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Your Mercedes Decoder Ring: How to Figure Out What You Want to Drive and Buy

Your Mercedes Decoder Ring: How to Figure Out What You Want to Drive and Buy

When Mercedes announced in late 2014 that they would be changing their decades-long straightforward approach to naming their models, they promised that they were doing so to avoid confusion as they rolled out 11 new models before 2020. Perhaps they had the goal to keep things simple, but the changes for many Mercedes fans have been anything but.

Understanding the Logic

To understand the logic behind the Mercedes move, especially as they roll out some of those anticipated new models in 2017, it's important to understand the relationship between the classes of cars and the popular crossover SUVs that so many car makers are introducing. Nearly every auto manufacturer has at least four classes of vehicles: compact (something like a Nissan Versa), small (a vehicle like the popular Honda Civic would fit into this class), the midsize (here is where the Toyota Camry would belong), and the full-size (like the Nissan Maxima). This breakdown likely feels familiar because it hasn't changed much in the past few decades.

But crossover SUVs are new, so where do they come from? Crossover SUVs actually take the body of one of these vehicles and place SUV styling on top of it to create the incredibly popular models that you've seen driving in neighborhoods near you. So, for example, the Toyota Highlander, as a midsize crossover SUV, is actually a Toyota Camry with an SUV body and a Nissan Rogue is an Altima with SUV style. Crossover SUVs have far more in common with the sedans on the road than with the trucks, but that's not true of true SUVs. Traditional sport utility vehicles, which might describe a midsize like the Toyota 4Runner or a full-size like the Ford Expedition, are trucks turned into SUVs. They don't drive the same way a crossover does, which explains much of the appeal of these smaller SUV options. They drive like cars because, well, they are essentially cars playing dress up in truck clothes.

Surprising? Perhaps, but it's also key to understanding how the Mercedes changes work.

The New Mercedes Models

Under its new naming strategy, Mercedes has a five main classes of vehicles: A, C, E, S, and G. They've used a variation of these names in the past, which is part of the confusion, but the approach now is much more streamlined. Essentially, they've given a letter to each class of vehicle. The A class, then, is the Mercedes version of a compact car, the C class covers the small vehicles, the E class is the mid-sized Mercedes sedan, and the S class is the full-sized luxury sedan model. The GL class, the name for the crossover SUVs in the Mercedes line, then each have a letter at the end to indicate their size and type; a Mercedes GLC, then, would be the SUV version of the Mercedes C class sedan.

Things can get complicated when you introduce different types of vehicles-coupes, wagons, top trim luxury sedans competing with Rolls Royce, high performing sports cars-but with this new naming structure, it's not as complicated as it could be. A GLE coupe, for example, isn't difficult to understand-it's a variation of the GLE SUV. But what about a CLA coupe? (CL is code for a four door sedan, so this a four door compact coupe sedan.) Or an E-class Cabriolet? (Cabriolet is code for convertible, so this is a mid-sized convertible.)

Why This Matters to You. Or Why It Should

When you're looking for a vehicle, you should know not only the price point you want to hit but also the size and type of vehicle you want. If you're interested in a luxury crossover SUV, you should know if you're looking for a midsize or a compact and what type of body style you want. If you've loved driving your C-class sedan, a GLC might be a good option for an SUV. If you think your E-class is the perfect size on the road, the last thing you need is a GLA crossover model. Seeing the symmetry in the model names, and understanding what's literally under the hood of a crossover, will help you make an informed choice as you shop for your next Mercedes.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe
2016 Mercedes-Benz GL
2016 Mercedes-Benz GL
2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class