REVIEW DATE: 25 Feb 2008
Mercedes' C-Class has two grilles and aims to appeal to two very different kinds of customer. Steve Walker reports
Mercedes-Benz never really strikes you as the kind of manufacturer to put all of its corporate eggs in one adventurously-styled basket. Rivals like BMW might go that way but cars carrying the three-pointed star have always tended towards a more traditionalist path. That certainly seems to be the thinking behind the current generation C-Class anyway.
Here is a shape that's both conservative and forward thinking, yet manages to offend nobody. Usually, such a combination of virtues would have created a design best forgotten but in this case, most target buyers are likely to find the finished result rather pleasing. Not that Mercedes were ever going to go any other way with this car. So important is the C-Class to the company's profits that a radical look - even one as pleasing as that used in the executive-class CLS saloon/coupe - was never going to make it past the drawing board.
You shouldn't infer from this however, that the team behind the development of this car have ignored the need for change. Primarily, it seems that this C-Class is a product of the growing emphasis on sportiness in the compact executive sector. The range is split down the middle, with models aimed at the conservative tastes of the traditional Mercedes-Benz buyer supplemented by others with an overtly sporting flavour that go head to head with offerings from Audi and BMW.
In keeping with the greater emphasis that the C-Class is putting on dynamic qualities, Mercedes have upped power outputs and made improvements across the engine range. There are three diesel units and five petrols to choose from and we can reasonably expect a version of the mighty 6.3-litre V8 to be levered into the engine bay of a forthcoming AMG model.
".the three-pointed star could soon be back in the compact executive ascendancy."
You want engine detail? Well here goes. On the diesel front, the line-up kicks off with the C200 CDI packing 136bhp and likely to be a stalwart model as far as fleet buyers are concerned. The C220 CDI offers 170bhp and buyers wanting the ultimate C-Class oil-burner can step up to the 224bhp C320 CDI. These engines are advanced common-rail turbo diesels and with torque outputs of 270Nm, 400Nm and 510Nm respectively, they pack a hefty punch in the mid range. Petrol-wise, it's the supercharged C180 Kompressor BlueEFFICIENCY getting things under way with 156bhp. The C200 Kompressor gets 184bhp, while six-cylinder buyers can choose the C230 with 204bhp, the 231bhp C280 or the range-topping C350 with its 272bhp output. Prices start at around £23,000, with a premium of around £1,600 for the estate version.
As before, there's the choice of either saloon or estate bodystyles. With the estate, as tends to be the case in this sector, the actual load volume with the seats in place is only marginally superior to that of the saloon (485-litres instead of 475) but the shape and adaptability of the space, not to mention the improved access, bring definite advantages. With both sections of the rear bench folded down, there's a maximum of 1,500 litres to be exploited along with a maximum load length of 2.82m, 17cm more than in the old car.
The claim is that all C-Class models offer a sharper driving experience than before but the customer who really values on-road excitement can opt for the 'Agility Control' package that brings a more immediate feel to the steering, gearshift and the suspension. A further refinement of this system will come in the form of the 'Advanced Agility' package, with electronically-controlled shocks and speed-sensitive steering.
The C-Class design may not be particularly challenging but it is classically good-looking, the elegance you usually associate with larger Mercs very much in evidence. The car's front wheels are edged right up into its corners with the wheelarches nudging neatly against the line of the headlamps and a bumper assembly that's drawn out into a subtle chin spoiler at its base. In profile, there's a stubby, flat-fronted look to the nose with the much longer rear overhang topped by the gentle curve of the sculpted bootlid. A swage line that gradually deepens as it runs rearward draws the eye back creating the impression of forward motion.
The car's stance is actually quite aggressive, far more so than in previous C-Class models, and this sporty flavour can be emphasised further by buyers who feel the urge. This C-Class, you see, is the car with two grilles. In a highly unorthodox move, Mercedes are offering the SE and Elegance derivatives with a conventional Mercedes nose, complete with that ubiquitous protruding bonnet ornament, while the Sport has a far bolder tri-blade grille with an oversize three-pointed star at its centre and a streamlined bonnet badge. It's the grille treatment usually found on the marque's coupes and sportscars, so in offering the C-Class with a choice of both this and the traditional frontal design, Mercedes are signalling the car's dual roll. This C-Class is tasked with appeasing the older buyer profile that constitutes the core Mercedes client base while drawing in new blood that may otherwise have opted for the youthful and overtly sporty image of a BMW or Audi A4 product.
Inside, the C-Class instantly feels like a Mercedes. The switchgear and dashboard layout follow on from the themes established in the marque's larger saloons. The quality of the materials, the fit and the finish also leap out at you, there's a real solidity to the controls and the fascia is rock solid. Nice detailing abounds too, with the highlight being the fold out screen that emerges from the dash on models equipped with the top spec satellite navigation package. The ventilation controls are beautifully tactile dials and the instruments are in simple black and white with the needles picked out in orange. The number of buttons and switches indicate not only the depth of technology contained with in the C-Class but also that the designers have kept the major systems accessible with only the more complex functions accessed through the menu-driven computer system. Take note BMW.
This C-Class is a bigger car than the model it superseded, 45mm longer in the wheelbase and 42mm wider overall. Legroom is generous in the back but passengers over six feet tall may have an issue with the amount of headroom available. The boot capacity is a sizable 475 litres and the lid opens nice and wide to enable larger items to be lowered inside.
The previous generation C-Class had fallen some way off the pace in the compact executive sector but this model aims to bring Mercedes-Benz back with a vengeance. BMW's acclaimed driving dynamics and Audi's youthful brand image were always going to be tough nuts for the Stuttgart firm to crack without alienating its established customer base of more mature buyers but by splitting the C-Class range so conspicuously between comfort and sport-orientated models, the brand has given its rivals something to think about.
Overall, the purposeful styling tallies well with the car's dynamic remit and any concerns about build quality can be firmly put to rest. Whisper it, but the three-pointed star could soon be back in the compact executive ascendancy.
The results below show the top C CLASS deals on buyacar
|Mercedes Benz C Class C220 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY AMG Sport 2dr diesel coupe|
|Price £28,190||Save £4,750|
|Mercedes Benz E Class E220 CDI SE 4dr Tip Auto diesel saloon|
|Price £28,514||Save £5,406|
|Mercedes Benz E Class E220 CDI SE 5dr Tip Auto diesel estate|
|Price £30,277||Save £5,568|
|Mercedes Benz E Class E220 CDI AMG Sport 4dr Tip Auto diesel saloon|
|Price £30,902||Save £5,633|
|Mercedes Benz C Class C180 BlueEFF Executive SE 4dr Auto [Map Pilot] saloon|
|Price £23,940||Save £4,325|
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|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|
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