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New Mercedes-Benz C-class review, test drive

 The new Mercedes C-class is bigger, better equipped and more luxurious than ever before. But it has to be really special to better our current favourite, BMW’s 3-series.

This is the all-new Mercedes-Benz C-class. It’s set to be here for a while, because Mercedes isn’t planning on replacing this fifth-generation car for another seven years. So, until 2021, this is the C-class you will get, and if ever Mercedes needed to get a car right, and get it right from the word go, this is it.

This explains why Mercedes has thrown everything and more into the new car this time round. Inside and out, the new C-class, says Mercedes, “feels like a free upgrade into business class”. Its cabin is a thing of rare quality and beauty, featuring a level of sophistication that, as we discovered, elevates it above and beyond any other car in this class.

It’s a touch bigger than before, both inside and out, but, crucially, it’s also between 70kg and 100kg lighter than the previous model. And it’s more aerodynamically efficient, which, in turn, helps it to be more ecologically efficient, too – by about 20 percent, according to Mercedes.

So, despite being the replacement for a car that was already way better than decent, the new C-class represents a giant leap forward, according to Mercedes.

 All of the various engines and gearboxes that power and propel the new C-class have been comprehensively uprated or, in some cases, replaced.

The car you see here is the C 250 BlueTec diesel, which uses a similar powertrain to the C 250 CDI that was sold in India until recently. The engine is a 2.1-litre four-cylinder that produces 201bhp at 3000-4200rpm and 50.87kgm at 1400-2800rpm, giving it a 0-100kph time of 8.1sec and a top speed of 250kph. The gearbox is a seven-speed auto with paddles. This car has pretty much every box ticked. It has the AMG Line trim inside and out, optional air suspension and most of Mercedes’ new driver-assist options, although how many of these options will be available to Indian buyers remains to be seen.

The new C-class may look unusually sleek, especially with the AMG Line styling upgrades, but its watchwords are, in fact, mostly to do with emissions and economy. According to Mercedes’ engineers, efficiency is of more significance than its ability to hit 100kph in a mere eight seconds.

What is it like to drive, you ask? This car is surprisingly lovely. Its rack and pinion steering system may be electrically power assisted – again to improve fuel economy by that little bit extra – but the feel and accuracy that it provides on the move is close to breathtaking at times. You can place the nose of the new C-class to the nearest millimetre in most corners, and although the assistance is quite strong, there is genuine feel on offer beneath your fingertips.

The chassis, certainly in the case of the car that we drove, feels every bit as good to go with it. There is a delicious fluidity to the way that the new C-class tackles most roads. It feels almost as if the car itself takes one good look at what lies ahead, works out precisely what’s required, and then dials up the perfect mix of settings to enable you to sit back and enjoy the ride

 There is, however, a proper level of involvement to the ride and handling at the same time. It’s not just as overtly driver-oriented as a BMW 3-series, perhaps, but in its way the new C-class also feels every bit as crisp as the BMW on the move, with a more soothing ride on most surfaces to boot. And, as in the BMW only more so, you can tailor the car’s responses almost endlessly by playing with the new ‘Agility’ button, down where the gearlever might normally be.

Five drive modes are available, with Eco at the bottom and Individual at the top. In Individual, you can set the engine and gearbox, steering, throttle and dampers to whatever levels you wish, independent of one another – so, if you want the dampers on the softest setting with the engine and gearbox on super-sport, no problem. And beneath this, there are four other settings in which all the car’s various systems can be tuned simultaneously to respond in whatever way you might require.

Sounds complex, and it is, but it does allow you to dial the new C-class into a road and make it react accordingly in a way that, ten years ago, no C-class driver would have dreamed possible. What’s less successful, however, is the new touchpad screen that sits just behind the regular rotary COMAND dial, which you use to adjust the car’s various systems. For some reason, Mercedes has provided drivers with both control options to scroll through the various menus, and nobody seems to know why.

 In most other departments the new C-class delivers, and delivers exceedingly well. It’s a fair bit roomier than before and a lot more luxurious inside, and it steers, rides, stops and handles beautifully. It also changes gear rather tidily with the new seven-speed gearbox.

But there is one caveat to mention, and in the context of a first initial experience of what is likely to be one of the most popular models, it’s a big one. And it’s the engine.

For starters, it’s noisy and clattery for a Mercedes, especially from the outside, much like the current-gen C 250 CDI. Secondly, its responses are peculiarly blunt unless you select the sportiest setting within the new Agility system. Thirdly, it doesn’t deliver anything like as much basic performance as you’d expect given that it has 50.87kgm to propel 1,550kg.

The car doesn’t feel in any way slow, but neither does it ever feel explosive like the equivalent BMW 3-series does in the mid-range, and that’s a fairly disappointing discovery given that this is, for the time being, the sportiest new C-class that money can buy.

Perhaps it’s simply the result of the rest of the car being so deeply excellent, but the overall impression of this particular new C-class is: brilliant car powered by a so-so engine. With a couple more cylinders beneath the bonnet, though, I’m sure the genius within will be revealed.


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