Mercedes C220 CDI Sport

Mercedes give the C-Class a nip and tuck outside and major update inside aiming to make compact exec a real contender

Few makers have as much saloon car expertise as Mercedes. The marque is best known for its larger models, but it’s the smaller C-Class that has been the biggest sales hit. However, in order to maintain its showroom appeal, the mini Merc has been treated to a mid-life refresh.

The changes to the looks are evolutionary, with reshaped bumpers and small detail tweaks the only revisions to the exterior. The most obvious differences are the headlamps, which are more angular and inspired by the firm’s stylish new CLS model. Exterior design was never the car’s biggest problem, though – and the scale of the changes made to the interior shows that Mercedes recognised where it needed to concentrate its efforts.

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After enduring criticism for the low-grade materials and uninspiring design of the old cabin, this is where most of the improvements have been made. The dash has been redesigned to include a central display screen, while brushed aluminium trim ups the ambience, giving the whole cabin a more upmarket feel. The soft-touch materials are better than before, too, and updated graphics in the digital display between the dials provide a modern appearance.

The raft of changes has had the desired effect, and you now feel as if you’re sitting in a premium car. But the revisions only bring the C-Class up to the level of its rivals, rather than elevating it above them. And our testers agreed the Audi still provides the most prestigious feel. On a more practical level, the driving position is good and part-electric seats come as standard. Existing Mercedes owners will be familiar with the US-style foot-operated parking brake and traditional single-stalk controller for the indicators, but they will be novelties for newcomers. Narrow door pockets limit stowage space, and rear legroom is tighter than in either rival in this test, although the 475-litre boot is bigger than the BMW’s. Under the bonnet, the C220’s diesel is more efficient than ever. When mated to the manual box (as in our test car, not the auto in our pictures), it emits an impressive 133g/km of CO2, although it still trails the class-leading 320d by 8g/km. This ranks the Mercedes in a higher company car tax bracket, which is significant in a class that relies so heavily on business users for custom.

The gruff nature of the 2.0-litre oil-burner is further cause for concern. It is noisier than its rivals on start-up and, while it smooths out at speed, it never feels as free-revving as the Audi engine or as silky as the BMW’s. With more torque but less power than its rivals, it delivers its thrust with minimal fuss. Performance is strong, despite the tall ratios and clunky manual.

At the track, the C-Class covered 0-60mph in 8.5 seconds – six-tenths of a second slower than the BMW. However, when it comes to all-important mid-range punch, it’s more than a match for its competitors. The driving experience stays the same, with respectable body control and similar grip levels to the 3-Series. The handling is neat, although the C220 CDI lacks the driver interaction that makes the blue propeller model so special.

Numb controls and steering ensure it never feels as agile as the 320d, and the manual box isn’t the smoothest. But the impressive 7G-Tronic automatic transmission (a £1,500 option) comes with stop-start, and hikes emissions by only 3g/km. At speed, the isolation of wind and road noise is impressive, while the standard adaptive dampers ensure that the ride, while firm, doesn’t become intrusively uncomfortable on long trips.

Imperfections do thump into the cabin, though, and there’s some kickback through the steering. Under the skin, a total of 10 driving assistance systems are available, and the C-Class benefits from the full spectrum of Mercedes gadgets. Bluetooth is standard and our test car’s navigation package costs £495 – for business users, arriving at meetings on time doesn’t get much more affordable. So the revisions make the C-Class more attractive than ever. The only question that remains is whether they go far enough.

Details

Chart position: 3WHY: Biggest-selling model in the Mercedes line-up has been around since 2007. Do these updates keep it in the hunt for honours?

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