Mercedes C-Class Estate review
The Mercedes C-Class Estate is a practical and comfortable family car
The Mercedes C-Class Estate feels like a luxurious and grown-up car – and it looks the part too, thanks to its glamorous S-Class inspired styling. While the AMG Line is popular for its sporty looks, this Merc wagon actually majors on comfort and cabin quality so the BMW 3 Series Touring remains our pick if you’re after the best handling experience.
In aiming for a more relaxed character than the sporting BMW though, Mercedes has come up with a very desirable and cosseting family mover, especially if you can run to one of the larger diesels. The hybrid models look pricey, but are great to drive and worth especially close inspection if you’re a company car driver.
The Mercedes C-Class Estate is the more practical alternative to the C-Class Saloon.
The estate derivative has been popular in the UK ever since it followed the four-door C-Class into showrooms in 1996, and has gone through three generations since.
The latest all-new model was introduced in the UK in the middle of 2014, boasting a stylish design, a range of clean engines, plenty of hi-tech gadgets and a luxurious interior. It goes head-to-head to with cars like the Audi A4 Avant and BMW 3 Series Touring, offering a boot with a maximum capacity of 1,510 litres.
In the UK, the biggest sellers in the C-Class Estate range are the C220 and C250 BlueTEC models but Mercedes also released a C300 BlueTEC HYBRID version in early 2015, which boasts CO2 emissions of 99g/km – that’s great for company car buyers.
There’s also a plug-in C350e model for drivers with a petrol-hybrid preference, and of course there’s the AMG performance division’s legendary take on the Mercedes-Benz ‘tourenwagen’. That one sports a stonking great V8 engine, and it prowls autobahns and motorways the world over badged as the AMG C63 Estate.
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If you can’t justify the price or fuel bills of the real thing, you can at least have some of the AMG C63’s style on a regular C-Class wagon. That’s thanks to the desirable flagship AMG Line trim level, which is designed to take the fight to Audi’s A4 S Line and BMW’s 3 Series M Sport cars. On the C-Class, the AMG Line brings special 18ins alloy wheels, sports suspension, leather sports seats and steering wheel, plus a sporty exterior styling package with lowered front and rear aprons and side skirts.
The C-Class Estate range kicks off with SE models, and because it’s still a premium model they too feature alloy wheels, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, and touchpad media system with Bluetooth, DAB audio and a reversing camera as standard. The Sport model is the mid-ranger, bringing larger 17ins alloys, heated front seats and sat-nav.
Engines, performance and drive
In spite of its swoopy looks the C-Class Estate’s handling is OK but no match for the BMW 3 Series. Unfortunately, the steering is a let-down. The wheel feels extremely light, especially around the dead-ahead, while Merc’s Direct Steer system adjusts the power assistance according to speed and driving mode. Although the response is weightier in Sport modes, the variable-ratio rack is inconsistent and has hardly any feedback.
The optional air suspension for around £900, provides a marble smooth ride on rough motorways. Bumps are smoothed out to a gentle bounce at speed but we found the system gets caught out over sharp ridges and potholes when you’re driving around town. Occasionally you hear a loud thud and feel a jolt in the cabin.
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With the air suspension set to comfort, the C-Class leans a bit too much in to bends, but switching to Sport to adjust the engine response and suspension stiffness does help things slightly.
If you can't stretch to the adaptive set-up, don't worry, as the standard dampers strike a good compromise between body roll and comfort, only jolting over the roughest of UK roads.
Overall, the C-Class Estate is just as accomplished as the saloon when it comes to refined cruising, but it can’t match the 3 Series Touring for driving enjoyment.
Both the C250d BlueTEC and C220d BlueTEC are powered by differently-tuned versions of the same 2.1-litre diesel engine, providing plenty of in-gear performance. The 201bhp C250d comes with a seven-speed automatic as standard, and, in typical Mercedes fashion, it smoothes out shifts for a really relaxing drive.
Officially, the C250d will go from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds, while the 168bho C220d takes 7.6 seconds. At higher motorway speeds, the C220 struggles a little more, taking its time to execute overtakes.
Given the Estate model is likely to be used for carting around heavier loads, the more powerful C250 is a more satisfying all-rounder, and likely to only suffer marginally in fuel economy.
But, while we’ve got no qualms with the performance we’re not so sure about the refinement. Keep engine revs low and it’s OK but if you’re at full throttle or in Sport mode – where the gearbox holds on to the gears until the last minute – the 2.1-litre unit sounds seriously gruff and noisy.
