C-CLASS FILLS LUX­URY GAP FOR MERCEDES

Re­vamped model lays down mas­sive chal­lenge to big name ri­vals in compact ex­ec­u­tive sec­tor

Belfast Telegraph - NI Carfinder - - Front Page - JONATHAN CROUCH

HOW can it be that the car that Mercedes-benz calls its best sell­ing model has, for so long, felt a bit of an un­der­achiever? The C- Class ought to have been all that the com­pany knows about lux­ury sa­loons dis­tilled into a smaller form, but for many years it was in­stead a car that was short on qual­ity and long on price tag.

The 2007 model re­paired much of its rep­u­ta­tion and the 2011 facelift brought even more fea­tures and bet­ter ef­fi­ciency, but in this coun­try, the C- Class al­ways lagged a dis­tant third in the compact ex­ec­u­tive sales charts be­hind the BMW 3 Se­ries and Audi A4.

Much has changed in the in­terim though. The in­tro­duc­tion of a smaller four-door sa­loon, the CLA, has al­lowed the C- Class to be­come a bit big­ger and a good deal more lux­u­ri­ous. The lat­est car is a fresh de­sign from the ground up and it shows. BMW and Audi will need to be at the top of their re­spec­tive games to keep this gen­er­a­tion C- Class on the third step of the podium.

Driv­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence

The C- Class has for some time been, and will con­tinue to be, fo­cused on com­fort and re­fine­ment. It’s clear that this is where a good deal of the de­vel­op­ment bud­get has been spent in dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing this gen­er­a­tion car from the BMW 3 Se­ries, the Audi A4 and the im­pres­sive Jaguar XE. To that end, it’s the first car in its class to of­fer air sus­pen­sion.

This comes with an AGILITY SE­LECT switch that al­lows the driver to se­lect be­tween Com­fort, ECO, Sport, Sport+ and In­di­vid­ual set­tings. Even if you stick with the stan­dard steel springs, the front sus­pen­sion has been greatly im­proved with a very clever four-link setup that iso­lates the struts, al­low­ing for op­ti­mised ge­om­e­try and bet­ter grip.

The diesel en­gines be­gin with a Re­nault-de­rived 1.6-litre diesel unit that de­vel­ops 136PS in the C200d model. Next up is the 2.1-litre diesel unit, of­fer­ing ei­ther 170PS in the C220d or 204PS in the C250d. If you want a bit more tech­nol­ogy, there’s a C300h model that com­bines a four-cylin­der 204PS diesel en­gine with a compact 27PS elec­tric mo­tor and looks in­ter­est­ing.

Al­ter­na­tively, there’s a C350e plug-in hy­brid model that mates petrol power with an elec­tric mo­tor, in this case a 214PS elec­tric mo­tor with a 60kw elec­tric mo­tor to pro­duce a to­tal sys­tem out­put of 282PS.

Talk­ing of petrol power, it comes in a sim­pler guise in the form of the 184PS C200. There are per­for­mance petrol mod­els too. The C450 AMG Sport gets 4MATIC trac­tion and a twin-turbo V6 en­gine putting out 372PS.

It’s the per­fect choice if you can’t quite stretch to the range-top­ping Mercedes-amg C63. If you can af­ford this flag­ship though, you’ll be get­ting quite a car, with a 4.0-litre V8 putting out ei­ther 476 or 510PS, de­pend­ing on the state of tune you se­lect.

Back in the real world in the main­stream C- Class line-up, there’s a choice of two six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sions or an im­proved ver­sion of the 7G-TRONIC au­to­matic gear­box. The electro­mechan­i­cal Di­rect Steer sys­tem is also fit­ted as stan­dard.

De­sign and Build

Look­ing at the ex­te­rior of this C- Class, you’d be for­given for think­ing that this was the most con­ser­va­tive of styling di­rec­tions. Any no­tion­ally car-lit­er­ate per­son would be able to tell you it was a Mercedes C- Class, even if they’d never clapped eyes on the thing be­fore. It’s tidily ex­e­cuted, with hints of the lat­est S- Class in its de­tail­ing.

The long bon­net, a pas­sen­ger com­part­ment set well back and short over­hangs de­fine the C- Class’s clas­sic pro­por­tions. Large wheels em­pha­sise the rear and com­mu­ni­cate a stylishly sporty char­ac­ter.

Halo­gen head­lamps are fit­ted as stan­dard, but there are also two LED op­tions of­fered: a static sys­tem and a dy­namic ver­sion with an ‘LED In­tel­li­gent Light Sys­tem’.

There’s an es­tate model op­tion, but its 490-litre seats up boot ca­pac­ity isn’t much greater than that of the sa­loon. You do get 1,510-litres of space in the sta­tion wagon variant though, if you’re able to fold for­ward the rear bench.

Drop in­side and you’ll see where this Mercedes dif­fer­en­ti­ates it­self. It’s rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent to its pre­de­ces­sor with a broad cen­tre con­sole swoop­ing be­tween the front oc­cu­pants. In au­to­matic ve­hi­cles, a large one-piece cen­tre con­sole panel per­forms an el­e­gant sweep from the cen­tre air vents to the arm­rest.

On ve­hi­cles with man­ual trans- mis­sion, the cen­tre con­sole is slightly steeper and fea­tures two sep­a­rate trim el­e­ments in or­der to cre­ate am­ple space for er­gonomic op­er­a­tion of the shift lever.

