Mercedes-Benz C-Class C220 First Drive

Mercedes dealers will tell you that the new C-Class is so refined that driving one feels like upgrading to an E-Class. They may have a point.

While the E-Class is starting to show its age, the new junior saloon borrows interior and exterior styling from a model far above its pay-grade: the S-Class. Sit behind a C-Class, in fact, and you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for its older sibling, so close are the similarities. Inside it’s the same story, though not to the same plagiarising degree.

The new C-Class is also longer and wider in comparison to the car it replaces, the effects of which won’t be go unnoticed by passengers, and Mercedes has thrown in a suite of safety technology usually reserved for more rarified models.

The aim is simple: distance the German carmaker’s best-seller from anything else that might have previously been considered a worthy rival.

How good it is?

Very good indeed, as you might expect. Mercedes has glossed over the more mature, larger E-Class and taken inspiration for the new C-Class from its flagship S-Class.

That means the ride quality is class leading, and there’s the option of full air suspension in addition to a range of driver adjustable settings (Comfort to Sport +). Mercedes’ decision to use roughly five times more aluminum in the new car also seems worthwhile, and bumps and poor road surfaces are discreetly lapped up at any legal speed.

The steering is noticeably lighter than in the more sporty BMW 3 Series, due to Mercedes’ new electromechanical setup (similar to the latest Porsche 911). Committed drivers won’t take to it, but for everyone else it will feel perfectly in keeping with the effortless character of the car. The steel brakes bite crisply and are strong and progressive, too. It’s an incredibly easy car to drive and control, despite its considerable size.

The C220 BlueTec we drove will be the likely most popular, and for good reason. It’s combination of an ample 178bhp powerplant and a combined 70.6 miles-per-gallon beats the equivalent BMW and Audi models, and is also marginally less expensive in both manual and automatic form.

The latter transmission takes for the form of a seven-speed unit, which helps dispatch the sprint to 60mph in a reasonably brisk 7.4 seconds. Top speed is 147mph, and the car is in insurance group 29, while prices start at £29,365.

Here’s the caveat, though. Reasonably strong and efficient the four-cylinder diesel may be, but it’s also surprisingly noisy during motorway driving and even more so about town. Its coarse chugging won’t be lost on those familiar with the smoother, sonorous BMW turbodiesels, either, undoing the hard work Mercedes’ aerodynamicists have put into making the new car ultra-slippery (resulting in admirably little wind noise).

Despite the noise, the interior is a good one. Materials are varied depending on spec, but perceived quality is high, with cold-touch metals, varnished wood, and plenty of leather. The hideously expensive 14-speaker Burmester sound system not only looks but also sounds superb, while switchgear is reassuringly sturdy and the instrumentation is clear. This is an interior BMW can’t hope to match, with Audi also left trailing.

There are again, however, snags. The car industry’s current obsession with free-standing infotainment screens has been adopted enthusiastically by Mercedes, and the seven-inch unit in the C-Class looks like a third-party retrofit. We’re also not sure about the touch-sensitive pad on the centre console, nor the dated software that it controls, but familiarity will likely help.

In terms of safety, however, the new C-Class will make even Volvo blush. Technology that helps prevent rear-impact collisions, keeps the car straight in crosswinds, and automatically dries the brakes is standard, while for a fee your car will even quantify your fatigue and take measures against it.

Other clever additions to the new car include a telescopic steering column that deforms during frontal impacts and a reinforced a passenger cell capable of sending huge energy around – rather than through – any humans inside. Even the fuel lines are immediately closed in after an accident to prevent fires, while if at least one airbag is deployed the emergency services are automatically notified if there’s no response from within the vehicle.

Worth a test drive?

Without doutbt.  The junior premium saloon segment comprises relatively few cars, so it’s worth taking each of the major players (BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50) for a thorough test drive, as well as cross-shopping some fringe models (BMW 4 Series Gran Coupé, Audi A5 Sportback).

What separates the C-Class from its rivals – and where it nails the brief set by Daimler’s board members – is its ability to offer unprecedented sophistication in this segment. Despite the C220’s raucous oil-burner there’s an air of refinement that’s missing in the BMW and an indulgence in luxury absent from the taciturn Audi.

It’s a baby S-Class for sure; something that will become truer with the introduction of diesel and petrol-electric hybrid variants in the near future.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class C220 First Drive Interior

Comfort                       5 stars

Style                            5 stars

Handling                      4 stars

Depreciation               4 stars

Economy                     5 stars

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