Mercedes C-Class review
The Mercedes C-Class goes posher than ever before as it bids to topple BMW’s all-conquering 3 Series and Jaguar XE
The Mercedes C-Class has been a leading contender in the compact executive car market for years but the competition for sales in this fleet-orientated segment has never been fiercer.
The latest C-Class looks good and offers a high-class interior that can be turned into a technological showcase by dipping into the vast list of add-on packs and optional extras. The car looks good too, in a classily understated way.
The flaws that there are in the C-Class driving experience are highlighted by the all-round excellence of the Mercedes-AMG C63 performance flagship. The long-serving 2.1-litre diesel is punchy but unrefined compared to the best rivals but at least the ride quality is good if you steer clear of the larger wheel sizes. Models with the air-suspension perform well on the motorway but get fidgety over smaller bumps.
Mercedes has added lots more equipment to lure in buyers, so spec-for-spec the new model is actually better value than ever before. Running costs are strong too with Mercedes claiming an average 20 per cent efficiency improvement across the range and the hybrid models offering tempting tax advantages.
The Mercedes C-Class is a strong package that’s faced with some very talented rivals, some of which outclass it on the road. If your priorities are comfort, equipment and running costs, though, the C-Class won’t disappoint.
The Mercedes C-Class takes on the BMW 3 Series, Jaguar XE and Audi A4 in the competitive compact executive sector. Alternatives to these mainstream choices come not only in the form of the obvious Volvo S60 and Lexus IS, but also well specified examples of D-segment machines like the Ford Mondeo and the eighth-generation Volkswagen Passat.
Where once the C-Class would have been the entry point to Mercedes ownership, the advent of the A- and B-Class cars means the C-Class is now a few rungs up the ladder in the Mercedes range.
Launched last year, the W205 is the fourth generation of cars badged C-Class, the first being the W202 – that model, produced from 1993 to 2000, was a direct successor to the phenomenally successful W201; better known as the 190E.
Ignoring the ‘old model’ Coupe that is due for replacement soon, there are two body styles for the Mercedes C-Class: the saloon and the estate. Trim lines are, on the face of it, simple to understand, as they run from SE to Sport and AMG Line, but three equipment bundles – Executive, Premium and Premium Plus – complicate things somewhat. The Executive pack is only available as an upgrade to the SE, while the latter two packs are for the Sport and AMG Line models. The AMG C 63 gets its own comprehensive equipment list.
The majority of C-Class models are diesels, using either the 1.6-litre single-turbo four-cylinder unit in the C 200d or the venerable 2.1-litre twin-turbo four, which makes either 168bhp/400Nm in the C 220d or 201bhp/500Nm in the C 250d. The higher-power 2.1 can also be supplemented by a 27bhp/250Nm electric motor in the C 300h model, a mild hybrid, but there’s a C 350e plug-in hybrid too with an 81bhp/340Nm electric motor backing up a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol with 208bhp/350Nm. That 2.0 petrol engine is the same unit found in the cheapest C-Class you can buy, the 181bhp/300Nm C 200.
Finally, at the top of the range sits the awesome 4.0-litre biturbo V8 Mercedes-AMG C 63, which can be had as an S model, although a C 450 AMG with a twin-turbo V6 petrol will soon bridge the gap between the regular model line-up and the C 63.
Mercedes has recently simplified its badging range-wide, so the old BlueTec, CDI and Hybrid badges are gone. So far, 4Matic all-wheel drive is not offered on the UK’s rear-driven C-Class line-up but it will make an appearance in the C 450 AMG coming in 2016. It may then filter down to other models in the range as an option.
The C 200, C 200d and C 220d all come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, with the seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic a £1,500 option. The auto is standard on all other models in the range, bar the AMG versions, which get the MCT Speedshift seven-speed automated manual.
Engines, performance and drive
This C-Class was the first car to be built using Mercedes’ new rear-wheel drive architecture (called MRA). This employs around 50 per cent aluminium in its construction – up from 10 per cent before – and cuts 70kg from the body. Other weight savings mean the new C-Class weighs around 100kg less than previously, which helps improve the driving experience and efficiency.
