The Mercedes-Benz C-Class has consistently remained Australia’s favourite luxury car, which is why the arrival of the fifth-generation model is such a milestone for the segment.
Beginning with the Mercedes-Benz 190 (W201) – the ancestor of the first (W202) C-Class – all the way back in 1982, the German company has evolved its medium-sized offering to such a degree that the new W205 model is now larger than the E-Class sold in 2003.
Compared with the car it replaces, the new C-Class is 95mm longer (4686mm) 4mm wider (1810mm) and 5mm shorter (1442mm high).
It’s not uncommon for cars to grow, get heavier and become generally obsolete. One only has to look at our (soon-to-be-extinct) locally produced cars from Ford and Holden to see that trend, but as the years have gone by, the C-Class has not only remained relevant but continued to grow in popularity - not just in size.
In fact, if you discount the fleet-loving Toyota Camry, the ageing C-Class was actually the second best selling medium car in Australia in 2013 (beaten by the Mazda6), just outpacing the new BMW 3 Series.
That either means that Joe Hockey is right and poor people don’t drive much, or – and significantly more likely – that it’s a standout offering that buyers aspire to own, and one which remains relatively unchallenged by its Audi, BMW, Infiniti and Lexus rivals.
Our own comparison of the old model against its rivals proved just that. And even though the old model was still outselling its newer rivals, the all-new iteration really does turn up the heat.
Starting from $60,900 for the C200 and topping out at $74,990 for the C300 hybrid, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class takes all that is good from the company that invented the modern automobile back in 1886, and blends it into one elegantly-styled package.
Much like the previous generation, the new C-Class borrows heavily from the S-Class of its time in the design department and arguably leaves the ageing E-Class for dead both outside and in.
In many ways, it’s a miniature S-Class from the outside and from a distance you can indeed mistake the two models rather easily. Step inside though and it’s a different and more surprising outcome, where we confidently rate the new C-Class a more modern place to be than Benz’s best offering.
The now uncluttered C-Class interior is class leading by some margin. It blends supreme craftsmanship and build quality (of its switchgear and interior trim) with an easy to use human-machine interface that finally outshines its Audi and BMW rivals.
Gone are the busy buttons of the centre console that resembled a now defunct Blackberry and in its place comes the iPad-like screen (that many don’t appear to love as much as we do) which brings the latest version of Mercedes-Benz’ COMAND infotainment system, controlled via a gorgeous rotary dial and touch interface. You can find more on the car’s infotainment system here.
It’s a challenge to fault the C-Class interior, which also offers 14mm more front shoulder room, 31mm more front seat height adjustment and 26mm more rear legroom than its predecessor.
Under the bonnet the same engine lineup as the current model continues, with the C200 and C250 petrol both utilising the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that delivers 135-155kW and 300-350Nm respectively.
The C200 petrol ($60,900) will do the 0-100km/h dash in 7.3-seconds while the C250 ($68,900) gets you there in 6.6-seconds. Given the main difference between the engines used in each model is merely a software tune (no doubt a marketing department trick) both achieve a fuel economy rating of 6L/100km.
Diesel models start with the C200 Bluetec ($62,400), which makes do with a 1.6-litre turbo diesel engine with 100kW and 300Nm. It’s the slowest of the bunch, taking 9.4-seconds to achieve 100km/h, but it only uses 4.5L of diesel per 100km in the process.
The more popular C250 Bluetec ($70,400) gets the larger 2.2-litre turbo diesel with 150kW and a massive 500Nm. It’s as quick as the C250 petrol at 6.6-seconds to 100km/h but like its less-powerful sibling, sips just 4.5L of diesel for 100km of travel.
The C300 hybrid is likely to be an unpopular choice, considering its $74,990 price tag - a $4,000 premium over the C250 diesel – and relatively marginal performance (6.4-seconds from 0-100km/h) and economy (4L/100km) gains.
All models make do with the updated seven-speed transmission (7G Tronic plus) that is also used in the CLS, E, M and S-Class models.
