Mercedes-Benz will unveil the fifth-generation C-Class on Feb. 23, ahead of a market launch in June. The car’s chief engineer, Christian Früh, talked about why the car’s bigger engines have been dropped and why there will be no full-electric version any time soon. Früh spoke with Automobilwoche, a German language sister publication of Automotive News Europe and Automotive News.
The new C-Class will not have six- and eight-cylinder engines because of tougher CO2 emissions limits. Why did you not take the opportunity to convert the model to a transverse engine layout from a longitudinal layout to reduce costs, installation space and complexity?
The longitudinal engine is the prerequisite for competitive premium car. Together with the E-Class, the C-Class forms the core of Mercedes’ MRA rear-wheel drive architecture. The S-Class is also part of this DNA, but its size and weight require standalone configurations. In the C-Class segment, the longitudinal engine has indisputable advantages. These include superior traction, steering that’s completely free of driving influences, and a premium chassis with a correspondingly complex rear axle design. The result is comfort, handling, stability driving characteristics that are clearly superior to a front-wheel drive car.
It’s clear that a V-8 engine has no future in the C-Class but Mercedes’ new six-cylinder engine would have been ideal for this vehicle.
That’s correct but with the 3.0-liter engine, the front end would have grown by 50 mm in length, not to mention the higher axle load and its impact on driving dynamics. Performance-wise, we have more than made up for the difference between the four- and six-cylinder engines through the plug-in hybrid models. Besides a slight increase in smoothness, these engines have significantly better efficiency.
BMW is launching the i4 full-electric sedan in the third quarter, Tesla dominates the EV segment with the Model 3, and Audi is working on the A4 e-tron. When will there be a full-electric C-Class?
There will be one, but not in the near future. Why not? Because the current MRA matrix cannot be easily electrified. We could have packed batteries into the existing floor assembly, used larger wheel diameters and raised the vehicle. But that would have distorted the DNA of the C-Class and we would have had to make compromises with the rear axle and packaging. Mercedes has an outstanding electric modular system with the Electric Vehicle Architecture (EVA) platform, which is perfect for the E-Class and S-Class, but unfortunately goes beyond the dimensional concept and budget of the C-Class.
An all-terrain variant of the C-Class wagon is planned for the first time. At the same time, the Airmatic air suspension is being dropped from the lineup. How does that fit together?
Shortly after its introduction, the Airmatic had an order share of almost 6 percent. In 2020, unfortunately, only one in a hundred customers opted for the air suspension. That is not profitable. We cover the all-terrain requirements with an off-road chassis including appropriate tires. Although the newly tuned adjustable damping cannot be combined with four-wheel level control, it has significantly more comfortable design that provides a clear differentiation from the firmer sports suspension.