Mercedes-benz C-class Estate
Rated on UK roads
We drove the new Mercedesbenz C-class last week overseas but we’ve now driven it in the UK, albeit still early left-hand-drive examples. The one most different from last week’s test car was this C200 petrol estate, presented in a slightly unknown trim because it’s non-specific to any particular trim level. But it did run on swanky 19in wheels and have a high-spec interior.
The estate is the same 4751mm length as the saloon, unlike the previous model, which was a touch longer than the four-door, and its 490-litre boot (rising to 1510 litres with the seats folded) is all but the same (500-1510 litres) as that of the C-class’s arch-rival, a BMW 3 Series.
The other boot numbers – the ones on the outside – don’t always correlate to engine capacity these days and this C200 is no exception, with a 1.5-litre petrol engine with integrated 48V mild-hybrid startergenerator that boosts low-end torque and response.
The engine provides 201bhp and 221lb ft and, briefly, the motor another 20bhp and 148lb ft, but you can’t just add the numbers together to get a maximum because both elements won’t be working their hardest at the same time.
The numbers say the C200 hits 62mph from rest in 7.5sec. But the way it drives its rear wheels through its nine-speed automatic gearbox means it doesn’t really feel as fast as that and, while the engine is impressively quiet, the ’box is indecisive with ratios in all but gentle mooching, with more meaningful acceleration accompanied by quite a thumpy downshift.
The rest of the way it drives is mixed, too. Even the estate this time around has no air spring option but even so, with coil springs both back and front, it rather feels like the fore and aft set-ups are moving at different rates, with a lack of cohesion to it contributing to a front-rear bob to the ride in the suspension’s Comfort mode. In that, there is, at least, also moderate isolation that would probably be improved by not having 35-profile rear tyres.
Nonetheless, this car doesn’t have the ride and handling deftness you would hope for from a small reardrive Mercedes. The steering’s better, glutinous at times but middlingly weighted, and it gains a bit of heft and confidence as you turn – and it’s not nervy despite having only two turns between locks.
If anything, the car is better in its Sport mode in the UK – firmer, no question, but more composed and consistent. It’s still no 3 Series or Alfa Romeo Giulia, though, both of which remain pleasing rear-drive compact executive saloons that have a fine blend of handling and ride.
It’s as if Mercedes is pitching itself as a tech company as much as a vehicle engineering company, a move embodied by a big central touchscreen that overloads the dashboard with infotainment options. It’s not all controlled via the screen itself. There’s iffy voice control, too, while the steering wheel spokes have controls for both the instrument pack (left spoke) and big screen (right spoke). They would work much better if their haptic-style buttons and swipe-pads weren’t so easy to mis-control. And because the centre screen is so big, you can’t rest your wrist anywhere while you prod it.
Fit and finish is good, though – at least on this unspecific high-end model – with design touches such as snazzy air vents and some of the discotheque lighting suggesting this is more a show-business than old-money car now, which is not the vibe Mercedes used to give off.
Perhaps Mercedes has forgotten or doesn’t care how its cars used to feel, and doesn’t think that they ought to be fun to drive. I think that’s a shame, but when it easily sells two million cars a year and has just launched one with impressive features and showroom appeal, it probably won’t care less.