Conservative to a fault, Mercedes-Benz shores up its bank statement with important evolutions of its vital saloon and estate car volume models that Iain Robertson reveals are easy to praise for their clarity of purpose, with one stupid omission.
By far its most popular model, the C-Class in its most recent iteration is not just a compact but right-sized saloon and estate car line-up that has managed to secure almost 2.6m registrations since its last reskin in 2014. It is a model for which I have the utmost respect for its modest dimensions, crisp styling and first-rate reliability. In typical Merc form, its engine range offers a comprehensive mix of market demanded frugality and phenomenal, if sometimes unruly performance spread.
As a measure of its importance, with its key rivals (Audi A4 and BMW 3/4-Series), it manages singularly and severally to outsell the notional midfield leader, the Ford Mondeo, by a healthy margin, in the process wearing a neat tiara for the predominantly corporate medium sector across Europe. While this is not the aforementioned omission, which I shall come to momentarily, the C-Class in right-hand drive form is produced in South Africa (a right-hand drive market), although the company charges cheekily an additional UK pre-landing premium for the ‘conversion to right-hand drive’. Naturally, while it would not like to mention it, dealer discounts can help to erase it.
Ironically, I have another minor issue in that Merc’s insistence on dealing in China makes it a best-seller in that market. I have concerns with all western firms that have production facilities in that Peoples’ Republic. However, as a global player, the C-Class has an important role to fulfil. To succeed, it must continue to evolve and, while the outgoing version was eminently satisfying, its cabin packaging would have benefited from extra space. The comprehensively revised newcomer adds vital inches to cabin width and rear seat accommodation, without over-stretching the exterior dimensions.
Keeping the C-Class on-the-money is a keen consideration and the new versions boast not only four-wheel steer (up to 2.5-degrees), which improves handling and also provides a tighter turning circle, but even more electronic technology, including some of the most advanced headlighting in the industry. Keeping it relevant in the plug-in scene, the latest C-Class can now top 60mls EV range thanks to a beefed-up 25.4kWh battery pack, which can be fully recharged within 30 minutes and provide a power boost, when required. Although largely irrelevant in an all-electric future, Merc states that its petrol-hybrid models possess a carbon footprint that can be equal to that of a fully electric alternative, if the petrol engine is not drawn into use.
Most noticeable about the new model is its svelte exterior design. Possessing tight door and panel shut lines, not only ensures that the smooth newcomer cleaves through the air more cleanly but also does so in greater refinement. The C-Class has always been aerodynamically efficient but the new models take it to new peaks that provide significant fuel economy benefits, thus maintaining running costs at a lower level. Yet, it still features a bold shoulder line and slightly wedge-like profile, as characteristics of the model.
Inside, the dashboard is divided into both upper and lower sections, with new, circular vents reminiscent of jet engine nacelles and the option of a faux Nappa hide cladding for the main structure. The centre console flows into the dashboard without interruption and both of the LCD screens (10.25-inch, optional 12.3-inch, ahead of the driver; 9.5-inch, optional 11.9-inch, portrait format in the centre-stack) are tilted slightly towards the driver. Naturally, they are configurable by the driver, through a series of alternative screen images (Discreet, Sporty, Classic; and Navigation, Assistance and Service). Unfortunately, there is an over-application of high-gloss surfaces, which can reflect annoyingly at night-time in built-up areas, although there is no denying their high-quality.
Both door pull and electric seat adjustment controls are integrated in typical Merc style into the door cards. Fortunately, now featuring a pair of column stalks, the former confusion of the single stalk has been resolved, which makes the C-Class much nicer to drive and operate its controls. On higher-spec Avantgarde and Sport models, an entirely new, multi-layered seat construction provides supreme levels of support and comfort, without bulkiness that would obviate the benefit of additional interior space. Some of the new metal trim inside is, like Audi, all aluminium and not plastic, which adds to the luxury appeal.
Introduced in the outgoing model, the voice assistant ‘Hey Mercedes!’ has been upgraded to be more interactive and capable of learning by activating online services in the ‘Mercedes me’ app on the user’s mobilephone. Additional actions can be performed without the keyword, including taking a telephone call. This concierge service can also be used to explain vehicle functions and provides assistance when connecting Bluetooth items, or trying to locate the first-aid kit. Intriguingly, such is the power of its AI learning potential, it can even recognise vehicle occupants by their voices. As part of the MBUX system, domestic monitors as well as remote control services can be managed via the car. It is clever stuff, if largely unnecessary!
The C180/C200 are powered by a 170/204bhp 1.5-litre turbo-four, the C300 using a 190bhp 2.0-litre engine, all petrol fed. CO2 emissions range from 141 to 168g/km and acceleration and top speed figures are all up to the class average. While four-wheel drive is available for the punchier engines, they all drive through Merc’s 9-speed electronically managed automatic transmission. The new C-Class’s boot capacity has been increased by 45 to 360-litres, while the estate boasts a useful 1,375-litres, with the rear seats folded. Sadly (the omission), while Merc provided me with 142 photos from which to pick, not a single shot was of the car’s luggage capacity, which serves to highlight the downside of its PR department being subsumed by Marketing! They just forgot.
Conclusion: Boasting finely-balanced chassis dynamics and much-improved damper responses, the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class is improved significantly over the outgoing versions and is now the class of the field. Handsome and well-equipped, deliveries will commence from early-April, by which time prices will also be announced.