There’s also a free-stand­ing 7in cen­tral dis­play — un­less you opt for the ritzy CO­MAND On­line pack­age, in which case an 8.4in item is spec­i­fied.

Ma­te­ri­als qual­ity is much im­proved and there are some slick de­tails like the five metal­lic round air vents and the touch­pad in the hand rest over the Con­troller on the cen­tre tun­nel. There’s even a head-up dis­play op­tion.

Mar­ket and Model

Prices for the C- Class start at around £29,000. There’s a £1,200 pre­mium if you want the es­tate variant. There are three trim lev­els, SE, Sport and AMG Line.

To gain an in­sight into quite how deep the thought process be­hind the MK4 model C- Class is, con­sider this. The air con­di­tion­ing sys­tem talks to the car’s satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem.

When you en­ter a tun­nel, rather than start suck­ing diesel fumes into the cabin from that labour­ing ar­tic, the car knows it’s en­ter­ing a tun­nel and au­to­mat­i­cally switches the air con­di­tion­ing to re­cir­cu­late, bring­ing in fresh air only when you’ve emerged again. That’s smart.

As in­deed is the col­li­sion preven­tion as­sist plus sys­tem. When a dan­ger of col­li­sion per­sists and the driver fails to re­spond, the sys­tem is able to carry out au­ton­o­mous brak­ing at speeds of up to 125mph, thereby re­duc­ing the sever­ity of col­li­sions with slower or stop­ping ve­hi­cles. The sys­tem also brakes in re­sponse to sta­tion­ary ve­hi­cles at a speed of up to 31mph, and is able to pre­vent rear-end col­li­sions at speeds of up to 25mph.

Each C- Class gets pelvis airbags for the driver and front pas­sen­ger, as well as win­dow bags, side­bags for the outer rear seats and a knee­bag for the driver. The front pas­sen­ger seat can also be fit­ted with au­to­matic child seat recog­ni­tion, which de­ac­ti­vates the airbag when a child seat is fit­ted and re­ac­ti­vates it once it has been re­moved.

The sound sys­tem is also worth a men­tion, util­is­ing the Front­bass sys­tem, which uses the space within the cross-mem­ber and side mem­ber in the body struc­ture as a res­o­nance cham­ber for re­ally punchy bass re­sponse.

Cost of Own­er­ship

We’ve been ac­cus­tomed to Mercedes fea­tur­ing a whole host of ef­fi­ciency mea­sures such as start/stop, ad­vanced aero­dy­nam­ics and low in­ter­nal trans­mis­sion fric­tion but the MK4 model C- Class has been on a diet to help things im­prove. De­spite be­ing a sig­nif­i­cantly big­ger car than be­fore (some 95mm longer and 40mm wider), weight has been cut through ex­ten­sive use of alu­minium in the ‘ body in white’.

In fact, use of alu­minium here has gone up from around 10% in the old car to around 50% now, with the re­sult that around 70kg, or the weight of an av­er­age adult, has been trimmed from the body struc­ture.

It’s all led to some im­pres­sive ef­fi­ciency stats.

Where the old MK3 model C220 diesel emit­ted 117g/km of car­bon diox­ide, the fourth gen­er­a­tion ver­sion lat­est model trims that down to just 103g/km, with com­bined cy­cle fuel econ­omy im­prov­ing to over 70mpg; a quite re­mark­able num­ber to be as­so­ci­ated with a compact ex­ec­u­tive car.

Even the en­try-level petrol model, the C200, man­ages 123g/km of CO2. Pre­dictably, the C63 AMG su­per sa­loon is thirstier, re­turn­ing 34.5mpg on the com­bined cy­cle and 192g/ km of CO2.

The head­line-mak­ers here though, are the Hy­brid mod­els. The diesel/elec­tric C300 Hy­brid de­liv­ers 78.5mpg on the com­bined cy­cle and 94g/km of CO2.

The petrol/elec­tric C300 Plug-in Hy­brid variant mean­while, does even bet­ter, record­ing a scarcely-be­liev­able 134.5mpg on the com­bined cy­cle and 48g/km of CO2.

Sum­mary

It used to be quite easy to pi­geon­hole the three main pre­mium con­tenders in the compact ex­ec­u­tive sec­tor. A BMW 3 Se­ries gave you a sporty drive, while an Audi A4 of­fered a nice cabin and a bit of hitech. If you went be­yond th­ese two and con­sid­ered a Mercedes C- Class at all, you were prob­a­bly a more ma­ture buyer with pri­or­i­ties that didn’t re­ally fit into ei­ther cat­e­gory.

It was a bit of a com­pro­mise, badge equity choice. But it isn’t any longer. In­stead, what we have here is a car more than good enough to make sig­nif­i­cant in­roads amongst cus­tomers who once would have thought lit­tle be­fore sign­ing again on the dot­ted line for yet an­other Ger­man C- Class arch-ri­val.

Don’t get us wrong — Mercedes still has work to do with this car, pri­mar­ily in terms of diesel en­gine re­fine­ment. But on the ev­i­dence of this model, the signs are that its ri­vals are go­ing to have to up their game.

Smart sa­loon: this pop­u­lar de­sign has been given a hi-tech re­boot

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