Mercedes-Benz C-Class video review
The new C-Class arrives with fresh looks and an extensive list of tech updates.
“I’m a perfectionist, that’s why Mercedes put me on the project,” affirms the car’s chief engineer, Christian Fruh.
It’s a statement testament to what the C-Class means at Stuttgart headquarters – an intended hallmark of Mercedes heritage and a key plank of how the car maker will be perceived in the future – but also in the way the new vehicle drives.
The previous generation C-Class yielded more than 2.7 million sales globally since its 2007 introduction, consistently holding second place for mid-size passenger sales in Australia behind Toyota’s Camry.
Led by Fruh, Mercedes-Benz has spent the past five years – and untold millions of development dollars – building and finessing the all-new model, amassing hundreds of thousands of testing kilometres in the process.
The result purports to be a product that not only elevates the C-Class blueprint, but moves it into a different paradigm.
In any case, current C-Class owners should look away now: the new model line inherits – predictably – new equipment, safety technology, efficiency and overall refinement over the predecessor.
A claimed 100kg in weight has been shed thanks to a newly developed structure that uses up to 48 per cent aluminium – up from 9 per cent – with an 80mm longer wheelbase, lowered centre of gravity and a more rigid body for improved ride and handling characteristics. These changes, Mercedes claims, bring a level of structural integrity it describes as being “unparalleled” when compared against the rivalling BMW 3-Series and Audi A4.
The weight reduction has helped in achieving efficiency gains of up to 20 per cent in some variants.
The new C-Class also scores a more dynamic appearance than the model it replaces, with strong hints to the striking S-Class in the detailing of its bold front end, purposeful body lines and a gently sloping rear. Depending on specified grade (there are four – Classic, Avantgarde, Exclusive and AMG line), buyers will get to choose between a soft-nose treatment that aims to provide it with a more sporting air, or a more traditional chromed grille that includes the Mercedes-Benz star on the bonnet and grille louvres which close completely to minimise drag.
The interior has been thoroughly re-worked to suit. A free standing colour monitor dominates the top half of the dashboard, flanked underneath by five stylish circular air vents and a less cluttered switchgear layout.
The sumptuous new look is bolstered by a range of engines designed to accommodate fuel-conscious motorists as much as those with a penchant for performance.
Four powertrains will be initially offered when the C-Class arrives around July – followed by at least another three in due course.
Early allotments will be anchored by the volume-selling C250 running a four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with 155kW and 350Nm. It will be joined by the 150kW/500Nm diesel-powered C250 Bluetec, 170kW/760Nm (combined) diesel-hybrid 300 Bluetec and the C400 fitted with a turbocharged V6 producing 245kW and 480Nm.
A seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters is fitted standard across the range but, with enough pre-orders, there’s some likelihood of a limited run of six-speed manuals.
All four engines exhibited a happy mix of sportiness, efficiency and refinement during the global C-Class launch in Southern France, where Drive was among the first media outlets to sample the new iteration.
Jumping first behind the wheel of the 300 Bluetec Hybrid coincided with the sound of silence, its 20kW electric motor shouldering the load in parts as we built speed through Marseille’s narrow side streets. The drivetrain is smart and intuitive, even reverting to electric-only mode during a 130km/h descent on a four-lane highway.
A more meaningful prod of the accelerator softly woke the diesel engine to life. After a faint hesitation, the four-cylinder drivetrain offers pleasant and linear forward surge, all the while returning a respectable claimed fuel consumption reading of 3.6L/100km combined on a European cycle.
The C250 Bluetec (which shares the same 2.1-litre diesel as the hybrid) felt less urgent in its acceleration, with a more noticeable diesel grumble and an accentuated hesitation in the lower end of the rev range. But it performed admirably in urban and highway duties, proving the ultra-frugal diesel formula still has its place in modern drivetrains.
The pick of the bunch, in terms of the all-important value versus performance equation, is the new C250 petrol. It offered the effortless attributes of a larger capacity engine while also exhibiting sharp, turbocharged bursts of power (0-100km/h in 6.6 seconds) and excellent economy (5.3L/100km claimed).
By comparison, the power-laden C400 - which has yet to be officially confirmed for Australia but is expected to become the flagship model - brings a larger emphasis on the kilowatt count and is the pick for anyone after a more potent package without the excess of the heroic C63 AMG, due to be released next year. The C400 conquers the 0-100km/h blast in about 5.5 seconds and then with indecent haste on to a claimed top speed of 250km/h.
Where the C250’s dual exhaust outlets emitted a subtle blip between gears under hard acceleration, the brutish C400 screamed a wonderfully coarse engine note, adding to the fast-paced excitement.
