Clearly in pursuit of younger blood, Mercedes-Benz has sent its C-class for a radical haircut and kitted it out with an entirely fresh wardrobe – including not one, but two new faces
With sales nibbled away by all those nichemobiles, they say the war for the executive saloon is over, though no one’s told Mercedes-Benz. Part of the Benidorm launch of the new C-Class included a presentation in the hotel’s ‘church’, the altar being a giant digital icon of this new saint of Stuttgart.
Automotive worship demands unquestioning devotion, however – so can the new C-class keep the faith and fill the pews? Talk about hard acts to follow: the last C series sold 630,000 units worldwide, and maintained prime position against BMW and Audi here in the UK. Overall, more than six million examples have been knocked out. There are a lot of selfsatisfied taxi drivers out there.
The headlines for the new C are promising. For a start, Merc’s Milton Keynes HQ has simplified the line up, ditching the pipesmoking Avantgarde, and streamlining choices down to SE, Elegance, and Sport. From June, you’ll be able to muse over three diesels: a 170hp, 2.2- litre, 220 CDI (from £25,090); and a 224hp, V6, 3.0-litre 320 CDI (from £31,590); while an entry level 2.2-litre 200 CDI with 136hp is due to be available from September (priced from £24,090). The 320 won’t be available in bottom, SE, spec – in the Sport trim shown here, it comes in at £33,290.
If you want the old-fashioned bonnet-mounted tristar, don’t go for the Sport model tested here – unlike the SE and Elegance, it includes a chunkier grille with oversized M-B badge inset, SL-style.
Further changes to the bodywork reinforce the notion that Merc would rather the over 40s bought an E. Despite being longer and wider than before, the shape is punchier and appears shorter, thanks to ascendant side lines that accentuate a wedge shape. The new body’s a gamble: granted, BMW’s 3 Series has a rump like an abandoned Rubik’s cube, but where Audi’s A4 looks hewn, understated, and succinct, the new C is just downright chatty. Stare hard enough and you may detect elements of Lexus (nose), Citroën Xsara (rear quarters) and even, dare one suggest, Vauxhall Astra (headlamps). First impressions tend to suggest the designer rapped it, rather than using fresh material.
The lack of a strong, distinct identity continues inside. Don’t misread me: this is an impeccable effort, with wonderful seating and trim, crystalclear instrumentation – especially the system control button and ultra-quick Sat Nav – and a measure of quality that matches the advances made in the E-class. It brings nothing new to the party though; more convincing than the 3 Series cockpit but lacking A4’s clean edges. However, if you seek disappointment on the move, you’ve come to the wrong driving seat. Granted, this road-test eulogy was gleaned from behind the wheel of the top-notch model, complete with an ‘agility control package’ which stiffens up the suspension when you press the ‘Sport’ button and shortens the steering response while quickening the gears, but the basics are all present and correct. First up, the steering: it’s wonderfully-weighted and, though the steering wheel itself is a tad large, never feeds you any unwanted dollops of vague stodge. There’s no doubt that the Sport mode, particularly when you are driving hard and using the steering-set gearchange buttons, enhances the car’s crisp, incisive approach to twisting tarmac, but your dentures will feel that bit more comfy with the button left alone. And in any case, when not cornering on the door mirrors, the C feels dynamic enough.
Much of that comes down to the three-litre powerhouse. It’s not quite so velvety as BMW’s sequential turbo equivalent, but it lacks nothing in the performance stakes, delivering a seemingly endless swathe of torque from standstill to top motorway speeds. It never dozes off; it’s an excellent travelling chum. At the risk of sounding like an Oscar speech, the gearbox, however, can’t be left out. Blimey, what a technical wizard this is – not five, not six, but seven forward speeds await your delectation. And you might think that seven spells an overegging of the gear omelette. Not at all. The spacings are seamless and sensible and, either driven in manual mode or left to work it out for itself, the overall system feels constantly alert and keen. VW’s DSG system finally has a match.
So, having wobbled on the catwalk, the C can clearly deliver on the road, but what about practicality? Not even Mr Bean would manage to find the driving position awkward; everything that could be adjusted is adjustable. And in the back, leg and headspace are clearly set to maximum German lankiness. The driver might initially wrestle with the multi-function stalks (it’s not too difficult to switch the cruise on when looking for the wipers) and the voicecontrol ‘Command’ system seems too newfangled…I’d rather write a letter, but it’s largely the antithesis of Japanese technology here, that is, it makes sense. Oh, and the boot’s simply massive.
So, whatever the German for a curate’s egg is, this is it (‘Ei eines Kuraten’ -Ed). Reservations about styling will ultimately come down to personal choice. The C has definitely traded some of its stature in the quest for youthful appeal. On the way, it’s become measurably more of a driver’s car. And as the dealer will undoubtedly advise, if you prefer stately progress and a higher state of being, Es are good, it’s clear!
One final feather in the C-class’s cap cannot, however, go unrecognised. There are more hoops than ever for car makers to jump through (that more prominent nose being as much in compliance of EU pedestrian safety regulations as it is a fashion statement), and, despite being 16 per cent stiffer than before, despite being wider and longer and incorporating more cosseting technology, it weighs no more. Better still, fuel consumption has been improved by six per cent across the range. Maybe the saloon car isn’t so endangered after all.
On sale: From April onwards // Price from: 20,690 //
Main rivals: BMW 3 Series, Lexus IS220d, Jaguar X-type
- Price: £33,290
- Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbodiesel
- Max Power: 224hp at 3,800rpm
- Max Torque: 376 lb ft at 2,800rpm
- Combined Consumption:32.7mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): tbc
- 0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
- Max speed: 138mph
Flashing emergency brake lights
Agility package with Sport mode
7 Speed Tiptronic gearing*
Remote c/locking key fob
Driver and passenger airbags
ABS with ESP
Height-adjustable front passenger seat
Power/heated door mirrors
Automatic dual climate control
Armrests between front seats
Front fog lamps
Neck-pro active front headrests
Nanotech paintwork (anti-scratch)
*optional for £1,550
Improved driving experience, alert and adept – the C-Class has shaken off any remaining fuddy-duddy connotations. Sport styling more credible, stylistically
It’s a so-so ‘C’ for effort so far as striking a pose goes. For equivalent cash, some home-grown rivals might be just too tempting