The C300 BlueTEC HYBRID is a bit better; it has the same engine but it’s boosted by an electric motor so it never seems to be working quite so hard. Most manufacturers struggle to make four-cylinder diesels refined, but the C-Class is particularly disappointing given how relaxed the rest of its ambience is.
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There’s a 1,598cc diesel-powered C200d entry model too, but it’s the least dynamic of the C-Class Estate family offering only 134bhp and 300Nm. That’s enough for 0-62mph in 10.1 seconds and 133mph flat-out.
If you insist on driving a petrol-powered C-Class Estate (AMG C63 excepted), you’ve two versions of a direct-injection 1,991cc in-line four-cylinder to choose from. First up is the C200 which comes with a standard six-speed manual. It makes a touch over 180bhp and delivers 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds and 146mph. Its 300Nm of torque matches the entry-level diesel.
The C350e Sport Plug-In Hybrid is more interesting, as it comes with a 208bhp version of the same petrol engine supplemented by an 81bhp electric motor. That combination – through 7-G Tronic automatic gears – delivers a 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds and a potential 153mph maximum, as well as silent electric running mode in town. Both petrol and diesel hybrid models are pricey though.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The 1.6-litre C200 BlueTEC is the cheapest and least powerful diesel in the range but it’s not actually the most fuel-efficient. That title goes to the 2.1-litre C220 BlueTEC model, which boasts emissions of just 108g/km, with fuel economy of 65.7mpg. Not too far behind that is the more powerful C250 BlueTEC, which claims figures of 117g/km and 62.7mpg.
The C300 BlueTEC Hybrid model cuts emissions to 99g/km, making it the pick for company car buyers – its mpg figures are pretty impressive too, as Merc claims the model will return up to 74.3mpg on the combined cycle and as much as 70mpg around town thanks to the electric-only function.
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The C350e plug-in petrol hybrid makes an interesting comparison, as it’s even faster than the diesel hybrid, and, if you take things easier, can be driven in a style that returns an incredible 134mpg out of town with C02 emissions that crack the sub-50 g/km mark.
While the frugality of both hybrid models is admirable, if you’re tempted to take one on as a company car driver you may be doing your bank balance a favour as well as the environment. Both the diesel hybrid and plug-in petrol version will cost you the thick end of £40k before you’ve added any optional goodies – the C200 and C220d models are both around £10k cheaper, but the plug-in hybrid is only £3.5k more expensive than the C250d.
In spite of the plug-in’s extreme official MPG figures, the C250d will likely be more economical if your real world motoring includes lots of high speed motorway thrashes, but the low emissions of the hybrid will save 40 per cent tax payers a packet if their Merc is a perk.
Looking at the petrol-powered C200 now, it manages 51.4mpg while emitting between 128 and 134 g/km of CO2 depending on tyre sizes. Either way, Mercedes doesn’t expect many UK buyers to go for it as the diesel models offer greater economy and cheaper tax rates.
Thanks to their strong performance and premium dealer repair costs, none of the C-Class Estate models attract bargain insurance. The C200d comes in at group 29, while the C300 Hybrid is group 37. That’s nothing compared to the AMG C63, of course. How does group 48 grab you?
Depreciation for the C-Class range is about on par with the BMW 3 Series Touring, but interestingly hybrid cars appear to be holding their value increasingly well after three years and we don’t expect the Merc to be any different. That said, they’ll still potentially lose more in cash terms than the ‘regular’ models as the initial purchase price is higher.
Interior, design and technology
Mercedes has taken bold steps with the design of its most recent models, and the C-Class Estate certainly cuts a dash compared to its rivals. As you would expect, it mostly shares the saloon’s looks, so you get a large rounded grille with an oversized three-pointed star, while swooping headlights add yet more drama to the front end. Sport models and above get full LED headlamps with distinctive daytime running lights.
Further back, the sculpted wings and doors add drama to the look, while the extended roof line of the estate blends into a small bootlid spoiler and a rounded tailgate. The Estate also gets roof rails, which are finished in chrome on Sport models and higher, while the tail-lights wrap around the rear wings and bootlid. That tailgate is power-operated on all models and, while it’s a little slow to open, it does at least take the strain out of lifting it.
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Climb inside and the C-Class Estate is identical to the saloon, so you get the same high-quality look and finish as you’ll find in the S-Class limousine. All models have a tablet-style colour centre console display, although it looks a bit like an aftermarket addition.
