Mercedes C-Class review
Recently revised Mercedes C-Class compact executive leads the way for comfort and refinement
While we're not due a new Mercedes C-Class until 2014, the entire range receieved a comprehensive facelift in 2011, transforming it into a genuine contender for compact executive honours. Available as a sober-suited saloon, practical estate and sleek coupe, the Mercedes has been designed to go head-to-head with the brilliant BMW 3 Series and desirable Audi A4. Buyers get to pick from a wide-range of petrol and diesel engines, while high performance fans can opt for the tyre-smoking, V8-powered C63 AMG range-topper. All versions are well equipped, with air-con, Bluetooth and alloy wheels featuring throughout the range. BlueEFFICIENCY versions promise fuel sipping economy and tax-busting emissions, although they can't quite rival the BMW 3 Series for eco-friendly appeal.
Our choice: C220 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY Elegance
As part of its 2011 mid-life refresh, the Mercedes C-Class has been given sleeker headlamps, revised bumpers and some fashionable LED daytime running lamps. Overall it’s a handsome design, but it lacks the sporty appeal of the BMW 3 Series and sleek lines of the Audi A4. Both the C-Class and E-Class are a more grown-up choice than their rivals, particularly in restrained SE and Avantgarde guises. Owners wanting to make more of an impact should opt for the AMG Sport, which adds a racy bodykit and eye-catching 18-inch AMG alloy wheels. There's also an AMG Sport Plus version that's identified by its bi-xenon headlamps and subtle bootlid spoiler. Cabin quality has also been improved in the recent update, with owners being treated to classier materials and an even more solid finish. Other changes include a subtly revised dashboard that features a new centrally-mounted infotainment screen. All models get two-zone climate control, Bluetooth and an iPod connection, plus a mult-function steering wheel and two electrically adjustable seats. The brand's surprisingly convincing Artico fake leather trim is standard across the range.
Mercedes doesn’t have the sporty heritage of BMW and Audi, but the C-Class is still an assured performer from behind the wheel. The turbocharged 1.6-litre 154bhp C180 and 1.8 -litre 201bhp C250 petrols are smooth and strong, as is the effortless 261bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel used in the C350 CDI. There’s also the C63 AMG, which boasts a mighty 451bhp 6.2-litre V8 and will rocket from 0-60mph in only 4.5 seconds. But for most buyers the 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel used in the 134bhp C200 CDI, 168bhp C220 CDI and 201bhp C250CDI will be the most popular choice. It’s a gruff unit when extended, but provides plenty of mid-range punch. The standard six-speed manual is clunky and vague in operation, so you’re better off spending the extra on the excellent seven-speed auto. It's not cheap, but the unit delivers silky smooth shifts in automatic mode - although it can be hesitant when using the steering wheel-mounted manual paddle shifters. Slick steering and standard adaptive damping give the Mercedes a fine ride and handling balance, although keen drivers will prefer the sharper BMW 3 Series. AMG Sport versions of the C-Class get suspension that's lowered by 15mm and a speed sensitive electric power steering set-up. These versions are also available with an optional Dynamic Handling Package, which includes the facility to manually alter responisvness of the suspension, automatic gearbox and throtte pedal.
The Mercedes name has become a byword for safety, so it’s no surprise to find the C-Class leads the way in this category, finishing an impressive 28th in this year's Driver Power Survey, with a rating of 87.19 per cent. Owners reserved particular praise for the car's reliability and build quality. The raft of standard fit safety features includes seven airbags, electronic stability control and tyre pressure monitoring. There’s also a driver fatigue sensor that assesses steering inputs and flashes up a warning for you to take a break when you’re tired. There is also adaptive brake light technology that causes the rear lights to flash rapidly, warning other road users when the car is stopping quickly. If you want even more peace of mind, then Mercedes' optional Driver Assistance package adds adaptive crusie control, blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist. And parents will like the integrated child seats that can be added to the rear bench as an option. The quality and engineering of Mercedes models has improved in recent years, so the cars are as reliable as their famously hard-wearing predecessors. However, be aware that expensive servicing costs mean that keeping your C-Class in fine fettle won't be a cheap exercise.
The C-Class makes the grade as a sensible family saloon. There’s decent room for occupants front and rear, although the healthy dimensions are hampered by an intrusive transmission tunnel, which eats into middle-seat legroom. Pop open the tailgate and a generous 475-litre boot capacity means it'll near enough match the 480 litres you'll find in a BMW 3 Series. However, unless you go for the range-topping AMG Sport Plus you’ll have to fork out extra cash for a split/fold rear seat – a feature that’s standard on the Audi A4. Look elsewhere and you’ll find usefully deep door pockets, a large glovebox and a deep lidded storage box located between the front seats. Even the rear centre armrest features a small cubby and a handy pair of cupholders. For buyers needing extra space and family-friendly versatility there's the roomy estate model.
Given the popularity of the C-Class as a company car, it’s no surprise to find Mercedes has worked hard to boost the car’s economy and slash CO2 emissions. Best of the bunch is the BlueEFFICIENCY badged C220 CDI. It's quicker than the C200 CDI but equipped with stop-start and the six-speed manual gearbox it promises 68.9mpg and a CO2 figure of 109g/km. What’s more, even the rapid C350 CDI will manage nearly 50mpg and emit only 154g/km. However, buyers looking to keep their motoring bills in check should steer clear of the C63 AMG, which emits a heady 280g/km of CO2 and claims just 23.5mpg at the pumps.. As you’d expect, prices are broadly the same as those of a similarly equipped BMW 3 Series or Audi A4. And as with its German rivals, the Mercedes benefits from decent predicted resale values, with most models holding onto around 40 percent of their value after three years. However, Mercedes dealers don't yet have the excellent fixed price servicing deals offered by BMW - although you can sign up to a monthly oaynment plan and spread the cost of any routine maintenance.