Five Favorites from Santa's CGI-Rendered Three-Pointed Starred Garage

2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe
Not in CGI or pulling a "sleigh." Photo by Randy Stern

Let's answer this question: "Is Santa Claus real?"

If this older overweight, bearded, jolly and somehow magical gentleman is indeed real, then explain how every mall across the universe has to dress up like him? What kind of reality are we selling here?

If you're child, my apologies if I've blown the cover of that mythical person who lives somewhere past the Arctic Circle.

Yet, the marketing folks love to portray the mythology of Santa (Saint Nicholas, from what I gather is his name…rather, Kris Kringle…or, something else) and the fact that we give gifts like the Magi did upon the birth of the baby Jesus. Lexus places a big red bow to put upon every gift of a car. Love the spots or not, it's a tradition of theirs that speaks volumes about how they perceive their products during this time of year. Mercedes-Benz this year went with a CGI-coded garage depicting the most expensive garage any Christmastime icon should have – "reindeer" included.

I'll admit that the Mercedes-Benz Santa spot was intriguing. After all, the mythical Santa could afford to own such a fleet.

Which brings me to the latest Five Favorites – Mercedes-Benz. For as long as I recall, the Three-Pointed Star represented a new form of luxury to American tastes. Cadillac owned the market by the dawn of the 1970s, yet there was a nouveau riche that began to permeate the upper classes of this country. They no longer wanted Cadillacs; they wanted the more nimble Mercs.

This was a generation that had moved on from World War II and the anti-German sentiment harbored by the Greatest Generation. Vietnam helped shape this new frame of thinking. Volkswagen softened the blow over Hitler's legacy. Mercedes would apply a smoother coat to invite consumers to German automobiles. They did have help from Studebaker after the end of the war. Soon enough, they found enough success to manage their own import operation in this country.

Today, Mercedes-Benz is locked in a tight race to become the best selling luxury brand in the USA. Though BMW and Audi offer vehicles that are more in tune with today's drivers, Mercedes enjoys the position of having a legacy of design, engineering and execution. Like most companies, they had some challenges along the way. Yet, they also know how to come back from those challenges by moving the bar just so slightly.

My familiarity with Mercedes runs pretty deep, yet I can only state that I had more experience with Cadillacs than I do of any luxury brand. I have driven a Mercedes before. I even almost bought one. So, it qualifies for a single-brand Five favorites right?

…and they are…

W116 S-CLASS (1972-1980): "Iconic" seems to be an overused word on this site. Rightfully so, I will argue in many cases. This is one of them. If one were to modernize a grand sedan with styling cues dating back to the 1920s, Mercedes successfully gave the W116 a distinct personality by melding classic design elements with modern dimensions. From the grille to the oversized finned tail lamps, it exuded a sense of prestige that gave S-Class with performance worthy of a car in the future. Stateside, the most popular model was the 450SEL – a V8 powered extended wheelbase model that made a statement everywhere it went. Of course, collectors would point to the 6.9 as the ultimate W116 – and agreeably so. I considered buying a 1976 280SE sedan at a local Mercedes-Benz dealer in Marin County about the time of the Acura Integra's purchase. It was tough, being that the price was right (for 1990). Sadly, I had to let it go. That would make a wonderful commuter from San Rafael to Hayward.

W126 S-CLASS (1981-1991): How do you follow up on an icon? Mercedes pondered this question and came up with a rather sane solution. Take the W116 S-Class and shape it for the 1980s, but retain all of the fantastic elements that made the S-Class what it became. It meant building out the body to make it more aerodynamic. It meant completely sharpening up the interior, while providing the highest level of luxury as expected in an S-Class. The result was another winner for Mercedes-Benz. If it wasn't enough that the W116 became the standard bearer for luxury automobiles for the country's elite, the W126 raised the bar several more feet. It lost some of the svelte-ness of the W116, but when you're dealing with a ground-breaking automobile, in terms of safety implantation and quality, you have to make it substantial. It also needed to perform superbly. This was why Mercedes dealerships were flooded throughout the 1980s for orders of the new S-Class and its two-door brother, the SEC. After all, this was the best selling S-Class ever.

W124 E-CLASS (1986-1996): If there one automobile from the 1980s that spoke volumes about the decade, it would be this one. Mercedes needed to completely reign in design elements with a caveat to the upcoming safety regulation in some of their markets. In turn, designer Bruno Sacco chiseled a mid-class Mercedes to ride the wind. It now came with a name – the E-Class. Though E in Mercedes-speak meant "Einspritzmotor" – or, fuel injected engine. Perhaps some marketing person figured that since every one of the W123 models (except for diesels) had the E designation on them – why not call the entire series the E? The name stuck. For the W124, we're certainly glad it did. If for anything, this generation of E class improved the breed and was the target for anything remotely in its sights – from the Cadillac Seville to the BMW 5-Series. It was what any premium car wanted to be…and more.

W203 C-CLASS SPORTCOUPE (2002-2005): When I first saw it, I actually wanted to drive it. It spoke to me on a level former Acura Integra owner would understand. Essentially, it was a step up from the Integra if one is doing a lateral move within the class. It is as Mercedes built a logical step for us – except it has a supercharger and power is sent to the rear wheels instead of the fronts. When it came out in 2002, I simply loved the idea of the attainable Merc with items they forgot to include on anything going across the Atlantic. The price was right – around $25,000 when it came out. Some might say that it suffered from quality issues, or that the materials used in the Sportscoupe were less than usual Mercedes level refinement. I heard the same bellyaching when the 3-Series Compact came out with the previous generation’s instrument panel. For those who expected the C-Class Sportcoupe to be made of rare particles of platinum completely missed the point of it. This was not made for the S-Class owner – this was for the sports enthusiast with a few cents more towards a rear-drive coupe. An S-Class owner would have fun with one on the track, however…

W212 E-CLASS (2010-Current): If I had to choose a Mercedes I would feel at home in, it will be the E-Class. The size compromise between the absolute luxury of the S-Class and the attainability of the C-Class makes the E just right. There's a choice between the E350 4MATIC and the E350 BlueTec diesel…though in Minnesota, the 4MATIC makes better sense overall. Still, the space and overall user friendliness makes the latest E my choice above any Three-Pointed Star models – though the newly revised M-Class has been tugging at my heart oh so delicately. Then again, what is a Mercedes-Benz? For me – it's a sedan, first, then a fine coupe…and so forth. However, the W212 does come in a very fine coupe – a lovely one, at that – joined by an equally lovely four-seat convertible. More reasons to love the W212 – and long may it run!

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