No gimmicks in the dignity of Mercedes

In its automotive vocabulary, Daimler-Benz doesn't seem to have the word gimmick.m Indeed, I've just been driving two top-rung, 5-cylinder Mercedes automobiles, both turbocharged diesels.

While the 300SD sedan and the 300TD, the most fashionable wagon around, are expectedly plush, they show that the prestigious West German vehiclemaker doesn't go in for gimmickry or, for that matter, labor- saving devices.Yet everything the driver reallym needs is only a short reach away.

The 300SD, a $36,000 sedan, doesn't release the foot brake automatically when the car is put in gear, nor does it automatically turn off the headlights when the driver pulls out the key and heads for the house. But what would those two convenience items do for the roadability of the car? Nothing.

And while the right outside mirror does indeed respond to a power control button on the console, the left- hand driver's mirror operates by hand.

For his (or her) money the motorist buys a superb piece of functional machinery that, while perhaps not perfect -- what car is? -- nonetheless does the job it is supposed to do, and most of the time with ease.

And the 300SD is quiet, really quietm ! A double wall inside the engine compartment insulates the engine from the passengers, thus reducing what otherwise could be an aggressive sound invasion of the car. All diesels are clanky, especially when they first start out. Also, there is almost no wind noise inside the 300SD, unlike some Mercedes automobiles over the years.

At for looks, the 300SD has trim lines and seems larger than its actual measure (wheelbase 115.6 inches and length 183 inches). Fog lamps are integrated into the grille along with the headlights and parking lights. The trunk is large.

Full leather upholstery is a $1,038 extra. (The loudest sound inside the car I've been driving, in fact, seems to be the squeaking of the leather as the occupants shift their positions under way.)

Options are expectedly top drawer, with the electrically operated sun roof priced at an upbeat $795. In the TD wagon, however, a manual sun roof goes onlym

When the wagon came into the United States a couple of years ago it was sold for $25,000. Now it's up to about $32,000. Inflation! economists say. But along with inflation, the US dollar buys a lot more West German marks than it did, say, in 1979.

The suspension of both cars is firm, but Mercedes buyers like it that way. The wagon, in fact, rides the same way and at the same level whether rolling with or without a heavy load. The rear suspension is self- leveling because of hydraulic suspension struts which also acts as shock absorbers.

Clearly, Daimler-Benz builds a driver's car where technology is of the essence.

The Turbo, which boosts the power of the wagon by 44 percent, according to company engineers, doesn't advertise its presence beneath the hood as there is no boost gauge on the dash.

Without the turbo, the diesel is, well, let's face it, poky.

The M-B wagon is still the classiest wagon around, by any measure, but why does it have only two side rails on the roof. How, I ask, can you expect to carry anything atop the wagon without damaging the paint?

Although there is no air deflector above the rear hatch, a rear-glass washer and wiper are expected to do the job.

Some people may be annoyed by the metric dial on the thumb wheel of the temperature control unit. Most motorists in the US are still not comfortable with metric. But maybe Daimler-Benz has a good idea. After all, aren't more and more service stations converting their pumps to liters? Also, the US is still committed to an eventual switch from the English system to metric.

Availability of diesel fuel is a continuing problem even as more and more stations install diesel pumps as the demand goes up.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the diesel at about 25 miles per gallons, about the same m.p.g. as the last time I drove one of these cars a couple of years ago.

The wagon is heavy -- 3,805 pounds, plus passengers and luggage. It is 190.9 inches long and 70.3 inches wide and the wheelbase is 110 inches.

Extensive wind-tunnel work goes into the design of the new M-B cars. In the 300SD, wind drag was reduced by about 13 percent. A new 4-speed automatic transmission also cut fuel use.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Mercedes-Benz of North America sold almost 54,000 vehicles last year, up from 1979. The five diesel-engine models accounted for 73 percent of sales in 1980, compared with 67.5 percent the year before.

The importer sells about 200 wagons a month.

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