Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - C-Class - 200
C180 Classic sedan
C180 Esprit sedan
C200 CGI sedan
C200K Avantgarde Estate
C200K Sports Coupe
C220 CDI Classic sedan
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C250 Coupe Sport
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C320 CDI sedan
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Estate wagon range
sedan and wagon range
Upmarket interior blends luxurious comfort, tasteful design and high-end finishes with smart, intuitive technology, improved rear legroom, ride comfort of non-adaptive suspension
Room for improvement
C200’s mild-hybrid powertrain is great in town but less so on longer trips, capacitive steering-wheel buttons require familiarisation, minor plastics feel made-to-cost
There are more affordable Benzes, but do they ‘Benz’ as well as the C-Class?
3 Aug 2022
By MIKE FOURIE
WOULD you believe that when the first-gen C-Class succeeded the W201 compact sedan (known globally as the 190E, but sold as the 180E in Aus) as the entry-level Mercedes-Benz in 1993, the car designed to democratise the Three-pointed Star would soon become the middle child in the brand’s line-up?
The launch of the A- and B-Class hatchbacks at the turn of the Millennium (they’d go on to spawn “four-door coupe” and “crossover” variants), eroded the relevance of Benz’s medium sedan and, as time wound on, the C lost further ground due to the popularity of SUVs.
Mercedes-Benz Cars Australia has sold more than 60,000 units of the C-Class, but now that it is in its fifth iteration, the medium sedan seems an anachronism of sorts; it’s one of three models in Mercedes-Benz’s passenger-car line-up to have survived from the early Nineties, it’s largely an evolution of its predecessor (slightly roomier, more technologically advanced and styled to resemble its state-of-the-art S-Class sibling… but the same could be said of previous C-Classes) and it’s expected to be final new model to roll out of Sindelfingen without a pure battery-electric version in the range – all W206-gen variants will be powered by hybridised four-cylinder engines.
Having arrived in Australia earlier this year (its local release was delayed by COVID-19 related supply issues), the new-gen C-Class is ostensibly one of the last of its kind – an ICE-powered medium sedan.
Initially available in C200 and C300 mild-hybrid, petrol-fed guises with standard AMG Line trim (inside and out) and a $78,900 starting price, the new C-Class looks every bit a micronized S-Class, which is all good and well, but is the W206 little more than a tribute act to keep acolytes coming back to the brand’s dealerships (while they can still afford a Benz), or does it showcase the best, most time-honoured attributes of a brand that’s looking to go even further upmarket?
It needs to make a big entrance – and it does. Apart from a metallic paint finish ($2234), the C200 test unit supplied to GoAuto was specified with a Sport package ($1307), which added 19-inch AMG bi-colour multi-spoke alloy wheels (18s are standard), a repair kit (with electric pump) and privacy glass, as well as a Vision package ($3154), which adds memory and heating functions to the front seats, a head-up display, MBUX augmented reality for the onboard navigation, traffic sign assist and a panoramic sliding sunroof and, finally, a $1615 Burmester 3D audio system.
Including luxury car tax of $733, but excluding on-road costs, the C200 test unit had a sticker price of a $88,093 and, for that premium, the ‘Benz duly offers substantial kerb presence; it’s typically understated (the AMG Line accoutrements are subtle), but suitably sophisticated, with the LED headlamps (with headlamp assist and adaptive high-beam assist) being a highlight.
With a length of 4793mm and a width of 1820mm, the W206 C-Class is notably larger than its predecessor, which benefits interior space – especially for rear occupants, who are afforded 35mm more knee-, 13mm more head- and 15mm more elbow room.
However, the sedan’s sheet metal feels tightly wrapped, because the model is dead simple to place on the road; even though the default driver’s seat position is comparatively low by old-school Benz standards, the C200’s extremities are easy to judge in congested city traffic, which is where it will spend most of its life.
When performing low-speed manoeuvres, a 360-degree camera view and active parking assist are certainly handy and when you’re trundling in traffic, driving assistance systems such as Active Distance Assist Distronic cruise control, Attention Assist driver drowsiness monitoring, speed-limit assist and lane tracking, including active lane-keeping assist and blind-spot assist, are a boon.
Whereas it was wholly expected that the C-Class’ onboard tech would remove much of the stress out of negotiating the lemming run, the German sedan’s strengths as luxury tool for commuting was supplemented, perhaps rather surprisingly, by its 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine.
In itself, the 150kW/300Nm motor (paired with a proven nine-speed automatic transmission), is unremarkable, but because its works in combination with an integrated starter generator (ISG), which uses a 48V electrical system to perform gliding, boosting or energy recovery functions, the powertrain is transformed; thanks to the ISG, which can produce an additional 15kW and 200Nm, you may forget what it sounds like when a starter motor cranks over and, whenever the C200 has to pull away briskly or maintain momentum on the freeway, there is zero dawdling or hesitation.