The standard suspension offers a comfortable ride if you stick to 17-inch wheels or smaller. The £895 Airmatic Agility package adds air suspension, adaptive dampers and an Agility Select function that allows you to choose from Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ driving modes. On smooth roads, any C-Class with this floats over bumps, yet potholes, broken tarmac and motorway expansion joints send a crash through the otherwise undisturbed comfort in the cabin.
The steering is quick and direct, but it’s inconsistently weighted and gives little feedback. Selecting Sport+ mode sharpens the throttle, adds weight to the steering and stiffens the dampers, but the Mercedes’ front tyres start to lose grip more easily than we’d like. Plus, the firm suspension causes the car to skitter uncomfortably over mid-corner bumps.
However, it’s not all bad news for keen drivers, because Mercedes’ tuning arm AMG has come to the rescue. AMG has worked hard on the suspension and steering, so the C 63 delivers the sort of grip, composure and engagement that drivers of the standard C-Class can only dream of.
The C 450 AMG arrives in summer 2016 and uses many of the C 63’s suspension and steering components to deliver a more involving driving experience. More importantly, the sharper handling is mated to Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive transmission, which helps deliver terrific all-weather security.
Except for anything wearing an AMG badge, they’re all four-cylinder lumps. The 1.6-litre diesel in the C 200d is a smooth enough unit and quieter than the bigger biturbo diesel, but it doesn’t dip below 100g/km CO2 in any format and is in broadly the same VED bands as the 2.1.
The big selling engine is the 2.1-litre diesel in the C 220d and C 250d cars, which provides plenty of power and competitive fuel economy figures. However, it’s carried over from the previous generation, and remains pretty gruff and noisy.
The C-Class’ upmarket atmosphere is spoiled when you start it up and that ageing Mercedes diesel rattles into life. The 2.1-litre engine doesn’t settle down on the move, either – it sounds strained when extended and drones on the motorway.
The seven-speed auto gearbox is unresponsive to throttle inputs and often holds gears too long before shifting up. And while there are steering wheel paddles, there’s no option to lock the box in manual mode, so it frequently kicks down when you'd rather it didn't.
There’s nothing wrong with the 2.0-litre petrol engine per se, yet it’s the hybrids that provide the best responsiveness, despite the fact they’re at least 120kg heavier than any other non-AMG C-Class. The C 350e dips below 6.0 seconds for the 0-62mph sprint as a saloon and the C 300h isn’t far behind at 6.4 seconds.
The Mercedes-AMG C 63 is a beast of a car, powered by a mighty twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8. It’s available in ‘standard’ 469bhp trim and wild 503bhp S guise. The latter will sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.0 seconds as a saloon (4.1 seconds for the estate) and can be specified with a raised speed limit of 180mph; decide not to opt for this and both cars are electronically limited to 155mph. The new engine sounds incredible, too, emitting a NASCAR-style bellow at high revs.
Under the bonnet of the forthcoming C 450 AMG is a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol that catapults the car from 0-62mph in 5.0 seconds and delivers a pleasingly sporty growl from its twin exhausts.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The original launch line-up for the C-Class has expanded to three diesels, one petrol and a pair of hybrids, as well as the AMG V8. The C 200d returns 72.4mpg and 101g/km, but adding the automatic or 18/19-inch alloys sees its returns fall to about the same level as the more powerful C 250d.
Indeed, both the 2.1-litre diesels are in Band B if you can stick to a maximum of 17-inch alloys. With those smaller wheels the C 220d records a combined cycle return of 70.6mpg and the C 250d gets 65.7mpg, with emissions standing at 103g/km and 109g/km respectively.
Only the hybrids dip below 100g/km, the C 300h turning in 78.5mpg and 94g/km on 17-inch wheels. Try and avoid 18- or 19-inch wheels, as they push the diesel electric out of the free-from-VED Band A.
However, the C 350e plug-in hybrid is way ahead on paper, with an incredible 134.5mpg official economy and emissions of anything between 48- and 53g/km. That means not only is it exempt from VED but it also beats the London congestion charge. The C 350e is helped by a fully electric range of around 19 miles, whereas the C 300h can only drive in zero-emissions mode for very short periods of time at low speeds.
