She flew into Berlin yesterday from Los Angeles to be photographed for Mercedes-Benz magazine. Then she was straight off to a charity event in Nice. Petra Nemcova, 36, seems completely unfazed by this schedule. She looks radiant and is in excellent spirits. “Isn’t Berlin just amazing?” she asks, still posing for the camera. The Czech supermodel has already done work for the GLC campaign, but today is her first time in this new model. As the photographer packs away his equipment, she invites us to talk in the car. We climb aboard the GLC 300 4MATIC, which takes her – needless to say – straight to the airport.
Ms. Nemcova, what do you think of the car?
It’s green, stylish and practical. And because it’s adaptable to any terrain, you can use it on-road and off-road. You couldn’t ask for more. And just look at these stitched seams – it’s like being driven around Berlin in a giant Chanel handbag!
Do you always travel this much?
Yes, I visit at least three countries a week, often on different continents. I think it’s amazing to get to know different cultures and places. I’ve been doing this for the last 16 years.
Nemcova began her modelling career as a teenager at the age of 15, when she won Elite’s Look of the Year Competition. She worked for Max Factor, Clarins, La Perla and Victoria’s Secret. In 2003, she was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition. With that, she finally made the step up to the premier league of international supermodels.
Where do you consider home?
Everywhere. I don’t see myself as a citizen of the world, more as a denizen of the universe.
What do you mean exactly?
I’ve been learning about spirituality for the last 17 years, and that gives you a different understanding of the world and the universe, especially about how interconnected we are. One of the reminders I have to stay connected with everything is on my wrist: the number 108. It’s considered a sacred number in many traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and others.
In Nemcova’s walk of life, many people describe themselves as spiritual – perhaps so as not to appear superficial. Or because it’s easier to express a few thoughts than to assume responsibility for a cause.
In Petra Nemcova’s case, neither is true: She isn’t just a model, she is also a philanthropist who uses her celebrity status to fight poverty. Her spirituality is genuine: In 2004, her life came to a terrible turning point when she was in Thailand during the tsunami. Her fiancé died in the disaster; she narrowly escaped death by clinging to a palm tree for eight hours despite being seriously injured.
After recovering from the ordeal, Nemcova set up the Happy Hearts Fund, which builds safe, resilient schools in nine countries. So far, 118 schools have been built.
Was there ever a time when you wanted to abandon the world of glitz and glamour for good?
When I got my first two jobs after getting back to full health after the tsunami, I couldn’t stop crying. I just kept saying to myself, “What are you doing here? What’s the meaningful purpose in this?”
How did you emerge from that?
I suddenly found meaning in my work again, because I saw that everyone I worked with wanted to help. Right from the start, the Happy Hearts Fund was supported by people from the fashion world. Photographers donated their pictures, designers their dresses. That kind of charity is beneficial to both sides: The donors feel they are doing something meaningful, and it makes them happy, and the recipients get the opportunity to study at safe schools, which makes them happy. We build a bridge between worlds. I’m at almost every opening ceremony for every new school.
How important is driving to you?
I like driving, but also being driven. When I lived in Paris, I spent my time cruising around the city. I got used to a pretty crazy style of driving, especially around the Arc de Triomphe.
I like driving, but also being driven.” Petra Nemcova
How do you feel about being away from home so much of the time?
I see travelling as a great gift. I grew up in a Communist country. I was 11 when the Velvet Revolution took place, and until then I had never experienced freedom to travel, freedom of speech, not even the freedom to dream. My parents never learned to dream. For 20 years they could never tell me where they would like to go on holiday.
Unlike the angular, edgy letter K, the curvaceous C is rounded and harmonious – and a fitting element of the Mercedes-Benz designation GLC. The new model contrasts starkly with the classically angular off-road design of its predecessor, the GLK, introduced in 2008. The new mid-size SUV is athletic, powerful – and elegant at the same time. To observe the GLC driving across Berlin with supermodel Petra Nemcova aboard, you would never think the car was equally suited to cross-country terrain. Daimler’s Design Chief, Gorden Wagener, puts it in a nutshell: “Our design philosophy has given the GLC emotional accents as well as enhanced functionality.” It is a vehicle equally at home on big-city boulevards and rocky plains.
The designers have made only subtle references to its safari capabilities – the GLC is a master of understatement. At the same time, such formal purity is groundbreaking for Mercedes-Benz. “In the future, all our SUVs will embrace our philosophy of sensual purity and become much sportier,” explains Wagener. The coupe-like silhouette, short overhangs for off-road use, extended rear roof spoiler and distinctive front end with underguard provide a hint of the GLC’s capabilities. They also help improve aerodynamics: A Cd value of 0.32 sets a clear benchmark in this segment. Nor does the newcomer need to brag about size – it just has it. The GLC is 12 centimetres longer than the GLK, five centimetres wider and nine millimetres higher. The extra dimensions are particularly noticeable in the interior: The maximum trunk space of 1,600 litres exceeds that of its predecessor by 50 litres, and rear legroom is improved by 5.7 centimetres. The car’s designers have succeeded in translating into automotive form a maxim from Petra Nemcova’s line of business: Beauty is nothing without intrinsic values.
Mercedes-Benz engineers have equipped the GLC with intelligent technology to make it the perfect vehicle for the urban environment, longer journeys and off-road excursions. It comes standard with DYNAMIC SELECT dynamic handling control and 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive, enabling the GLC to tackle inclines of up to 70 degrees.
The GLC 300 4MATIC features a four-cylinder gasoline engine producing 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. The GLC’s lightweight design contributes to overall energy efficiency, with the body incorporating components made from aluminium, high-strength steel and high-resistance plastics. Although the car is bigger and better-equipped than the outgoing GLK, it weighs 80 kilograms less. Fuel consumption is as much as 19 percent below that of its predecessor.
All GLC models are equipped with a new control element, the basic principle of which will be familiar to users of smartphones and notebooks: A touchpad integrated into the armrest of the centre console enables operation of on-board systems by fingertip control. Letters, numbers and special characters can even be entered into the touchpad directly – by handwriting, as it were. This makes entering street names into the navigation system much easier. But comfort is enhanced not just by digital technology. The high rigidity of the body, vibration damping and interior tranquility also combine to promote a relaxing effect in the cabin. Nemcova’s car even features an entirely inaudible electric “silent start.” And when the combustion engine kicks in automatically in hybrid mode, noise from the drive system, wind and tires is barely perceptible. Measurements taken in the wind tunnel show that the GLC achieves aero-acoustic values more typical of the current E-Class than the sport-utility vehicle segment.
Virtually all of the driver-assistance systems familiar from the C-, E- and S-Class are also available in the GLC in the interests of safe and comfortable driving. These include as standard, for example, COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST PLUS, Passive Blind Spot Assist and PRE-SAFE. (Active Blind Spot Assist and PRE-SAFE Brake with pedestrian detection are also available as part of the optional Intelligent Drive Package.)
Most electronic-assistance systems operate using radar sensors and cameras to monitor the vehicle’s environment. The Stereo Multi-Purpose Camera (SMPC) beside the rear-view mirror, for example, can see 500 metres in front of the vehicle. Within a 50-metre range, it recognizes the trajectories taken by other cars or pedestrians and transmits this data to systems such as Brake Assist.
Having arrived from Los Angeles only the previous day and now already on her way to Nice, Petra Nemcova is only too happy to be driven on this occasion through Berlin’s busy commuter traffic with human assistance: A chauffeur drops her off at the airport.