Mercedes gives us a smooth operator with new C-Class
You’d wonder about executive saloons and what lies in wait for them. Indeed, you’d wonder about saloons in general. I mean they are a threatened species, what with all those SUVs and crossovers taking their patch.
Even more so when those other iterations happen to be electric vehicles.
The thought struck me a few times into driving the latest Mercedes C-Class saloon diesel. Now there’s a phrase to conjure with: ‘saloon diesel’.
And yet there is one word that, I think, makes some sense of the C-Class. I’ll let you know what that is in a minute.
First let me tell you about this new compact executive saloon. To most people’s way of looking at things, this is now a shrunk-down S-Class, the flagship of the brand.
In other words, it gets the best of stuff from the large saloon that likes to be regarded as the best of its kind.
The C-Class underpinnings are mostly new – my test drive had sports suspension. Handling is definitely better (more anon). It is longer and wider than its forerunner with a 25mm extended wheelbase for more cabin room.
I’m loathe to criticise rear-seat space because few cars in the class excel in that particular area. It’s as if it’s mostly about the driver and front-seat passenger. Fair enough. By those criteria, rear seat room is okay. Mercedes say there is more of it, so we’ll leave it at that.
The cabin itself is S-Class to its smaller core, really classy though. I’ve heard criticism of the dash using less than flattering material on less exalted versions.
For me, all that was overshadowed by the latest generation MBUX infotainment system (11.9ins portrait touchscreen) – and the ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control that is greatly enhanced.
Information is displayed on screens you can individualise – Navigation, Assistance and Service modes – and in three display styles: Discreet, Sporty and Classic.
It’s classy stuff altogether and I felt quite at ease with it (which is what you are supposed to do – isn’t that the point of it to make life easier?).
I like the look of this new car, with its near-coupe silhouette and big broad front and striking grille. It is better looking, to my way of looking anyway, than arch rivals Audi A4 and the BMW 3-series.
Indeed it is better looking than a lot of the SUVs and crossovers whose arrival to the market have raised serious questions about the saloon genre itself.
But I find myself more and more influenced by the ensemble of facets rather than by one outstanding item, so looks alone don’t win the contest.
When the previous C-Class arrived, I remember concentrating too much on how it handled and behaved dynamically. The BMW 3-series won that part of the contest with some ease.
And, to be frank, it still does as far as the latest C-Class is concerned. It really is difficult to beat the Beemer on that front. So if that’s your must-have cup of tea, enjoy it.
If not, then the Merc warrants further perusal because it has a degree of smoothness that I have rarely come across in a car of its size.
And ‘smooth’ is the word I promised you earlier to capture the new car’s essence. It embraces so much about it: from the ease of getting in, to the lack of road, wind noise, to the slick quietness of the 9spd automatic transmission, to how it handled on good and bad roads and surfaces. Individually, they all contributed to that sense of smoothness.
That was especially the case with the performance of the 163bhp 2-litre diesel (like the other 4cyl petrols and diesels it has a mild-hybrid booster element).
Admittedly, I wasn’t dashing around mad in it but it got its share of back-road driving. Unsurprisingly, the car was at its smoothest on a cruise down country to see three wonderful young people. That’s where it shone brightly.
Incidentally, there will be plug-in hybrid versions with an electric range of 100km but has the PHEV ship sailed given the withdrawal of the last tax incentive to buy one? A bit like diesel saloons, time will tell. So will time tell when they finalise pricing (I wiggled indicative figures for a C200d Avantgarde at €56,425, but they’re still working on a full set).
I still love to drive the 3-series in whatever guise. It is a driver’s car and I warm to the feel of it, while the Audi A4 has always been a rock-solid motor and I really liked its diesels – just look at the secondhand values.
But there is something about this C-Class and that smooth factor that tots up a lot of points. Sure, I have criticisms and rear-seat space is certainly one of them.
But to answer if I would buy it, the answer is a yes. Smooth is good.
Mercedes C-Class diesel saloon
48v mild hybrid (1,933cc, 163hp), 4.2-4.5 litres/100km, AMG Line tested, €190 tax, 9spd auto. Spec includes extended MBUX multimedia system functions, ARTICO leather, smartphone integration, speed limit assist, auto climate control, 11.9ins touchscreen, fingerprint scanner, reversing camera.
Options: AMG Line interior/exterior, sports suspension, sports seats, 18ins alloys.
Indicative pricing: C200 D Avantgarde from €56,425