Mercedes C-Class Test Drive Review
15 August 2014
It's the turn of Mercedes to make its play in the king of business car segments - the compact executive area of the upper medium market.
Mercedes is making big noises about becoming the number one premium brand in the UK, so the C-class, overtaken for the first time by the A-class in terms of overall volume last year, although it's still the top business car model, is crucial to the firm's domination plans.
The early signs are good, with new standards being set for emissions. Overall, a hybrid version being added to the range just after launch will emit 94g/km of emissions, while the C200 diesel, following later this year, gets under 100g/km, and the most popular engine, the C220, comes in at 103g/km, the latter two both with the small-volume manual option. The best that BMW can manage for the 3-series is 109g/km, and Audi's latest A4 bottoms out at the same figure. On the diesel C-class, the automatic option that will account for 87% of sales adds either 6g/km or 7g/km depending on trim level.
The C-class continues its predecessor's attempts to modernise the model, with a sportier look most obvious from the side, where design trickery makes the back half of the car look shorter and more coupe-like, helped by a stubby boot that, despite the look, matches its German rivals to the litre at 480 litres, or five litres larger than the last-generation car.
The rear in particular takes styling cues from the larger S-class, and overall the car looks much like a larger version of the A-class-based CLA four-door coupe, while the interior features a new layout with a vastly reduced button count as more features move into the Comand system.
The screen for the system is large at seven inches, but has the appearance of someone sticking an iPad to the dashboard compared with imbedded or retractable screens on rivals. The touchpad element also impedes gear changes on the minority of cars that will be fitted with a manual gearbox, and the driver can't change gear if the passenger is playing with the audio or navigation controls.
But otherwise the system works well once you've figured out where certain functions are kept. The navigation system, standard from the mid-trim Sport level, could do with being a little clearer and quicker to keep up with the car's exact position.
The most popular C220 CDI isn't the sweet spot in the range, seeming less refined than the more powerful C250 CDI model, while the standard Agility Select system is best on the individual setting where parameters such as suspension and steering can be adjusted. On standard Comfort setting, the new C-class is too floaty and doesn't settle easily enough, so the suspension is better left on the firmer Sport setting despite the slight loss in ride quality. The C220, while offering 170hp of power, doesn't feel like it compares well with a 320d for acceleration, although from mid-range it picks up nicely.
Regarding the cost per mile figures, as you'll see below left, the Mercedes is just a touch more expensive in this mid-spec form than either German rival, thanks to a higher P11D price, although a significantly better residual value that's 4.4 percentage points above the Audi and 2.9 better than the BMW help reign that in, as does greater efficiency, even though SMR and insurance costs are higher.
But the C-class is right in the middle of its rivals now for running costs and is as classy and well-formed as ever. Whether it's done enough to drag company car drivers out of their 3-series or A4 is less clear, but the efficiencies put it in a great position
to make a renewed claim.