Ooh, a compact exec estate. What combination of sport/tourer/Avant/wagon is it called?
None: the Mercedes C-Class estate is, well, just that. Plain old estate. And the largest premium-class estate at that. How very sensible. Mercedes may have been unusually bold in its approach to the latest C – hacking off the stick-up grille badge for Sport editions, making the chassis more dynamic than ever – but it hasn’t forgot the reason why people buy estates. To carry stuff. So, compared to the old car, the rear roofline has been extended and the tailgate set more vertically, creating more of a box and less of a glorified pseudo-coupe. It’s still a smart-looking thing, blending neatly with the C’s tidy lines. You’re just less likely to smash the tailgate window as you close a loaded-to-the-gunnels boot.
Hit me with that extra practicality…
To get you going 1,500 litres with the seats down is the largest in the compact exec class, and only 100 litres shy of a Volvo V70. Seats up, it has 485 litres (and that load area is now colour-matched to the rest of the cabin) which, claims Mercedes, is ‘more useful’ than the stats suggest, due to the uncluttered load area. Space between the wheelarches in particular is up: fold the seats again (easily, in one step) and you can slide in an 827-litre box. Washing machines won’t be a problem (and, thanks to a class-leading 605kg payload, the car will be man enough, even if your back isn’t).
So they’ve changed it a lot over the saloon, then?
Well, apart from a 45mm stretch to the wheelbase (improving the saloon’s restricted rear legroom), not massively. Suspension is identical, save for a little tuning – did you know they choose from five different spring rates for individual variants? – and again, the clever ‘mechanical’ variable rate Agility Control dampers are present. Even better, there’s an optional dynamic handling pack with electronic dampers, whose self-levelling ability is ideal for working estates. Any loss of torsional rigidity over the saloon (it’s improved by 12 per cent on the old estate) should be compensated for by a heavily reinforced, beautifully finished rear seat back; Mercedes has acknowledged the dangers of flying luggage in crashes. Even the tonneau net dog guard restrains 10kg of flying briefcase. Shame only the 1/3 split of the rear seat can be folded (but folded flat, without even retracting the head restraints) with the tonneau in place.
I’m guessing it drives a lot like the saloon.
Yup. The ride, while still pattery, is marginally more fluid at speed, but otherwise you’d be hard-pushed to spot the differences. It’s generally as refined as the four-door, too, despite that big echoic chamber at the rear. Furthermore, having a rear wiper is nice, the (class-first) optional electric tailgate is cool, and only Mercedes has really cracked the biggest thing to slow you down – stuff sliding about in the rear. The optional Easy-Pack load securing kit borders on genius. No stop-start or other eco tricks for the 2.2-litre diesel yet, so economy remains slightly glum at 46.3mpg along with 159g/km. It’s reasonably pacy, has stacks of torque, and is smooth but a bit vocal under acceleration.
All sounds very… sensible
Yes, and Mercedes should be congratulated for this. No chasing some spurious ‘lifestyle’ ideal for them, and ending up with an impractical wagon that’s barely roomier than the saloon. The C-Class estate looks good and is practical to, err, boot. What would be even more sensible would be a 4MATIC four-wheel-drive version, giving the perfect alternative for those who need a 4x4 but hate the things. Unfortunately, it can’t be engineered for right-hand-drive, and the market here is too small to justify it. Pity about this faux pas, because otherwise the C-Class is flawlessly engineered, despite slightly scratchy dash plastics. Mercedes estates have always been long-lived things, and this feels no exception.
Extremely safe estate majors on practicality, not marketing-led ‘active 30-something who lives life to the MAXXX’ nonsense, and is an amply satisfying car as a result. It’s elegant sophistication should cost around £1000 more than the respective saloon when it arrives in spring 08; not cheap, then, but those who buy it will certainly see the worth. Now if only we could figure out why the promo pictures for the C-class estate featured a bear…