At a casual glance the revised 2011 Mercedes C-class looks much the same, but this mid-life facelift actually consists of 2000 new parts that variously fettle the exterior, interior and powertrain – more than any other facelift in Merc’s history.
What are the main changes to the facelifted C-class?
The exterior looks a little sharper thanks to new bumpers, headlights and an all-aluminium bonnet (unusually for a facelift the bonnet is a new tooling, because the headlights are a different shape and wouldn’t work with the old design), while the grille is more prominent too.
Mercedes was clearly cut by criticism of the 2007 car’s interior, which was well-built, but did its best to suggest otherwise with grainy plastics and a slabby architecture. That’s why the pop-out multi-media screen has been ditched in favour of a slickly integrated replacement, while the plastics look and feel better too. There’s also a classy metal finish on the climate control dials, plus centre console switches lifted from the SLS supercar. It’s a style much more in-keeping with the slick exterior. The Comand multi-media system also remains the easiest, most intuitive system of all rivals. Shame we couldn’t test the system’s new-fangled internet connectivity at the Tenerife launch location. Doh!
Meanwhile, the seven-speed auto transmission is improved, there’s a standard stop/start system and the 3.0-litre V6 TD is both more powerful and more frugal too – it still loses out to the BMW 335d for outright bhp, but it’s got more torque, plus the Merc’s C02 and mpg figures are both better.
How does it drive?
We tried two specs: comfort-focussed Elegance trim and the sportier, well, Sport spec that most Brits opt for. The Elegance is every bit the mini-S-class limousine, with a very supple, waterbed-like ride and sterile, if precise enough, steering. On the plus side, it’s extremely comfortable and unlike anything else in its segment. The negative is that the Elegance’s impressive comfort naturally brings a trade-off in dynamism – it’s a difficult thing to drive quickly down the road and feel totally on top of. But if you like to waft about, there’s nothing better.
And the Sport?
The Sport is a much more intuitive drive – body roll is controlled far more convincingly through transitions, while it bites into turns with greater conviction; it feels less sloppy, more immediate in every way. The trade off, of course, is a deterioration in ride quality, which is firm, if still tolerable.
Whatever the spec, the 350 CDI is thumpingly quick, and actually the pick of the range – the four-pot diesels are a little harsh, while the petrol six doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as it did in the SLK we drove the next day, topping out with a disappointingly diesely crescendo. Factor in those BMW-beating economy figures – quite a feat these days – and the 350 CDI makes a very convincing case for itself.
It looks very similar to the old car, but Mercedes has gone through the C-class with a fine toothcomb, buffing out the bad bits, enhancing the already great bits, to create a mid-size saloon that’s up there with the very best.
Impressive, too, that it bests the 335d on C02 and mpg. Yet we still prefer driving the BMW. For outright comfort, the C350 Elegance is unbeatable, but the BMW manages to strike that real-world middle ground with more conviction than either Elegance or Sport-spec Mercs quite pull off.