C-Class qual­ity puts ri­vals in the shad­ows

So the ques­tion is: do you re­ally need that mega-ex­pen­sive S-Class?

The Star Early Edition - - ROAD TEST - JESSE ADAMS

THE THREE-box sa­loon seg­ment might not be a very ex­cit­ing one rel­a­tively speak­ing, but it’s one that makes up a huge part of our mar­ket, and, at its larney end where pre­mium mod­els like C-Class hang out, it’s also mer­ci­lessly com­pet­i­tive.

Although many have tried, brands can’t just show up here with their leather-lined takes on what a fancy sedan should be and ex­pect to be treated with re­spect. No. Ex­pe­ri­ence is key. And Mercedes-Benz has tons of it.

And, the new C-Class is a full-on, no-holds-barred dis­play of ex­pe­ri­ence. Merc knows that qual­ity is im­per­a­tive when tak­ing on its Ger­man coun­ter­parts (and many oth­ers), and this car raises the bar in that depart­ment. Take the in­te­rior for ex­am­ple… the way the wood ve­neer curves and is fin­ished with im­mac­u­late pre­ci­sion. The way the win­dow switches click up and down re­as­sur­ingly. The silent­ness of the elec­tric seat mo­tors. The per­fectly knurled rim of the Co­mand sys­tem’s dial con­troller. It’s all wor­thy of mul­ti­mil­lion rand su­per-lux­ury cars, and in some cases, it’s even bet­ter.

The qual­ity isn’t re­served for the in­te­rior ei­ther, as the C-Class is prob­a­bly the best rid­ing car in its bracket. Note I said rid­ing, not han­dling. It’s rear-wheel-driven just like Beemer’s 3 Se­ries, but the Merc def­i­nitely leans more to­ward com­fort than be­ing able to slice and dice rib­bons of bendy road. It’s an ex­cel­lent bal­ance. Noth­ing like the squishysprung Mercs of yes­ter­year which old men with sen­si­tive pos­te­ri­ors en­joyed. But also nowhere near as hard rid­ing as some of the mod­ern sports saloons with ridicu­lously low-pro­file rub­ber and pseudo rac­ing shocks.

Our test car was also fit­ted with an op­tional air-sus­pen­sion sys­tem – a R13 000 must-have op­tion if you ask me, which comes with a three­way firm­ness adjustment switch as part of the deal. It’s not hov­er­craft floaty like some gi­ant air-sprung saloons in­clud­ing the C’s stately SClass relation, but in­stead uses the sys­tem to in­ter­mix bump ab­sorp­tion and dy­namism in equal parts. It’s happy to take cor­ners with a bit of spunk, but it also can dis­miss high­way ex­pan­sion joints, cat­s­eye lane mark­ers and coarse road sur­faces like they’re not there.

A few months back we road tested a 2-litre petrol ver­sion of the new C-Class which we were mas­sively im­pressed with, but the sub­ject of this re­view, a C220 BlueTec (2.2-litre tur­bod­iesel), is the pick of the cur­rent five model bunch in my opin­ion. There’s a de­cent 125kW at work here but it’s the 400Nm torque fig­ure that gives the C220 such a fine, ef­fort­less feel. Power comes on in a hefty, low-revving wave which is rid- den with ease across all gears.

This en­gine vari­ant comes stan­dard with a six-speed man­ual gear­box, but for another 18 grand you can match it to Merc’s bril­liant 7GTronic seven-speed auto – another must-have op­tion. This tur­bod­iesel and this trans­mis­sion work to­gether in per­fect har­mony, speak­ing the same lan­guage all the way, with in­tu­itive and nat­u­ral feel­ing shift points at any speed. I re­mem­ber the C200 tur­bopetrol hunt­ing around for ef­fi­cient rev-range sweet spots a bit more. The C220’s sweet spots are just broader, re­sult­ing in a calmer and more re­laxed driv­e­train. Merc quotes av­er­age fuel con­sump­tion as low as 4-litres per 100km, but our test car saw a much more re­al­is­tic but still very de­cent 7l/100km.

Mercedes, like other lux­ury brands, has a rep­u­ta­tion for ex­pen­sive op­tions lists that can add up to astro­nom­i­cal pric­ing and it’s quite preva­lent in the new C-Class. Radar­based Distronic cruise con­trol (R13 500), self park­ing (R8 500), Heads-up dis­play (15 000), Burmester sound (R9 000), panoramic roof (R16 900) and in­te­grated air-freshener sys­tems (R4 500) and plenty oth­ers are all nice-to-haves, but I’d rec­om­mend leav­ing them out to save cash for other ne­ces­si­ties if on a bud­get.

Per­son­ally I’d spec my C-Class with nav­i­ga­tion (R23 500), In­tel­li­gent LED head­lights (R20 000), a me­dia in­ter­face for cell­phone plug-ins (R3 250), and an ex­tended main­te­nance plan (model and length de­pen­dent) although even th­ese could be avoided to keep costs down. Our spe­cific test car came in at over R650 000 from a base price of R459 000, but in all fair­ness it did make me sec­ond guess the ex­is­tence of the much more ex­pen­sive S-Class from time to time... such are the lev­els of lar­ney­ness avail­able here. VER­DICT The new Mercedes C-Class (in C200 trim) was re­cently nom­i­nated by the SA Guild of Mo­tor­ing Jour­nal­ists as a fi­nal­ist in its an­nual Car of the Year contest, and I think it’s a wor­thy con­tender that’ll give the 10 other nom­i­nees a good run for their money.

This car turns the mer­ci­lessly com­pet­i­tive pre­mium sedan seg­ment on its head with qual­ity, tech and com­fort lev­els never be­fore seen in this class.

True, it can be ex­pen­sive es­pe­cially with ir­re­spon­si­ble op­tions box ticks, but re­mem­ber, they’re op­tional...

Follow me on Twit­ter: @PoorBoyLtd

Our test car, Mercedes’ C220 BlueTec tur­bod­iesel, is prob­a­bly the pick of the re­cently-in­tro­duced C-Class range.

Cabin is a master­class in de­sign.

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