The updated 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is an insight into the future of the automobile.
The updated Mercedes-Benz C-Class is not just a giant leap forward for the German company and its customers, but an insight into the future of automotive engineering. With over 2000 new parts introduced, the mid-life facelift further improves the C-Class's outstanding credentials.
Although the Mercedes-Benz S-Class still remains the model that showcases the best that the Germans have to offer, for the first time the new C-Class is featuring technologies previously unseen across the Mercedes stable.
There is good reason for that too, as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is the brand's best selling model. Since its introduction in 1982, over 8.5 million examples have been sold, helped along by the current iteration, which has been a huge success.
You may not know it, but the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is not only outselling the likes of Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, but it's one of the best selling medium cars in the country regardless of price. In April more people bought a C-Class than a Subaru Liberty, Honda Accord or even a Mazda6. Unbelievably, it was the second best selling medium car in the country, only beaten by the incomparable Toyota Camry which benefits from fleet sales. There must be something about the current generation C-Class that attracts buyers (the majority of which are private) at this scale.
To keep the C-Class up to date, Mercedes-Benz has taken the mid-life update very seriously. There are substantial changes to the interior with subtle yet elegant touches for the exterior. It now comes packed with safety features previously unseen in the C-Class and most interestingly, it supports in-car internet technology allowing you to browse the web using the car's onboard computer.
The average punter will have a hard time spotting the exterior changes, such as the new aluminium bonnet (saving 10kg in weight) and re-profiled front and rear bumpers which the company says bring the updated model more inline with the brand's new design idiom.
If you look closely you will spot the restyled headlights that encompass an appropriately C-shaped light within them. There is also the introduction of LED daytime running lights that help modernise the C-Class's design characteristics.
The rear tailights gain a bunch of new LEDs which glow a unique shape at night, while the boot now sports chrome highlights and LED licence plate illumination.
Despite it's many achievements, the success of the current-generation C-Class has a lot to do with the way it looks, so the face-lift has subtly modernised the design without taking away the elegance of the overall shape.
While the exterior might be subtle in its update, the interior is a significant improvement. Perhaps that should come as no surprise as one of the more common criticism of the outgoing C-Class was its interior. The pop-up screen and analogue instrument dials have been axed in favour of an integrated full-colour TFT screen and a tube-like instrument that displays through a multi-function screen in the instrument cluster.
The steering wheel has been updated to include 12 buttons for easy access to the car's many features. It's available in either three or four spoke versions, depending on variant and options.
The front seats are comfortable with or without the sport seats (AMG pack) and pack enough cushioning for those really long drives. The rear has enough room to fit two large adults comfortably but can easily accommodate three for the shorter trips.
Sitting inside the updated Mercedes-Benz C-Class, it's hard not to think that it leaves its closest rival, the BMW 3 Series, feeling somewhat mediocre. Whilst the 3 Series' interior is designed to be more sporty (and it certainly is), the new C-Class oozes very much what we've come to expect from Mercedes-Benz: unparalleled class.
In the standard colour combinations we found the cabin ambience to be a little too dark, which is typical of nearly all German manufacturers. However, if you tick the right boxes on the order form, a multi-colour interior will keep the fashion-concious minds at ease.
All C-Class variants come with a TFT colour screen with the base model C 200 and C 200 CDI featuring a 5.8-inch screen. The C 250 and C 250 CDI Avantgarde and above variants make do with a 7-inch screen that comes with Mercedes-Benz's COMAND computer system, which in many ways is just as capable as a modern netbook.
There is so much technology in the new C-Class that it's going to require a lot of explaining to do it justice. The new C-Class COMAND system supports SD memory cards, USB sticks, Bluetooth phone, audio streaming and data tethering.
The 17.8 cm screen can be used to display photos read from SD memory or USB. You can zoom, rotate or whatever you fancy. It can stream music wirelessly from your smartphone (e.g. iPhone, Blackberry) or iPod touch (Bluetooth enabled) direct to the car's stereo system. It can copy MP3s or other popular media formats to its hard drive for storage (10gb). It natively supports iPhone/iPods for a wired plugin (which also charges) and best of all, it has a very intuitive and simple sorting system for easy access to your songs. It displays the song title and in some cases even the cover art both in the COMAND screen and the multi-function screen in the instrument cluster. If you feel like being more social, you can even talk to your C-Class. “Next track” is all you have to say and it will quickly skip any embarrassing tune you've been keeping for those solo sing-alongs.
All of that is impressive, but nothing that we haven't seen before. But wait, there is more. Much more. The new Mercedes-Benz C-Class can go online, as in, literally, there is a browser built in to the COMAND operation system which acts like your iPad. Simply type in a URL and away you go. Browsing away happily. It works by first connecting to your smartphone and using that as a modem (for those in the know, it's pretty much tethering your phone's internet).