Despite all C-Class models having stop-start functionality, the C63 AMG cars can only achieve 34.5mpg as a saloon or 33.6mpg as an estate, with emissions figures of 192- and 196g/km.
Benefit-in-Kind company car tax is as low as five per cent on the C 350e, with the C 300h next behind at 13 per cent. The C 200d is entry point for BiK in terms of conventional drivetrains, at 18 per cent, while the more powerful models in AMG Line 7G-Tronic trim command 21 per cent. The AMGs are out on their own, both sitting in the 34 per cent bracket.
Insurance starts in group 24 for the C 200d and rises to 48 for the C 63 S, with most models clustered in the 30s. This is on a par with comparable vehicles from the 3 Series and Audi A4 range.
No options actually help to reduce the C-Class’ premiums but picking some of those desirable tech packages does push certain models up by a group, while both Sport and AMG Line trims cost more to insure than SE models.
Private buyers will enjoy strong 45.2 per cent residuals, placing the C-Class among the best in class. Options are bundled in decent-value packs, such as the £995 Executive Pack that adds sat-nav, heated seats and a split-folding rear bench to SE models and will help boost that resale value. The aforementioned Premium and Premium Plus packs are also worth considering on higher spec models. As with so many cars in this class, expect the diesel models to hold their value best of all.
Interior, design and technology
Looks count for a lot in the executive car park and the Mercedes hits the spot. Taking its inspiration from the brand’s flagship S-Class limousine, the C-Class’ neatly styled lines, sculpted sides and swept-back headlamps provide plenty of appeal.
Sport trim cars get 17-inch wheels, chrome treatment and LED lights, while AMG Line models have an even sportier cabin, 18-inch wheels and body styling to look like the most potent versions of the C-Class.
Talking of which, the flagship C 63 is marked out by its deeper front bumper, subtly flared front wheelarches, quad exhaust layout and a bonnet that features a pair of ‘power’ bulges. The standard C 63 gets 18-inch alloys, while the C 63 S has larger 19-inch rims.
One issue here is a colour palette that’s pretty dull. Standard colours are black or white, while the £645 metallic options are largely monochrome with the odd dark blue thrown in for good measure. For £845, two ‘designo’ colours – Diamond White and Hyacinth Red – provide a bit more visual sparkle.
The C-Class’ upmarket feel is emphasised inside where the luxurious cabin sets new standards in the class. Again it’s influenced by the S-Class, so you get high-quality materials and a beautifully designed dash with eyeball air vents and ebony trim inserts.
The tactile metal finish of the air conditioning controls, power seat adjusters and the rotary Comand system controller are further highlights, while the leather multifunction wheel is lovely to hold. In the AMG Line models, this is a flat-bottomed affair.
Standard equipment is generous, too. All versions get cruise control, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and Mercedes’ trademark Artico man-made leather, while Sport and AMG Line cars add desirable extras such as heated seats, sat-nav and LED headlamps. The C 63 is given a low key makeover with bespoke AMG instruments, a pair of high-backed sports seats and its own flat-bottomed steering wheel.
That £2,795 Premium Plus package provides some desirable extra kit, including keyless-go, ambient cabin lighting, a powerful Burmester stereo, panoramic glass roof and a Comand sat-nav controller that features a glossy 8.4-inch tablet-style screen in place of the standard seven-inch display.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Mercedes’ infotainment control system is not as intuitive or pleasant to use as BMW’s excellent iDrive or Audi’s MMI. The Merc’s menu interface is sorted into on-screen tabs that can be difficult to access for those unfamiliar with its workings.
Luckily, the addition of standard Bluetooth makes pairing a phone to the car a simple task and even the basic sound system in the C-Class is pretty impressive. However, go for that 590W Burmester set-up if you can. With 13 speakers and a nine-channel amp, it remains crystal clear and distortion free at all volumes.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
At 4,686mm long and 1,810mm wide, the new C-Class is 95mm longer and 40mm wider than before. Couple this to an 80mm increase in wheelbase, which now measures 2,840mm, and the C-Class certainly has the potential to offer more cabin space.
