Mercedes-Benz C-class: the lowdown
This is the most important launch in Merc's diary this year - the all-new C-class. It's charged with bringing the compact exec bang up to date and giving it (Mercedes hopes) the edge over the BMW 3-series that's snatched class honours in recent years. There's a sharp new look, that's definitely pilfered some design cues from the S-class limo, plus a raft of new engines and some pretty nifty gadgets. Read on to discover the full story behind the new C-class...
So when can I buy a new C-class then?
Mercedes will launch the new saloon at the Geneva Motor Show in March, with UK sales beginning in June. Today's estate continues until this autumn, when a new wagon rolls into showrooms. New Sports Coupe and CLK models (based on the C-class, don't forget) will arrive soon afterwards. You certainly won't miss the new C. This picture shows the Sport model, with its distinctive nose treatment; the big three-pointed star grille is based on the new CL coupe's - dominating the front view. Lesser SE and Elegance models prefer the glitzy chrome treatment and have a conventional Merc star standing proud of the bonnet. Other markets will continue with the Classic, Elegance and Avantgarde trim lines; the UK is alone in tweaking its range to SE (volume model), Elegance (comfort) and Sport (does what it says on the tin).
So what's the C-class like inside?
This is where the gadget count gets interesting. There's more advanced Linguatronic II, which can apparently understand whole sentences, plus a stereo with full MP3 compatibility and two USB ports. Merc's take on iDrive is the Comand controller - and the C-class has an extra advanced one. It twists, pushes and (get this) tilts, for full control over most functions. The headlights, meanwhile, share the E-class technology that adapts the beam to driving on motorways or country roads. Oh, and the climate control is devilishly clever, too. There are separate controls available front and rear, and the system monitors the strength of the sun and air quality to make sure you get the perfect temperature. Cool.
Is it bigger than before? And what'll it drive like?
The new C-class is 55mm longer (most of that in the wheelbase) and 42mm wider, too. So, yes, there's more space all round - plus a bigger boot. Merc vows the newcomer will be agile though, despite the growth spurt. It's based on the old C platform, but everything's finely fettled. Highlights include switchable dampers and quicker steering, while buyers can opt for Agility Control options to include electronic control over the suspension, steering and throttle response.
And what'll it be like to drive?
We reckon it'll be pretty good. The outgoing C was always a slick drive, and the newcomer will be sharper in every department. The entry-level C180K gets a 156bhp 1.8-litre supercharged four-pot and there's a 184bhp version of the same engine in the C200K, while the C230 gets a 204bhp 2.5 V6 and the C280 has a 231bhp 3.0 V6. There are engines to suit every budget, in other words - but those badges don't tell the full story any more. From 2008 there's a new generation of direct-injection petrol engines coming - and of course there's a suite of turbodiesels, including a pair of 2.2s and 3.0 V6s. Or you could go the full hog and order the 450bhp C63 AMG...