You might be thinking this feature is just a gimmick which will never get any traction, but you couldn't be further from the truth. There are some remarkable things you can do with the COMAND online system.
Up to date weather details, a built-in internet browser that can access any website just like a normal computer (albeit without a mouse and no support for Adobe Flash) and a very integrated system with Google Maps and more.
If you're taking a rather long or complicated journey, you can plan your route on your computer using Google Maps the night before, upload it via Google's back end to your specific Mercedes-Benz (identified by the car's VIN) so when you turn on your C-Class the next morning it can log in to Google and download the route direct into its navigation system.
This seamless integration of modern technology with in-car systems has been long coming, but the simplicity of how Mercedes-Benz has implemented it is a very exciting sign of what the future holds for the everyday car.
You can potentially also use this feature to remotely program your friend/parents' car to guide them to exactly where you want them to go (if they give you permission to do so, of course).
The C-Class's sat-nav is also as advanced as they come, showing 3D landmarks in their true form, helping you figure out exactly where you are at all times. If you happen to have a diesel model, the COMAND system can give you minute by minute fuel consumption figures using a well presented bar graph. A novel feature for those of us obsessed with fuel usage.
Looking for a new restaurant that has just opened? Don't bother getting your smartphone out and googling directions (or worst yet, calling a friend), simply do it using the car's online system and it will integrate into the car's satelite navigation and set course. Thanks to Google Maps' continuously updating database, a smart GPS system with up to date information has finally arrived. Essentially your Mercedes can be powered by Google and has access to the internet just like a normal computer.
You wouldn't think in-car internet could be so useful in its first-generation form, but frankly, if the Mercedes-Benz product manager for C-Class had told us that if we gave the car the right ingredients it could even make a pretty good latte, we would not have been surprised, such is the level of technological sophistication built into the C-Class.
Although not unique or a first to passenger vehicles, the C-Class also supports SUNA traffic broadcasting information integrated into its sat-nav. That means it will instantly know if there is an accident on your current route and offer alternative ways around it. It's a fantastic feature if you live in densely populated areas.
With your smartphone paired, the system can display any incoming SMS messages on the large screen and even read them out using text-to-speech technology.
A lot more can be said about the COMAND online system and we suspect buyers will need a good day with the dealer to get the hang of how to fully utilise the system, but once you've become accustomed to it, it's brilliant. There is one major limitation currently for the system - it doesn't support data tethering with any iPhone. It works beautifully with Blackberry and Android powered smartphones but it's currently not able to use the iPhone's internet sharing ability. This is disappointing for us Apple lovers at CarAdvice but we understand this will be a temporary limitation and the system will support all phones in the not so distant future.
The only other criticism we can bestow, since we're so picky, is that the colour combination of the COMAND system is not the most attractive. Despite being a full colour screen, there is only the one colour palette to pick from, which only utilises shades of black and gold. Perhaps soon there will be an AppStore system that you can download more applications (email client?) for your COMAND system and even new themes? Given the modularised design of the system, it's not that unrealistic.
All this technology may seem overwhelming (and there is a lot more of it if you tick all the driver-assistant packages) for anyone that still thinks an iPad is a gadget. Ultimately though, it's the future, so jump on board.
As a car that you drive around on a daily basis, the new C-Class is a very comfortable and classy vehicle. Mercedes-Benz Australia will initially launch the range with only four variants: C 200, C 200 CDI, C 250 and C 250 CDI. The C 300 and C 350 CDI will come later in the year, followed by the new Coupe and all three body styles of the updated C 63 AMG.
The petrol models have dropped the CGI badge in favour of a cleaner boot while the diesels continue to proudly wear the CDI badge. All variants have been upgraded to sport a 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic transmission which drives the rear wheels.
The two initial diesel models (C 200/250 CDI) have such exceptional fuel economy figures (5.4L/100km and 5.1L/100km) that they fall beneath the luxury tax threshold (7L/100km for cars up to $75,000). This results in the C 250 petrol being the same price as the C 250 CDI ($67,990). This is great news for the 60 percent of current C-Class buyers that prefer diesel. With such exceptional fuel economy figures and the LCT incentive, it's not hard to see why.
All diesel variants are now equipped with start-stop technology, which means a C-Class will turn itself off when you stop at a set of traffic lights, springing back to life the instant you release the brake pedal or move the steering wheel. This helps save fuel (wasted unnecessarily when stopped) but also significantly reduces exterior noise. It may sound like an annoying feature at first but after about half an hour of driving you won't even be able to tell that it's happening. The engine on-off timing is very quick, so there is no delay in restarting. Nonetheless, there is an ECO button in the centre console which can be used to turn the system off.
