ALTHOUGH the same-again styling might be lost on some, it’s hard not to be impressed by the latest Mercedes-Benz C-Class estate’s improved fuel economy and meaner emissions. Equipment levels and the provision of safety gear have also been boosted. Better than a BMW 3 Series Touring? In most scenarios, yes.
Although Mercedes likes to call this latest C-Class an all-new car, that’s being a little optimistic. Think of it instead as a comprehensive reworking of the model launched in 2007 and you’ll be closer to the mark. The styling has been nipped, teased and tweaked but perhaps the most important change Mercedes needed to make to the C-Class estate was improving some emissions and economy figures that were starting to be left behind.
Playing catch up is a position that’s largely alien to Mercedes, so rather than let the situation grow ever more noticeable, the might of Mercedes’ engineering resource was marshalled to instigate a little remedial action. The result is a refreshed range of compact executive estates that can duke it out with the very best BMW and Audi can offer and emerge victorious.
Mercedes’ focus is on efficiency to the extent that the sole six-cylinder powerplant in the line up, the 306bhp C350, is expected to account for only two per cent of UK C-Class estate sales. The rest of the engine choice comprises four cylinder petrol and diesel units. There are two direct injection petrol units comprising a 156bhp 1.8 (C 180) and a 204bhp version of this engine (C 250). Then there are the 2.1-litre diesel powerplants. Choose from either 136 (C 200 CDI), 170 (C 220 CDI) or 204bhp (C 250 CDI) depending on your performance requirements.
The C-Class has never enjoyed a reputation as a top-drawer drive, thanks largely to unimpressive steering and some coarse engines, and although only the C350 offers a truly silky feel, the rest of the engines are now a good deal more refined and the steering and suspension packages are much improved. The steering is accurate without offering heaps of feedback, but its taciturn nature calms the experience at the wheel over the sort of poor surfaces and unruly cambers that affect the typical British B-road. Particular attention has been paid to further finessing the automatic gearbox and all automatic versions get the 7G-TRONIC PLUS seven-speed box which has been tuned to improve fuel efficiency across the range. Despite being a good deal more economical than before, performance hasn’t been sacrificed and even the base diesel C 200 CDI feels agreeably spry, sprinting from rest to 60mph in a mere 8.9 seconds.
The C-Class estate is an undeniably handsome thing, with a purposeful slash on its flanks that rises from halfway up the front wheel arch to fade into the top of the rear light cluster. The lights, grille and bonnet have all been revised but the cabin gets the lion’s share of the styling budget. Here you’ll find a restyled dashboard with an integrated screen and higher quality materials. A stepped extension to the instrument cluster now also accommodates the central display. A large section of galvanised trim extends from the centre air vents across the front passenger side to the outer air vent, Mercedes listening to feedback from CLS owners highlighting their appreciation of bold interior design themes.
The wheelbase of the C-Class remains the same as before, so don’t expect any more rear legroom but this estate makes the most of what it has. The rear seat backrests are divided on a 1/3 to 2/3 ratio and can be folded forwards. The luggage compartment capacity can be extended from 485 or 690 litres when the vehicle is loaded to roof height up to 1500 litres (when the rear seat backrests are folded forward and the vehicle is loaded to roof height). Two bag hooks and four eyelets for anchoring loads are included in the load compartment while stowage compartments with net covers and a collapsible shopping crate are also part of the standard specification, as are the combined luggage cover and retaining net.
Mercedes has managed to shoehorn a quite jaw-dropping amount of safety technology into the latest C-Class and while all functions aren’t offered on all trim levels, it’s worth the effort to get to know what’s on offer. With a total of ten new driving assistance systems ranging from Attention Assist drowsiness detection to Distronic Plus proximity control, the C-Class goes beyond the usual stability control, airbags and ABS norm. The assistance systems are based on the latest radar, camera and sensor technology, and cover frequent accident causes such as driving too closely, fatigue and darkness. The new assistance systems, some of which only warn and some which actively intervene in hazardous situations, consist of Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Attention Assist, Distronic Plus, Speed Limit Assist, Parking guidance including Parktronic, Pre-Safe Braking, Lane Keeping Assist and Blind Spot Assist, the latter pair being warnings that don’t actively intervene to prevent an accident.
The C-Class also sees the debut of a telematics generation which will also be gradually introduced in other Mercedes models. Major features include greater operating convenience, bigger displays, telephone directory transfer, display of text messages, wireless music transfer via Bluetooth and a USB interface that’s now accommodated in the centre armrest.
As before, both saloon and estate models are offered.
Customers accept that they’ll pay a premium for the C-Class estate but as many buyers in Europe have twigged a little quicker than British customers, you’ll get it back at resale time. Three year residual values for a C 200 CDI are expected to comfortably top 50 per cent, leading in turn to a cost per mile figure that’s less than a 2.0-litre diesel Renault Megane.
The C-Class has long had a stellar reputation for residual values and the latest estate bolsters that still further with improved build quality and lower day to day running costs. Few would have predicted that Mercedes would overhaul front-running rivals in this regard but the figures don’t lie. A C 220 CDI with a manual six-speed gearbox and the standard ECO start/stop function emits just 124g/km of CO2. Opt for an automatic C 250 CDI and it’ll manage 52.6mpg while emitting just 128g/km.
The brief for this Mercedes C-Class estate couldn’t have been clearer. Beef up the perception of quality, refresh all of the usual facelift target items, sharpen the driving characteristics and make big improvements to economy and efficiency. Judged by those criteria, the car is an undeniable success. In isolation it’s a masterstroke but it’s a car that’s been developed against a backdrop of ever improving rivals.
It’ll have a fair bit of breathing space until the next BMW 3 Series arrives, as it easily has the measure of the current ageing BMW in most regards and only very keen drivers will go for the Three. The Audi A4 is a tougher rival in terms of pure talent but the efficiency and elegance of the Mercedes makes the Audi feel decidedly new money. Class will out, as they say.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
CAR: Mercedes-Benz C-Class estate range
PRICES: £27,500 - £39,500 [est]
INSURANCE GROUPS: 28-40 [est]
CO2 EMISSIONS: 127-170g/km
PERFORMANCE: [C 350)] 0-60 5.9s / top speed 155mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION: [C 250 CDI] (combined) 52.6mpg
STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: ESP, ABS with EBA, twin front and side airbags, daytime running lamps
WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: Length/Width/Height mm 4606/1770/1463