Archive for May, 2014


Mercedes-Benz is no longer just a niche luxury brand. Starting in the early 1980s with the 190E (now the C-Class) Mercedes boosted sales volume in order to reduce overall costs, broaden the appeal of the brand to a new market segment and hook in those younger customers earlier to make them life-long brand loyalists. The Baby-Benz experiment worked and today the C-Class outsells every other Class of Mercedes vehicles.

But while the C-Class may lead volume, the E-Class fuels profit. Lesser versions of the E-Class, sold outside the US, are better known as taxis and livery cars. In the U.S., however,  the E (Executive) Class – is a lovely mid-sized luxury sedan, best for mid-level executives and upper middle-class families. It’s the half-way point in the Mercedes line-up, until you can afford the flagship S-Class.

If you were expecting the E-Class Coupe to be just a two-door version of the sedan, you’d be wrong. The E-Coupe is smaller, more intimate and simply gorgeous. The pillarless design, (standard) panorama glass roof and fully lowing rear windows give the otherwise tight cabin a light and airy feel, not to mention unobstructed views from side to side.  Expensive engineering is on display and we are all better for it.

The 2014 E350 Coupe is gorgeous from every angle.

The 2014 E350 Coupe is gorgeous from every angle.

The 14-way, 3 memory position front sports seats – also standard – have pronounced side bolsters. While my 6’1” 185 lb frame enjoyed being hugged by the $1,370 perforated Nappa Leather, I think larger people would feel squeezed. But maybe this car was designed like a high couture, tailored suit – it’s supposed to look good even if it’s a bit uncomfortable.

The interior is expertly and beautifully finished.  Everything from the double-stitched leather seats to the brushed-chrome accents, soft-touch plastics, switch-gear and center analog clock, look and feel like fifty grand. The flat-bottom steering wheel, part of the $1,490 Sports Package, is an ergonomic work of art – I didn’t want to let go. So even if you’re uncomfortably stuffed into the cockpit, you still look marvelous!

The instrument panel is easy to read. The steering wheel is a first-rate affair.

The instrument panel is easy to read. The steering wheel is a first-rate affair.

Unlike the sedan, a center console divides the rear seats making the E-Coupe a strictly 4-person affair.  And even then, given the steeply-raked roof and paucity of leg room, anyone sitting in the back seat either has to be a child or a contortionist.  Full size adults not riding in front should find alternate transportation. Uber or Lyft anyone?

It's a tight fit in the back. You need to be very short and very thin to fit back there. It's best to just throw some Bloomingdale's bags back there and call it a day.

It’s a tight fit in the back. You need to be very short and very thin to fit back there. It’s best to just throw some Bloomingdale’s bags back there and call it a day.

And speaking of rides, I found the E350 Coupe’s road manners a bit rude. I was surprised by the amount of road noise that soaked the cabin. We were driving on very well-paved streets and highways in the Coachella Valley and I expected the cabin to be quieter. I couldn’t feel the road – that was banished by the lifeless, if precise electric power steering – but my ears could hear any road imperfection and the constant tire drone.  My ass could feel potholes and rough surfaces courtesy of the stiff suspension.

The cup holders are very poorly placed. Almost any cup will block a whole host of buttons and displays.  I think the message is don't bring drinks into this lovely cabin. The German overlords disapprove of eating in your car.

The cup holders are very poorly placed. Almost any cup will block a whole host of buttons and displays. I think the message is don’t bring drinks into this lovely cabin. The German overlords disapprove of eating in your car.

At least the drivetrain on the E350 isn’t a disappointment.  The 3.5L direct-inject V6 makes 302 horsepower and 273 pound-foot of torque.  Mercedes’ outstanding 7-speed automatic with paddle shifters is standard. Shifts are warp-speed and nearly imperceptible.  Most of your driving will take place in the leisurely Eco mode, which starts the car in 2nd gear to avoid jack rabbit, gas-sucking starts. Sports Mode is much more entertaining, but it will also kill fuel economy, which is only class-average at 20/24/30.

