Mercedes C180K SE estate

Blending style and space, big C-Class is a very strong contender.

  • In its favour, the C180K was closer to its official fuel economy figure than the Audi. During its time with us, it returned 27mpg exactly – adequate for a supercharged 1.8-litre engine in a heavy compact executive car.
  • Cast-iron residuals used to be a big part of the allure of the Mercedes brand – but not any more. The figures show how times have changed. After three years and 36,000 miles, the latest C-Class estate will be worth over £1,000 less than the Audi, even though it costs in excess of £1,000 more to buy in the first place! That equates to a disappointing residual of 48.1 per cent.TheMerc costs more to insure.

One car, two flavours. Mercedes recognises its C-Class appeals to different buyers, so there’s a choice of styling options: a sporty model or a traditional, comfort-oriented variant.

The former has been a big hit, and stands out with its purposeful grille and large three-pointed star. But the brand is famous for the understated style of its cars – so we are testing the more reserved C180K.

On the face of it, the new C-Class estate is more practical than before, thanks to its upright tailgate. The bare figures show only 485 litres of space with the seats in place, but press the remote keyfob and raise the standard electric bootlid, and the wide, obstruction-free opening is really versatile.

Sitting 592mm off the ground, the load area is well planned – there’s a collapsible shopping crate under the false floor. The split rear seats fold in one move to reveal a flat, 1,500-litre space. But you can only remove the luggage cover with the larger portion of the seat down – and it’s heavy.

While the dash is well laid out and feels solid, it looks plasticky. There’s plenty of adjustment to the driving position, but the seats are firm and short on lateral support. And although rear space is reasonable, transmission tunnel intrusion is an issue and the bench could be more supportive.

The 1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder delivers 156bhp, and accounts for one-third of C-Class estate sales. It provides punchy, lag-free performance, despite its tall gearing: at 70mph it spins at only 2,150rpm, so the C180K is relaxed on motorways.

But the transmission dulls responses – the Merc took 17 seconds exactly to cover 50-70mph in top gear. Work the engine harder, and it becomes even less impressive. It sounds old-fashioned and hoarse, and feels breathless at higher revs.

Further flaws include a rubbery gearshift and the dated foot-operated parking brake. The latter is awkward – although the electric brake on the Audi is also an acquired taste.

The rear-wheel-drive Merc isn’t as sharp, either. It leans into corners if you are heavy-handed with the lifeless steering. And while it’s well balanced once settled into a bend, the stodgy brakes are disappointing.

What’s more, although the suspension soaks up rough roads well, it struggles to deal with minor imperfections. We prefer the firmer Sport version’s extra body control.

At £24,630, the Mercedes looks a bit expensive, even though its standard kit tally includes part-electric seats and that powered tailgate. Will that count against it?

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