Published on Sunday 20 April 2014 16:51
Ten Second Review
The much improved Mercedes-Benz C-Class range offers tidier styling, some jaw-dropping safety features and, most importantly, acutely competitive emissions and fuel consumption. Especially in entry level C180 BlueEFFICIENCY form. This car now has a more frugal 1.6-litre petrol engine to replace the old 2.0-litre unit and that's had a big impact on running costs.
The Mercedes C-Class finds itself in an enviable position. A premium product, yes, but also the most effortlessly cool in a junior executive class of try-hard contenders. It's been with us in one shape or another since 1993, improving steadily along the way. The last model, launched in 2007 and updated in 2011, re-established Mercedes' reputation as the class choice and now a further improved version of that car looks set to bolster that standing still further.
It's not been the sales victor in the compact executive segment, in the UK at least, but as a first step onto the Mercedes saloon ladder, the C-Class has still been a vital model for its Swabian paymasters. Especially in entry-level petrol C180 BlueEFFICIENCY form. Originally launched with a 2.0-litre engine, this variant initially struggled against cleaner and more frugal BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 rivals. Now fitted with 1.6-litre power, it looks much better equipped to compete on the balance sheet.
Mercedes' substitution of a 156bhp 2.0-litre direct injection petrol engine in this variant for a 1.6-litre powerplant of the same output might lead you to expect inferior performance. In fact, it's slightly better with the 1.6 fitted, rest to 62mph taking 8.5s, half a second quicker than before. Flat out, 140mph is possible.
Certainly enough then, to exploit the excellence of the chassis. Push through a series of fast, flowing bends and confidence starts to build as you take in the near-perfect balance, the superb body control and the way you can flick the car from corner to corner with the minimum of stress. The whole performance might not be quite as rewarding as it is in a 3 Series but it is more relaxing.
The underpinnings have been refined since this second generation mofel's original launch but the chassis spec is pretty much as before - no bad thing given the many plaudits it's received for its unruffled ride and tidy handling. Particular attention has been paid to further finessing the automatic gearbox and the automatic version gets the 7G-TRONIC PLUS seven-speed box which has been tuned to improve fuel efficiency.
Design and Build
The previous generation C-Class was long held to be a handsome thing but this current car opts for a refinement of that look with some very deft detailing. Both the front and the rear bumpers are sculpted into a shallow V-shape, giving plenty of definition and dynamism to each end. The aluminium bonnet features subtle creases that draw the eye to the enlarged grille.
The cabin gets a smartly styled dashboard with an integrated display screen and higher quality materials. A stepped extension to the instrument cluster also accommodates the central display. A large section of galvanised trim extends from the centre air vents across the front passenger side to the outer air vent, Mercedes having acted on feedback from CLS owners highlighting their appreciation of bold interior design themes.
The wheelbase of the C-Class remains as compact as ever, so don't expect too much rear legroom. Materials quality is markedly better, however, the bad old days of Mercedes interior plastics now being consigned firmly to history.
Market and Model
You need a budget of around £26,000 to get yourself into a C180 BlueEFFICIENCY, with a £1,500 premium necessary if you want the 7-speed automatic and a £1,200 premium necessary if you want the estate bodystyle. If you don't need practicality and have more to spend, a £30,000 budget will get you the Coupe version with its standard AMG bodykit. Pricing for this variant will see buyers save around £1,200 over the comparable entry-level diesel C-Class, the 136bhp C200 CDI.
Mercedes has managed to shoehorn a quite stunning amount of safety technology into this current C-Class, and while all functions aren't offered across the range, it's worth the effort to get to know what's on offer. With a total of ten new driving assistance systems ranging from ATTENTION ASSIST drowsiness detection to DISTRONIC PLUS proximity control, the C-Class goes at least the extra mile beyond the usual stability control, airbags and ABS norm.
The C-Class also sees the debut of next generation telematics that will be gradually introduced in other Mercedes models. Major features include greater operating convenience, bigger displays, telephone directory transfer, on-screen text messages, wireless music transfer via Bluetooth and a USB interface that's now accommodated in the centre armrest.
Cost of Ownership
The areas where Mercedes had fallen off the pace most clearly were economy and emissions, with BMW and Audi offering buyers a package that was hard to look beyond. Mercedes has addressed this issue to a large extent with this improved C180 BlueEfficiency and its lighter, more frugal 1.6-litre petrol engine. Thanks to this, in the saloon, combined cycle fuel economy has improved from 44.1 to 47.9mpg, whilst CO2 emissions have improved from 148 to 138g/km. And that's the same whether you choose this car with manual or auto transmission.
As ever, you'll pay a premium to own a C-Class but as many buyers in Europe have twigged a little quicker than British customers, you'll get it back at resale time. Three year residual values should comfortably top 50 per cent, leading in turn to a cost per mile figure that's less than a 2.0-litre diesel Renault Megane.
The improved Mercedes C180 BlueEFFICIENCY model didn't need to radically alter the formula followed by its predecessor. Instead it needed to tighten up on economy and emissions to attract cash-strapped Brits. That's been effectively addressed with the switch under the bonnet from 2.0 to 1.6-litre power.
Not every buyer in the compact executive sector wants a diesel engine and for those lower mileage users who don't, this C-Class variant will make a lot of sense, now very nearly on a par with its Audi and BMW rivals. Check it out before automatically defaulting to one of the CDI diesel models.