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Posted by portugalpress on April 27, 2017

Mercedes is bringing down their opponents with their compact car range. I went to Budapest to investigate.

Everything had gone according to plan. I had boarded the plane, told the missus I would be home on time, picked up my book and relaxed.

The plane accelerated down the runway and, just before its front wheels left the ground, the captain hit the brakes in a way I had never felt on an aircraft before.

Some people started screaming, others laughing. Then we were told what had happened: an eagle had just been made into a million pieces by the right wing engine and this plane was going nowhere.

Well, that sucks – I thought. On the other hand, I did spend another night in Budapest’s awesome Ritz-Carlton. Just that name: Ritz. Carlton. Sounds good.

Anyway, I was at Hungary because Mercedes wanted to show the press the new GLA. Not exactly a new car, more of a facelift to keep it fresh and up to speed with its rivals.

The GLA is very nice and, to me at least, the most interesting of all Mercedes’ compact car line-up (which, in case you forgot, includes the A, B, CLA, CLA Shooting Brake and GLA), but because we were allowed a few laps around Hungary’s F1 Circuit – the Hungaroring – in an A45 AMG, I have to talk about that first.

Ok, so A45 AMG on the ‘Ring? A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Out in the real world, this is a car that is just a bit too fast, too loud and too hard on your internal organs when you hit a pothole; but on the smooth tarmac of a racetrack, away from all my troubles and worries, it is almost perfect.

There are 381 horse power to play with, a really small wheelbase and a chassis that can show all its agility. The result is loads of guilt-free fun. Thanks for that candy, Mercedes, I really appreciated it. Can I have some more, please?

After all the honing at the track, I headed for the off-road course where we drove a GLA across some rough ground. One of the biggest focuses of this facelift was to enhance the car’s off-road credentials, which are now pretty incredible.

This is not a full-size SUV but it can overcome some really rough stuff, let me tell you.

The Hungaroring closes at 5pm so it was time to head to the Ritz-Carlton. Just enough time to catch up on some emails and we took a walk to the restaurant. Budapest is such a beautiful city. Every time I go there, it surprises me and it never, ever disappoints. If you have never been, book that flight.

Our second day was mainly spent at Mercedes-Benz Hungarian factory, at Kecskemét. I can write that word because I see it in my notes, but I still cannot pronounce it.

This industrial site is very important for Mercedes. It was the compact class of cars that rejuvenated the brand and brought new clients to the German name. Where once Mercedes was seen as an older gentleman’s car, today it is young, urban and cool. That is much to the credit of the people who envisioned the new A-Class and its derivatives. Since 2012, more than two million have been sold worldwide – that is more than a thousand per day. Gigantic WOW.

Within a five-model compact range, Mercedes offers 70 different versions. Seventy! Bigger, smaller, more powerful, more efficient, faster, crazier or really sensible, there is a compact Mercedes for everyone. And it’s making BMW and Audi go nuts.

In Western Europe, half of all Mercedes’ compact range clients comes from another brand. The A-Class of today attracts a target audience 13 years younger than the original A-Class did 20 years ago and for this particular model the conquest rate is 70%. These Mercedes guys know their thing.

The Kecskemét factory began as an €800 million investment but is now poised for further growth. Mercedes will lay down another €580 million to project another facility next to the one already creating the B-Class, CLA and CLA Shooting Brake. That will add 2,500 jobs to the existing 4,000, making this a pivotal company for Hungarian exports, as you can imagine.

I love car factories, because it is where you see all the creative process that it takes to develop a car from scratch come together to generate an object that will shape people’s lives. The Kecskemét line is state-of-the art with driverless transport and automated shopping baskets moving around the production facilities as if we were in the year 2200.

Cars are built at a rate of one every two minutes and they are all sold prior to entering production. What a dream business this is. The production line is 900m long and has eight sections, with each car taking six hours and 30 minutes from a bunch of parts to a finished product. One building alone has 96,000m2 – this is not a small enterprise.

Tour over, it was back to the airport for a third degree encounter with a suicidal eagle. But it was worth it. I burned some rubber on the track and marvelled at how Mercedes builds their cars nowadays. And I can tell you from everything I have seen and heard, this range of compact cars will keep on growing and so will the profits it generates.

Guilherme Marques

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