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A Foray of 4Matics

Long-time Mercedes supplier Magna-Steyr helps bring all-wheel-drive to the sedan fleet.

The introduction of a 4WD or AWD system to the Mercedes-Benz sedan lineup was based on the company’s own market research that pointed to an increasing demand from buyers. Data showed that consumers wanted year-round performance in a sedan or coupe, rather than purchasing a sport utility while garaging their existing rear-wheel-drive luxury car.

Mercedes’ data showed a 14 percent growth in sales of cars over $70,000 last year, a price point that would easily support the addition of AWD technology. Enter the 4Matic AWD system currently available on Sand C-Class vehicles. The technology costs roughly $2,900 on an S-Class and $1,800 for a simpler system on a C-Class.

This year will see the new generation of 4Matic available in the new E-Class sedan and wagon. This rounds out a plan that provides 4Matics for the entry level buyers with the C-Class, the loyalists with the E-Class and the CEOs with the S-Class.

Mercedes also wants to stay ahead of the possibility of 4WD systems potentially becoming the next safety mandated standard. If that becomes the case, Mercedes will have the advantage of having a fully developed and mature system in the 4Matic which will help it beat other luxury car companies to the punch.

Not only from a marketing sense but also to maintain brand recognition the system is designed to provide: “Control. Unlike any other.” This is the mantra of the 4Matic system and the tagline that will accompany a strategic ad campaign that has already begun.

A television commercial, aimed at snow markets, shows children celebrating an apparent snow day until their father walks into their room telling them they are leaving for school in 5 minutes. They then leave in a 4Matic Mercedes sedan while a voiceover says something to the effect of “The new 4Matic ruins yet another snow day.”

Entry level Mercedes owners can add 4Matic to their new C-Class for $1,800.
Snow markets will be a much easier sell, but Mercedes is also developing a marketing strategy delineating the value of 4WD throughout the four seasons. Forthcoming non-snow market ads will show the same patch of road in different weather conditions with a Mercedes traversing it effortlessly regardless of the climatic differences. Since success in non-snow markets will end up being the x-factor for such cars — it was important that the AWD system they ended up with performed in dry road conditions. Severe weather climates lend themselves to the idea of AWD sedans. Dry weather performance was just as important in the development of these vehicles.

The development of the 4Matic was a joint effort between Mercedes-Benz and Steyr- Daimler-Puch (now Magna Steyr) of Graz, Austria. Magna Steyr was chosen by Mercedes based on an existing relationship as well as Steyr’s experience with AWD drivelines. The first major collaboration was on the 1979 G-Class. Magna Steyr was behind the late 1996 release of the E-Class 4Matic system and also worked with Mercedes on the 1998 M-Class 4Matic (2nd Gen). Guidelines for desired features and performance were laid out by Mercedes.

The basis of the latest agreement between companies left Magna Steyr responsible for developing and adapting the 4Matic to the S and C-Class as well as manufacturing all major components. Single-speed transfer cases, which are the “heart” of the 4Matic system, are produced in Lannach and Ilz, Austria. The transfer cases feature an open center differential which absorbs the speed difference between axles and the front-axle drive. Some AWD systems depend on the action of a viscous clutch to engage both axles; in essence this is part-time AWD. They are comparable in weight to the 4Matic but Mercedes contends that these systems do not take performance and handling benefits of full-time AWD on dry, hard surfaced roads into account when being designed.

Other systems use various forms of limited- slip differentials, but these systems can actually force one or more wheels to slip as torque is distributed, which is a disadvantage, especially on the hard surfaced roads.

Mercedes chose a full-time mechanical system for better handling on dry pavement as well as snow. The center differential is mounted to the oil sump.
The 4Matic is a full-time mechanical system with a center differential. Mercedes wanted this type of system to provide the broadest benefits on dry and wet roads, as well as snowy or off-road conditions without tradeoffs. Four-wheel traction control system was chosen instead of differential locks or viscous couplings distinguishing the 4Matic from other AWD systems.

The system depends initially on the basic characteristics of automotive differential units; it is torque-based and reactive, even with the presence of the electronic traction control. Side-to-side torque distribution is handled as you would expect from a twowheel drive car simply through the front and rear differentials.

Magna Steyr says the layout of the system could theoretically provide 100 percent of the available torque to any axle, briefly. The electronic traction control would then actuate and bring the torque split back to its normal set-up. The S-Class, E-Class and C-Class are all set-up with a 40:60 torque split. The torque splits are set up with more torque in back to leave returning customers with the launch feeling they expect from a Mercedes sedan. The G- and MClass SUVs feature 50:50 and 48:52 torque splits respectively.

Mercedes wanted this type of system to provide the broadest benefits on dry and wet roads, as well as snowy or off-road conditions without tradeoffs.

Most 4Matic installations weigh about 200 pounds (transfer case, front drive shaft, front differential and half shafts). An exact weight on the S-Class’ system isn’t available but it is slightly heavier due the use of larger shafts to facilitate the power plant. The transfer case and front/rear differential housings are aluminum, which keeps weight to a minimum. Reducing the weight of the system without compromising reliability would only be possible through the use of magnesium. Using the 4Matic results in an average of one mpg loss in the city and highway cycle, according to Mercedes. The C240 4matic wagon gets the same mileage (19/25 mpg) as its 2WD version, while the S430 sedan gives up two mpg on the highway (16/22 versus 17/24 for 2WD).

Conservative estimates from Mercedes- Benz USA (MBUSA) predict 30 percent of sales in the S and C-Class will be 4Matic. When the 4Matic returns to the E-Class, 4Matics will then be available on virtually all sedans and wagons, MBUSA is foreseeing market penetration around 40 percent.

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Fri. February 3rd, 2023

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