And speaking of saving fuel, the standard Eco Start-Stop system was annoying. You really don’t notice the engine while driving unless you’re pushing it, so when it comes to a stop and shuts itself off, you really don’t notice. But when you release the brake or touch the gas pedal, it fires back up and you can feel a slight shudder. That I could live with, but I can’t live with the climate control going into eco mode when the engine shuts off.  In hot weather – it was 96 that day – you need the cooling whether or not you’re stopped in traffic. You can shut it off, but it resets itself each time you start the car. Ugh.

The center console has a comfortable arm rest, hidden storage under the arm rest and the well-weighted rotary controller works most of the infotainment/navigation functions.

The center console has a comfortable arm rest, hidden storage under the arm rest and the well-weighted rotary controller works most of the infotainment/navigation functions.

In addition to the Sports Package and Nappa Leather Package, my tester came equipped with the Premium Package – $3,270, Keyless Go – $650 (which should be standard), Lane Tracking Package – $875 and Steel Gray Metallic paint – $720.

3-position power seat memory is standard. The switchgear is beautiful and the wood, plastic and leather all mesh in lovely harmony.

3-position power seat memory is standard. The switchgear is beautiful and the wood, plastic and leather all mesh in lovely harmony.

Almost any E-Class will come with the Premium Package which adds hard drive navigation (lovely 3-D maps!), upgraded Harmon/kardon LOGIC7 surround sound system, SiriusXM radio/traffic/weather and a rear view camera.  At this level, I’d like these items to be standard – particularly the rear view camera – but this is how the option game is played. The Blind Spot Assist and Lane Keeping Assist worked flawlessly and were mostly helpful, if sometimes annoying.  All told, this car was $61,500 including the $925 transportation charge.

While not large, the navigation and infotainment screen was easy to read. The 3-D maps were lovely.  And the upgraded Harmon/Kardon sound system was superb.

While not large, the navigation and infotainment screen was easy to read. The 3-D maps were lovely. And the upgraded Harmon/Kardon sound system was superb.

Steel Grey is a good color for this car.

Steel Gray is a good color for this car.

If you’re going to blow $60,000 on a German luxury car, I’d dump the $875 Lane Tracking Package and pop for the $2,800 Driver Assistance Package which incorporates adaptive cruise control (Distronic Plus) with advanced cross-traffic, blind spot, lane keeping, collision braking and pedestrian recognition capabilities. In short, it’s almost autonomous driving.

The large, single-bar grill flanking a huge Mercedes 3-pointed star telegraph the E350's sporting intentions.

The large, single-bar grill flanking a huge Mercedes 3-pointed star telegraph the E350’s sporting intentions.

This E-Coupe feels like it’s trying too hard to be a BMW when it should simply give in and be a Mercedes-Benz. I’m buying an E-Class Mercedes because I want a more cosseting, wafting luxury experience. If I wanted annoying run-flat tires and a harsh ride, I’d get the new BMW 435i with the Sports Package – because at least it would be more fun and entertaining to drive.

I think E350 Coupe should drop the sports car pretense and just go for the personal luxury experience. It’s an extremely alluring, almost regal package, all wrapped up in taut sheet metal and sexy new headlight modules.  The lack of a B-pillar is an expensive, defining feature not available at your BMW or Audi dealer in this class of car.  If you want a more sporty version, opt for the E550 Coupe with the fire-breathing 402 hp 4.6 L biturbo V8.  Otherwise, let the E350 Coupe be the lovely lady that she is.

For me, however, I’d go for the E-Class sedan. You get a significantly larger cabin, the convenience of 4 doors, seating for 4 adults and an accommodating trunk. All for less money.

My choice would be this 2014 Mercedes E250 Bluetec. The diesel-powered sedan is far more practical, handsome and it gets a whopping 42 mpg highway, besting most hybrids.  Consumer Reports said that it was their 2nd favorite car - coming in just below the Tesla Model S.