It was the latter drivetrain that seemed to make best use of the seven-speed automatic, too, with precise, well-timed shifts and evenly-spaced ratios.
Our drive took in the precipitous cliffs of the famous Route des Crates, where the C-Class’ new Airmatic suspension package offered intuitive steering and ride and handling adjustability.
The suspension has been heavily revised, with the front end receiving a new wishbone arrangement that is allied to a new electro-mechanical steering system. There’s an automatic self levelling feature for improved high-speed stability and added towing ability.
In comfort mode, the steering felt less direct and somewhat soft (particularly off the straight-ahead) than some rivals but became noticeably more responsive once Sport was selected using the Agility toggle switch.
The low speed ride of the Airmatic suspension was compliant, even withstanding the 18-inch wheels fitted, however it seemed a little floaty at speed.
With help from the accompanying Continental tyres, the C-Class is an adept cornering machine with excellent road-holding and compliancy. We’ll reserve full judgement though until testing the package on Australian roads.
With the Airmatic suspension package likely to be offered as a $3000 option in Australia, the standard steel suspension should be a serious consideration for buyers. It was equally engaging and accommodating, though it offers fewer variables for finetuning.
Both suspension grades conquered small imperfections with barely a grumble, with larger obstacles felt but never becoming crashy or disturbing the cabin.
With Mercedes’ claimed aerodynamic benchmark of 0.24 (drag co-efficient) at play, the C-Class is one of the slipperiest and subsequently quietest cars on the road. Tyre roar is terrifically insulated even at highway speeds, heightening the cabin’s natural sense of occasion.
For the driver, that feeling extends to the instrument cluster which has been refreshed with sharper gauges separated by a middle graphic display, plus the option of a head-up display feature for the first time.
The use of a column-mounted gear shifter and a new electric park brake have freed up space for a large oddment bin and a finger tip-controlled touch pad within the centre console. The accompanying infotainment software is soon to be taken care of by Apple’s CarPlay system, which will begin filtering into Mercedes products at the end of the year.
The new systems are decidedly intuitive, however the installed satellite navigation proved to be temperamental at times, and the head-up display system is easily undermined by polarised sunglasses.
Brushed aluminium, piano black and woodgrain inserts were available in the test cars we drove, dependent on choice of grade. Each derivative was tasteful and, with the use of discrete ambient lighting, helped reinforce the elegance of the new design.
In all guises the C-Class’ stitched leather seats were soft and supportive and overall cabin packaging and quality raised the bar for this segment. The extended wheel base has helped garner further front and rear passenger space, plus a larger 480-litre boot. However a puncture repair kit still resides underneath.
Reassuredly for brand purists, Australian models will be shipped from Benz’s factory in northern Germany, one of four centres around the world.
From there the C-Class will inherit the very latest in safety technology, including Distronic Plus – a radar based semi-automated traffic jam assistance which operates at speeds under 60km/h that allows the new C-class to follow the vehicle ahead. And Brake Assist Plus – a camera based system capable of detecting stationary vehicles as well as pedestrians to provide automatic braking if the driver fails to react.
Together with traditional airbags for the driver and front seat passenger, the new car also offers so-called pelvis bags for the driver and front passenger, a kneebag for the driver, newly developed window bags and sidebags for outer rear seat passengers.
Automated parking, a 360-degree camera and front and rear parking sensors complete the safety suite.
Then are also the new fang-dangle tech features, like the climate control system which uses the car’s GPS to block out pollution in tunnels and congested areas, or the presumably costly optional Burmester surround sound stereo system.
It is sum of all these parts, according to Fruh, that helps distinguish the new range from those before it. Though he concedes there will always be scope for improvements.
“You have to push the limit,” he says. “We’re never ready to sit down, we’re never done.”
Withstanding his pragmatism, Fruh believes his C-Class is the best yet. We tend to agree.
Price: From $68,000 plus on-road costs (estimated)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Claimed fuel usage: 5.3L/100km (combined)
Mercedes-Benz C250 Bluetec
Price: From $70,000 plus on-road costs (estimated)
Engine: 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Claimed fuel usage: 6.6L/100km (combined)
Mercedes-Benz C300 Bluetec
Price: From $80,000 plus on-road costs (estimated)
Engine: 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel/electric motor
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Claimed fuel usage: 3.6L/100km (combined)
Price: From $90,000 plus on-road costs (estimated)
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Claimed fuel usage: 8.0L/100km provisional (combined)
*Based on European specification. Australia figures will vary slightly.