We started our drive in a C 200 CDI from Melbourne Airport heading out of the city through a series of twisty mountain roads and long stretches of open highway. Powered by a 2.1-litre four-cyliner single-turbo diesel engine, the C 200 CDI produces 100kW and 330Nm of torque. It's not what you'd call fast, but the torque output provides adequate pulling power for smooth highway overtaking and getting up those hilly streets. It goes from 0-100km/h in 9.2 seconds. You might not believe it, but it uses just 5.4L/100km to do all of this. To put that into perspective, it's 0.6L/100km less than the much-hyped Toyota Hybrid Camry.
In our humble opinion, the model to go for is the C 250 CDI. Borrowing its engine from the E Class range, it delivers an impressive 150kW and 500Nm of torque. Acceleration figures are reduced to just 7.1 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash while fuel economy is improved further to 5.1L/100km. Yes, that's correct, the faster C 250 CDI, with more power than the C 200 CDI, uses less fuel. It has got to do with the sequential turbos and the clever engineering that goes into maximising every drop of fuel. The C 250 CDI is the perfect medium-sized car for both inner-city and highway driving. The sequential turbo setup provides generous pulling force which means it's easy to drive and never lacks punch.
The C 300 - powered by a 3.5L six-cylinder engine that pumps out 185kW and 340Nm of torque - may present a great option if you want a petrol-powered family car that can do the 0-100km/h dash in six and a bit seconds. We didn't have the opportunity to drive this model as it doesn't go on sale until later this year
If you want the best but don't want to upgrade to the Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG, the C 350 CDI is the one that stands out. Powered by a 3.0L diesel V6, it has an impressive 195kW and a ridiculous 620Nm of torque (more than the AMG). It will do the 0-100km/h dash in six seconds flat and for a diesel family car, that's fast. Fuel economy figures? 6.1L/100km. So yes, you can have your cake and eat it too.
As part of the drive program we drove C 250 CDIs with and without the AMG Sports package ($4850) both on the highway and around challenging roads. The AMG kit gives a range of exterior and interior improvements that toughen up the C-Class considerably, but more importantly it enables lowered sports suspension with uprated front brakes. On the highway the non-AMG-equipped variants are a little easier on the bumps, but around the twisty stuff it's hard to overlook the package.
Compared with the BMW 3 Series with the M Sport kit, the C-Class's steering feels a little lighter, which is great for around town, but doesn't provide the same sporty feel as its closest rival. In saying that, it corners and grips just as well. Also unlike the Beemers, the C-Class's electronic nanny controls can never be completely switched off (except in the AMG), meaning big brother will always be watching out for you in case you really get the car out of control. This is a good and bad feature depending on your point of view.
As part of the upgrades there are additional driver assistant systems that can be optioned for the C-Class. The Lane Tracking package ($1890) provides a blind sport alert system (using radars embedded into the rear bumper) that will stop you from changing lanes into a fellow motorist. It can also vibrate the steering wheel in case you accidentally wander from your lane.
For example, if you're in the far left lane and have become a tad too tired and mistakenly begin to wander towards the gutter on the left, the system will gently brake the front right wheel (helping push the car back towards to the right) while also vibrating the steering wheel as a warning. We tried this system many times (which may have made the unsuspecting drivers behind us think we were intoxicated) and it works rather well, so long as you're still holding the steering wheel.
If you tick the box for Driving Assistance package plus ($2990), you get the already mentioned systems as well as Distronic plus, which is Mercedes-Benz's version of active cruise control. The system acts like a normal cruise control system but can also vary its speed based on the car in front.
For example, if you set your cruise control speed at 120km/h on the highway, you can follow the car in front who may be doing 110km/h without ever getting too close. The system uses a variety of monitoring radars that will also slow the C-Class down to a stop in accordance with traffic. The system operates from 0-200km/h, so if you happen to commute to and from work everyday in peak hour traffic, you simply set the speed at 60km/h and your Mercedes will follow the car in front without you having to constantly brake (if you stop completely, you simply just tap the accelerator pedal to re-engage the system).
In summary, it's hard to fault the 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class as an overall package. With good looks, a great interior and technological features previously unimaginable, the C-Class presents a fantastic choice for a luxury family car. In essence, Mercedes-Benz has taken what was already the most successful car in its segment and improved it well and truly ahead of its competition.
2011 Mercedes-Benz C 200
2011 Mercedes-Benz C 250
2011 Mercedes-Benz C 250 CDI
2011 Mercedes-Benz C 300
2011 Mercedes-Benz C 350 CDI