SALZBURG, Austria - Mercedes-Benz has unveiled its new high-technology developments that will appear soon in some of its 1997 models and later in most of its 1998s. Most important is a new V-6 engine, first in a family of V-6s and V-8s to be built in a new plant near Stuttgart, Germany.
Other developments include:
* An all-new 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system.
* Brake Assist, which activates full braking effort in emergency situations.
* ELCODE, a keyless security and ignition system.
* ASSYST, a sophisticated engine oil analysis system that tells the driver when to change the engine oil.
Mercedes-Benz is shelving its time-honored in-line six-cylinder engine and replacing it with a state-of-the-art V-6. The very thought will no doubt make true enthusiasts roll their eyes and accuse Mercedes-Benz of scrapping the silky-smooth I-6 and substituting a noisy, rough-running V-6, just to save money.
That's what I thought until I had a chance to drive samples of the 1998 E-class sedans and station wagons in the Austrian Alps recently. Mercedes-Benz fans can relax - the new V-6 is every bit as good, and in many ways better than its predecessor.
So why did Mercedes engineers decide to abandon the I-6? The answer is not simple, but it relates to competition in the auto industry and the need to continuously improve engine characteristics such as exhaust emissions, fuel economy, performance, noise, weight and, of course, cost. Several years ago, Mercedes engineers decided that the current design I-6 had limited potential to meet these ever-increasing demands and chose the V-6 configuration for the next generation.
The new-generation V-6 will be available in either 2.8- or 3.2-liter versions, producing 204 and 224 horsepower, respectively. Both have single-overhead cams and make extensive use of aluminum and magnesium. The crankshaft is forged with offset crankpins for equally spaced firing order. A counter-rotating balance shaft smooths out unwanted vibration. Low-end...