First Drive Mercedes-Benz C-Class, truly the Mercedes of cars
You can have it as a saloon, an estate, a coupé, a convertible or a performance model: the updated Mercedes-Benz C-Class. More than ever, it really is the Mercedes of cars, offering safety and luxury previously reserved for the range-topping S-Class. FleetEurope went to Luxembourg and the German Mosel region for a first drive.
Behind the curtain
The 2018 model is a facelift rather than a completely new design. It does indeed take a particular kind of Mercedes fan to tell a 2018 C-Class from a 2017. On the outside, the car got new headlights and tail lights, the grille has been updated and there are new colour options available.
The bumpers have also been redesigned and depend on the equipment level and the engine variant. Non-AMG models have fake exhaust tips, a regrettable global trend that's the automotive equivalent of hanging a curtain in front of a windowless wall.
Under the bonnet
Under the bonnet is where things have really changed. The petrol engines include a new four-cylinder 1.5 litre in the C200, with a 48 volt electrical system which helps boost performance and limit fuel consumption and which is also available with 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The 48-volt system provides the engine with an additional 14hp, enough to bridge the moment until the turbocharger has built up its full charge pressure.
The 1.6-litre diesel engine in the C180d and C200d is carried over from the E-Class. It should consume under 5 litres per 100 km and will probably be a fleet favourite. Whichever you choose, they are all Euro 6d-temp.
The AMG C43 4MATIC produces 287kW and 390hp. You're lucky if you need under 10 litres to cover 100 kilometres, but the exhaust note makes up for its thirst. If you're anything like me, you'd be slowing down and flooring it constantly just to enjoy the brumbrumbrum the AMG produces. Acceleration is Teslaesque, going from standstill to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds (4.8 for the estate).
The 6-speed manual is still available on the C200d but all other models have a 9-speed automatic gearbox. Commenting on these 9 speeds is easy: you won't feel they're there, that's how smooth they shift, whether it's up or down.
Mercedes-AMG C43 4MATIC
In front of the wheel
The basic C-Class has a classic instrument cluster but a fully digital one, which all test cars we drove were equipped with, is also available. It is very bright and can be personalised to display the information you depend on most.
Flicking through the display options and through all other menus, is done via a series of control buttons and touch pads on the left- and right-hand side of the steering wheel and on the centre console. The infotainment display isn't a touch screen and indeed doesn't need to be. Nevertheless, it takes some getting used to finding the right switch or touch pad. The touch pads on the steering wheel in particular were prone to accidental flicking through menus while driving. You can of course also talk to your car and operate it using voice control.
Splurging on optional digital instrument clusters or larger infotainment displays is certainly worthwhile, but ticking the HUD option box is really a life-changing experience. The head-up display projects your speed and your satnav directions directly onto a virtual display that appears to be hovering over the bonnet but is really a special layer built into the windscreen. It is brilliant in all senses of the word, working even in the brightest sunlight.
In the 2018 model, keyless-go is standard. It’s also slightly annoying, as it is in all cars with this feature - where do you keep the key if you can’t put it in the ignition? The cupholders in the centre console, on the other hand, can be removed to reveal a more practical and square storage compartment.
Between the lines
The new C-Class has all driver assistance systems a Mercedes-Benz driver might expect. The steering wheel, for instance, starts jerking if you cross the lane markings without indicating. Distronic (don’t say adaptive cruise control behind the wheel of a Merc) automatically adjusts the speed ahead of bends, junctions or roundabouts.
Combining the digital road map and image recognition, the C-Class can recognise the permitted maximum speed and show it in the instrument cluster. No-entry signs are also recognised and the driver will be warned when trying to drive past one.
The car also comes with Active Brake Assist, Active Emergency Stop Assist and the whole gamut of driver assistance features that we were fortunate enough not to need during our test drive.
Under the roof
Your company's car policy may not look kindly on convertibles but there are other ways to enjoy the sun on your face. The optional panoramic sunroof with its integrated sunblind spans two thirds of the roof area and frankly, it looks even bigger than that.
Beware if you're on the taller side, though, because you may not fit under the lower edges of the sunroof, even with the seat in its lowest position. No such problem exists if you go for the plain steel roof.
Legroom is generous for all passengers, even for tall passengers sitting behind a tall driver. The boot is large enough for a game of hide-and-seek, easily swallowing 435 litres of luggage or 1510 litres if you go for the estate.
Mercedes-Benz C220d Estate
In front of the competition
Prices start at €35,000 for the C160 (in Germany). The estate starts at €36,700. That's roughly in line with the BMW 3-Series (€33,400/€35,100) and the Audi A4 (€35,400/€37,250), to name but a few.
The facelift may be modest from the outside, but the C-Class is still a modern-looking, appealing and well-appointed car and the three-pointed star only makes it more desirable across the globe. Once again, Mercedes-Benz have designed a reference for its class.