The C-Class update adds techno-tricks yet sticks with what Benz does best
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 That’s the series superseded in 2014.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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