The Mercedes-Benz C Class gets a powerful new electric boost

Reckon you can stick to tradition and avoid electric propulsion as the car world begins its shift towards zero emission vehicles?

Think again.

The top selling luxury car in the country, Mercedes-Benz's C Class, now comes with a mild hybrid system indicative of the electric push set to infiltrate new vehicles over the next few years.

For now, it's only available in the most affordable model in a broad C range that incorporates sedans, wagons, coupes and convertibles and spreads from the $63,400 C200 and will ultimately stretch to the circa-$160K V8-powered C63S AMG.

Electric shock

Key to the electric story in the C200 is a system called EQ Boost, referencing the EQ sub-brand that will spawn a new Mercedes family from 2019 (the EQC will be the first all-electric Merc).

EQ Boost incorporates a 10kW electric motor that can momentarily assist propulsion while the turbocharger spins to its prime operating speed.

It's not enough to set you back in your seat but provides more immediate response to accelerator inputs and a hint of additional pull low in the rev range, giving a gentle helping hand to build pace.

Most of the acceleration, then, comes courtesy of a new 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo engine.

It makes a far more substantial 135kW and 280Nm.

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Down, down…

While that power peak matches the 2.0-litre-powered C200 it replaces, there's actually 20Nm less torque than before.

It's not often a car goes backwards in outputs these days, something that translates to slower outright acceleration.

The previous C200 completed the dash to 100km/h in 7.3 seconds, but the new one adds 0.4 seconds to that tally.

Inside story

The basic body of the updated C-Class is unchanged, but new wheels and grilles freshen the look.

And inside it's a big step up courtesy of a new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that allows you to customise the look between three themes.

You can also choose between 64 colours for the now standard ambient lighting that bathes the dash, inner doors and window switches in a soft glow.

The central infotainment display is also larger, now 10.25 inches to better fill the centre stack, which can be clad in elegant open pore wood.

Up do date

However, unlike the smaller A-Class and larger E-Class the two screens are separate, rather than blended together.

There's also a new steering wheel shared with the larger E-Class. As well as new buttons it gets a touchpad on either side to scroll through menus on the main screens.

The C200 still misses out on leather trim, with the leather-like MB-Tex used instead.

For full leather you need to step up to the C300 ($71,400), which also brings a more advanced auto braking system using a long-range radar (it lifts the operational range from 105km/h up to 200km/h).

Money game

The electric tech adds some weight (45kg) to the C200 package – and $1500 to the price. The base car now costs $63,400, plus on-road costs.

But the addition of the electric motor promises lower fuel bills.

On paper, the C200 uses an average of 6.4 litres of fuel per 100km, just 0.1L/100km less than the C200 it replaced.

However, the new one is measured using a stricter European standard designed to better mimic real world conditions. So, for once, you're likely to get close to the 6.4L/100km in gentle driving.

Six of the best

If you're after more in your C then the updated C43 brings plenty more pace and excitement.

Slotting between the volume-selling C300 and the yet-to-arrive C63S, it utilises a twin-turbo V6 fettled by Benz's performance division, AMG.

Power has been boosted by 17kW with this update – to 287kW in total – lowering the dash to 100km/h to a thoroughly respectable 4.7 seconds.

It helps that power is sent to all four wheels, allowing maximum acceleration without fear of triggering traction control. Depending on what drive mode you've selected, up to 69 percent of drive is sent to the rear wheels, for a sportier flavour when powering through corners.

Fast and fun

But it's the everyday driveability that defines the C43. The engine pulls strongly with lashings of flexibility across the rev range.

The fiery crack on 6000rpm upshifts when in Sport+ make for an awesome crescendo when enjoying the full 287kW and 520Nm.

It may not have the potent exhaust bark of the C63, but with the optional Performance exhaust fitted to our car it made one of the best sounds we've heard from a V6. That crack on upshifts is satisfyingly loud.

Smoothing out the bumps

Dial up Sport+ and the transmission holds lower gears and does a superb job of downshifting in preparation for corners.

The C43 also mounts a compelling case in the way it deals with bumps, its suspension bringing additional control without jarring over bumps. In its sportier damper settings, it's more convincing than the C200, better controlling body movement.

Throw in a terrific chunky steering wheel, a unique head-up display and AMG instrument cluster and it adds something special to the mainstream C-Class package.