2018 Mercedes-Benz C-Class review

The updated Mercedes-Benz C-Class range arrives en masse in Australia during August. It's more than a nip/tuck, with most of the additions found under the skin. They keep this generation of Australia's favourite luxury car sharp, as it enters the second half of its model cycle.

The outside has not changed much, but Mercedes-Benz says this C-Class’ mid-life-cycle update is the most substantial in its top-seller’s 25 year history.

It has changed roughly half the total component set, equating to about 6500 new parts. This is not your typical nip/tuck, but in some ways a generational change in and of itself.

The local range will arrive in August, and will still comprise entry C200 petrol and C220d diesel variations, and a C300 mid-range petrol. The Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic will arrive at the same time, and is reviewed separately here.

As far as launches for Mercedes-Benz Australia go, the updated C-Class is big. The sedan and wagon, and four-seat coupe and soft-top cabriolet range, all launch at the same time, and are the company’s most popular offerings. The four-door versions outsell the BMW 3 Series two-to-one.

Headlines of the MY18/19 changes include mostly-new powertrains and a 48V mild (very mild) hybrid base unit, sharper infotainment and digital cabin displays, new cabin trims, and a suite of partially autonomous-driving active-safety tech pilfered from the S-Class.

There are also some minor styling changes including revised bumpers and slicker new Multibeam LED headlights, optionally available with active programming and “ultra-range” high-beam. They’re next level… Will current owners want to upgrade, though, given the lack of design changes?

The cabin makeover does not stretch to the new MBUX infotainment system, but the changes are much more substantial than they first appear to be, and largely standard across all variants regardless of price.

While the lower fascia is basically unchanged except for some new trim options such as an open-pore wood veneer, and the E-Class’s starter button and the Comand rotary dial likewise, there’s a new 10.25-inch floating tablet screen with better graphics and a simpler interface.

The 1920x720 pixel resolution makes maps super-crisp, while the horizontally-aligned home page is simpler to navigate, with fewer sub menus. It’s the simple, slick and sexy layout that the C-Class has deserved all along. You also get de rigeur smartphone mirroring software.

There’s also a rather beautiful new steering wheel familiar from the S-Class, with cruise control buttons replacing the old stalk to reduce complexity along the column, and touch-sensitive buttons on the spokes used to navigate menus on the standard 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.

This cluster lets you view three basic information layouts, and also display mapping, music and other functions. It can be augmented by an embedded heads-up display. It’s crisp and clean, though Audi’s Virtual Cockpit offers more information and gorgeous Google Maps overlays.

Every variant also gets 64 ambient lighting colours to cycle through, which form part of the S-Class-sourced Energising Comfort Control system that changes your tunes (based on bpm), temperature, in-car perfume scent and lighting based on mode. That’ll be an option…

Much else is familiar, from the silver Burmester speaker covers, to the distinctive seat adjustment buttons on the door cards, the array of trim options, the split centre console and the ventilation controls.

While stopping short of a wholesale makeover, there’s more new stuff here than a typical mid-cycle upgrade brings. It’s still both classical and crisply digital at once, those new screens and that wheel helping no end, though does the MBUX in the cheaper A-Class look even sharper?

From a dynamic perspective, the range will be available with a $1500 Dynamic Body Control system like the GLC's, pairing steel springs with adjustable dampers tied to various modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual, which you program yourself.

There’s not much else new when it comes to the ride and handling experience, aside from the rollout of more active safety from MB’s Intelligent Drive suite.

There’s lane assist that keeps you between lane markings it actually works, unlike some systems and options such as steering that changes lanes for you if you indicate on a highway and the blind spots are clear, and map-based predictive speed adjustment that will need very up-to-date data.

It all worked pretty seamlessly in Germany where we drove the cars, as did the HUD’s speed-sign recognition system that should help keep you flush with demerit points. In a time where such tech suites are variable in their reliability and subtlety, Mercedes’ stands out as top-tier.

Engine-wise, the most interesting variant is the new entry C200 petrol, which will share top-selling status with the C300. That’s on account of its new drivetrain, developed like the rest to meet tougher Euro 6d-TEMP emissions regulations.

To start with, it’s a 1.5-litre four cylinder turbo using the same block as the C200’s 2.0-litre producing an unchanged 135kW, but a reduced 280Nm of torque - down 20Nm. This reduction is somewhat offset because peak torque is available across more engine speeds.

There’s other cool stuff like a new cylinder-wall design, and European cars get an expensive petrol-engine particulate filter. Australian engines won’t, because they’re not mandated for us, and cost a heap of extra money. Those precious metals aren’t cheap.

