HER­ITAGE HARD­WARE

The C-Class up­date adds techno-tricks yet sticks with what Benz does best

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - MOTORING - BILL McKIN­NON

Amate of mine, Mick, went to Eng­land a cou­ple of years ago and asked me to look af­ter his 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, a C250 CDI 2.1-litre turbo diesel. That’s the series su­per­seded in 2014.

Even though it was four years old with about 45,000km on the clock, Mick’s C250 was one of the three or four best cars I drove in 2016. It’s still one of the best cars I’ve driven.

Its suc­ces­sor is a good thing, too, win­ning our Car of the Year and World Car of the Year gongs in 2014. The first up­date has ar­rived, with al­most 50 per cent of com­po­nents, in­clud­ing sev­eral en­gines, ei­ther new or mod­i­fied — so it could ac­cu­rately be de­scribed as a new model.

VALUE

We’re test­ing the base C200, priced at $63,400. Its com­pletely new 1.5-litre four-cylin­der turbo en­gine pro­duces the same 135kW of power as the 2.0-litre turbo it re­places (but at higher revs) and 20Nm less torque (now 280Nm), also pro­duced over a con­sid­er­ably nar­rower, higher rev range.

The up­date has also gained 40kg, largely due to its new EQ Boost mild hy­brid set-up.

As a con­se­quence, it’s half a sec­ond slower from rest to 100km/h, tak­ing 7.7 sec­onds for the trip. Fuel ef­fi­ciency and low emis­sions are pri­or­i­ties now, so per­for­mance has suf­fered.

EQ Boost uses a 48V net­work, pow­ered by a lithium-ion bat­tery. A starter mo­tor-al­ter­na­tor as­sem­bly sits be­tween the en­gine and the stan­dard nine-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

When you put your foot down, the al­ter­na­tor gets a surge of elec­tric­ity from the bat­tery that as­sists en­gine per­for­mance, by up to 10kW, and re­duces turbo lag.

It’s au­to­mat­i­cally recharged by re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing, con­trib­utes to smoother, quicker au­to­matic stop-start in traf­fic and de­cou­ples the en­gine at high­way speeds, al­low­ing the C200 to coast on a light or trail­ing throt­tle with the en­gine switched off.

Pointy end tech­nol­ogy ex­tends to the cabin, where an all-dig­i­tal dash in­cludes con­fig­urable in­stru­ments and a big in­fo­tain­ment screen, with ges­ture con­trol via touch­pads on the steer­ing wheel and cen­tre con­sole, plus a man­ual con­troller.

Nav­i­ga­tion, dig­i­tal ra­dio and Ap­ple CarPlay/ An­droid Auto are in­cluded but the slick Siristyle MBUX voice con­trol in the new A-Class is miss­ing. That’s prob­a­bly be­cause C-Class buy­ers are much older…

The Mercedes fake cow up­hol­stery ac­tu­ally feels more luxe and leath­ery than the real hide used in some other brands. Dual-zone air­con, au­to­matic park­ing, LED head­lights and 18-inch al­loys are also stan­dard.

COM­FORT

It’s worth tick­ing the ad­justable sus­pen­sion op­tion on a Benz be­cause on our goat tracks it de­liv­ers a more com­pli­ant ride and as­sured han­dling than the stan­dard set-up, es­pe­cially with the run-flat tyres. On the C200, it’s an ex­tra $1077 well spent.

Com­fort mode is ex­actly that and Sport mode, the firmest set­ting, isn’t too pun­ish­ing. You sit deep in the C-Class, with vast seat travel, but the driver’s seat it­self, though firm and com­fort­able, pro­vides lit­tle up­per body sup­port when cor­ner­ing.

Rear legroom, max­imised by deeply con­caved front seat backs, al­lows tall pas­sen­gers to en­joy more space than in previous mod­els.

SAFETY

Au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing op­er­ates up to 105km/h. Pre-Safe, which op­er­ates above 30km/h, au­to­mat­i­cally ten­sions the seat belts and ad­justs the seats for max­i­mum sup­port if it de­tects a pos­si­ble col­li­sion. If things come to the crunch, so to speak, you have nine airbags for pro­tec­tion. Blind spot mon­i­tor­ing is stan­dard.

DRIV­ING

The 1.5/EQ Boost com­bi­na­tion gets the Benz off the line with im­pres­sive re­spon­sive­ness — at first, I thought it was a 2.0-litre – and low speed tractabil­ity is ex­cel­lent, so it works par­tic­u­larly well around town.

On the open road, though, it feels lethar­gic, es­pe­cially in the midrange, com­pared with a 2.0-litre turbo. The coast­ing func­tion op­er­ates with­out you notic­ing, un­til you glance at the tacho and see that the en­gine isn’t run­ning.

The pay­off is near-diesel fuel econ­omy on the high­way — now 5L-5.5L/100km, on pre­mium. Around town, it’s more com­pa­ra­ble with the 2.0litre at 7L-9L/100km. If you take the adap­tive sus­pen­sion op­tion, you also get one of the best han­dling cars on the road, at any price.

Let the wannabes swan about in their nou­veau CLAs and GLCs. The rear-drive C-Class is tra­di­tional Benz at its best — beau­ti­fully bal­anced, as solid and tight as they come and a won­der­fully in­volv­ing drive, with un­cor­rupted, in­tu­itive steer­ing, pow­er­ful, pro­gres­sive brakes and pre­mium, stag­gered-size Con­ti­nen­tal tyres.

HEART SAYS

I’ve al­ways wanted a real Mercedes, which means a rear-drive C, E or S-Class sedan. This is the most af­ford­able way to get into one and from where I sit it feels any­thing but cheap.

HEAD SAYS

Mercedes re­serves its best en­gi­neer­ing ef­forts for its core, her­itage rear-drive hard­ware. The C-Class may be the small­est of that breed but it still drives as a pukka Benz should.

AL­TER­NA­TIVES ALFA ROMEO GI­U­LIA SU­PER FROM $64,195

A sweet drive and good value, with a will­ing 147kW/330Nm 2.0-litre turbo, eight-speed auto and a loaded in­te­rior that in­cludes gor­geous Ital­ian leather. Clunky in­fo­tain­ment, though, and Alfa’s re­li­a­bil­ity bag­gage.

BMW 320I FROM $63,400

A new 3 Series is im­mi­nent, so you can prob­a­bly profit from hag­gling on this. Runs a 135kW/ 270Nm 2.0-litre turbo/eight-speed auto. No AEB, would you be­lieve, but adap­tive M Sport sus­pen­sion is stan­dard.

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