A quality interior, great efficiency and strong on-board tech mean that the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class is deeply impressive.
Over recent years, the popularity of traditional petrol and diesel sedans like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class has been on the wane. High-riding SUVs continue to capture the hearts of buyers, and it’s a trend that hasn’t been lost on Mercedes, because it has redoubled its efforts with the latest C-Class to deliver improvements across key areas to help it stay competitive. Exterior styling, on-board tech, ride and comfort have all been thoroughly revised, while the most appealing update for economy-concious buyers will be the introduction of new hybrid models.
The C-Class engine range is made up of four-cylinder petrol and diesel units, all featuring 48-volt mild hybrid assistance to help improve efficiency. However, Mercedes is likely to cull diesel engines and offer just the C200 and C300, at least initially when the model launches by mid next year.
The entry C200 has a 1.5-litre petrol powerplant developing a healthy 150kW and 300Nm, although you can upgrade to the more potent 2.0-litre C300 with 190kW and 400Nm.
By far the most efficient models in the C-Class line-up, the C300 e petrol and C300 de diesel plug-in hybrids offer around 95km of all-electric drive, although these are yet to be confirmed for the Australian market.
Competition to win over buyers in the prestige sedan market is stronger than ever, with the C-Class not only facing up to German rivals the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, but also rivals such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Jaguar XE which look fantastic and are great fun to drive, while the Genesis G70 is a Korean newcomer that’s an intriguing alternative.
The latest Mercedes C-Class uses a heavily revised version of the previous model’s MRA architecture. This set-up also supports the new luxury S-Class, with the smaller compact executive benefitting from an overhauled suspension system and improved ride comfort.
All models in the C-Class range include 48-volt mild-hybrid assistance, which uses an integrated starter/generator that recoups energy lost under braking. The system then uses the small electric motor to help boost the efficiency of the combustion engine when you accelerate. It sounds a little complicated, but the tech works away unobtrusively out on the road, allowing you to focus on driving.
There are five individual driving modes to choose from: Comfort, Eco, Sport, Sport+ and Individual. Each mode is tailored to suit a particular driving preference, with the softer Comfort setting being our choice for everyday driving. Eco mode adjusts the throttle, climate control and other settings to help reduce overall fuel consumption, while also automatically shutting off the engine when you come to a standstill.
Switching to Sport and Sport+ means you’ll benefit from sharper steering and throttle responses, along with a firmer suspension set-up; a better option if you’re taking on a twisty B-road. The nine-speed auto transmission works intuitively and isn’t often caught out, although when we tried the plug-in model we found the hybrid system required a little moment before catching on that we were looking for a lower gear.
Mercedes has managed to improve the C-Class’s dynamic performance, but it still doesn’t trouble a BMW 3 Series for driving fun. Keen drivers will find that the brakes don’t offer enough feel and the steering could be more communicative, despite the various drive modes on offer.
Outside of the sporty AMG-tuned models, the plug-in hybrid versions will no doubt be the quickest cars in the C-Class range. Mercedes is yet to publish data for the PHEV lineup, so the interim performance crown goes to the C300 d which manages a 0-100km/h time of 5.7 seconds and a 250km/h maximum.
The petrol C300 isn’t far behind, sprinting from 0-100km/h in 6.0 seconds flat, while the C200 accomplish the same feat in 7.3 seconds.
It’s the interior where the real improvements are clear to see. Plush materials and a first-class fit and finish to the cabin feel suitably premium, while the view forward from the driver’s seat is like sitting in a junior S-Class limo. The cleaner dashboard layout is dominated by a huge 11.9-inch infotainment screen, while a 12.3-inch digital instrument display is standard for all models.
The graphics are clear, but the system can feel a little busy and be a touch confusing to use manually, which is why the upgraded ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control function is more useful than ever.
As an example of having too much information, we found the ‘augmented reality’ system brings up a front camera view in the central screen which obscures the map that you’re following directions from.
During our first drive test in the UK, live music streaming services were available on board, allowing owners to hook up to services such as Spotify and play songs via the car’s infotainment set-up, while the latest MBUX system means that over-the-air updates will now download automatically.
Once sat in the driver’s seat you can really start to appreciate the comfort on offer in the C-Class. Comparisons to the S-Class luxury limo are not without merit, with entry-level Sport models featuring leather upholstery, heated seats and climate control, along with the Seat Comfort pack which provides increased electric adjustment to enable you to find the perfect seat position.
The new fifth-generation C-Class is a bigger car overall than the model it replaces. Mercedes’ executive saloon has increased in length by 65mm to 4751mm and 10mm extra in width to 1820mm, although it sits 7mm lower. The wheelbase has grown by 25mm too, which helps provide a little more room in the cabin.
Room up front in the C-Class is good for both the driver and passenger, while those travelling in the back benefit from more head and knee room. Four adult occupants can be accommodated with ease, with an extra fifth passenger in the back perhaps best left for shorter journeys.
At 455 litres, the C-Class’s boot falls short of the 480-litre space found in both the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, but the Mercedes should be practical enough for most needs.
Euro NCAP hasn’t yet crash tested the latest C-Class, but with the executive sedan’s raft of standard safety kit, we’d expect nothing less than a top five-star score which ANCAP would adopt locally. All C-Class models feature a blind spot monitoring system, lane-keeping assistance, an autonomous emergency braking function and Attention Assist which detects driver fatigue on a longer journey and alerts you to take a break.
Mercedes has also taken pedestrian safety into account by fitting its Active Bonnet tech to the C-Class: if an imminent collision is detected, the bonnet raises up to create a cushion between itself and the engine, helping to prevent injury to the pedestrian.
The latest Mercedes C-Class sedan has given buyers looking for an executive car much to think about. It offers a sharp new look, heavily inspired by its bigger E-Class sibling, outstanding levels of comfort and strong on-board technology. All this, plus the C-Class features interior quality that puts much more expensive models to shame.
If you factor in the improved efficiency of the mild-hybrid petrol versions, the C-Class makes a compelling case for itself and should be one to consider.