And that’s true in part. Up front, there’s lots of space in the comfortable seats, with plenty of head- and legroom. The driving position is better aligned now, too, and visibility is good.
There’s plenty of space in the doors and dash to store the usual on-board clutter, including a large glovebox, door bins and a lidded cubby between the front seats. The rear armrest also incorporates two cup-holders. With all models including a media interface for connecting your smartphone to the car.
It doesn’t take long with a tape measure to realise that Mercedes used the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 as benchmarks when designing the C-Class. All three cars provide similar amounts of head- and legroom for rear-seat passengers, plus they have identical 480-litre boot capacities in saloon guise.
The estate is marginally bigger than the saloon, at 4,702mm versus 4,686mm long and 1,457mm tall compared to 1,442mm, but other than that they’re largely identical in terms of measurements (the estate has slightly narrower track widths). Compared to a BMW 3 Series Touring, the C-Class Estate is just a tiny bit smaller in the cargo department, giving away five litres with the rear seats up to its Munich rival.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Space in the front seats is generous and there’s more than a meter of headroom in either saloon or estate, with 1,039mm in the four-door and 1,046mm in the wagon.
The estate’s higher roof line does help with rear headroom, too, at 974mm over 942mm in the saloon. But legroom in the back is a healthy 686mm in both cars and – coupled to the Mercedes’ large rear doors – access to the back row of seats is easy. All C-Class models have Isofix seat points in the rear.
At 490 litres with the rear seats up and 1,510 litres with them folded away, the C-Class Estate isn’t the biggest of load luggers but its cargo area remains a useable space. It’s helped by a large, well-shaped boot aperture and a loading lip that’s just 590mm off the ground.
The boot floor is flat but there’s no under-floor storage in the Mercedes. The AMG and hybrid saloons lose boot capacity, the C 63 and C 300h offering 435 litres while the battery pack of the C 350e results in 335 litres of load space.
The 40:20:40 split rear seats on the estate fold down easily and lie totally flat, while all C-Class models bar the AMGs can tow either 1,600kg or 1,800kg. The C 220d, C 250d and C 200 7G-Tronic are the versions capable of hauling the most weight.
Reliability and Safety
Many of the new C-Class’ components are well proven – it has an established engine and gearbox for instance. And the interior feels truly premium and finished to a high standard too.
Mercedes impressed with a ninth place ranking in the Auto Express Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey, with owners praising their cars’ reliability and build quality. Things slipped a little in 2015 with the car still ranking a creditable 42nd. Ride quality and performance were praised but reliability took a dive. It’s worth noting that Mercedes finished 4th in its sector despite going up against a string of newer rivals.
As you’d expect from a new Mercedes, the C-Class is loaded with standard safety equipment, including seven airbags, a driver tiredness monitor and tyre-pressure warning. It’s been given a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.
Buyers can add hi-tech options like the £2,300 Driver Assistance Pack, which brings blind-spot warning, lane departure assist and adaptive cruise control. Other options include an £825 head-up display and £545 Active LED lights with cornering function and high-beam assist.
All Mercedes C-Class models come with a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty that can be extended for a variable fee depending on individual circumstances. BMW and Audi both have similar set-ups but do provide mileage limits that come into effect in years three, four and five on their vehicles.
The C-Class works on the condition-based servicing system Mercedes has had in place on almost all of its cars since the late 1990s. It’s therefore dependent on driving style to determine how often your Mercedes is in the dealership.
Regular short, city-based journeys will put more of a strain on components and consumables than long motorway commutes at steady-state cruising, which is most likely what the normal combustion engine C-Class models will be bought for. Thus, we expect the hybrids – favoured by urban dwellers – to require more regular servicing.
For either a one-off fee, or paying monthly amounts from as little as £1 (up to £40 for the AMG C 63), Mercedes-Benz Service Care guarantees owners the price of parts and labour for up to four years to protect against inflation. Service Care covers the cost of all recommended service items, including fluids, filters and spark plugs.