New Mercedes C-Class review, test drive
The all-new C-class looks like a baby S-class. Can it become the instant class benchmark just like its big sibling did?
Luxury car buyers are in for a bit of a treat; the new Mercedes C-class is headed here towards the end of the year, and the good news is that it is really special. Packing stunning looks, a cracking interior and loads of high tech into one package, the C-class promises to be every first-time Merc buyer’s dream. But is it that good?
It certainly has the right stuff in the looks department. Looking very similar to the new S-class from several angles, the new C-class combines perfect proportions, crisp details and fluid lines to deliver a knockout punch. Of the two, the traditional and sporty grilles, we in India are likely to get the latter. As with most Mercedes cars, the grille forms the focal point of the design. Set low, the lines of the car then follow the heavily inclined front windscreen, tight-fitting roof and compact rear section, giving the new C-class a really sporty profile. The rear of the car also looks a lot like that of the new S-class, which is great, if you are a C-class customer. But whichever way you look at it, this is one of the most attractive new Mercedes-Benz cars to be launched in the last few years.
What’s it like to drive?
The new C-class also feels like a breath of fresh air from behind the wheel. Steering the car now feels light and effortless and the controls operate in a very slick and effortless manner. This makes the new C-class is a breeze to manoeuvre even in tight traffic, as you can go from one extreme to the other very quickly and easily.
What also helps relax the driver is the fact that this steering is as accurate as an Olympic archer. All you need to do to steer the car into a corner is give it a flick of the wrist. It is so accurate, you almost never need a secondary movement of the steering wheel to adjust the line the car has chosen. In Sport mode, the steering also weighs up and feels a bit heavier, which feels nice. As you go faster, you also realise that there is a lot of grip on hand, especially from the front wheels, and this makes it easy to carry a lot of speed into corners. The C-class, however, isn’t as nice to drive as the BMW 3-series. The steering feels a bit too light and disconnected from the road once you up the pace and, despite having a lot of grip, you don’t enjoy driving fast as much as you should.
The cars we drove were fitted with air springs, and set in Comfort mode, ride quality was really absorbent. The C-class glides over small and medium bumps in total calm, and it also feels totally silent on the inside as well. As you go a bit faster and encounter bigger bumps, the suspension does feel a bit too soft. The car rocks back and forth a bit and there is a bit of American-car-like float as well. This can be sorted out quite easily by moving into Sport mode, which makes things a bit firmer. However, as with the Indian E-class, Indian C-classes are likely to come with only coil springs as against air springs.
The C 220 CDI diesel engine has been updated for the new C-class. It now feels like it has more grunt, especially at low speeds, and the car gets moving from rest with just a tap on the throttle. Squeezing the throttle further delivers another corresponding increase in pace, which feels great. The new C, as a result, feels quick off the mark and this characteristic gels really well with the effortless nature of the car. There’s no doubt the new C-class is in its element being driven in a relaxed manner, the car delivering a very strong E-class vibe.
The cloak of refinement is, however, somewhat ruptured when you spin the engine faster The engine, at higher speeds, feels strained, sounds loud and the performance delivered after a point tapers off. This is a bit disappointing. You soon learn to drive around the problem and avoid spinning the engine hard unless you absolutely have to.
The 208bhp C 250 petrol, in contrast, is an oasis of calm. The engine is really silent at almost all speeds, and what makes it even nicer is that the new chassis is super silent and refined too. Road noise is considerably reduced and the suspension functions very silently too, so the petrol-powered car feels particularly quiet on the move. What’s great is that the smooth pulling power and languid pace of the car also encourage you to drive it in a brisk but relaxed manner. There’s also plenty of power on hand when the engine is pulled harder. There’s a sporty snarl when you put your foot down and the bursts of acceleration are good enough to make you want to drive quicker and quicker.
What’s it like on the inside?
Arguably the most impressive part of the car, however, are its interiors. To begin with, the cabin feels spacious, open and crisply styled. There’s as much space here as in the very spacious BMW 3-series, and the compact seats also allow you plenty of space at the rear. Getting in and out of the back seat is very easy as well; the doors open wide, you have plenty of space between the front and rear seat due to the really long wheelbase, and the backrest is angled nicely. The rear bench, however, doesn’t provide enough thigh support; it is a bit low and that means this isn’t as good as it could be.
The dashboard, however, is exceptional. The design is fresh, beautifully detailed and well crafted and the layered effect that the designers have going works a treat. There’s new bits wherever you look: the plank-like centre console, the pop-out chrome vents, the chromed buttons and the big screen all work well. And panel gaps and fit are almost as good as those on more expensive cars. Mercedes designers have also excelled at delivering a super combination of materials that provides yet another lift to the cabin. The leather is beautifully stitched, the shiny and dull bits of metal are nicely blended together, and there are almost no cheaply built plastics around.
Functionality is also very impressive. The touchpad on the centre console is standard on all cars, and while it does feel a bit strange at first, you soon get used to it. After that, the speed with which you can use it makes it almost as nice to use as a touchscreen. For those who prefer a more traditional control scheme, there’s the usual chrome COMAND wheel as well. There’s also a large screen between the dials that displays loads of information.
The new C-class delivers on its promise. A clear step up from its predecessor, it genuinely feels a generation ahead. It has a proper luxury car feel, comfort levels are much higher than the outgoing car, and quality is good enough for something twice its price. The diesel engine may sound a bit coarse when pulled hard and it may not be as nice to drive as some of the competition; but these factors aren’t likely to matter too much. The C-class now delivers as much luxury and pampering as is possible at this price, and that’s exactly what buyers are likely to appreciate.