The fuel savings are in truth not huge, but there. Combined fuel use is cut to as little as 6.0L/100km on the NEDC cycle rather than the not-cited WLTP (old car was 6.5L/100km), and CO2 emissions fall about 10g/km to 136g/km.

Helping alleviate concerns over the reduced displacement, and helping to reduce emissions and add refinement, there’s an additional belt-driven starter-alternator and a supplementary Bosch 48V electric system that Mercedes calls EQ Boost. These systems are becoming more common.

The system allows fuel-saving tech such as an electrically driven and mapped water pump, kinetic energy recuperation to charge the battery, and a novel ‘gliding mode’ that switches the engine off when you’re off-throttle going downhill, letting gravity work for you, before restarting seamlessly.

The system’s electric motor also adds 10kW/160Nm, though it does not bolster the peak outputs because it’s present during ‘troughs’ instead. Meaning, when under throttle, it bridges the gap present before the twin-scroll EGR turbo reaches boost pressure.

This is supposed to minimise lag and make the engine feel more responsive and muscular. It also smooths out the nine-speed auto by bringing the engine to ideal speeds rapidly.

Nevertheless the 0-100km/h sprint time is 0.5 seconds slower than the outgoing C200, at 7.7 seconds, though the rolling response is better than before thanks to EQ Boost helping out.

In reality, the engine feels more muscular than anything of this displacement has a right to, and smoother/freer of vibrations than any 1500cc unit we’ve driven. On a side note, I wound it out to 220km/h on the nearest Autobahn and kept it there with zero fuss. Academic, really.

It’s all rather a lot of cost, 40kg of extra weight and 20Nm less peak torque for a 0.5L/100km fuel saving, but that’s what regulations will – and do – demand. It’s clearly a law of diminishing returns once you get to such levels of frugality. Plus it all works, feels super smooth, and has novelty that doesn’t at all detract for those who just want to set-and-forget.

On the topic of smoothness, the belt-driven starter alternator also makes the start/stop system the least intrusive (meaning, the best) we’ve experienced to date, with the engine restarting silently and with zero vibration once traffic gets moving. That said, Mercedes does let you disable it. No need.

Naturally all this tech doesn’t come cheap, and Mercedes suggests an impost of about $1500 extra will be applied. MB also guarantees the EQ Boost system will last “for life”, though at some point there will be those who accrue greater running costs. Surely.

Sorry to waffle, but the C200 isn’t simple tech.

The other major-volume engine belongs to the revised C300. Its 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine is up by 10kW to 190kW, while torque is an unchanged 370Nm between 1800 and 4000rpm. Fuel use remains 6.5L/100km and the claimed 0-100km/h sprint an unchanged 5.9 seconds.

It’s matched as ever to a nine-speed automatic transmission and a rear-wheel drive layout, like the C200. This writer still feels the ZF 8AT in the rival BMW 330i is a little sharper, but the C300’s unit offers plenty of punch and the typical swathe of torque just off idle.

The diesel option fitted to the C220d is a bigger change, dropping to a 2.0-litre (well, 1950cc) displacement and getting 18kW more power, now 143kW at 3800Nm, and an unchanged peak torque output of 400Nm between 1600 and 2800rpm. Fuel use remains 4.7/100km.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to drive this variant, but it’ll arrive on our shores in a few months.

The downside of these revised engines and the other notable revisions to the electric architecture mean there’ll be price rises of around $1500 on the C200 (currently $61,900 for the sedan, $64,400 for the Estate, $66,400 for the coupe and an eye-widening $86,900 for the cabrio with fabric roof, Air Scarf neck heating, and a wind deflector that keeps your ‘do tamed).

The others will remain more or less as before, some negligible changes perhaps, though given the continued sales dominance of the C-Class, nothing that’ll change things much.

So there’s an overview of the revised Mercedes-Benz C-Class family, billed as the most comprehensive to date. To be honest it doesn’t feel like half the parts are new, though the outgoing car was still the market leader and only needed some sprucing up.

The entry EQ Boost engine is fascinating, and offers some real glitz and the best start/stop system out there, though the specs will tell you it’s slower off the mark and only saves about 8 per cent more fuel. The other engine changes are worthy enough, particularly the overhauled diesel.

The new cabin displays and active safety tech expansions are welcome, with the interior layout retaining its classical style and adding crisper displays, though the digital dash is nothing Audi isn’t already doing, nor does the HUD seem any better than the latest from BMW.

So what we have is a series of incremental improvements to a car that remains the #1 among buyers, designed to keep it sharp until about 2020. An update only, but a thorough enough one.

The inevitable Australian comparison testing will come soon, but the revised range still offers plenty of appeal to up-and-coming execs (sedan and wagon) and the style-set (coupe and convertible) alike.

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