My choice would be this 2014 Mercedes E250 Bluetec. The diesel-powered sedan is far more practical, handsome and it gets a whopping 42 mpg highway, besting most hybrids. Consumer Reports said that it was their 2nd favorite car – coming in just below the Tesla Model S.

Advertisements

Tesla Motors continues its aggressive growth with the opening of its first store in the Coachella Valley.

In a space once occupied by a VW dealer, this new Tesla store looks like a traditional car dealer – a novel concept for Tesla.  It’s not the small format gallery-like storefronts I’ve encountered in shopping malls like the Century City Shopping Center or Topanga Plaza.  The space is sleek, clean, smartly-styled and freshly painted, but it’s definitely a hybrid format marrying the mall gallery with a brick-and-mortar dealership.

The new Tesla Store is located across from the Honda dealer in the Cathedral City Auto Mall.

The new Tesla Store is located across from the Honda dealer in the Cathedral City Auto Mall.

Located at 68080 Perez Rd in the Cathedral City Auto Mall, Tesla steps into the sunshine of the Southern California low desert.

The Coachella Valley is a natural fit for an electric car with its abundance of wind and solar energy. It wouldn’t be hard for a homeowner to put enough solar panels on his or her roof to power both the house and charge the car.  It’s kind of the Holy Grail of the EV world to be able to charge batteries with pure solar power, eliminating the carbon emissions associated with coal or natural gas power plants.

You can't miss the "Now Open" sign. And lots of curious people were there to marvel at the Model S.

You can’t miss the “Now Open” sign. And lots of curious people were there to marvel at the Model S.

Quite a few of the cars on display had manufacturer plates; however a few had window stickers implying that they were for sale and that if you had $100,000 burning a hole in your checkbook, you could have driven off in one of these beauties.

This lovely Grey Model S has the P85 package. The performance version of the Model S with the 85 kWh battery.

This lovely Grey Model S has the P85 package. The performance version of the Model S with the 85 kWh battery. Note the dealer plates.

This White Model S had the 85 kWh battery package and a few other options that pushed the sticker price past $91,000. I think this one was available to drive off the lot. It had the sticker on the window!

This White Model S had the 85 kWh battery package and a few other options that pushed the sticker price past $91,000. I think this one was available to drive off the lot. It had the sticker on the window! However, Telsa says it doesn’t sell cars off the showroom floor and it doesn’t keep inventory at its stores.

The sheer size of this store allowed Tesla to show off things like the chassis, motor and battery pack. This skeleton (below) shows just how “simple” this car is. It has the 85 kWh battery pack – that large flat rectangular module that creates the floor – and optional air suspension struts that look very odd in the rear because there is nothing to hold them down.

The electric motor is mounted between the rear wheels. On the left is the motor, the inverter is on the right. Both modules look the same.

The electric motor is mounted between the rear wheels. On the left is the motor, the inverter is on the right. Both modules look the same.

This close up of the front mechanics shows the power steering module and steering rack. Certainly not the usual complicated packaging you would find in a conventional internal combustion engine car.

This close up of the front mechanics shows the power steering module and steering rack. Certainly not the usual complicated packaging you would find in a conventional internal combustion engine car.

These cutaways also show that the entire frame of the Model S is made from lightweight aluminum. Weight is the enemy of fuel economy and battery life.  Even with all the aluminum, the Model S weights over 4,600 pounds – that battery alone is nearly 1,000 pounds.  Still, that expensive aluminum sled is good for around 250 miles – all but eliminating the dreaded “range anxiety” associated with lesser EVs like the Nissan Leaf or the BMW i3 EV.  Even the new 2015 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive, with a Tesla powertrain and battery is only good for 85 miles, not nearly enough for an LA –> PS run.

The store has a lovely airy feel - a vestige of the prior tenants - but without vulture salesmen, the place takes on a whole different aura.

The store has a lovely airy feel – a vestige of the prior tenants – but without vulture salesmen, the place takes on a whole different aura.

Like other Tesla stores, you can see and feel the colors and explore the options available. A large touch-screen lets you configure and place your order online.

