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First drive: Mercedes tweaks top-selling C-Class

C-ing is believing: While on the surface the new C-Class looks similar to its predecessor, roughly half of its components have been changed for the update.

Around 50 per cent of Mercedes-Benz C-Class components changed for update


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20 Jun 2018


MERCEDES-BENZ has given its global and Australian top seller, the C-Class luxury mid-sizer, the most comprehensive update in the nameplate’s 25-year history, with roughly 6500 of its 13,000 components changed for the mid-life refresh.
The German car-maker says that 80 per cent of the electrical architecture has been changed, and Benz has high hopes that the raft of changes – while not obvious at first glance – will help keep the C-Class at the top of its segment.
The new C-Class will start to arrive in Australia in August, initially with four variants, ranging from the entry-level C200 to the AMG-fettled C43, with additional variants – including the ballistic C63 AMG and a replacement for the C350e plug-in hybrid – to be added to the line-up at a later date.
Despite nearing a refresh, the C-Class has remained a dominant seller for the brand, recording 8549 sales in 2017, well ahead of its main rivals, the BMW 3 Series (2584) and Audi A4 (2177). 
It was also clearly the best-selling model for Mercedes last year, with almost double the sales of the next-most popular model, the A-Class hatchback (4768).
Despite sales dropping by 23.4 per cent in the first five months of 2018, the C-Class has recorded 2641 sales and is easily outpacing the 3 Series (1209) and A4 (635), while remaining Benz’s best seller ahead of the GLC medium SUV (2208).
Speaking to GoAuto at the international media launch of the refreshed model in Germany, Mercedes-Benz head of C-Class vehicle testing Christof Kuehner said that despite the large number of component changes, the brand wanted to retain what has made the C-Class so popular.
“Generally speaking, the C-Class still is received pretty well, so what we wanted to maintain is basically the main characteristics of the exterior, and just improve some of the highlights there,” he said.
“And, of course, what we have done is to update the engines and to get the electrical systems up to the E-Class and S-Class level.
“Those were the main topics, but especially for the look and feel, we basically wanted to do very sensitive, sensible changes.”
Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific public relations and product communications manager Jerry Stamoulis would not reveal volume expectations for the updated C-Class, but said the company was confident the level of specification delivers what customers want in the premium mid-size segment.
“If you go back over five years ago when we had the previous C-Class, we started our internal campaign to include more of the specification that we know that we want, and with (the current generation) we continued that again,” he said.
“And it’s that surprise and delight when customers see a vehicle and realise it’s standard and you get so much great specification as standard.
“When a customer is shopping for a mid-size sedan and they see what standard specification we put in the C-Class, it’s not so much that we have a high level of specification, but we think we know the segment well enough to give the customers what they want.”
While pricing is yet to be revealed for the updated C-Class, an incremental increase in cost is expected for the range that currently kicks off at $61,900 plus on-road costs for the C200 sedan, up to $120,611 for the C43 cabriolet.
All four launch variants – including the C200, C220d, C300 and C43 AMG – have had revisions to their powertrains, with the C200 the most significant, swapping out its 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol unit for a new 1.5-litre turbo-petrol donk supplemented by the brand’s EQ Boost 48V belt-driven starter generator.
At 135kW/280Nm, torque from the new petrol engine is down 20Nm from the old mill, however the EQ Boost function can provide up to 10kW/160Nm of additional power low in the rev range.
Depending on the body style, the C200 can complete the 0-100km/h dash in 7.7-8.5 seconds, consumes 6.0-6.8 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres and emits 136-154 grams of CO2 per kilometre.
Mercedes said it decided to introduce the EQ Boost feature to help improve performance from the more fuel-efficient 1.5-litre engine, while engineers claimed the electrical system will not add to the vehicle’s servicing costs.
The C300 has received a 10kW bump from its 2.0-litre petrol engine for a combined output of 190kW/370Nm, achieved through measures such as conical honing, which increases the width of the cylinder walls at the bottom to reduce piston friction, as well as Camtronic variable valve timing and a twin-scroll turbocharger.
Benz says the C300 can dash to 100km/h in 5.9-6.2s, drinks 6.5-7.1L/100km and emits 148-163g/km of CO2.
Replacing the 2.2-litre turbo diesel in the C220d is the newer OM654 2.0-litre oil-burner, which has increased in power from 125kW to 143kW, while torque remains steady at 400Nm. It covers 0-100km/h in 6.9-7.0s, consumes 4.4-5.0L/100km and emits 117-133g/km.
Topping the range – for now – is the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 Mercedes-AMG C43, which has upped power by 17kW to 287kW/520Nm, thanks to a larger turbocharger and higher boost pressure. It can sprint from 0-100km/h in 4.7-4.8s, consumes 9.1-9.8L/100km of fuel and emits 208-223g/km of CO2.
