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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - C-Class - sedan and wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
7G-tronic gearbox, sweet 200/250 petrol and gutsy 250 diesel, great value base models, unbeaten handling/ride balance, enduring design
Room for improvement
Dreary dash, anachronistic foot-operated park brake, expensive options, not much else

26 May 2011

THE best just got better. A cliché perhaps, but it’s true.

No direct rival – be it the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Lexus IS or Volvo S60 – has quite been able to dethrone the current W204 generation Mercedes C-class since its 2007 debut.

And we’re not just talking sales either. Most critics will agree that C stands for the most complete car in its class.

Happily, the Germans have not messed around with the winning formula of supple, subtle sportiness now that the midlife facelift is here.

You would need to line up the pre and post-op examples side-by-side to see the differences, mind you, for the front of the car still manages to look almost identical even though the mask has been completely made-over. New everything basically. And the mods out back are even harder to spot.

Existing W204 owners will instantly notice the wholesale revamp inside, however.

Essentially Mercedes has tried to recreate the current E-class’ cabin, so out goes the neat old dashboard and in comes a shinier and glitzier – if somewhat fussier-looking and aesthetically less pleasing – item.

Without jumping from one to another, the newcomer’s feels slightly more upmarket, but really the differences are not massive and – again – the Three Pointed Star misses an opportunity to make a truly beautiful interior. And why does it persist with a stupid foot-operated park brake?

No qualms about functionality though, with the now-fixed rather than pop-up – and available colour COMAND multimedia system – centralised screen being pleasant and easy to use.

Better still, in every model from the (hardly poverty-stricken) boggo C200 CGI (now known complicatedly as C200 BlueEfficiency) there is now a lovely gear lever just down to your left controlling a slick seven-speed automatic transmission.

Only the four-cylinder C-class varieties (in 1.8-litre 135kW/270Nm C200 and 150kW/310Nm C250 petrol and 2.1-litre 100kW/330Nm C200 and 140kW/500Nm C250 CDI turbo-diesel) were available on the launch up through some demanding country Victorian roads, and all four examples shine as a result of new engine modifications as well as the gearbox transplant.

Our least favourite was the freshest model in the range, the new entry-level diesel.

Smooth and quiet, with more than enough specification to help justify its $61K-plus-on-roads ask, the C200 CDI is probably just perfect for tootling around all day, but it lacks the sort of mid-range punch that country folk, for example, would desire for rapid overtaking manoeuvres. It is now $2K cheaper to drive a C-Benz diesel these days, however.

For $7K extra, the same 2.1L unit delivers massively more torque (there are two turbos at play here, so we’re not just paying that much more for a computer chip!), while the C250 CDI is better equipped anyway to help justify that hefty price differential.

More importantly, the ‘larger’ diesel really hustles along in a way the C200 CDI just can’t, with a strong – if a tad strained-sounding it must be said – wallop of thrust from quite low down in the rev range. Don’t drive the C250 CDI if you can’t stretch to it because it will ruin the smaller diesel experience for you – particularly when you see the official consumption figures that show the more powerful car also happens to be the more economical and less polluting one.

Mercedes expects the sales split between the four-pot C-class versions to even up a bit now the cheaper CDI is here, but we suspect the BlueEfficiency CGI direct-injection petrol models will still dominate – unless fuel prices leap even more.

Why? For starters, the sweet and revvy, yet quite deliciously punchy, 1.8 turbos seem to make the most of their newfound set of septet ratios.

As a result, acceleration on both the C200 CGI and C250 CGI is brisk, with the latter really picking up the pace once the engine comes on song. The trannie, meanwhile, changes swiftly and silently, and leaves no torque gaps like in the old supercharged C-class Kompressor cars.

Obviously, we would take the more powerful unit given the opportunity, but if you cannot stretch beyond the base sub-$60K price of the C200 CGI, don’t fret. It is now the most complete German luxury midsized sedan (or Estate wagon for that matter) for the money.

An unexpected high-speed emergency braking situation – concerning a deer crossing the road! – clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of the electronic driving aids on offer, with the C200 CDI sedan coming to a secure and controlled halt immediately.

Indeed, underlining the supple C-class’s continuing lead is what we believe to be the most balanced and harmonious chassis on the market, thanks to responsive yet calm steering, handling and roadholding of quite phenomenal capability and range (plodding softy one minute, athletic prowess the next), and the most cosseting ride – on 17-inch wheels anyway – you will find in this segment.

Simply put, Mercedes have judged the dynamic/comfort balance just right in the C-class and, four years on, nobody’s managed to replicate it.

And that’s the bottom line with the latest baby Benz – small and subtle improvements where they were needed, nothing (perhaps except for the dashboard) changed just for the sake of change.

Until the new BMW 3 Series arrives sometime early next year, we reckon the W204 will continue to lead the segment, and with even more aplomb than before.

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