Mercedes continue adventurous approach

Recent years have seen Mercedes take a more adventurous approach to, well, everything. Long gone are the days when models would be replaced once a decade.

Recent years have seen Mercedes take a more adventurous approach to, well, everything. Long gone are the days when models would be replaced once a decade.

By Iain Dooley

Now the German firm is innovating like crazy and churning out some rather attractive motors.

A case in point is the company's C-Class range. Compact executive saloons have always been a cut above cars from the likes of Ford and Vauxhall, but they've recently come under threat from Volkswagen, Volvo and other more mainstream brands.

Mercedes' C-Class neatly dodges any nasty rivalry by presenting a sharp-suited appearance to the world, with just the right amount of chrome but with plenty of road presence.

This is certainly true of the Sport variant, which benefits from a subtle but purposeful-looking AMG-branded bodykit. Deliberately pitched at a more youthful audience than Mercedes' traditional customers, the C-Class Sport's design strikes a good balance between executive responsibilities and sporting pretensions.

It's not just for looks, either. In Sport trim the Mercedes engineers have added a lowered sports suspension package plus speed sensitive steering. Opt for an auto gearbox and the sports setting offers suitably tweaked shift points to please keen drivers.

Out on the road this all translates into a noticeably firmer ride.The car's sports-style seats certainly help, while the lower ride height is no gimmick. Along with a distinctly sharper steering feel, you can corner a little faster and the car will happily oblige - it'll corner flatter and with more confidence, too.

While this particular C-Class package might appeal to those of a younger disposition, thanks largely to the increased sporting bias, there's no shame in reaching for the sensible shoes when it comes to running costs.

As such, it's perfectly reasonable to opt for diesel power - even for a performance Mercedes. And while there's a noticeable bias towards tax and wallet-friendly motors, the company's 250 CDI variant offers a good balance of economy and performance.

Cars like the C250 CDI make a lot of sense if you do a lot of miles - performance is more than adequate and fuel economy is impressive, although the flagship C350 CDI is tempting if you want to do a lot of miles quickly.

Still, with 204 horsepower and 368lb/ft torque available that should be more than enough for all but the most demanding of drivers. For the record, that's good enough for a zero to 62mph time of seven seconds and a top speed of 149mph. And with its 55.4mpg and 142g/km CO2 rating you're not being penalised for having fun.

In reality day-to-day duties are dispatched with ease. As there's so much torque available from low revs, stop-start driving is never a chore. Motorway cruising is similarly painless, while hustling the car along on your favourite backroad is more enjoyable than you might think.

With BMW and, more recently, Audi viewed as purveyors of sporting cars, it's sometimes easy to forget that Mercedes has been quietly working at giving its models an 'edge'. The results across the firm's line-up have been positive, with the C-Class a more rounded proposition than its main rivals as ride comfort hasn't been sacrificed in a misguided attempt to win praise from serial trackday junkies.

For many people it's the feel good factors - cabin design and quality, refinement, equipment - that are as important in the decision making process as pure performance. And here too the C-Class scores highly.

The car's cabin boasts a distinctly modern and fresh look. The various major controls are placed where you expect them to be, and the instruments are all up to Mercedes' usual high standard.

Unsurprisingly, Mercedes has concentrated heavily on passenger comfort and safety with its latest generation C-Class. The former is covered thanks a good level of standard safety equipment and a pleasing lack of road and engine noise entering the cabin.

The latter encompasses plenty of airbags - including one under the steering wheel - plus the usual array of electronic stability aids. These all work very well, yet don't detract from the driving experience if you're one of those 'press on' types.

It's fair to say that this C-Class moves the game on for Mercedes by a considerable margin. Driver enjoyment is up, as is the overall level of sophistication, which is proof that youth and experience can coexist.

Facts at a glance

Model: Mercedes-Benz C250 CDI BlueEfficiency Sport saloon, from 30,935 on the road.

Engine: 2.1-litre diesel unit developing 204bhp.

Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the rear wheels.

Performance: Maximum speed 149mph, 0-62mph 7.0 seconds.

CO2 emissions: 142g/km.

Economy: 55.4mpg.