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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - C-Class - Estate wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Well-designed load area, well finished, handling, ride quality
Room for improvement
Cabin feels small - especially in the back seat, lack of storage space in cabin

22 May 2008

PRESTIGE compact wagons seemed to have missed the mark when it comes to the market’s preference for practical, versatile and fashionable cars. Their share of the market always needs to be examined with a magnifying glass.

Even hero cars like the Audi RS4 wagon and, to a degree, BMW’s twin-turbo 335i Touring, don’t seem to help bump up sales of the wagon variants of entry-level prestige sedans. Even though no tradesman would ever buy such a car to lug a bandsaw around in, the market seems to sense some vague whiff of sweaty workmen around a wagon that doesn’t quite gel with the image of a prestige German car.

There is another obvious reason for the market’s lack of passion when it comes to wagons. Wagons have not ever really been fashionable, but the explosion of SUV sales over the last 10 years might - ironically - one day make the sporty, prestige wagon exactly that.

This idea may not sound so crazy if potential SUV buyers realise that they don’t actually need something that goes off-road, and if they take to the idea that the extra weight and height of even a small SUV creates other problems.

Extra C02 emissions, heavier fuel consumption, less nimble exterior proportions and ordinary dynamics may make for a wagon renaissance. Or not. We’ll see.

One thing for sure is that the prestige marques are getting better at making their wagons pretty and practical. Such is the case with the latest addition to the Mercedes-Benz range, the C-class Estate.

The wagon weighs only 50kg more than the sedan and it is only very marginally slower and less economical than its sedan sibling. Most of what applies to the sedan regarding performance, handling and ride can be ascribed to the wagon.

Basically, the C-class wagon as tested in C200K form has an engine that is strong enough without being remarkable an agile chassis with fantastic grip but lacking the finesse of the 3 Series and a lush ride that the 3 Series can’t match.

Now let’s get on with the wagon-specific stuff.

The exterior design is very similar to the C-class sedan, with no odd clutter or curious swages for the wagon’s extra metal, plastic and glass bits. If you like the C-class sedan, the C-class Estate will make even more sense and be just as pretty to the eye.

The front occupants are treated to plenty of legroom and a neat, clean design dash with instruments clear and easy to read. It all has that Spartan feel to it typical of Mercedes-Benz but there is a palpable sense of quality.

The cabin is clearly oriented towards giving the front occupants the best amount of room, while the rear seat area is a little tight. With the front seat runners allow a generous space for a six-footer up front, there is only marginal legroom in the back seat - in fact I had to twist my foot though 90 degrees to extricate it from the footwell after sampling the back pew.

Like most back seats, the contours best suit two occupants and the third, centre occupant gets the flat, raised section of the seat and a centre tunnel limiting foot room.

There are three child seat tether points, each located at the top of the rear seat backrest, which is the ideal position that won’t impede on luggage space and also is the best place to make it easy to secure or remove the seats. Although we didn’t try it, I can’t image three child seats would fit across the rear bench without being a squeeze.

The fact is that the cabin doesn’t offer the practical storage that a compact SUV buyer would consider mandatory. There just isn’t a lot of room if you like to carry lots of stuff.

The luggage compartment is where the Estate does well. Though it is not an abundant cargo hold by any means (it’s just 10 litres bigger in its minimum seats-up volume capacity over the sedan’s boot capacity), it has been well executed.

The first thing you notice is that the lift-up tailgate is designed to lift quite high up on its struts, so that bumping your head is an unlikely scenario.

There is also the optional electric opening/closing tailgate called EASY-PACK Tailgate for $1010 that makes life easier when lugging bags to the car by automatically raising or lowering the tailgate at a press of a button.

The loading lip is nice and low so swinging your grocery bags in doesn’t require you to have Olympic-standard shot-putting ability - unlike some tall SUVs.

The load floor is squared-off with minimal wheel-arch intrusions, it has cargo tie-down points - important for safety in case of a sudden stop or crash as well as keeping your goods from rattling around - and a roll-up cargo barrier that can be used in both five-seat and two-seat configurations.

The full-size spare sits under the floor and in the C200K we drove, there is generous storage space in the spare-wheel cavity (although this space is taken by the battery in the C220 CDI and C63 AMG).

In summary, a well-executed compact wagon that is an enjoyable drive and a suitable (small) family load-hauler for those who don’t feel the need to follow the SUV herd.

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