- Improved infotainment system
- Could be more involving
Lem Bingley finds out how the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class measures up against the competition in his road test review.
The Mercedes C-Class has been a mainstay of the Mercedes-Benz range for two decades. The newly arrived fourth-generation model slots into an increasingly busy line-up of coupés and crossovers, people carriers and shooting brakes. But is it any good? We hopped into the C 220 AMG Line to find out.
There is no mistaking the new C-Class is a Mercedes. The company’s designers are seemingly intent on carving identical swooping creases into the flanks of everything they touch. The new car’s backside closely resembles the current S-Class, while the gaping, glass-eyed front end is familiar.
The result is not what you might call pretty – more blobby than chiselled – but at least the proportions are purposeful. The new car is about 10cm longer than before, with a stretched bonnet and pushed-back glasshouse underscoring the car’s rear-wheel drive nature. Our vehicle, in top AMG Line spec, featured a 15mm lower ride height plus beefed up bumpers and sills.
In the UK, the nose now comes only with a big roundel filling the grille. The chrome radiator, with its Mercedes star poking up like a gun sight at the end of the bonnet, is no longer an option.
It is the C 220’s interior that really stands out. The designers have flung their ambition miles ahead of the old car, landing beyond the likes of BMW’s 3 Series and well clear of many lesser Mercedes models. Owners of the CLA four-door coupé, for example, may want to resist checking out the new C-Class if they wish to remain happy with their purchase.
The new interior is faultlessly screwed together and items like the driving mode controller – a tactile little knurled metal roller on the centre console – provide jewel-like highlights, clearly designed to delight.
Booted saloons are unable to compete with estates or crossovers when it come to lugging around your luggage, but the C-Class fares pretty well. The boot has grown by a fraction to 480 litres, now exactly matching the 3 Series and Audi A4. Longer items can be shoved through into the cabin via a folding rear seat, split 40:20:40.
The C 220’s wheelbase has grown by 8cm over the old C-Class, liberating a little extra knee-room in the rear. There’s also more headroom in the front, courtesy of a lowered seat base (the roof itself is actually a fraction lower than before). Rear headroom is unchanged and remains adequate for average sized adults.
The lustrous, perforated pale leather swaddling the seats in our test car – a £795 upgrade from the faux leather fitted as standard – is probably not well suited to family life. Sticky fingered children should be sent ahead separately.
Performance & handling
We tested a C 220 BlueTec diesel equipped with a seven-speed automatic transmission, likely to number among the more popular powertrain combinations. The 2.1-litre four-cylinder engine peaks around 170bhp and provides up to 400Nm of torque, identical figures to the outgoing C 220 CDI BlueEfficiency model.
Acceleration has improved, however, thanks to a 50kg reduction in weight. The six-speed manual C 220 can now hit 62mph in 7.7 seconds, with the automatic a few tenths swifter at 7.4 seconds.
The engine gets loud at full pelt, though, not in the melodic manner that might encourage you to loop back through a tunnel with the windows wound down. With earplugs, maybe.
Scrolling through the various driving modes – Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus (and a customisable Individual setting) – does bring a remarkable change in the character of the C 220, most dramatically to the adjustable dampers. The sports suspension in our car tautened from sponge cake to rock cake. Shift behaviour of the auto box also became quite manic, hanging onto gears with eagerness.
The steering remains light and the throttle response more relaxed than in a comparable BMW, even in the sportiest setting. There is sufficient feel to hustle along quite quickly, but it all feels a bit like sprinting in your slippers.
Economy & environment
The entry level C-Class, a C200 SE with manual gears and 16-inch wheels, is rated at 102g/km in CO2 terms and has a combined-cycle of 72.4mpg. That model seems like a poor choice when the 25 per cent more powerful C 220 (costing an extra £795) emits only a single gram per kilometre extra while sipping an additional 1.8mpg.
Our AMG Line automatic, meanwhile, is rated at 113g/km, with three extra grams seemingly accounted for by bigger wheels and the rest down to the auto box.
There’s also a diesel-electric C300 hybrid rated at 94g/km and 78.5mpg if you want better economy, but you will need to be very keen to be green as it costs about £5,000 more than a C 220.
Equipment & value
Standard equipment is reasonable for a prestige car, with even the entry-level SE benefitting from adjustable suspension, selectable driving modes, a DAB digital stereo and seven-inch central display with a touch-sensitive controller and reversing camera. Prices for the C 220 start at £29,365, with a £1,500 premium for the automatic.
Sport trim, which costs an extra £1,995, includes 17-inch wheels, LED headlamps, Garmin navigation and a Park Assist package.
Another £1,495 on top takes us to AMG Line trim comprised 18-inch alloys, exterior styling tweaks, interior touches like shiny pedals and a wrapped-and-stitched dashboard, plus sporty upgrades to the seats, steering and suspension.
All cars feature a multimedia system that is much improved over the outgoing C-Class. The software is not quite as cleanly presented as BMW’s equivalent, but the new multi-purpose controller located down by your elbow is a good bit of kit. You can now prod, swipe, click or twist your way through on-screen options.
We were able to quickly enter a new navigation destination by spelling out a few letters with a fingertip on the top surface of the controller and then launch a search for matching locations. That is a vast improvement over the old laborious scrolling through the alphabet to peck at every letter.
It proves beneficial if you’re left-handed In the UK’s right-hand-drive setup, however, as it took us three squiggly attempts to write a recognisable ‘W’ with the wrong fingertip. It does get easier with practice, mind you.
A bright new full-colour head-up display is an £825 option, crisply painting navigation directions, road names, current speed and speed limits onto your view of the road ahead. The execution is impressive, even though you could argue it provides too much information.
The new C-Class emerged from its recent Euro NCAP battering with a clean bill of health, scoring five stars overall plus a couple of commendations – one for its active collision avoidance technology and another for detecting drowsy driving.
Helpfully, if erratic steering inputs suggest you might be nodding off, the C-Class will let out a loud squawk and tell you it’s time for an overpriced coffee at a service station.
The C 220 we tested may look wholly unremarkable from the outside but it boasts the most delightful interior in its class. Droning engine note aside, the whole car feels like a big step forward from the previous C-Class.
Mercedes has formulated a very persuasive alternative to rivals from BMW and Audi, then, especially if you rate comfort and quality above outright agility.
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