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First Drive: Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Does Mercedes-Benz’s latest C-Class rewrite the rules for the compact segment, asks Jonathan Musk…

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SECTOR Compact Executive   PRICE £33,180-£49,816   FUEL 60.1-28.8mpg   CO2 123-223g/km

The brand’s bestseller accounts for a fifth of all Mercedes-Benz sold worldwide, with 417,000 units registered last year (saloon + estate) and 46,000 in the UK (all variants). The mid-life refresh for the fourth generation C-Class sees the car gain new petrol and diesel engines that aim to put it at the very top of fleet wish lists.

From the off, there’ll be a choice of two petrol engines – C 200 and C 300 – plus two diesel engines – C 200 d and C 220 d – for the saloon and estate variants. And a further mix of coupé C 200, C 300 and C 220 d model’s complement the cabriolet’s C 200 and C 220 d. 4MATIC all-wheel drive is optionally available on select models.

Kicking things off is the new 182bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo, badged as C 200, and equipped with a 14bhp ‘EQ’ boost from a 48V mild-hybrid system. Designed to offer more torque on acceleration and in its most frugal guise, the engine achieves impressive combined fuel economy of 46.3mpg and CO2 as low as 136g/km. In practice a small gauge displays either the charge or use of the EQ power with a neat graphic and is unnoticeable in its function.

The petrol engine is also equipped with a particulate filter and electric water pump to further enhance its efficiency. With those performance figures, as one might guess, it drives like a 2.0-litre, but is slightly let down by unrefined undertones – at least in comparison to the range’s other new engines.

A new compact 2.0-litre diesel engine powers the C 200 d and C 220 d. The specs do the talking: 65.7mpg on the combined cycle – a 10% improvement over the previous model – and 113g/km CO2, thanks to increased outputs of 158bhp and 266lb.ft torque for the C 200 d, while the C 220 d gets an extra 33bhp to 191bhp and torque increase to a considerable 295lb.ft.

Consequently, the C 220 d’s fuel economy and CO2 figures aren’t quite as enticing as for the C 200 d, but performance is effortless with 0-60mph taking just seven seconds. Additionally, the C 200 d is the only car in the line-up to come with a six-speed manual as standard, while the rest get nine-speed automatics.

What the specs can’t tell you is that these new diesel engines are a big leap forward in refinement for the C-Class, with only the faintest murmur of a rattly growl at low-revs when cold.

Sharing the same design, a smaller 1.6-litre diesel unit has also been developed, though this will not initially be available in the UK.

Rounding out the range – and for the lucky few – the Mercedes-AMG C 43 4MATIC adds 23bhp and 32.5lb.ft torque to the tried, tested and fire-spitting 3.0-litre V6 biturbo powerplant. Available in saloon, estate, coupé and cabriolet versions, the tyre-shredding, 4.7-second 0-60mph-capable saloon variant starts from £49,675.

Engines aside, the new C-Class benefits from 50% of components having been changed, equating to more than 6,500 new parts. Chief amongst them is a subtly redesigned interior and exterior that sports new LED lights front and rear, while the grille and bumpers give the car a more assertive presence and differentiate between the models.

Three trim lines will be available: SE, Sport and AMG Line. Sensible additions have made it into the standard equipment list, including keyless entry and start. Inside the cabin, you’ll find a new steering wheel and a large 10.25-inch high-resolution display. Unfortunately, niceties such as augmented reality sat nav like that found in the new A-Class are missing.

Clever semi-autonomous tech includes adaptive cruise control that detects roundabouts and other obstacles, slowing the vehicle down accordingly. Of interest to fleets, a new ‘bump’ detection alert informs a driver that their C-Class has been knocked while parked, which could prove invaluable if needing to make a claim.

What we think

C-Class has always been a firm favourite in its segment and with the latest-generation of diesels and downsized petrol, plus sensible refinements with the latest technology, it remains an obvious and impressive choice.

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Jonathan Musk

Jonathan turned to motoring journalism in 2013 having founded, edited and produced Autovolt - one of the UK's leading electric car publications. He has also written and produced books on both Ferrari and Hispano-Suiza, while working as an international graphic designer for the past 15 years. As the automotive industry moves towards electrification, Jonathan brings a near-unrivalled knowledge of EVs and hybrids to Fleet World Group.