Mercedes C-Class review
All-new Mercedes C-Class goes posher than ever before as it bids to topple BMW 3 Series
The all-new Mercedes C-Class is here to take on the BMW 3 Series, Jaguar XE and Audi A4 in the competitive compact executive sector. Prices start just under £27,000, making the C-Class slightly more expensive than the previous model, and slightly more pricey than the competition.
However, Mercedes has added lots more equipment to lure in new buyers, so spec-for-spec, the new model is actually better value than before. This is especially true when you consider that Mercedes claims improvements to the engines mean it’s also up to 20 per cent more fuel-efficient.
Taking its visual and technological cues from Mercedes’ flagship S-Class, the new C-Class promises refinement and luxury unrivalled in this fiercely fought class. It’s available as a saloon, and there's a C-Class Estate, too.
There’s a choice of C220 and C250 BlueTEC diesels, plus a C200 petrol. At the top of the range is the exciting new AMG C 63, while in 2016 the AMG engineered, four-wheel drive C 450 joins the line-up.
Our choice: Mercedes C220 BlueTEC Sport
Engines, performance and drive
The new C-Class is the first car to be built using Mercedes’ new rear-wheel drive architecture (MRA). This uses 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 all helps improve the driving experience.
The big selling engine is expected to be the 2.1-litre diesel in the C220 and C250 BluTEC, which provides plenty of power and competitive claimed fuel economy figures. However, it’s carried over from the previous car and remains pretty gruff and noisy.
The C-Class’ upmarket atmosphere is spoiled when you twist the key and Mercedes’ ageing diesel rattles into life. The 2.1-litre engine fails to settle down on the move, either – it sounds strained when extended and drones on the motorway.
The optional £1,500 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 with no warning.
The £895 AirMATIC agility Pack 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 this C-Class floats over bumps, yet potholes, broken tarmac and motorway expansion joints send a crash through the cabin.
The steering is quick and direct, but it’s inconsistently weighted and gives very little feedback. Selecting Sport+ mode sharpens the throttle, adds weight to the steering and stiffens the dampers, but the Mercedes’ front tyres start to understeer 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. First up is the new C 63, which is powered by a mighty twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 and is available in ‘standard’ 469bhp trim and wild 503bhp S guise. The later will sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.0 seconds and can be specified with raised speed limit of 180mph (both cars are electronically limited to 155mph). The new engine sounds incredible, too, emitting a NASCAR style bellow at high revs.
More importantly, 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. Under the bonnet is a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol that catapults the C 450 from 0-62mph in 5.0 seconds and delivers a pleasingly rorty growl from its twin exhausts.
All the AMG models are fitted with reasonably slick seven-speed auto and are available in four-door saloon and practical estate bodystyles.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
From launch, there were two diesel and one petrol engine options to choose from. The C220 Bluetec 168bhp 2.1-litre diesel is expected to be the best seller. In entry-level manual SE form, it emits 103g/km and returns over 70mpg, meaning it sits in the 16 per cent BiK bracket – great for company car drivers.
The C250 Bluetec model is much cleaner than before, and claims the same CO2 figure, but 65mpg. The only petrol model is the C200, powered by a 181bhp 2.0-litre engine that returns 53.3mpg and emits 123g/km of CO2, whether you choose manual or auto gearboxes. All engine and gearbox combinations are more competitive in terms of running costs than before, with some up to 20 per cent more efficient.
The engine range will soon expand to include the C200 Bluetec, which is powered by a new 1.6-litre diesel that comes in 114bhp or 135bhp versions. A C300 Bluetec diesel-electric hybrid will also be offered, which develops 230bhp yet returns 72.4mpg. A plug-in petrol-electric hybrid will also be offered.
Private buyers will enjoy strong 45.2 per cent residuals, while 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. There’s also the £1,595 Premium and £2,795 Premium Plus packs.
Interior, design and technology
Looks count for a lot in the executive car park and the new 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 head-turning kerb appeal. Sport trim cars get 17-inch wheels, chrome treatment and LED lights.
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.
The upmarket feel continues 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-con controls, power seat adjusters and the rotary COMAND system controller are further highlights, while the leather multifunction wheel is lovely to hold.
Standard kit is generous, too. All versions get a DAB radio, Bluetooth and Mercedes’ trademark Artico man-made leather, while Sport and AMG 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 a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
There's a £2,795 Premium Plus package if you want some 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.
Also included is the S-Class’ £350 Air Balance Pack, which adds a fragrance dispenser to the climate control.
However, even without these high-end additions, the modern cabin feels and looks really upmarket, while standard kit includes heated front seats, DAB radio, aluminium door trims and cruise control.
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 room in the comfortable seats, with plenty 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, 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.
The C-Class gets a split-folding rear bench in SE models and above, but unlike the 3 Series, there’s no under-floor space.
There’s lots of useful storage space elsewhere, including a large glovebox, door bins and a lidded cubby between the front seats. The rear armrest also incorporates two cup-holders.
Reliability and Safety
Many of the new C-Class’ components are well proven – it has an established engine and gearbox. Plus, Mercedes impressed with a ninth place ranking in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey, with owners praising its cars’ reliability and build quality. The dealers finished in a less impressive 21st position, but that’s still five places ahead of Audi.
As you’d expect from a new Mercedes, the C-Class is loaded with standard safety kit, including seven airbags, a driver tiredness monitor and tyre-pressure warning. It’s been given a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.
Plus, you 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 highlights fitted to our car include an £825 head-up display and £545 Active LED lights with cornering function and high-beam assist.