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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - C-Class - C200K Avantgarde Estate

Our Opinion

We like
Nimble to drive with composed ride, quality feel
Room for improvement
Could do with more power, foot-operated parking brake, lacks tall SUV cargo storage capacity

1 Dec 2008

AS CAR manufacturers slowly respond to buyers’ needs for car-like performance, ride and economy, the excess fat of the big and boofy old SUV is beginning to be trimmed with smaller, safer and more economical models.

How much longer will it be before people tire of the tall, boxy cars that many SUVs have become, and which still don’t quite have the economy, performance and handling of a well-sorted passenger wagon, and turn to modern, stylish station wagons?

This is a question for which Mercedes-Benz hopes it has the answer, with its new entry-level wagon, the C-class Estate.

With the sports/luxury Avantgarde version of the C200K Estate tested, the young and hip parent - or anyone else, for that matter - can side-step any negative environmental connotations and thirst of an SUV yet still have a nimble, functional family car.

Let’s face it, city roads and carparks are not getting any bigger, and it’s not only parents who appreciate the practical benefits of having a compact family wagon in the city.

It’s fair to say that there are a few wagons around that look better than the sedan on which they are based. The C-class Estate has become less a fastback design than its predecessor - in the name of improved cargo capacity - without looking too much like a hearse, which was a common criticism of the W210 E-Class Estate.

Styling is a personal thing, but the C-class Estate looks as if it was designed as a whole and not as an adjunct to the sedan, even though components such as tail-lights are shared.

The C200 Estate interior is not the boxy-but-good place that the typical SUV interior is, so don’t go looking for a place to hang dry your wet suit. It is not small with 1500 litres total cargo volume, but there is a clear lack of height in the cargo area compared with the tall-timbers SUVs.

The instrumentation is clear and switchgear easy to access, with nice features such as the flip-up central dash display, which has the neat, modern interpretation of the old-school radio needle set-up.

There is a sense of quality with the black interior that perhaps better hides any doubts in perceived trim quality than the grey interior of the C63 AMG we last tested. Basically the black looks classy and nothing rattled or seemed as if it didn’t belong.

While there are enough storage bins and trays in the C-class, you never get the impression that Mercedes-Benz expects you to carry anything too large up front. Who needs to carry around one-litre water bottles anyway?

There are big rear-vision mirrors and thin pillars (except for the rearmost D-pillars), so the C-class is quite easy to see out of.

In the back, the one-fold rear seat is simplicity itself and is quite comfortable. The rear floor is a compromise thanks to the prominent driveshaft tunnel, a requirement of the rear-drive format. The outer seat positions are more comfortable than the centre seat, but there is a surprisingly generous amount of leg and headroom in the back of the C-class. Three child seat anchor points are fitted to the seatback.

The cargo area is also easy to access with the one-piece lift-up tailgate and only minimal intrusions into the squared-off space, with only the cargo blind/cargo barrier net cartridge taking up a surprising amount of cargo space.

It is only when you do load up that you notice this compromise and when you consider the ceiling shape you realise that the load area could be more useful if it were squarer and taller.

While if you take a lot of gear on holidays you may have to consider a roof storage box or trailer, there has to be some concession for styling and Mercedes is not likely to allow its designers to pen another passenger car wagon shaped like the W210 Estate.

A space-saver spare wheel is fitted under the cargo floor, and there is some room alongside the spare for storage.

The C200 Kompressor engine at first feels a little lacklustre - somehow you expect more get-up-and-go from the 1.8-litre supercharged engine than its 135kW delivers.

Having said that, there are no surprising peaks or troughs as the engine smoothly revs out to an indicated 6200rpm, and there is enough torque to keep the Estate humming along on all but the steepest of hills.

It’s no fireball, but neither does it make you feel you should have ticked the bigger engine option.

Fuel consumption averaged 10.8L/100km in city driving, although it soon slips under 9.0L/100km on a highway cruise, which is average for its performance.

The ride quality and handling is in another league when compared with SUVs, and it speaks volumes for choosing a passenger car-based wagon over a relatively ponderous SUV.

The steering lacks the degree of feel some enthusiasts might desire and the chassis is not as precise in response as the BMW 3 Series, but the C-class is a well-sorted wagon that will provide plenty of smiles for most drivers who enjoy getting the most out of twisting secondary roads.

The C200K Estate is a well-packaged wagon that boosts extra interior space over its predecessor and offers all the qualities of good dynamics, comfort, performance and quality of the C-class sedan with the bonus of added practicality.

Who said that wagon ownership had to be boring?

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