Last summer saw the arrival of the new Mercedes C-Class Saloon, and now the Estate version is on the road in Germany. It is due in the UK in the spring. Estate cars don’t come much classier than this, but what’s it like to drive? We sent Sue Baker to the launch in Frankfurt to find out
To be, or not to be. Understated and discreet, that is… Or perhaps your taste runs to something a bit more in-your-face? If you were in the market for a new Mercedes C-Class Estate, that is the question you would need to ask yourself, and the choice you would have to make. Go for an SE or Elegance model, and you are in traditional Mercedes territory with a muted design of grille and the three-pointed star in its familiar place, perched like a gun-sight atop the bonnet. But opt for the Sport version, and the grille morphs into something much bolder, a “look-at-me”, chunky slatted design with an oversized star emblem slapped right in the middle. It is reminiscent of those big AMG grilles that you still sometimes see on old Mercedes 190s, which became a bit of a vogue among more the extrovert Merc owners long before we’d even heard the word ‘bling’.
To my eye at least, the Sport – as in this C 320 CDI Sport – is the best-looking C Estate. That bold grille gives a strong focus to the front end of a car that is much more svelte than its predecessor, with swept-back styling that improves the aerodynamics and softens the inevitable boxiness of an estate rear end. So the wrapping is classy, but how about the calibre of what is underneath? Happily, the distinct upgrade in driving quality that already enhances the C-Class Saloon is just as apparent in the estate. It feels as solidly-built as you should expect a Mercedes to be, with good composure and sure-footedness.
It contrives to have a less cumbersome feel than I remember from older Merc estates. It is definitely a rather more engaging drive than the previous C-Class Estate. Ride quality is excellent, the steering is light but with adequate feel, and the brakes are strong and progressive. The standard six-speed gearbox has excellent shift quality. Handling is nimble enough for a longish and relatively heavy car.
So this latest child of a broken family is in pretty good shape. The ill-starred marriage between Mercedes owner Daimler-Benz and Chrysler has ended in recent divorce. Long before that, quality slippage at the tail end of the 1990s dented the marque’s previously gilded reputation. To say that the past decade has not been an entirely smooth ride for Mercedes is a bit of an understatement. Through it all, there has always been a strong degree of arrogance about Mercedes engineering, which is perhaps inevitable from the world’s oldest car maker. You can feel it in this car, but with good justification. It starts the moment you sit in the driving seat and slide into a shape that hugs and holds you in all the right places. Mercedes has always been adept at making good car seats, and thankfully they are no longer as unyieldingly hard as they once were. I once asked a Merc engineer why they made their car seats so firm, and he memorably responded: “Never mind what you think is comfortable, we know what is good for your spine!”
The C-Class Estate range starts with a 1.8-litre petrol engine in the C 180 Kompressor, but the engines of interest to us are the three CDIs, all of them common-rail, four-valves-per-cylinder and turbocharged. There is the C 200 CDI with a 2,148cc four-cylinder engine and 136bhp, the C 220 CDI with the same engine in 170bhp guise, and the C 320 CDI with a three-litre V6.
Most of the launch cars were C 320 CDIs, teamed with the standard six-speed gearbox. The effortless feel of the 3.0-litre engine and the unobtrusive way it does its job is impressive. On cold start-up you may notice that it is a diesel under the long sloping bonnet, but when running with a warm engine it is very hard to detect beyond a pleasantly hushed engine note. As with any Mercedes estate it is more Savile Row k Cons k Pros than B&Q. The boot is a decent size at 485 litres, and a practical shape, but it’s just not the kind of luggage bay you would imagine loading a washing machine into, even though it’s technically possible with the rear seats folded. It is much too stylishly kitted out, with high-quality fittings that preclude mundane cargo! There is an optional Easy Fit system of tailored stowage compartments, anchored to a rail system in the boot floor, and although it is likely to be pricey, it would be well worth having in order to maximise the boot’s usefulness and prevent the weekly shopping from sliding around when cornering. I’m not totally enamoured with the car’s interior. The cabin is tasteful, but a bit dull, with too big an expanse of dash-top plastics. These are pressed with that terribly traditional kind of skin texture that looks a bit passé compared with some of the newer, more technical-looking finishes now adorning other car interiors. The Sport’s funky front deserves something a little more contemporary inside.
Standard equipment is pretty good, including plenty of kit that keeps you relaxed in the driving seat while technology does the donkey work. You get seatbelt force limiters, adaptive braking, brake lights that flash automatically to warn following drivers in an emergency situation, and an agility control package that adapts the shock absorber responses to what the car detects is happening on the road.
Overall, Mercedes has done a pretty good job with the new C-Class Estate. It is more svelte and elegantly proportioned than the last C Estate, and is a very comfortable, responsive drive. There’s a good choice of engine with diesels ranging from 136 to 224bhp. The standard six-speed gearbox has excellent shift quality. The only disappointment is interiors that are beautifully appointed, but just a bit dull.
On sale: spring 2008 // Price from: £ TBA //
Main rivals: Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon 2.4 JTDM TI; BMW 330d M Sport Touring; Chrysler 300C 3.0V6 CRD Touring.
- Price: £tba
- Engine: 2,987cc,V6 turbodiesel
- Max Power: 2,24bhp at 3,800rpm
- Max Torque: 376lb ft at 1,600rpm – 2,800rpm
- Max Towing Weight: 1,800kg
- Combined Consumption: 39.8mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 198g/km (F)
- 0-62mph: 7.9secs
- Max speed: 153mph
17-inch alloy wheels
Mercedes-Benz star – integrated within front grille
Front fog lamps with chrome rings
Tail lights with smoked indicator lens
Sports braking system
Electrically-adjustable and heated door mirrors
Heated windscreen washer nozzles
Space saver spare wheel
Four electric windows with one-touch opening and closing including obstruction sensors
Drivers seat with lumbar support
Front seats with electrical height and back adjustment
Leather-trimmed steering wheel
Leather-trimmed gearshift level with aluminium/leather
Height and reach adjustable steering column
Multi-function steering wheel with trip computer and outside temperature gauge
Instrument cluster with chrome-ringed dials
Two-zone automatic climate control
Stainless steel sports pedals with rubber studs
Automatic headlamp activation
One-touch lane changing indicator function
Foot-operated park brake
Anti-lock brakes with brake assist
Electronic stability program with Acceleration skid control
Tyre pressure loss warning system
Airbags – front driver and passenger, side front, window, knee
ISOFIX child seat fixings in rear
Automatic child seat recognition sensor
Remote central locking with alarm system and immobiliser with interior protection
Automatic door locking function
Automatically dimming rear view mirror and driver’s exterior door mirror
Electrically-folding exterior door mirrors
Rain sensing wipers
CD player with MP3 functionality
Hands-free Bluetooth interface
Aux-in socket located in glove compartment
Good looking in Sport trim, less cumbersome than previous Merc Estates, solidly built, effortless engine
Interior is just a bit dull