The large touch-screen (center) allows you to configure your new Model S. Be careful, checking too many boxes can lift the price past the $100,000 mark. The most important option, by far, is the 85 kWh battery pack - a $10,000 up charge from the base 60 kWh unit.

The large touch-screen (center) allows you to configure your new Model S. Be careful – checking too many boxes can easily inflate the price past the $100,000 mark. The most important option, by far, is the 85 kWh battery pack – a $10,000 up charge from the base 60 kWh unit.

I’ve been following the Tesla resale market in LA.  With a very limited supply, the residuals hovers in the 85%-90% range.  Unless you have to have a Model S immediately, I think it’s better to just order a new one and take advantage of the $7,500 federal and $2,500 California tax credits yourself.

The most important option is the $10,000 85 kWh battery pack which increases estimated range to 265 miles from the 208 miles offered by the base 60 kWh battery.  Your range WILL vary depending on driving style, weather condition and how much energy you use for comforts like HVAC. I have a feeling that my range would be more rapidly depleted by high speeds on the highway and my habit of leaving the climate control on 68 all the time.

The other must-have option is the $3750 Tech Package with all the goodies you’d expect to be standard like onboard maps and navigation, automatic keyless entry, GPS-enabled HomeLink, power liftgate, memory seats and mirrors, auto-dimming mirrors, LED daytime running lights, etc.

The wall of branded tchotchkes is tempting. I already own one Tesla t-shirt (a fine light-weight cotton) and I really wanted the red Tesla retro-styled lunch box (bottom right corner).  Cool stuff for those like me who can't quite afford the car.

The wall of branded tchotchkes is tempting. I already own one Tesla t-shirt (a fine light-weight cotton) and I really wanted the red Tesla retro-styled lunch box (bottom right corner). Cool stuff for those like me who can’t quite afford the car.

One of the most fascinating and attractive features of owning a Tesla is having access to the company’s ever-growing network of Superchargers.  A properly-equipped Model S can charge for free at any Supercharger forever.  Tesla estimates that in 2014, Superchargers will cover around 80% of the most commonly-traveled corridors in the U.S. and Canada.  And by the end of 2015, Tesla projects nearly 98% coverage.

The Cathedral City store does NOT  have a Supercharger.   However, the store is equipped with a few high power wall connectors (HPWCs), each juiced with  240v and 100 amps.  That’s a lot of electricity, considering my entire Palm Springs condo runs on 100 amps.  My electrician in LA told me that he could put a 240 volt plug in my garage to charge an EV.  However, where you need 30 or 40 amps for a Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt, Tesla specifics at least 50 amps.  I can do it; but many older homes wouldn’t be able to deliver sufficient power.

You can stop by the Cathedral City Tesla store anytime and plug in your Model S for free at one of its three outdoor HPWCs. Walk up Perez Road to the 7-11 on the southwestern corner of Highway 111 and Perez and get the rare Dr. Pepper Slurpee while you wait for your Model S to charge. Or go inside to the customer lounge in the back of the store, enjoy free beverages, snacks and videos of Elon Musk waxing about the virtues of Tesla and pure electric vehicles.

High Power Wall Connectors (although not in a wall) at the Tesla Store, Cathedral City, CA.

High Power Wall Connectors (although not in a wall) at the Tesla Store, Cathedral City, CA.  Currently there are only three available to the public.

The Supercharger is a 480 volt proprietary DC rapid-charging station that provides almost 100 kW of power, giving the 85 kWh version of the Model S an additional 150 miles of range in about 30 minutes. I asked one of the Tesla reps about Superchargers. He told me that one would be coming online in the next few weeks in Indio, on the I-10.  It’s located in the Indio Towne Center at Avenue 42 and Jackson Street. 

With the addition of the new Cathedral City store, the Coachella Valley becomes even more accessible to Tesla Model S owners in Los Angeles and San Diego. I don’t have to invest in a charger at my vacation home/condo, I can recharge at the store.   For full-time residents of the Valley, having local sales, service and support sends a clear message that Tesla is present, accounted for and ready to make your transition to a gasoline-free future a reality today.