Admittedly, when the petrol engine needs to do more “heavy lifting”, such as when the C200 is required to perform brisk overtaking manoeuvres on the open road, it emits a less-than-inspiring note, but then a 0 to 100km/h time of 7.3 seconds demonstrates that the Benz is more than quick enough.
We utilised the test unit to make a scenic trip from Sydney to the Hunter Valley and back (via Newcastle) and whereas its maker claims an average fuel consumption of 6.9litres per 100km for this variant, we saw indicated figures in mid to late seven-litre range, which were impressive.
The C200’s ride quality was surprisingly forgiving, considering that locally specified derivatives come standard with the slightly lowered AMG Line suspension tuning – also, the test unit rode on optional 19-inch wheels, shod with 225/40 (front) and 255/35 (rear) tyres. The fact that the rubber is of the non-run flat variety probably means that the sidewalls offer a bit more elasticity, though.
Still, the Benz’s non-adaptively damped (steel sprung) suspension ironed out all but the most abrupt or jarring road imperfections, which made the C200 ride comfortably in the city and, as for dynamic ability in the twisty bits, well, only mid-corner bumps (encountered at, shall we say, enthusiastic speeds) would make the suspension wobble momentarily. It’s a worthwhile trade-off and, besides, the sedan’s steering setup is languid; it prioritises comfort over outright wieldiness.
As for being a compelling new iteration of the C-Class, the W206-gen model still strikes a fine balance between understated elegance and on-road refinement/ride comfort, matched with measured performance/economy, but it sets itself apart from its predecessors by delivering a new kind of luxury experience.
Its immediate predecessor, the W205, also had a smartly finished cabin, replete with a tech-laced fascia and all the connectivity features of its era, yet the new model feels more genuinely expensive inside and its technology is more immersive and integrated.
From the weighting of its finely ridged electric seat-adjustment buttons, to the heft of its retractable centre console cover and machined look of its turbine-styled ventilation outlets (the latter of which is beautifully illuminated, along with other main cabin contours, in any one of 64 ambient colours), the C-Class feels effortlessly luxurious… and futuristic, but not dauntingly so.
Yes, the capacitive buttons on the multifunction steering wheel are a bit fiddly/imprecise to operate (the experience improves with familiarisation, but still) and the column stalks feel a little lightweight, but the 12.3-inch digital instrument panel and the 11.9-inch portrait-oriented central touchscreen offer users a lavish showcase of the MBUX infotainment system’s spread of skills.
The C200 ably demonstrates that just because an infotainment system offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (wireless, in this case), users should refrain from mindlessly activating the function the minute they get in a new car. That’s because the MBUX’s interface (it can be operated via “Hey Mercedes” voice commands, the touchscreen, console-mounted touchpad, or the ‘wheel’s “track pads”) is attractive, cohesive, intuitive and customisable (RIP old-school Comand setups).
The benefit of that is that you can get the full experience of the system’s display themes and modes and Augmented Reality (if specified) with MBUX Navigation Premium, which creates an augmented navigational view on the centre screen showing real-time directional assistance.
Yes, the dual-zone climate control toggles have moved to the touchscreen menu, but they’re constantly displayed and a cinch to operate. Below the display, there’s a narrow strip of buttons (including those for drive-mode selection) and a fingerprint scanner to access driver profiles.
Much have been made of the fact that the C-Class “is a small S-Class”, which is undeniably smart marketing and yes, the cabin architecture of the former is certainly derived from that of the latter, but the “C” is no “S” – its Artico faux-leather-trimmed front seats are very comfortable, but not quite cossetting and, if you consider and caress the plastic surfaces lower in the cabin, you can tell it’s not a grand saloon.
However, by today’s medium-sedan standards, the W206-gen model is undeniably upmarket, while its rear-occupant space is especially generous and welcoming.
With the ban on the sales of ICE-powered vehicles in Europe set for 2035, Mercedes-Benz – like virtually all car brands – must reconsider its position in the market and, given the rapidly rising cost of producing fully electric vehicles, the Three-pointed Star is likely to steer away from producing compact models, which would make the C-Class and its ilk the ‘entry-level Benzes’.
Based on our experience of the W206-gen C-Class, such a development would not necessarily be a bad thing. Setting aside the fact that many buyers may look past this model because they’d prefer to wait for the arrival of the C-Class’ SUV-sibling – the new GLC – and, with due respect to current Mercedes-Benz products with an A or B in their nomenclatures, the Sindelfingen-based brand’s medium sedan is still the most accomplished distillation of the best the brand offers.
The C-Class will soon face stiff opposition in the shape of the facelifted BMW 3 Series in the (now, comparatively tiny) Medium >$60K segment, but it remains a tribute to the Mercedes-Benz that as the two brands’ models have evolved, the latter has become more like the former.
However, like the A- and B-Class and their derivatives, the BMW can’t “out-Benz” the segment’s top-seller.
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