Automatic models, like the one in our test, feature a column-mounted shift, decluttering and freeing up space on the dash, while the mix of gloss black plastics and metal switches adds an air of solidity. All cars get artificial leather as standard, but you’d be hard pressed to tell it from the real thing, while the C-Class’s build quality can’t be faulted.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The C-Class’s tablet style infotainment system is easy to navigate, courtesy of the standard COMAND control wheel on the centre console. Entry-level SE models come with the Audio 20 CD/DAB system as standard, while Sport trim level and above adds Garmin MAP PILOT navigation.
If you opt for the Premium Plus package you get a Burmester surround sound system, plus the larger 8.4ins colour display and internet connectivity of Merc’s COMAND Online system. This adds features like voice control and a range of apps that allow you to do fun things like locate your parked vehicle if you’ve mislaid it, or check your fuel level remotely.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
You’ll most likely be considering a C-Class Estate for its extended boot but the model provides plenty of room for people too, especially up front where there’s loads of adjustability built into the driving seat and steering wheel. The deep centre console storage bins and two-level glovebox offer plenty of storage.
All models feature a useful reversing camera, which is of great benefit as rearwards visibility isn’t the best.
The C-Class Estate is designed to compete head-on with rivals from Audi and BMW, and at 4,702mm its 15mm shorter than the A4 Avant and 78mm longer than the 3 Series Touring. At 1,810mm the Merc is a single millimetre narrower than the BMW, and 16mm narrower than the Audi.
It’s a little taller than both rivals though at 1,457mm. The BMW stands 1,429mm high, and the Audi 1,415mm.
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Leg room, head room & passenger space
Compared with the old C-Class Estate, this model has an 80mm longer wheelbase, which has allowed Mercedes to stretch rear passenger legroom by 45mm.
There’s little to separate the C-Class and 3 Series for back seat space with the seats up, as both cars offer lots of head and legroom, but the Mercedes’ circular metal air vents add a classy touch for rear seat passengers. Passengers will enjoy the airy feeling of the panoramic roof that comes with the Premium Package, too. Isofix child seat mounting points are standard across the range.
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The C-Class Estate’s boot can hold 490 litres of gear with the rear seats up – ever so slightly down on the 3 Series – and 1,510 litres with them folded down, which is slightly more than the BMW. But more important than the out-and-out spaciousness are the practical touches that go with it.
An electric tailgate is standard, for example, and the seats fold 40:20:40 at the touch of a button in the boot. If you pay a little extra you can get a hands-free boot, which allows you to kick your foot underneath the rear bumper to open it. That's a handy feature, but what isn't so clever is the fact that the rear seats don't fold totally flat, and there's a small lip on the wide loading sill, so sliding heavy items into the cargo area is more difficult than it could be. There's no pop-up rear window for quick loading of smaller items, either.
The diesel variants of the C-Class Estate make effective tow cars, with a towing limit of up to 1800kgs depending on model.
Reliability and Safety
Mercedes’ reputation for manufacturing mechanically robust cars is still intact, but with the raft of electronics on its new models, glitches are likely to become more of a cause for concern. The latest C-Class is too new to have appeared in our Driver Power surveys, yet it’s already been recalled for a steering column issue as a precautionary measure.
It’s a little worrying too that the Mercedes-Benz brand hasn’t covered itself with glory elsewhere in the 2015 Driver Power Survey. Our respondents rated the manufacturer only 26th out of 32 when quizzed specifically about reliability, and 10th for build quality. With all factors considered, the brand’s overall rating came out at a reasonably positive 11th place, although the results may not be quite in line with your expectations of the famous three-pointed star.
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The safety picture is unarguably positive though. The C-Class Saloon was awarded a five-star rating from Euro NCAP for crash safety, and it’s safe to assume that the Estate will get top marks too.
As well as boasting a new and extremely rigid structural platform, the car comes with seven airbags as standard, and a full complement of safety features like drowsiness detection, tyre pressure monitoring and traction control. Also available on the options list are items like an autonomous braking system, lane-keep assist and – on internet connected cars – a piece of software that will call the emergency services to your location in the event of an accident.
The C-Class Estate – like all Mercs – comes with a three-year factory warranty, and pleasingly there’s no mileage cap. This is a similar offer to that provided by BMW on the 3 Series Touring, but Audi’s three-year cover is capped at 20,000 miles a year. If you want to cover mega miles in your estate car, that might be a factor.
Mercedes requires that you service your C-Class annually or at 15,500 miles in order to meet the warranty criteria. The Audi A4 has lengthier maximum service intervals of 20,000 miles while the BMW 3 Series has ‘condition based’ variable intervals determined by your driving style.