Mercedes C-Class Saloon review
The latest C-Class is very able, but the final polish is missing
Driving Mercedes has made the latest C-Class more sporting than its predecessor. It’s 13 per cent stiffer and fitted as standard with Agility Control, which automatically alters damper response to match road conditions and cornering force. The end result is that the C-Class blends excellent body control and stability in bends with a supple ride. Its composure boosts confidence, and while the steering isn’t quite as sharp as the BMW, overall it feels the better package. Our launch car was fitted with the best-selling 2.2-litre diesel, which is potent, smooth and very hushed. It delivers its power in a relaxed yet sporty way, and pulls well, too. What’s more, with low noise readings and minimal engine intrusion, it’s the most refined engine in its class. That sensation of comfort enhances well suppressed road and wind noise, but it’s the ride quality that stands out.
Marketplace The latest C-Class is forging a new path in a bit to boost sales and win plaudits. It’s offered in a choice of designs; standard (for SE and Elegance models) or Sport with lowered suspension, more direct steering and a unique Coupe-style nose. One thing hasn’t changed, though – Mercedes’ high prices. It therefore needs to be very good indeed, which is why the company has crashed 100 cars to test safety and impact protection, and also ‘developed it twice’; once on computer and a second time using physical prototypes to verify the data. In the metal, it apes the S-Class’ chunky lines and big wheelarches. We think it’s a successful update, not least because it makes the compact exec (only offered as a four-door saloon for now) look less conservative. It’s well-placed to compete with sporty-rivals such as the BMW 3-Series and Alfa Romeo 159, while the Audi A4 is a keenly-priced, albeit ageing, alternative.
Owning The C-Class is bigger than ever, and has an identical wheelbase to its BMW 3-Series arch-rival. That means interior room is well-matched – there’s enough head and leg space for the outer rear seat passengers, but the transmission tunnel doesn’t leave much foot room in the middle. The C-Class has a large 475-litre boot, though – so it’s a shame Mercedes makes you pay extra for folding rear seats. At least the cabin environment is generous up front, with plenty of adjustment on the wheel and seat. The dash layout is clear, simple and modern, while the design is appealing. But it doesn’t have the same solid feel as an A4 or 3-Series, and the material quality is closer to the B-Class hatch than the E-Class executive. There are annoyances, too. The foot-operated parking brake is old-fashioned and a pain to use with manual transmissions, while the manual gearlever itself is cheap and resonates under acceleration. Combined with a slack shift action, it falls short of the mechanical excellence you’d expect from a sporting saloon. A springy clutch and lazy throttle pedal response also numb the driving experience; we’d highly recommend choosing an automatic gearbox if you can. At least the manual 220 CDI is economical, averaging 38.4mpg in our tests, while all C-Class are expected to retain up to 50 per cent of their ‘new’ price. You also get 30 years’ breakdown recovery, but it’s not all good news – three services cost £1,000 and Mercedes finished in the bottom half of our Driver Power 2007 dealer survey.