Here’s Why Kia Is The Biggest Threat to Mercedes-Benz

Illustration for article titled Here’s Why Kia Is The Biggest Threat to Mercedes-Benz

It's one of life's simple truths: automotive journalists get to have all the fun. You know it. Your friends know it. Your wife knows it. And now, I especially know it, because I recently got the chance to spend a few days driving the all-new Kia Forte. It was an excellent experience, and I strongly recommend that you give it a try, assuming your local Enterprise hasn't run out of them.

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For those of you who aren't familiar with the Forte, allow me to paint you a detailed picture, drawing from my weeks of experience writing about automobiles. It's an economy car. It looks like an economy car, it handles like an economy car, it accelerates like an economy car, it sounds like an economy car, it feels like an economy car, and it has that same zest for life you really only get with an economy car; the one that reminds you, day in and day out, that every single part was created by the lowest bidder.

But here's the thing: it has more features than a Panamera.

This is the part where I usually say "Ha ha," and tell you all about the funny little joke I just made, and you silently think to yourself: Is it too late to renew my subscription to Road & Track? But this time, I'm not exaggerating. The Forte I drove — some high-end trim level which I'm now calling the "SuperForte" — came with keyless access, push-button start, a heated steering wheel, xenon headlights, a ventilated driver's seat, heated rear seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a navigation system.

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Yes, folks, that's right: heated rear seats… on a Kia! Not only that, a Kia that competes with the Honda Civic. A Kia that's slotted below the Optima in the brand's lineup! It used to be that the only way you could get cheaper than the Optima was you had to tip over your laundry hamper and ask your buddies to videotape as you rode it down the stairs. Now the damn thing has heated rear seats!

This phenomenon isn't reserved for the Kia Forte. A few months ago, I went to the Mazda3 launch, where I spent the afternoon driving around San Diego in a Mazda3… with adaptive cruise control. That's right: this tiny little compact sedan — proud member of a segment that, only a few short years ago, included the Chevrolet Cavalier — now employs the same technology to avoid hitting stuff as a nuclear submarine.

All of this brings me to my point, which is the following: Mercedes-Benz feels more pressure from brands like Mazda and Kia than anyone else in the car industry.

Before you accuse me of saying that the Mazda3 competes with some Mercedes-Benz, let me quickly explain that's not where I plan to take this. We all know the Mazda3 could never compete with Mercedes-Benz, because the little Mazda will rust to bits in 10 years. Whereas a high-end luxury vehicle such as, for example, the Mercedes S-Class — one of today's finest automobiles; built with high-end German precision; engineered to automotive perfection — will suffer massive electrical failure long before it ever reaches that point.

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No, the reason Mercedes-Benz feels pressure from mainstream brands is simple: they're rapidly making technology seem a lot more accessible.

Adaptive cruise control is a great way to help me prove my point. A few years back, Mercedes rolled out adaptive cruise control on the S-Class. And S-Class buyers responded in the only way they knew how: by complaining on JD Power surveys that they couldn't figure out how to use it. But the rest of us oohed and aahed at the mere idea of a radar system that automatically speeds you up and slows you down. "Mercedes must be crazy!" we all thought. And then they came out with that weird C-Class hatchback and proved us right.

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Well, only a few short years later, Mazda is offering adaptive cruise control in its compact car. In other words: the technology isn't cool anymore. Now it's mainstream. Everyone has it. It's everywhere. It's common. Once you can get it in a normal car, luxury car buyers can never brag about it anymore. "Did you hear about my dual clutch transmission?" some Porsche owner will say, at a party of luxury car owners. "Oh," a BMW driver will reply. "That thing they use in the Ford Focus?" And then they'll all laugh and laugh at the Porsche owner, who will go home and hang himself with his red seat belts.

So what does Mercedes-Benz do? The answer is: develop more cool stuff. The only problem is that it's getting seriously difficult to develop enough crap to stay ahead of everyone else. New Fords will read your text messages to you. The Honda Accord has a camera that shows you what's in your blind spot. The Dodge Dart can show you a photo of the interchange where you're turning — and highlight the lane you need to be in. The Mazda6 will automatically stop you before you crash. And the freaking Kia Forte has heated rear seats.

