Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - C-Class
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C180 Esprit sedan
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C200’s new mild hybrid powertrain, clear and customisable digital instrumentation, clever touch-sensitive steering wheel controls, C43’s bark and bite
Room for improvement
Non-availability of the Driving Assistance Package on C200/C220d, refinement shortfall with C200’s AMG Line option, tight rear seat
Mercedes introduces the biggest mid-cycle model update in C-Class history
28 Sep 2018
By TERRY MARTIN
THE C-Class has been a dominant force for many years, not just as the biggest-selling model in the Mercedes range, but the most successful luxury car in Australian motoring history.
But times are changing. The SUV revolution is upon us, and C-Class sales have dropped significantly this year to the point where, for the first time since launching here a quarter of a century ago, the popular mid-size prestige car is no longer number one in the Mercedes range.
Which brings us to this update.
Applying to the full range spanning sedan, wagon, coupe and cabriolet models, the overhaul is billed as the most extensive in C-Class history, with more than 6500 new or modified parts – nearly half of the total component set.
And it’s clearly just what the doctor ordered – nothing less than a huge dose of Vitamin C.
It’s a sign of the times that the model name of the baseline ‘C200’ – the top-selling variant in the C-Class range – no longer means it has a 2.0-litre engine under the bonnet.
There are sure to be some managers at Mercedes headquarters in Stuttgart nervous about the fact that engine size in the C200 has fallen to just 1.5 litres (1497cc) – and plenty of pundits still cling to the old adage that ‘there’s no replacement for displacement’.
But the cutback comes with a kicker, literally: a small 48-volt starter/alternator dubbed EQ Boost that overcomes the shortfalls of the turbocharged combustion engine – particularly the hesitation (or lag) when building up boost pressure from a standing start – and makes a beautifully smooth and quite seamless transition under acceleration.
It is also designed to reach optimum revs ASAP when scything through the lower tiers of the nine-speed automatic transmission, shortening the shift times as a result.
The official figures tell a slightly different story. Compared to the previous 135kW/300Nm 2.0-litre turbo, the 135kW/280Nm 1.5-litre ‘mild hybrid’ – with its small electric motor producing up to 10kW/160Nm – is a little slower from 0-100km/h (7.7s, +0.4s) and just 0.1L/100km more economical (6.4L/100km), although the latter is a moot point given the changeover from NEDC 2 to WLTP testing protocols.
But in real-world conditions, the ‘1.5 EQB’ (as we might as well call it) does not feel underdone, shifting the bulk of the 1505kg C200 sedan with minimum fuss, getting up to speed in a smooth and timely fashion and managing more difficult tasks, such as quick overtaking manoeuvres, with relative ease.
It’s also extremely quiet when starting up and easing your way out from a carpark, and across a few hundred kilometres in largely undemanding and open-road conditions, we averaged 7.7L/100km – not a bad result at all.
Of course, the C200 is no match for the supremely satisfying, super-sensory C43 sedan we also drove on launch, now with a 287kW/520Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 forever tempting the driver to floor the throttle.
But the AMG-branded car, at $107,900 plus on-road costs, is also $44,500 more expensive than the C minor priced from $63,400.
It’s a similar story in other aspects of the driving experience, with the C200 never thrilling but nonetheless impressing with its solid imprint on the road, surefooted handling, direct steering, excellent braking performance and generally good refinement.
We hasten to add that our test car was fitted with several key options including the $1400 Dynamic Body Control Suspension, $6300 Vision Package (with panoramic sunroof, multibeam LED intelligent lighting, 360-degree camera and head-up display) and, not least of all, the $3700 AMG Line.
The latter provides for a sportier drive with equipment such as 19-inch AMG twin-spoke alloy wheels, perforated front brake discs, sports direct-steer system, heavily bolstered front seats, a lovely three-spoke sports steering wheel, and more.
The tactile sports-inspired cabin features are welcome, but the 19-inch wheel-and-tyre set-up – with 225/40 (front) and 255/35 (rear) Continental tyres – brings with it intrusive tyre noise over coarser-chip bluestone, and the ride quality in general across typically lumpy roads in regional Victoria leaves more to be desired.
As such, we’d probably steer clear of the AMG Line if purchasing the C200, but urge Mercedes to reconsider its decision not to offer the Driving Assistance Package as an option at this level, which brings with it ‘active’ functionality with the cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane positioning, braking assistance, and so on.
This package is fitted standard on C300 but is simply not available on C200 or C220d, which looks to us to be a major oversight given the vast array of other option packs and individual items that can be ordered. This sort of technology is also becoming increasingly common on mainstream vehicles.
Mercedes says the omission keeps the cost of the lower-tier Cs well clear of C300 territory, but when have options ever been an issue for the luxury market leader?
As tested, our C200 was at least $74,800 (plus on-road costs), making it more expensive than the stock-standard C300 (from $73,900) that has the higher-level safety features, leather upholstery, a more powerful engine…
The optional head-up display works well in concert with the new fully digital instrument display, which, thankfully, is standard-fit and deserves high praise for its clarity in all light conditions and great flexibility in allowing the driver to rearrange the layout according to his or her individual preference.
There are three basic screen designs (Classic, Sport and Progressive) and a plethora of information at the driver’s disposal (including EQ boost data), which is easily accessible via the handy little button pads on the steering wheel that allow for swiping and scrolling – smartphone-style.
It’s a bit of chore having to flick through various modes in one direction, only to then backpedal in the reverse direction rather than cycle through in a ‘circular’ fashion, but the touch-sensitive switchgear really is effective in keeping the driver’s hands on the tiller.
That said, the big control dial on the lower centre console is hard to resist as the larger new media display on the dash invites exploration and, let’s face it, constant adjustment given the incredibly crisp graphics and depth of programming and finetuning available.
Again, for clarity and relative ease of use, the infotainment system is hard to fault, although it does stand out as the one aspect of the interior design that does not feel perfectly integrated.
As ever, we love the cabin’s fine detailing, fit and finish and general accommodation for front occupants, and while the rear seat has plenty of amenities, it’s a relatively tight space for adults – for kneeroom in particular – and the big optional sunroof drastically limits headroom.
At least the boot is a generous size.
The drive back from Milawa to Melbourne was made in the C43 sedan, which now has an extra 17kW of power on tap that simply reinforces its position as a highly engaging high-performance luxury sedan – and something of a bargain at around $100K.
Naturally, you can select options to ratchet up the equipment level, but the stock-standard C43 AMG has the important bases covered at this level, particularly with the update bringing hi-tech features such as multibeam LED front lamps with long-range high beam.
The new digital instrumentation has a unique AMG arrangement, with its own display configurations (Supersport, Sport and Classic) and a broad range of individual settings, allowing the driver – via the redesigned AMG steering wheel – to easily switch between drive modes and other functions with a swipe of the thumb.
A short mountain pass, with the all-wheel-drive C43 set up for a more benevolent ride but aggressive throttle, steering and automatic transmission mapping, soon shows the car in its best light – surging from corner to corner, barking through the exhaust, sticking to the road like a limpet and delivering plenty of steering precision and feedback.
We’re not entirely convinced the C43 is the ultimate long-distance touring car for open country, but this might be easily resolved with the owner doing a little more work on the computer.
And for a high country scamper, it’s an absolute blast.
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