Mercedes looked to big brother S-class for inspiration for its new C-class junior sports saloon. But does a jaw-dropping cabin and a CES show’s worth of tech help it top the class?
And people accuse Audis of looking alike. What’s the difference between this and an S-class?
You mean apart from 195mm of wheelbase? They certainly do look similar, but that’s no bad thing in our opinion. This is a strikingly elegant car. Elsewhere in the world, S- and C-classes appear very close in style, but there’ll be no confusion in the UK. Why? Because MB UK has decided not to offer the traditional Mercedes grille and 3D bonnet-mounted three-pointed star emblem due to low take-up last time. Instead, all three trim levels (SE, Sport and AMG Line) come with a giant star housed within the grille.
What are the headline facts about this new baby Benz?
Perhaps the key one is that the platform underpinning it is brand new, around 48% aluminium, and will be the basis of a whole slew of new rear-drive Mercs. Switching to an aluminium-intensive structure has allowed Benz to build a car that weighs up to 100kg less than the old model, despite a 95mm increase in overall length.
You mentioned the cabin. A bit special, is it?
Oh yes. The last C-class interior was functional, but about as sexy as Angela Merkel. The new one is simply gorgeous, all sweeping curves, pleasing textures and there’s even a new combined rotary dial/scribble pad to help you control the functions on what looks like an iPad floating above the three central air vents. Space up front is good, but the back seat is hard and headroom seriously compromised if you go for the long sunroof option.
And the tech?
Where to start? Merc’s drowsiness detector is standard, as is a low-speed automatic braking function and reversing camera. Options include Brake Assist Plus, which can detect impending accidents with traffic moving across the front of the car, such as at four-way junctions, as well as with cars in front and behind. The air-conditioning system can even use GPS info to detect tunnels ahead and automatically switch the airflow to recirculate.
How does it drive?
Refinement. That’s the key word. You will be staggered by the general hush and ride comfort of this new C-class. It is head and shoulders better than anything BMW or Audi currently offers, and makes this a massively appealing car if you’re a motorway-munching management type. We should mention that we were only able to drive an air-sprung car, so we’ll have to defer final judgment until we’ve drive one on steel springs (the one everyone will actually buy).
It’s also thoroughly accomplished in the handling department, in part thanks to a new front suspension setup similar to what you get on powerful front drive hatches, where the strut remains still during steering manoeuvres. By isolating the strut, Merc’s engineers say the steering remains pure. The focus seems to be on refinement rather than sports car like involvement, but the variable ratio steering is pretty crisp, body control is excellent when you flip the console mounted mode selector to Sport, and there’s stacks of grip. This is a fine handling car that should prove a worthy base for the bi-turbo AMG version that Merc will reveal before the year’s end.
What about the engines?
The initial UK lineup is comprised of a 182bhp C220 petrol (53mpg, 7.5sec to 62mph), 178bhp C220 diesel (71mpg, 7.7sec) and the C250 we drove. The 250 comes armed with 201bhp, but the kick in the back when you flatten the right pedal is never quite as epic as the 369lb ft peak torque figures suggests it should be.
There’s no escaping the four-cylinder timbre, either, although it’s much more quiet than a BMW 320d, and 6.6sec to 62mph is impressive given the 66mpg economy. Other engines to follow include a new 99g/km 1.6 diesel and a C300 hybrid that mates a 27bhp electric motor to the 250’s diesel four.
The majority of buyers will go for Merc’s 7-speed auto, which slurs well, but we prefer the crisper responses of the ZF eight-speed alternative used by BMW and Jaguar
Mercedes has obviously thought hard about what matters most in this market. The result is a car that looks and feels every bit as good as a mini S-class should. A combination of peerless refinement, that achingly cool interior and near-70mpg economy, even with the more muscular engines, must make this the new top dog in the sector.
Only the plain four-cylinder noise and ever so slightly underwhelming performance stops this being a full-on five-star machine in 250 guise. Lesser models may change that when we have the chance to try them next month