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Merc technocrat makes main Page at Wheels

Star performer: Mercedes-Benz's S320 bagged the Wheels Car of the Year award for 1999.

Wheels magazine's Car of the Year award for 1999 has been the subject of some controversy

1 Dec 1999

MERCEDES-BENZ'S S320 has been voted Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for 1999, staving off the challenge of a handful of more affordable contenders.

Priced from $169,500 to $252,000, the S320 was a somewhat surprising choice for the award, given that it is a niche vehicle in the true sense of the word.

The other contenders that made up the shortlist were the Toyota Echo, Honda S2000, Honda HR-V, Audi TT and Ford Ka.

The Echo, which recently replaced the Starlet, has won a spate of accolades since its debut, including the European Car of Year award for 2000.

Honda's S2000 roadster has also earned rave reviews for its cracking 2.0-litre engine and scintillating dynamics.

Audi's TT has earned plaudits for its striking good looks and overall competence. Likewise, the Ford Ka has also gained much publicity through its unconventional styling and clever packaging.

Nevertheless, the Wheels judges gave the nod to the big Benz for the pioneering features incorporated in the car. Among the S320's technical innovations are Distronic distance control and self- activating wipers and headlights.

But the technology comes at a high cost and, on average, only about 50 buyers a month gain access to Mercedes-Benz's flagship sedan range.

Although criticised in some quarters for selecting a car that was irrelevant in the eyes of most consumers, Wheels editor Ewen Page defended the selection by saying the technology incorporated in the S320 would "trickle down" to the rest of the automotive world in due course.

It is the second time a car wearing the three-pointed star has been chosen for the award - the 1981 prize went to the W126 series S-class.

Last year's winner was the Subaru Liberty wagon while Holden's VT Commodore claimed the honours in 1997.

The criteria for the award are function, technology, efficiency, safety and value. To be eligible, cars must have been released in the previous 12 months.

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