I THINK I knew all along which one I’d have.
BMW, Jaguar, Audi and Volvo all make excellent mid-size saloons, but my vote is cast today for the C-Class from Mercedes-Benz.
Tomorrow I may change my mind. Cars are like personal relationships, moods change. The Mercedes has the potent looks and rear-wheel-drive brilliance of the BMW 3 Series, with a classy cabin to rival the Volvo S60 and Audi A4 and almost the Jaguar XE.
As an all-rounder, a safe buy, it takes the biscuit, as they say in the Camshaft Arms. It is, indeed, the sort of car which makes an entrance for you and, let’s not beat about the bush, these images and desires to impress are an important part of ownership. They may even be subconscious, but the message projects and protects your ego – whether it’s a hairy-bottomed Nissan Navara pick-up, an elegant IWC watch, a nice house or those green wellies and a Barbour.
The only one I have in that list is a Barbour, bought for half a quid at a jumble sale (remember them?) and already magnificently shabby. I did have an IWC, a £12 fake which looked just like the real thing until, after several years, the glass cracked, in shame at being a fraud.
With winter here, choose your wellies with care. The common buckled brand worn by the country gals (who have yet to discover Aigle) have a lateral tread pattern – fine for flat ground and the shops, troublesome for traversing a muddy hillside. I was once on that slide…
Ah clever clogs, you say, what about rear-wheel-drive and snow – not so much a question as a debate-winning declaration of unbeatable brilliance, aka “put that in your pipe and smoke it”.
Well, let me think… modern rear-wheel drive cars have various forms of traction control to manage wheelspin. Yes, you say, but the wider the fat cat tyres the less grip they get on snow. Indeed that’s true, to which the smart owner responds by getting some cold weather winter tyres.
I met by chance a chap at a tyre depot having his snow tyres from last winter refitted on his BMW estate. He volunteered the familiar story about how they made all the difference on the school run while other parents on summer tyres were going somewhere slowly. The C-Class seen here in AMG body kit was on summer Continentals measuring 245/40 at the back and 225/45 at the front on 18-inch drop-dead super AMG wheels. By the time this is in print they’ll be on winter treads.
In a week or so I couldn’t fault this car. The 220 BlueTEC which denotes it has the 2,143cc four-cylinder clean diesel engine producing 168bhp and – the important bit – 295lb ft of torque between 1,400 and 2,800rpm. From 3,000 and 4,200rpm the brake horse power is peaking. This succession gives surging acceleration from any normal speed, and smoothly through the seven-speed automatic gearbox.
The factory figures are 145mph, 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds, 65.7mpg and 113g of CO2. It’s a remarkable combination of power and economy and emissions. Like all brochure claims you’ll get the power but are unlikely to replicate the economy. Mercedes also quotes 53.3mpg urban and 78.5mpg extra urban. For the record, according to the trip computer I got around 30 to 35mpg driving quickly in the hills and 45mpg on my typical commuter journey of mixed routes. These results mean that the CO2 emissions are also significantly higher than expected.
Some little things I liked: the navigation screen colours and graphics and the display of data on things like the cabin air distribution and temperature. I also like the column gear selector, just four positions, but watch you don’t think it is the indicator stalk and knock it out of gear when you indicate to go left. That puts the gearbox into neutral. It’s a potentially dangerous fuss which takes a few seconds to correct.
The indicators are operated by a stalk on the left, which also controls the screen wipers and the headlamp flasher. As the old joke goes, you can be flashing when you wanted to be wiping, etc. Also slightly distracting – though it can be deleted, is the head-up display which shows direction and speed. I thought the rear view camera was more use. It is a clear picture which helps make reversing safer.
I also liked the soft-lined door pockets which have a non-slip base to reduce the nuisance of things sliding to and fro. There is also a multi-choice for suspension and engine response. The options are comfort, eco, sport, sport + and individual selection. Comfortable was, well, comfortable with firm control which never got harsh and managed undulations nicely at brisk speeds.
Verdict: A smart car for smart people and hard to fault.
It is: Mercedes-Benz C 220 BlueTEC Saloon AMG Line automatic. Smart saloon for the private buyer or junior executive on a nice company car scheme.
AMG: Brings some not too shy-making body kit and smart wheels.
Prices: Test car: from £34,700. As described: £39,525. The range opens at £27,665 for the 2-litre C200 SE petrol model with manual gears: officially 53.3mpg and 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds. Diesel from £30,175 for the C220d SE manual (70.6mpg and 0-62 in 7.7 seconds).
Estates: An extra £1,000.