From diesel-engined German airport taxis to AMG super-saloons, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class has to cater for a wide range of needs. Millions of units were sold over its first four generations, and they are largely responsible for the bulging wallets at Mercedes-Benz, being both profitable and popular.
In the face of strong competition from BMW (3-series) and Audi (A4), Mercedes-Benz had to capitalise on their traditional virtues of class-leading comfort and advanced technology for the new version of their strongest selling car. The new C-Class (W205, in Benz-speak) is thus almost a scaled down S-Class, with the same active safety features, clever lighting systems and slightly sagging styling.
The initial model range features a selection of four-cylinder engines: three petrols and one diesel, with either a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed automatic transmission. The C 220 BlueTec diesel variant represents the sweet spot in the current range, combining lively performance (0-100km/h in 7.8s) and superb ride comfort with frugal drinking habits. Sending 125kW and 400Nm to the rear wheels via the smooth-shifting 7G-Tronic Plus autobox, the four-pot diesel is never intrusive, delivers effortless overtaking acceleration, and boasts a relaxed, long-legged gait on the open road.
Fortunately, the diesel engine’s extra weight doesn’t adversely affect the car’s handling, which remains agile and responsive, or the ride quality, which remains compliant and insulates occupants against most road imperfections. Add a roomier cabin and reduced noise intrusion to the equation, and the result is a compact executive saloon that feels equally at home on the freeway or on winding backroads.
The new C-Class introduces air suspension to its market segment, offering a choice between a pillowy ride or sporty handling. It’s an option box worth ticking, especially at the asking price of R13 000. There is also a new, multi-link suspension design hiding under those shapely front fenders, and the bodyshell makes extensive use of aluminium and high-strength steel to shave about 100kg off the C-Class’s kerb weight, in spite of its larger dimensions.
Being a new Mercedes-Benz, the car’s safety credentials are also improved, courtesy of some optional cameras and radar sensors in the bumpers. These sensors monitor the car’s surroundings, including road markings. This enables the car to mitigate an accident by braking autonomously, and warn approaching tailgaters if they appear likely to crash into the car’s backside by flashing the hazards. The steering system will also intervene by counter-steering if the driver appears likely to collide with a car in its blind spot. Of course, most of these clever gadgets are optional extras, though a simpler version of Pre-Safe is standard equipment.
The W205 C-Class is an extremely accomplished car, and sets new standards in its class on many fronts. Unfortunately, all this advanced technology means that the pricing has crept higher: the C 220 BlueTec automatic retails for R477 000, and if you specify the air suspension, leather upholstery, intelligent Xenon-and-LED headlights and enhanced safety equipment, be prepared to easily add another R100 000.
The status-conscious buyer won’t mind, though, and neither would the German taxi operator or his clients. For these buyers, its all-round excellence and exclusivity, combined with the prestige wrought by the three-pointed star on its shapely nose, will justify the steep pricetag.
2143cc, in-line four cylinder, turbo diesel
Seven-speed torque converter autobox; rear-wheel drive
Power and torque
125kW @ 3000–4200 r/min and 400Nm @ 1400–2800r/min.
Acceleration and top speed
0–100km/h in 7.7s and 234km/h