Saturday, August 15, 2009
The Ideal Plug-In Diesel-Electric Wagon...
There has been some discussion elsewhere on the web about wagons, and whether the term "station wagon", and the awful American implementations of this concept over the years, have killed off this vehicle class for good or not. Personally, I think the wagon is poised for a comeback. Perhaps, however, it needs to be re-branded as an "estate", using the British terminology, or a "Touring" vehicle, using the German lingo? Let's just put this out there right now, for anybody who does not know yet: Wagons are not slow. Some wagons have a top speed above 200 mph, and some drivers claim that wagons are actually more stable than sedans at high speeds:
I love wagons/estates/touring models. I own a 1987 Mercedes-Benz 300TD, which I picked up used a few years back when I made the decision to run my personal vehicle fleet entirely on biodiesel. It is currently the NEWEST Mercedes diesel wagon available for sale in the United States (yes, 1987 was the last year that Mercedes brought a diesel wagon to this country). IMHO, it still performs in many respects in a comparable fashion to new Mercedes cars, in terms of fuel economy, performance, styling, handling and other attributes (New Volkswagen diesels wagons, on the other hand, have vastly superior fuel economy, but I'm not sure how they compare in other fashions). Being the first year of the w124 body styling, it is only two generations removed from the current batch of Mercedes cars, and in many ways is really only one generation removed:
In fact, I would say that it represents the pinnacle of wagon design for Mercedes. In terms of interior space versus exterior size versus fuel economy, it still wins. Too many newer wagons slope the rear angle (from the back of the roof to the top of the bumper) at too much of an angle, which limits the cargo capacity of the wagon for large loads. I like wagons where the rear end is very close to vertical (though a certain amount of angle is necessary there for styling purposes, I believe):
What would an ideal new Mercedes (or other) wagon look like, for me?
* It would incorporate many of the features the Mercedes S-class vehicles have had since the early 1980s, including:
- Adjustable hydraulic ride height, allowing it to be raised when a high-clearance vehicle is needed because of poor road conditions, leveled off for normal in-city driving & driveways, or lowered for high-speed driving on the highways or cornering in the twisties. This function should be used-adjustable/selectable -- there should be a way for the user to select each height profile manually, or select an automatic mode that would allow the car computer to select the most appropriate height given speed & handling dynamics. I would prefer the all-manual mode, but I know many people are a bit too absent-minded to remember to switch to the correct mode, and they would need the computer to do it for them.
-Automatic close-finishing on all doors. My wagon has this on just the rear gate, but I wish it had it on all the doors. Never have to slam a door again -- let the motor suck it the rest of the way shut every time. This would be a very classy feature.
-Heated seats. 'nuff said.
* It would incorporate all of the features that my wagon (and any Mercedes wagon from the 1980s) already have:
- Automatic load leveling (part of the dynamic hydraulic suspension) to steady the car while under load in corners.
- Mono-wiper for the windshield. This is the most advanced windshield wiper ever developed. I have no idea why MBZ abandoned it in favor of dual wipers for the latest models -- the mono-wiper is a far superior system. It's symmetrical. It cleans the windshield better. It also looks cooler.
- Headlight washers. I actually prefer my mechanical washers to the newer jet-style systems. No idea why this system was eliminated from the newer models.
- Built-in cargo nets, third-row of seating (allowing up to 6 passengers plus the driver for 7 total vehicle occupants, if two of them are very short) and of course power front seats.
Finally, it should include these features that no Mercedes sold in America yet has:
- Mercedes' brand-new Rudolph Diesel 150th Anniversary 4-cylinder engine (2.1 liter CDI diesel engine, producing 204 hp with 500 Nm of torque while consuming just 5.4 liters of diesel per 100 km. This 4-cylinder engine will scream from 0 to 100km/h in 7.7 seconds if placed in a C-Class saloon by fully deploying its two turbochargers. The two-stage turbocharging should take care of the notorious 'turbo-lag' on a single turbocharged engines) should be the primary power plant:
- A plug-in hybrid option should be available for mating to the above 4-cylinder diesel engine, allowing the vehicle to achieve over 100mpg when used for less than, say, 50 miles on a daily basis. This should include a user-selectable all-electric mode for economical in-city driving.
Note: Volvo has just announced a new plug-in hybrid diesel wagon -- will theirs beat Mercedes to American shores?
- Related to the electric drive system, perhaps it could have electric wheel-motors on all four wheels, allowing for 4-wheel-drive while in electric mode (the diesel drive shaft should still connect just to the two rear wheels for maximum efficiency, and that rear-wheel-drive feel while in diesel mode):
- Certified to run on 100% biodiesel without voiding the factory warranty.
And, of course, it should have a 7-speaker surround sound system with included subwoofer and rear-seat LCD screens (plus LCD screen in the main console that has limited functionality while the vehicle is in motion to comply with local regulations) DVD player, auxiliary and digital in-ports, and the option to add a Mac Mini to serve as the CPU for the vehicle's entertainment and navigation systems.
Finally... it should come with at least a 10-year, if not a 20-year, financing package and warranty. A vehicle of this quality level should not become obsolete. It should be built to give many decades of reliable service. It should be user-maintainable and user-serviceable. All of its systems should be engineered to the highest level of quality and durability. A user would expect to pay a premium for all of this, but in return, should expect that the system will last for a very long time indeed. As they say about the diesel Mercedes vehicles of years past, "You will tire of it before it tires of you", meaning it is likely to live well beyond the time that you have use for it. And that is the way that it should be.