First Drive: Mercedes-Benz C Class blessed with S-like finesse

Luxury by association isn't a bad thing: the new car looks a lot like the S-Class

Luxury by association isn't a bad thing: the new car looks a lot like the S-Class

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A ground-up revamp of the popular and affordable compact executive saloon C-Class has resulted in a noticeable change in terms of quality, refinement and comfort, with Mercedes keen to raise the car’s standing in the fiercely competitive small premium saloon market.

And not content with styling the car to compliment the flagship S-Class, Mercedes has lavished the C-Class with comparable levels of equipment. Granted, much of it is optional, but the trickle-down effect is evident, with intelligent safety systems and high-end infotainment kit present.

What will be of greater interest to business users is that the new C-Class boasts engines with an increased focus on reduced fuel consumption and emissions. Four-cylinder petrol and diesel units dominate, while diesel-electric hybrid power is also expected to make an appearance.

With Mercedes keen to ramp up the overall “premium” feel of the C-Class, it’s hardly surprisingly that the new car looks a lot like the current E and S-Class models. Luxury by association isn’t a bad thing, and the soft curves and uncluttered sheet metal of the C-Class do much to add a welcome sense of occasion.

An important car in the Mercedes stable, the C-Class has never really been pitched as an out-an-out performance car unlike its German rivals. Buyers want comfort and the car’s cabin is not short of soothing curves and plush trim materials. Crucially there’s more space then before, too. And if you want performance there are always models sporting the popular AMG badge.

As you’d expect from a car promising an improved ownership experience, the C-Class is a little bigger in all the right places. Cabin space has been boosted thanks to an increase in the car’s wheelbase, and there should be no complaints from adults in the back.

Cabin storage space is also good, what with the ample oddment storage options, while the option of a split rear seat expands the potential of the already capacious boot. It might be a saloon, but the car’s rear can swallow a surprising amount of stuff, while the low load lip ensures heavy or bulky items can be handled with relative ease.

With the accent most definitely on luxury, it’s no surprise that the C-Class driving experience is largely a smooth and refined one. The steering wheel and driver’s seat offer ample adjustment, while all-round visibility is good. Steel springs are the default set-up but, in a class first, you can opt for air suspension, which delivers a plush ride akin to that in the larger S-Class.

Thrifty UK buyers will be pleased by the launch engine line-up, which consists of four-cylinder diesel and petrol motors. Overall economy is up on the preceding models, and the 168bhp C 220 Bluetech oil burner is expected to be the key model for business users. You’ll need to pick the more powerful C 250 Bluetech variant (201bhp) if you want to hustle the car along at a decent pace, however. And with all cars gaining a driver selectable driving mode control, switching it to Sport helps boost the car’s agility, and should please keen drivers.

In premium executive circles, the new C-Class is surprisingly good value. UK spec includes a generous level of standard kit – simulated leather upholstery, a comprehensive audio system, good list of safety features – along with the promise of modest running costs if you opt for the lower-powered diesel variant.

If you’re not convinced by the “young, sporty, thrusting professional” image promoted by the likes of BMW and Audi, the more luxurious and refined C-Class might just be the one for you. It’s clear that Mercedes is keen to tap into the aspirational notion of S-Class ownership, so why not start with its mini-me cousin?

VITAL STATS

Car Mercedes C 220 Bluetech AMG Line

Price £32,855 (£34,355 auto)

Engine 2.1-litre diesel, 4 cyl, 168bhp, 295 lb ft

Performance Max speed 145mph; 0-62mph 8.1s

Economy 70.6mpg combined

CO2 emissions 106g/km

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