ALL-NEW MERCEDES C-CLASS
WITH MORE THAN A TOUCH OF E-CLASS AND S-CLASS IN ITS DESIGN, THE FIFTH-GENERATION C-CLASS IS SET TO BREAK NEW GROUND FOR MERCEDES’ MOST POPULAR MODEL
How do you raise the game of M-B’s most popular model? By dipping into the parts bin of the flagship S-Class
WHEN THE Mercedes-Benz 190E was launched back in 1982, many pundits described the car as a ‘Golf-fighter’, pitching it as Stuttgart’s first foray into the affordable small car mainstream. In truth, the 190E was never really that small, or that inexpensive. And over the past four decades successive generations of the so-called baby Benz, rebadged the C-Class with the launch of the W202 in 1993, have become bigger and pricier.
At first glance, the 2021 C-Class emphatically proves the point. Codenamed W206, this new C-Class is longer and wider, with a longer wheelbase than the iconic W124 E-Class launched in 1984. And don’t expect much change from $70,000 for the entry-level C200 sedan when the car arrives in Australia. That’s around four grand more than a W124 300E cost when it went on sale here in 1985.
But those numbers don’t quite tell the full story. Back in the day you had to work 174 weeks to earn enough to get behind the wheel of a 300E. On today’s average weekly wage, you’ll probably have the readies for a new C200 in about a quarter the time. And for a car that in terms of its features and technology looks to be more like a baby S-Class than an expensive alternative to a Volkswagen, the new C-Class appears a compelling proposition.
Every exterior panel is new, but the design is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, with forms, surfaces and graphics echoing those found in the all-new S-Class and the facelifted E-Class. For example, the crisp line that starts on the front quarter panel and extends rearwards just under the side windows is similar to that on the S-Class, while the frowning grille graphic and twin power bugles on the bonnet are shared with the E-Class. At the rear are taillights whose design combines elements of both E-Class and S-Class. And peeking out from under the bumper are the rectangular exhaust outlets that you find on pretty much every non-AMG Mercedes these days. Wheels range in size from 17-inch to 19-inch.
It’s inside where the new C-Class most obviously lays claim to being a baby S-Class. As in the S-Class, the screen is celebrated, and not amid the drab austerity you find in a Tesla. A simple, rectangular digital instrument panel measuring 26cm across the diagonal stands proud of a dash that rolls forward to a padded section under the windshield and enhances the sense of spaciousness for the front seat passengers. The portrait format 24.1cm central touchscreen flies over the dash, the silver edging on the curved panel integrating it with the centre console to make it look as if it has taken off from somewhere near your elbow. Both screens are available in larger sizes – 31.2cm and 30.2cm respectively – as an option.
In the S-Class the console under the central touchscreen simply headbutts the lower dash; in the C-Class the console blends into the lower dash in a single seamless arc, its outer edges then curving left and right and running in an unbroken line to each corner of the cabin. The whole lot is crowned with an array of glittery, ambiently lit squircular vents nestled in to the padded upper of the dash. It’s a tour de force, giving the C-Class cabin an elegantly sumptuous ambience rivalling that of the S-Class.
Every exterior panel is new, but the design is evolutionary rather than revolutionary
“The car feels completely different to the W205; I was surprised how different it feels”
C-CLASS CHIEF ENGINEER CHRISTIAN FRÜH
The new C-Class rolls on a wheelbase 25mm longer than that of the W205, and much of that has gone into improving the rear seat legroom. The rear passenger H-point has also been dropped 10mm, improving headroom.
Like the new S-Class, the W206 C-Class is equipped with the second generation of the MBUX user interface. Both the instrument panel and touchscreen can be configured to display a variety of information in a variety of ways. A fingerprint scanner at the lower edge of the central screen enables users to log in to MBUX, recalling personal settings in the system and protecting data such as favourites, most recent destinations, behaviour-based predictions, business calendar entries and emails. The system also allows for over-the-air updates.
The C-Class doesn’t get the trick 3D instrument panel nor the augmented reality head-up display that are available as options on the S-Class. But the optional head-up display in the C-Class projects a 23cm by 8cm virtual image the driver perceives as floating 4.5 metres ahead in space. And the optional augmented video nav system overlays virtual objects like traffic signs, directional arrows, lane change recommendations and house numbers on a camera’s-eye view of the road ahead displayed in the central screen.
The new C-Class rides on MRA2, an evolution of the Mercedes Rear-Wheel Drive Architecture that debuted with the W205 model in 2014, which has been heavily reworked to package a larger battery for the plug-in hybrid models. In addition to the 25mm increase in wheelbase, at 4751mm the sedan and wagon models are 65mm and 49mm longer overall respectively than their predecessors, and width has increased 10mm. One dimension has shrunk, though. The new sedan’s roofline is 9mm lower than that of the current car and the wagon is 7mm lower.
Up front is a revised multi-link front suspension that follows the design of the set-up on the new S-Class and which C-Class chief engineer Christian Früh says improves steering response and on-centre feel. And, as in the new S-Class, the C-Class will be available with optional fourwheel steering. But while the S-Class system will steer the rear wheels up to 10 degrees or 4.5 degrees, depending on wheel and tyre size, the rear wheels on the C-Class only pivot to a maximum of 2.5 degrees. At speeds above 60km/h the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts to enhance stability; below 60km/h the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to improve agility.
Why just 2.5 degrees? The rear-steer system in the S-Class is all about making the big sedan more manoeuvrable, but in the smaller C-Class it’s all about handling. “For driving dynamics, 2.5 degrees of rear steering is really enough,” says Früh, who headed Mercedes-Benz’s chassis systems and driver assistance systems departments before being made C-Class chief engineer in 2009. With same-phase steering above 60km/h ensuring a more stable rear end, Früh’s engineers were able to tighten the W206’s steering ratio to improve the car’s responsiveness at speed. The quicker steering also makes it more agile around town. “The car feels completely different to the W205,” says Früh. “I was surprised how different it feels.”
Though diesel is in the doghouse in the aftermath of the various emissions scandals – for example, from an almost 50