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What is it?
The all-new C-Class, the fifth generation of small saloon that Mercedes has produced, and pitched as a more refined alternative to the BMW 3-series and Audi A4. It will be launched in the UK in June 2014, and although only basic four-cylinder engines will be offered at first, the range will grow quickly. From introduction there are two 2.1-litre diesels, offered in 168bhp (C220 Bluetec) and 201bhp (C250 Bluetec) states of tune, and a 2-litre 181bhp petrol C200. Later on we’ll see a diesel hybrid and, eventually, a new AMG C63 with a turbocharged V8. Pricing starts from £26,855 for the C200 SE Manual.
As you’d expect these days, the new C-Class is larger, lighter and greener than its predecessor. The difference in size is considerable – it’s only 95mm longer than the previous car, but the incremental difference between that car and the one before means the C-Class is now slightly longer than the ‘W210’ generation of E-Class (the buggy-eyed 1995 one.) Almost half the bodyshell is now made from aluminium, meaning a weight reduction of around 100kg spec-for-spec over the old car.
Mechanically it sticks to the established recipe by driving the rear wheels through either a seven-speed automatic or (more rarely) a six-speed manual. A 4-Matic four-wheel drive version will be available in some markets from launch, but will only come to the UK later.
Mercedes is making much of the new car’s battery of technology – pretty much everything on the new S-Class can be fitted to the C-Class, either as standard or as an option. All versions get front-looking radar and a Pre-Safe Plus, which can brake autonomously to either reduce the effect of - or even prevent – a frontal collision. Air suspension is also an option.
How does it drive?
It doesn’t just look like a miniature S-Class, it drives like one too. Mercedes’s dynamic mission has clearly been to bring back the waft, and the new C-Class feels very different from the last one – more solid, but less involving. It’s a recipe that may well play well with those bored of the ‘schportiness’ of the BMW 3-series and Audi A4, but it’s not made a great driver’s car.
You can’t fault the level of engineering behind the C-Class’s effortless real world demeanour. At low speeds it’s a proper mini-limo – smooth, quiet and extremely well-damped. At motorway velocities it’s very nearly as silent as the S-Class, and although the four-cylinder engines have to be worked hard to produce their best, all cruise quietly. It’s a great place to spend a long journey.
But get the C-Class onto more demanding roads and it quickly proves its not interested. The new electric power steering system is accurate but completely devoid of feel – a real shame given how nice the steering of the last C-Class was. The automatic transmission is very slushy in its default ‘comfort’ setting, but too aggressive when switched to ‘sport’ or ‘sport plus’ in cars with selectable dynamic modes. There’s no proper manual mode either – you can choose your own gear with steering wheel paddies, but after about 10 seconds the system switches back to drive.
And there’s no longer even the pretense of being able to turn the stability systems off any more – in the last C-Class you could at least select a ‘sport’ mode that allowed a modest amount of slip. In this car there’s nothing: for all the difference rear-wheel drive makes to the car’s dynamic behaviour it might as well send power to the front axle.
Both diesel engines are predictably reluctant to rev, although they deliver plenty of mid-range grunt. The C200 petrol actually seems to enjoy a decent pasting, although the car we drove blunted its efforts through the very tall gearing of the standard manual box (with second gear running to 70mph.)
The C-Class supremely comfortable and reasonably rapid, but it’s not at all exciting.
How does it compare?
As you’d expect given the ferocity with which battle is raged in the premium segment, the C-Class is priced close to its obvious rivals. The C220 Bluetec SE is £590 more expensive than the BMW 320d SE and £465 more than the Audi A4 2.0 TDI SE Technik – with Mercedes claiming the difference is justified by more standard kit.
Anything else I should know?
We had a brief drive in the turbocharged V6 C400 4-Motion - sadly a version that won't be coming to the UK. It's a brilliant engine - smooth, powerful and with a lovely sound to it - but there's no more life in the chassis than in the four-cylinder versions.
|Engine||1991cc four-cylinder, turbocharged (C200)|
|Max power||181bhp @ 5500rpm|
|Max torque||221lb ft @ 4000rpm|
|0-60||7.5 sec (claimed 0-62mph)|
|On sale||June 2014|