano

Reaching one’s destination safely and confidently even under adverse conditions was made possible by the Viano 4MATIC with four-wheel drive, which celebrated its world debut at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt am Main in September 2005. Whether for day-to-day journeys or recreation, the Viano 4MATIC could carry up to eight people in safety under difficult road and weather conditions.

Under normal driving conditions on a good road surface, the 4MATIC system of the Viano distributed the torque to the front and rear axles with a 35:65 per cent ratio. This meant that the dynamic advantages of rear-wheel drive are not only retained in the Viano 4MATIC, but even enhanced. The transfer case was directly flanged to the main transmission. The developers made the drive system to the front axle very compact and gave it a lifetime oil filling. The axle drive and additional front axle drive shafts were maintenance-free.

Instead of differential locks the Viano 4MATIC was equipped with the Electronic Traction System 4ETS, which had already proved highly successful in other 4MATIC models. 4ETS was integrated into the Electronic Stability Program ESP®, which was standard for all Viano models, and whose control functions had been specially adapted to the four-wheel-drive system.

The Viano 4MATIC was available in two engine variants, a CDI 2.0 (80 kW/109 hp) and a CDI 2.2 (110 kW/150 hp) with five-speed automatic transmission, whose powerful torque and corresponding performance ensured good progress even on difficult surfaces. The Viano 4MATIC was equipped with a diesel particulate filter and complied with the Euro 4/III exhaust emission standard.

The performance and fuel consumption of the Viano 4MATIC differed only slightly from those of the Viano with rear-wheel drive. The Viano 2.2 CDI accelerated to 100 km/h in 14.7 seconds and reached a top speed of 177 km/h, for example. Considering this performance, traction, and vehicle size, fuel consumption of just 9.6 litres per 100 kilometres (NEDC) was extremely low.

While the Viano 4MATIC did not claim to be a fully-fledged off-road vehicle, it was by no means afraid to tackle moderate off-road stretches. In the variant with a short wheelbase and a short overhang, the ramp angle was 19 degrees, the angle of approach 20 degrees, and the angle of departure 28 degrees, while ground clearance was around 150 millimetres at the front and 210 millimetres at the rear. The Viano 4MATIC was also a surprisingly good climber: depending on the engine and variant, its climbing ability was improved by up to 20 per cent. As the weight penalty of the four-wheel-drive system was only 80 kilograms, the Viano 4MATIC still retained its gross vehicle weights of 2.77 and 2.94 tonnes. It was available in two wheelbases and three lengths, and also as the Viano MARCO POLO camper van.

A powerful off-roader: the GL-Class

The GL-Class celebrated its world debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2006, and its European debut at the Geneva Motor Show in February. As the first full-size SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) from Mercedes-Benz, it was the highlight of the show. As a unique feature in the GL segment, this powerful and comfortable seven-seater had a self-supporting body, an extremely robust and spacious yet lightweight construction which gave the GL-Class competitive advantages in terms of ride comfort, dynamism, and safety.

Standard specification included 4MATIC permanent four-wheel drive. Together with the standard AIRMATIC air suspension, precise speed-dependent steering, and likewise standard Adaptive Damping System ADS, this meant that the majestic GL exhibited impressive handling.

A range of state-of-the-art engines ensured that all GL-Class models offered a high level of ride comfort and powerful performance, accompanied by favourable fuel consumption for this vehicle class. In addition to the 165 kW (224 hp) V6 engine (OM 642) in the GL 320 CDI, the diesel units included an improved version of the muscular V8 diesel engine (OM 629) in the GL 420 CDI, which developed an output of 225 kW (306 hp) and a maximum torque of 700 newton metres. Both diesels fell within the limits of the Euro 4 exhaust emission standard and were equipped with a maintenance-free diesel particulate filter.

