After years of watching Michael Schumacher appear at the Ferrari stands at various international auto shows, it seemed almost too natural when he stepped out of the passenger seat of Mercedes-Benz's new SLS AMG Formula One safety car. His 2010 Mercedes GP Petronas co-driver, Nico Rosberg was behind the wheel of the silver arrows safety car, its slim light bar perched just behind the gullwing doors.
The star of Mercedes' presentation, though, is the F800 Style concept, a 187-inch long four-door "sport coupe" designed to be a plug-in hybrid and a fuel-cell car, though only one car came to the stage. More importantly, the rakish, emotive sedan is thought to be a hint at the next CLS-Class due next year. That's why the car's overall length is important. The current CLS is 193.3 inches long, while the F800 Style is 187 inches long, a bit closer to C-Class than E-Class in size.
The thing is, with the C- and E-Classes cross-referencing their platforms so much that the new E-Class coupe and cabrio shares components with both, why can't the CLS? It's already a sedan with compromised rear seat space - why not have an even tighter sedan entry in this category, which is getting more crowded with Audi's upcoming A7?
This concept also extends Mercedes' new styling direction, which is to go squared-off and conservative on traditional cars like the E-Class and go high-style on less practical models. The F800 Style raises Mercedes' take on BMW's "flame surfacing" to a new high for Benz's sedans. The nose is reminiscent of the new SLS AMG and the profile manages to have a lot going on without having too much going on. It's a handsome car.
Inside, there's a rather unusual steering wheel that might remind you of something on an early-'60s Chrysler. Driver's pedals have a distinctive black striped pattern. The leather outlined seats have mesh centers with an off-white design, and there's a prominent rear console with a video screen.
Oh, yeah, this is a green car, or as Daimler chief Dieter Zetsche put it, "equal parts fascination and responsibility."
The F800 plug-in hybrid combines a 272-horsepower (European rating] gas direct injection V-6 with a hybrid module that develops about 109 horsepower (European) and a lithium-ion battery that can be recharged at a charging station or from a home outlet. It's said to run on pure electric for up to 18 miles.
The fuel-cell version places the hydrogen tank above the rear wheels, and the fuel cell stack under the hood, like a conventional engine. Mercedes rates it 136 horsepower (European) and about 214 pound-feet. Zetsche says it's the first rear-wheel-drive fuel cell car built.
Beside these and the new E-Class Cabriolet reviewed HERE, Mercedes showed its upcoming (for Europe, at least) E300 BlueTec hybrid, combining a four-cylinder turbodiesel with hybrid power rated 4.1 liters per 100 kilometers, the equivalent of more than 57 miles per gallon. An S500 plug-in will be next, Zetsche says.