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So Mercedes-Benz is hard at work, over there in Germany, constantly developing new technology. Because if they ever lose their position as today's most high-tech automaker, they'll have to trade on their other reputation: beautiful, handsome, solid, high-performance cars that last as long as chewing gum. And everyone knows Audi already has that market cornered.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.

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DISCUSSION

I think we'll be okay.

  • The internal combustion engined automobile was developed independently by Benz and Daimler & Maybach in 1886
  • Daimler invented the honeycomb radiator of the type still used on all water-cooled vehicles today
  • Daimler invented the float carburetor which was used until replaced by fuel injection
  • The "drop chassis" – the car originally designated the "Mercedes" by Daimler was also the first car with a modern configuration, having the carriage lowered and set between the front and rear wheels, with a front engine and powered rear wheels. All earlier cars were "horseless carriages", which had high centres of gravity and various engine/drive-train configurations
  • The first passenger road car to have brakes on all four wheels (1924)[70]
  • In 1936, the Mercedes-Benz 260 D was the first diesel powered passenger car.
  • Mercedes-Benz were the first to offer direct fuel injection on the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
  • The "safety cage" or "safety cell" construction with front and rear crumple zones was first developed by Mercedes-Benz in 1951. This is considered by many as the most important innovation in automobile construction from a safety standpoint[5][verification needed]
  • In 1959, Mercedes-Benz patented a device that prevents drive wheels from spinning by intervening at the engine, transmission, or brakes. In 1987, Mercedes-Benz applied its patent by introducing a traction control system that worked under both braking and acceleration
  • an Anti-Lock Breaking system (ABS) was first offered on the W116 450SEL 6.9. They became standard on the W126 S-Class starting production in 1979, and first sold in most markets in 1980.
  • Airbags were first introduced in the European market, beginning with model year 1981 S-Class.
  • Mercedes-Benz was the first to introduce pre-tensioners to seat belts on the 1981 S-Class. In the event of a crash, a pre-tensioner will tighten the belt instantaneously, removing any 'slack' in the belt, which prevents the occupant from jerking forward in a crash
  • In September 2003, Mercedes-Benz introduced the world's first seven-speed automatic transmission called '7G-Tronic'
  • Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), brake assist,[71] and many other types of safety equipment were all developed, tested, and implemented into passenger cars – first – by Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz has not made a large fuss about its innovations, and has even licensed them for use by competitors – in the name of improving automobile and passenger safety. As a result, crumple zones and anti-lock brakes (ABS) are now standard on all modern vehicles.[5][verification needed]

Mercedes M156 engine

  • The most powerful naturally aspirated eight-cylinder engine in the world is the Mercedes-AMG, 6,208 cc M156 V8 engine at 85 PS (63 kW) per litre. The V8 engine is badged '63 AMG', and replaced the '55 AMG' M113 engine in most models. The M156 engine produces up to 391 kW (532 PS; 524 bhp), and although some models using this engine do have this output (such as the S63 and CL63 AMGs), specific output varies slightly across other models in the range[72]
  • The (W211) E320 CDI which has a variable geometry turbocharger (VGT) 3.0-litre V6 common rail diesel engine (producing 224 hp or 167 kW), set three world endurance records. It covered 100,000 miles (160,000 km) in a record time, with an average speed of 224.823 km/h (139.70 mph). Three identical cars did the endurance run (one set above record) and the other two cars set world records for time taken to cover 100,000 kilometres (62,137 mi) and 50,000 miles (80,000 km) respectively. After all three cars had completed the run, their combined distance was 300,000 miles (480,000 km) (all records were FIA approved).[73][clarification needed]
  • Mercedes-Benz pioneered a system called Pre-Safe to detect an imminent crash – and prepares the car's safety systems to respond optimally. It also calculates the optimal braking force required to avoid an accident in emergency situations, and makes it immediately available for when the driver depresses the brake pedal. Occupants are also prepared by tightening the seat belt, closing the sunroof and windows, and moving the seats into the optimal position.
  • At 181 horsepowers per litre, the M133 engine installed in Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG is the most powerful series production four-cylinder turbocharged motor (as of June 2013) and has one of the highest power density for a passenger vehicle.

Sincerely,

Mercedes-Benz

P.S. - Kia's suck.