FIRSTROAD TEST DRIVE

Cars­guide brings you a first drive of Mercedes-Benz’s most im­por­tant car

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Classifieds - PAUL GOVER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

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ANY time a car hits the road with more than 1000 new parts you know it’s more than just an over-easy facelift job.

Ford drilled that deeply for the cre­ation of its vi­tal new Ter­ri­tory. Holden has also dug deep for an im­pres­sive job on the com­fort and con­trol of its lo­cally made Cruze— and now we have an up­dated C-Class from Mercedes-Benz.

It’s had a pre­dictable facelift swoosh across the nose, with new lamps and a change to the grille open­ing, but the up­date work al­most qual­i­fies the 2012 model as a new car. While the ba­sic body has been left alone, ev­ery­thing from a new diesel en­gine with seven-speed au­to­matic, to the dash­board and sus­pen­sion, has been tweaked to im­prove the driv­ing and own­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence.

Even some of the small switches re­flect a stronger fo­cus on lux­ury-class qual­ity.

It’s the maker’s big­gest mid-life over­haul since the mid-sized E-Class was rein­vented in 2006, in re­sponse to a huge list of cus­tomer com­plaints in Europe. Benz ad­mits that a lot of the lat­est C-Class work was trig­gered by feed­back from own­ers.

It in­tends to use the C-Class to re­set the value bar in Aus­tralia and, even with­out full price de­tails, Cars­guide pre­dicts the new car will top a lot more shop­ping lists and make a stronger case against Audi and BMW.

VALUE

The start­ing price for the C200 CDI sam­pler pro­vided for Cars­guide is $60,900— which is a $1890 re­duc­tion from the pre­vi­ous model.

We’re not sure how the petrol price will play out, or what’s go­ing to hap­pen fur­ther

There is more sub­stance to thenew C-Class ... you can see it and feel it

up the C-Class line to­wards the thump­ing C63 AMG, but all the prices are likely to be very close to the cur­rent num­bers.

Benz is also ex­pect­ing plenty of sup­port for the lat­est C-Class Es­tate, which adds only $2000 to the bot­tom line. The Es­tate is also go­ing re­ally well. Count­ing C63 we’ll do around 700 es­tates this year, which is about 10 per cent of

our C-Class

‘‘ vol­ume,’’ said Mercedes-Benz Aus­tralia prod­uct man­ager Gor­don Jones.

As usual, the ba­sic C200 does not get all the fruit but buy­ers are able to pick up (and pay) for plenty of ex­tra stuff.

The car is pre­pared for equip­ment that in­cludes Distronic cruise con­trol and more. But the em­pha­sis is on the ba­sics. Said Jones: ‘‘ For a Mercedes-Benz facelift, this is very sig­nif­i­cant. It even goes fur­ther than the changes to the E-Class in 2006 in how it an­swers cus­tomer feed­back.’’

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how BMW, for a start, re­sponds. It’s just slashed prices on its six-cylin­der 3 Se­ries cars but the tweaked Benz could force an­other look at the show­room stick­ers, par­tic­u­larly with a fresh­ened ver­sion of the 3 Se­ries ex­pected here within six weeks.

TECH­NOL­OGY

A new dash is a re­flec­tion of the elec­tronic up­dates in the new C-Class, which picks up many more of Benz’s lat­est safety sys­tems and such mun­dane-but-en­joy­able stuff as a full-colour dis­play for the multi-func­tion screen.

The cen­tral dis­play unit is now fi­nally in­te­grated into the dash and not in a bolted-on sep­a­rate bin­na­cle.

‘‘ The new dash­board comes with a new telem­at­ics plat­form,’’ Jones said.

On the pow­er­plant front, the up­dated diesel is still a 2.1-litre but it has a sin­gle, vari­abl­e­vane turbo and has been switched to a lower pres­sure di­rect fuel de­liv­ery to cut noise and the dreaded diesel rat­tling.

The most sig­nif­i­cant change, how­ever, is the seven-speed au­to­matic gear­box that has been trick­ling down through the Benz fam­ily. The com­bi­na­tion of the sev­en­speeder and the new diesel pro­vides some tasty num­bers, with 100kW and 330Nm, econ­omy of 5.4L/100km and CO emis­sions of 143g/km.

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Even if the num­bers don’t look as strong as some of the C-Class’s op­po­nents, the new au­to­matic pro­vides an im­pres­sive mul­ti­plier.

‘‘ There is this per­cep­tion that our en­gines are be­hind, but they’re not. The per­for­mance they de­liver is as good as it gets,’’ Jones said.

There is other new gear un­der the skin, in­clud­ing changes to the sus­pen­sion and steer­ing, and even the LEDs used for the park­ing radar dis­play have been changed to a square look from a cir­cu­lar shape.

DE­SIGN

The front-end look is the same, but dif­fer­ent. The head­lamps now lift up into the eye­brows, the shape of the ra­di­a­tor in­let is changed and even the parkradar sen­sors have been moved and are bet­ter in­te­grated, in­stead of lurk­ing like lit­tle pim­ples on the bumper.

The tail end has also had a tweak but the ob­vi­ous stuff is in the cabin. The dash is smoother and cleaner and the de­sign team has put a new em­pha­sis on qual­ity.

SAFETY

A five-star rat­ing is car­ried over to the C-12, with all the usual Benz elec­tron­ics. Even the ba­sic car gets the re­viver- re­minder for long-dis­tance runs. You have to pay more for the re­ally tricky elec­tronic stuff but it’s avail­able thanks to the up­dated telem­at­ics.

DRIV­ING

There is more sub­stance to the new C. You can see it in the dash and feel it through the wheel, which is new and thicker in the rim, right from the first few kilo­me­tres.

It’s rain­ing in Mel­bourne, and the roads are slick, but the C200 CDI gives a solid, com­fort­ing feel as we head out for high­way fuel-econ­omy tri­als and into the hills on the

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