Australian examples of the petrol variants will be available across all four body styles – sedan, wagon, coupe and cabriolet – while the diesel will only be offered with the four-door versions. All mainstream variants come mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission.
In December, the range will be bolstered by the addition of the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 C63 AMG range, while a plug-in hybrid variant is also expected to arrive at some stage, rumoured to sport a longer pure-EV range than the current C350e.
Mercedes’ latest active safety technologies borrowed from the S-Class have found their way into the new C-Class, including lane change assist, active lane keep assist, evasive steering assist and active emergency stop assist.
The system works in tandem with map and navigation data to adjust cruising speeds around corners and approaching junctions, and the cameras embedded into the car can now see as far as 500 metres ahead, 90 of which are mapped in 3D.
Air suspension will be offered as an option on the new C-Class, a feature that the car-maker claims is unique to the segment. 
Australian examples of the C43 are expected to gain the full suite of active safety technologies, while the rest of the range will either come equipped with select features or will be offered as options.
Exterior styling changes for the update are subtle and include new tail-lights and LED headlight options such as the new Multibeam LED lights with ultra-high beam, capable up to 650 metres and emitting the brightest level of light allowed under regulations.
Three new paint options and 20 new alloy wheel designs will also be on offer.
Inside, the entire Australian C-Class range gains the new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster as standard, as well as a 10.2-inch media display and the new-look steering wheel from the E-Class and S-Class, which features a new arrangement of buttons and touch-sensitive navigation pads.
GoAuto spent some time behind the wheel of a number of new C-Class variants at the official launch in western Germany and our initial impressions are that the popular model is still a well-engineered and sophisticated offering with a clear lack of obvious weaknesses.
Benz’s decision to introduce a smaller-capacity engine with mild-hybrid assistance was smart, with the C200 displaying driving characteristics reminiscent of a more powerful vehicle.
Supplementary power provided by the starter generator is almost seamless, and the EQ Boost function allows the engine to shut off when at coasting speeds, as well as restarting quickly when using the auto-stop function.
The system makes so much sense that it makes one wonder why other variants don’t also employ the 48V mild hybrid system.
Nonetheless, the C300 offers plentiful power from its 2.0-litre turbo-petrol mill, shifting smoothly through its 9G Tronic auto. The C300 is adept at playing the role of both comfortable cruiser and dynamic sportscar, with the standard adaptive dynamics feature helping to transform the car’s personality.
For most people, the 190kW under the hood of the C300 will be more than enough performance, as evidenced by a run on Germany’s autobahn that showed its considerable ability.
A short drive of the new C220d revealed an engine that is remarkably well-mannered for a diesel, with smooth torque application, sharp throttle response and a quiet engine note that shows how far diesel engines have progressed in recent years.
The C43 lives up to its AMG badge with all 287kW/520Nm channelled effectively to the road thanks to the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, while the manual gear-shifter button, adaptive exhaust and sports steering wheel further enhance its credentials.
Driving the C43 makes you wonder if the C63 is necessary, given the potency of the engine performance, sticky handling, weighted and precise steering and barking exhaust.
Overall the C-Class is a supremely capable vehicle, with our only complaint being that road vision could be improved. The combination of high door sills, thick A-pillars and narrow rear windows mean the driver often peers forwards to see what is around them, particularly when parking.
While elaborate upholsteries and fancy features can add to the impression of luxury, the quietness in the cabin of the C-Class range sent a clearer message of its build quality than just about any bells and whistles could.
That’s not to say the interior is sub-par – the open-pore wood, quilted leather seats, aluminium switchgear and new digital cluster all add to the overall premium feel of the vehicle.
If we are being picky, the digital cluster isn’t quite as ergonomic or customisable as Audi’s virtual cockpit, and the tablet-style infotainment screen would look classier if it was better integrated into the dashboard. 
Also, the seats, while gorgeous, don’t offer the most ergonomic seating position, particularly the flat bottom.
Our first impressions of the new C-Class is that the major overhaul has seriously improved an already impressive offering and might even be able to stem the tide of sliding sales in the premium mid-size segment.
If not, we see no reason why it can’t continue being the best volume-selling model for the three-pointed star brand.

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