“This is definitely a great car,” declares Edwin Chuang. The vehicle in question is the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the tenth generation of the brand's business saloon. Chuang, the CEO and founder of boutique hotel operator sáv Hospitality, has been behind the wheel for about 20 minutes, navigating it from the stunning waterfront setting of the Redhill Peninsula along the south side of Hong Kong island and over its central spine of mountains.
Chuang knows a fair bit about good design — and about cars. With a background in property development, he is a qualified architect, urban planner and interior designer who graduated from the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York. The entrepreneur spearheaded his company's recent expansion into the hospitality world with sáv, an acronym that stands for “stylish, attitude, visionary” — the brand's key values. His ventures now include a hotel in Hung Hom and others in Xiamen, Taipei and Cebu, as well as a line of beachwear.
Chuang's first ever car was a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which he owned when he was living in Boston in 2003, and his love affair with the brand has continued ever since. He owns an A-Class hatchback, which he uses for daily driving around Hong Kong, and he regularly rents an E-Class when he travels to other countries for business.
“I drive in Hong Kong a lot, and I live on The Peak, so performance and handling are key,” he says. “The A-Class is good because it's sporty — it fits perfectly with my lifestyle right now — but it's not as comfortable as this." Chuang travels for work a lot, and the E-Class is his top choice for rental. "I choose a Mercedes-Benz because it's just a very good car: it's practical and safe but also fun to drive. The brand has a great reputation worldwide — you just feel safer in a Mercedes-Benz.”
The new E-Class, he adds, is very similar to his brand. "It has a lot of the same attributes of style, attitude and vision — not just the exterior, but also the interior design, the controls, the technology, the green offering. They're all part of the package, and you have to offer all that in a car these days.”
"I choose a Mercedes-Benz because it's just a very good car: it's practical and safe but also good to drive."
Our ride over the hills of Hong Kong island is a quiet but zippy one. The E-Class's 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic gearbox means that the car can cruise at particularly low revs, but as soon as we start to ascend a hill, you can feel the seamless acceleration from the fast, seamless downshifts. That acceleration can take the E 200 model Chuang is driving from 0 to 100km/h in just 7.7 seconds, with a top speed of 240km/h. A smooth ride, meanwhile, is ensured by the three suspension settings, ranging from pure comfort to actively sporty, with the Air Body Control height-adjustment system using multiple chambers to allow the car to adapt to all driving conditions.
“It feels really nice to drive,” says Chuang. “It's very easy to handle. The braking is very smooth, and the seats are very comfortable.” A well-designed car, he adds, is much like a well-designed hotel. He's immediately taken by the external lines of the car: its sleek shape, curvier and more aerodynamic than previous iterations of the E-class, particularly the flowing, rippling lines of the roof. But it's the choice of materials that really impressed Chuang, from the tough but luxurious leather interior with smart white stitching to the inlaid wood and the novel metallic accents.
“I really like the little details — the stitching, the craftsmanship, the textures,” he says. “The materials match each other well, and the metallic feel is very cool." According to him, the aesthetics would be an equally great fit for both men and women.
"The new E-Class is very similar to my brand: it has a lot of the same attributes of style, attitude and vision"
“I believe car and hotel design is all relative. A nice property should have good design, with an emphasis on detail and long-lasting materials," he says. "A well-designed hotel uses different materials and fabrics to enhance the guest experience. Hotels get a lot of wear and tear, so the design has to be practical — this also applies to a car."
That combination of style and practicality extends to the E-Class's dashboard, a giant single panel featuring a cockpit-style interface packed with technological features, including twin 12.3-inch screens, smartphone-like touch controls and voice control for ease and safety of driving, and entirely wireless phone charging.
“The entire dashboard design — with the console appearing as one piece with a big surface — is very nice. A lot of cars are going for a minimalist look now, but this is something a bit different.”
Lighting is a key design element to Chuang's hotels, with colour schemes changing daily, customisable to the guests' needs. The E-Class's interiors can be basked in natural light — thanks to a sizeable sunroof that slides into and out of place exceptionally quickly and smoothly — but the high-tech artificial lighting is really something else: the 64-colour LED system can be directed to illuminate all parts of the interior, from the main display to the door pockets to the footwells.
“You can relate car and hotel design. I believe a nice property should have good design, with an emphasis on detail and long-lasting materials."
Technology also comes to the fore in the car's unprecedented array of advanced safety features. Driver-assistance systems include Active Brake assist and Attention Assist to alert the driver if they're drifting off. The Distance Pilot DISTRONIC makes sure the car isn't too close to the vehicle in front, while the PRE-SAFE PLUS locks the brakes and tighten the seat belts in the case of an imminent impact.
Fortunately, we didn't need to deploy any of them on the test drive. However, we did get a sense of how sensitive the E-Class's warning systems are when we reach the more crowded north side of Hong Kong island, just as evening rush hour begins: alarms let us know when another car attempts a turn to cut in front of us as we drive through Happy Valley. They're also set off to warn us of the proximity of other cars when we try to change lane into Causeway Bay's slow-moving traffic.
As we reach our destination, Chuang emerges impressed, having learned a few lessons from this drive that are hopefully applicable to his personal endeavours. “I will definitely be looking at this for my next rental,” he says. “I really like the design — design like this could definitely translate into a hotel."
Photographed by Mike Tsang
Written by Richard Lord
Grooming by Jaime Smith at Smudge Makeup Artistry