To test the new C-Class we started our drive at Mercedes-Benz Airport Express at Melbourne airport heading East towards the Yarra Valley, sampling highway and country roads.
Our initial test car was the C200 petrol, optioned with the AMG pack ($4490 for C200, $3490 for C250) that adds 19-inch alloy wheels, lowered sports suspension, sports seats and ‘black ash’ wood trim as well as the Command pack ($2990) for full navigation – as opposed to a Garmin system – as well as an upgrade from a 7 to 8-inch screen and class-leading 13-speaker 590-watt Burmeister sound system.
On the highway the C200 generated more than enough grunt to keep up with and overtake traffic, though traversing hills and twisty roads with a bit of enthusiasm did result in that ‘need-more-power’ sensation.
The C250 petrol on the other hand, delivers the ideal balance. With that extra power and torque at hand, it’ll likely be more than you’ll ever need and its coupling with the seven-speed transmission offers up a smooth experience both around town and when the going gets fun.
Of the three diesels we only sampled the C250 Bluetec, which – in our honest opinion – is not a worthwhile investment over its petrol equivalent. The downside of the diesel engine clatter and $1500 price hike - which will take you roughly 91,000km to recoup based on today’s petrol and diesel prices and the two car’s fuel usage figures – is just not that logical.
In saying that, the C250 diesel delivers effortless motoring with its 500Nm (which is good enough to move a much heavier ML250) allowing for a more linear driving experience in hilly areas.
All cars come standard with what Mercedes-Benz calls “agility select”, allowing the driver to pick between ‘comfort, eco, sport, sport and individual’ modes, which sets the C-Class up with different settings for the steering wheel weight, engine rev limit, air-conditioning priority and suspension, if the optional Airmatic system is fitted.
Speaking of which, for $2500 the optional airmatic suspension is an absolute must if you frequent country or poorly surfaced roads or simply prefer a more considerate ride.
While the standard steel springs do a decent job around suburbia and on the highway – making them more than good enough for most buyers - they tend to bounce around a bit and jitter when presented with some uneven surfaces. It’s not a costly option and given the noticeable difference it makes – particularly on the heavier C250 diesel – it’s one we’d recommend.
With or without the air suspension, though, the new C-Class handles Australia’s challenging roads with little fuss. The steering system provides a light and direct connection to the front wheels when in comfort mode but one that tightens up for a sporty feel when Sport or Sport+ is engaged.
Driving over wet or dry surfaces the C-Class tends to hold on to the road better than its predecessor but feels as though it’ll still be outpaced by the dynamically-focused BMW 3 Series (when optioned with adaptive suspension) through the twisty stuff.
In one area where it really counts though, active safety, it’s hard to argue against the C-Class. Technologies such as autonomous braking and collision prevention assist are standard even on the C200 (as are nine airbags and other electronic aids for when things really go wrong).
Meanwhile, the C250 and higher models gain steering assist, pedestrian recognition, cross traffic assist, blind spot and lane keep assist as well as a system that can detect an imminent rear collision and prepare the car’s occupants for minimal injury. These are technologies that less than 10 years ago were not even in the S-Class and are still largely lacking as standard kit from plenty of its rivals.
The range’s entry price of $60,900 is higher than before, however Mercedes-Benz claims that it has packed the C200 with more than $10,000 worth of additional features (such as electric seats, LED headlamps, digital radio, auto parking and 18-inch wheels).
All Mercedes-Benz C-Class models also conveniently fall below the luxury car tax threshold thanks to their low fuel usage, which is ironic considering the new model will likely retain the title of best selling luxury car in Australia.
Perhaps the only pause you may have in the process of buying a new Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan is its country of origin - now South Africa as opposed to Germany. You can read more about that here.
The German-built Estate (wagon) models will arrive in November this year with a $2500 premium, while the C300 Bluetec hybrid (also built in Germany) will be available in December.
The next-generation of the high-performance Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG will be unveiled at September’s Paris Motorshow before going on sale in early-mid 2015.
As a package, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is going to be a tremendous contender in this ever-popular segment and one that its German and Japanese rivals are likely to struggle against.