The GL-Class was also available with a choice of two ultra-modern V8 petrol engines, including the 5.5-litre power unit M 273 first introduced for the new S-Class, which also developed 285 kW (388 hp) in the GL 500. The second and youngest member of this
up-to-date V8 family was premiered in the GL: like its bigger brother, the 250 kW (340 hp) 4.6-litre engine in the GL 450 met the stringent Euro 4 standard, as well as the LEV-II standard in the USA. All engine variants of the GL were equipped with the
7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic transmission as standard. Partly by virtue of its wide spread of ratios, 7G-TRONIC combined with the lightweight construction and good aerodynamics for a vehicle of these dimensions (cd = 0.37) in contributing to a low fuel consumption.

BlueTEC and all-wheel drive

Three Mercedes-Benz vehicles achieved the distinction not only of becoming the world’s first diesel SUVs to comply with the particularly stringent American Bin 5 emission standard, but also to have the potential to meet the strict Euro 6 emission standard, thereby fulfilling all currently valid emissions legislation. These models were the R 320 BlueTEC, ML 320 BlueTEC, and GL 320 BlueTEC. They made their debut in June 2008, initially on the American market. Their BlueTEC technology, originally conceived for heavier vehicle weights, involved the injection of AdBlue®, a harmless, dilute solution of urea, into the exhaust flow. This released ammonia, which in turn reduced up to 80 per cent of the nitrous oxides into harmless nitrogen and water in the SCR catalytic converter positioned downstream.

Compact model with genuine character: the GLK-Class

The GLK-Class celebrated its world premiere at Auto China in April 2008. Boasting a body that was as practical as it was arrestingly succinct, the distinctive all-rounder was set to give the market segment of compact SUVs new direction. It also harmonised what were previously seen as entirely contradictory attributes, supreme driving dynamics, and outstanding driving safety going hand in hand with exceptional ride comfort courtesy of the AGILITY CONTROL suspension. Meanwhile the variable 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system joined forces with the latest electronic control systems to deliver consummate on-road performance and superb off-road proficiency. ‘The GLK rounds off our tremendously successful SUV family and in the process transfers such characteristic Mercedes qualities as refinement, dynamism, and safety to a compact format. This has now significantly raised the bar in this market segment,’ said Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG.

Four engine variants were available at the market launch. These were the diesel variants GLK 220 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY (125 kW/170 hp) and GLK 320 CDI (165 kW/224 hp) as well as the V6 petrol-engined versions GLK 280 (170 kW/231 hp) and GLK 350 (200 kW/272 hp). All variants were equipped as standard with 7G-TRONIC 7-speed automatic transmission.

In winter 2010, Mercedes-Benz made a publicity campaign centred on the topic of 4MATIC; this included television spots, outside publicity and advertisements in the print media. The core message of the campaign was: ‘It is cold, it is wet. It doesn’t matter. What makes winter dangerous? The way to the car.’

It is a good moment to point out the strong points of 4MATIC with self-assurance, since in the meantime Mercedes-Benz now offers ten model series with all-wheel drive: the most recent addition to the group is the CLS. The four-door coupé offers all-wheel drive in models CLS 350 CDI 4MATIC BlueEFFICIENCY and CLS 500 4MATIC BlueEFFICIENCY. The 4MATIC system with its power distribution of 45 to 55 per cent to front and rear axles, respectively and the multi-plate differential lock with a basic blocking effect of 50 Nm, offers the CLS 4MATIC optimum conditions : it enables high traction levels because more drive torque is transmitted and the multi-plate lock can also modify the proportion front axle/rear axle if road conditions make this necessary. This makes it possible to delay as long as possible the intervention of electronic control systems such as ESP, 4ETS, and ASR. A great part of the drive force is thus transferred to the vehicle movement, even on slick roads.

In winter 2010, Mercedes-Benz offered a total of 49 car models, in 10 model series. Apart from the new 4MATIC of the CLS Class, the saloon and estate versions of the E-Class, the compact GLK. Finally, the model in the engine line-up of the G-Class.