First Drive: Mercedes-Benz C-Class saloon

Sophisticated-looking C-Class successfully combines improved performance and economy in one desirable package

Sophisticated-looking C-Class successfully combines improved performance and economy in one desirable package

Two big numbers you need to be aware of when considering Mercedes-Benz’s revised C-Class: 2,000 changes have been made to the car and, since it was launched in 2007, more than one million have been sold.

Through the decades the C-Class has charted a steady course straddling both sporty and luxury sides of the compact premium experience. In saloon form – there’s also a revised estate model – Mercedes has always aimed to offer elements of its larger models at a more affordable price point.

You can’t stand still in this business and, with ever increasing focus on emissions, consumption and refinement, Mercedes has thoroughly revamped its core model.

First up are the obligatory cosmetic changes. The car’s nose and tail have been tweaked slightly – radiator, lights, that sort of thing – and there’s still the visual difference between SE/Elegance and Sport models, with the latter boasting a subtle AMG branded bodykit, AMG wheels and a lower ride height.

Inside there’s a new dashboard design, the car’s colour display screen is now fixed in the upper level of the fascia and the general impression is a welcome shift to a simpler layout inspired in part by the CLS.

Some things don’t change, though. The cabin ambience is as refined as ever, and the wide choice of trim, seat and instrument colour options – from wood to metal-like finishes – ensure that both young and old buyers are catered for.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class saloon Mercedes hopes everyone will benefit from the car’s reduced running costs, in particular company car drivers opting for four-cylinder diesel variants. Bold claims are made that every new engine is both more powerful and more efficient than its predecessor. The petrol range starts with the 156 horsepower C180 and rises to a beefy 204 horsepower C250. On the diesel front there’s a 136 horsepower C200 CDI, a 170 horsepower C220 CDI and 204 horsepower C250 CDI.

While all cars come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, there’s now the option of an improved seven-speed auto across the range. Another standard feature is the inclusion of engine stop-start technology across the range to further boost the car’s eco credentials.

The end result is indeed a more frugal ownership experience. Taking the C220 CDI for example, in manual gearbox trim the car posts an impressive 117g/km CO2 rating and 64.2mpg on the combined cycle.

The best news of all is the complete lack of compromise when behind the wheel. Historically manual transmission Mercedes cars haven’t been that great, although recent years have seen this trend successfully reversed. The gearbox in the C220 CDI, like other variants, delivers a slick, accurate performance. Engine refinement is also first rate, while performance is more than you could ask for. A willing unit, the 2.1-litre, four-cylinder is quiet and responsive in equal measure.

Ride comfort is also very good, with the C-Class offering a sensible balance of comfort and agility. Pitch and roll is minimal, while the Sport variant’s tuned suspension and bigger wheels don’t harm but rather enhance the experience if you’re an enthusiastic driver. And if you select a petrol-driven car the experience is broadly similar, only the engine is that bit quieter.

Along with the improved driving experience, the C-Class comes with a wider choice of standard and optional equipment. There’s a heavy bias towards safety kit, with a lot of ‘big car’ stuff from the E, CLS and S-Class having trickled down to the C-Class. From lane departure and blind spot warning systems to active dipping headlights and intelligent cruise control, the car isn’t short of helpful toys. The same is true on the comfort front, with the optional sat-nav supported by standard fit climate and cruise control, a multi function steering wheel and the usual electric mirrors and windows.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class saloonUK buyers can choose from three grades – SE, Elegance and Sport – with the latter adding a subtle AMG bodykit and branded wheels, lower ride height, speed sensitive steering, sports front seats, a three spoke steering wheels and gearchange paddles for auto gearbox variants.

In summary, the car looks a little sharper from some angles but there’s still no mistaking what it is. The C-Class is a hugely significant model for Mercedes, and customer loyalty is an important consideration.

What you won’t fail to notice is improvements made inside and out of sight. From the car’s more polished cabin to the significant gains made in the driving experience and at the pump, the C-Class has successfully evolved in all the right areas.

Model: Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI Sport saloon, from £30,975 on the road. Range from £25,515.
Engine: 2.1-litre diesel unit developing 170bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the rear wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 1xxmph, 0-62mph 8.1 seconds.
Economy: 64.2mpg.
CO2 Rating: 117g/km.

By Iain Dooley

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