Mercedes C320 CDI

A day out at Mercedes’ sensational ‘theme park’ proved to be a great introduction to life with our C-Class.

  • There’s an intermittent alert on the main instrument display advising you that the rear seatbelt isn’t engaged – even when nobody is sitting in the back! Be warned: Press the release on the key fob and stand well back – the lid flies up as if powered by rockets
  • Mercedes designers have managed to make the new C-Class appeal to a younger clientele, while also keeping loyalists happy. AMG sports kit gives the car a really sharp look. The V6 is a gem, with bags of torque and refinement – and it’s good on economy, too.

A quick guided tour of the main controls, a brief handshake – and maybe a bunch of flowers on the front seat for the ladies! That’s pretty much the way it goes when you pick up your shiny new car from the dealer.

Oh, how very different it all is at the mind-blowing Mercedes-Benz World, nestling next to Brooklands, the famous historic home of motorsport tucked away these days on a commercial park next to Tesco in Weybridge, Surrey.

Mercedes calls a visit to its showpiece centre an ‘experience’. And you know what? It’s absolutely right. Housed within this piece of ‘Grand Designs’ modern architecture is a full handling track and skid pan, as well as the most lavish new car dealership in the land.

Any member of the public can pop into MB World, have a look around at dozens and dozens of new and used Mercedes – and take their dream motor out on to the tracks under the expert eye of one of the experienced instructors. And all while family and friends watch from a viewing gallery, or enjoy lunch in the restaurants, or as the kids are playing in the huge crèche.

It’s a kind of theme park with lots of amazing cars. And I had the pleasure of receiving the keys to my new long-term Mercedes C320 CDI outside the imposing centre – which is topped by a gigantic, revolving three-pointed star.

The C320 is billed as a powerful, yet frugal new generation of diesel. And our car looks the part, in its superb Obsidian Black paintwork. This is set off beautifully by the AMG sports pack option, which includes a racy grille, as well as special side skirts and front bumper, lowered suspension and gorgeous 17-inch AMG alloys.

As regular readers know, I am a big Audi fan and was wondering how I would feel about chopping my previous TT for the C-Class. Well, the Merc can’t quite match Audi’s interior quality and details, yet the cabin is still very clean and classy, with brushed alloy inserts and piano black trim.

It’s all logically laid out, although the heater controls are sited distractingly low down, and Mercedes persists in fitting that really irritating trademark foot-operated handbrake.

Our car is powered by the excellent 224bhp V6 diesel engine, which has bags of punch and acceleration. It delivers 510Nm of torque via Mercedes’ 7G-Tronic gearbox. There are three settings, Comfort, Sport or Manual – the latter allows you to shift via the stick or paddles on the multi-function leather steering wheel.

As you’d expect, there’s a bit of initial sluggishness in the Comfort mode. But you get a huge surge of acceleration if you go for the slightly more thirsty ‘S’ option.

It’s impressive stuff, as is the car’s ride. Firm yet compliant, the journey is comfortable, whether in town or on the motorway.

And that lowered suspension really delivers lots of grip and thrills when pushed on more twisty B-roads. All of which was illustrated to me by one of the team of resident instructors, Chris Broad, as we took my new C-Class for a spin – literally – on the skid pan and then the handling circuit at MB World.

Chris showed me first-hand how Mercedes has upped its game in the technology and handling stakes on the new C-Class. Accelerating hard, slamming on the brakes, taking your hands off the steering wheel and seeing the safety systems keep the car pointing in a straight line was especially dramatic!

My day in sunny Surrey was certainly an exciting introduction to the Mercedes ‘experience’. Let’s hope that life with the C320 proves just as rewarding in the months ahead.

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