Saturday 20 December 2014

Mercedes still in the comfort zone with updated C-Class

Published 20/07/2014 | 02:30

Mercedes C-Class saloon
Mercedes C-Class saloon interior

I couldn't help overhearing a conversation the other day (well, I could but I chose not to). This fellow (not Irish) was what I can only call 'licking up' to a BMW executive and was knocking the rivets out of the new Mercedes C-Class. He said even an old BMW 320d was a better drive.

Noticing my ears wagging (I did my best to pretend I was reading), he lowered his voice and conspiratorially continued what I assume was an expanded hatchet job on the Merc.

I'm not going to defend Mercedes but I don't think the new C-Class warrants such a sharpening of the scalpel. Sure, it has its disappointing elements, but I was quite happy with others. I wonder about people sometimes.

For a start, I think it looks great – and so did my younger passengers. They've made a young car of it across the front and along the flanks. And with its two-bar grille and the famous star in the middle, it is as smart as anything else out there (the Exclusive version, by the way, has a three-bar grille and the star, as traditional, on the bonnet). However, the rear needs a lift. It doesn't look like a Merc.

I don't know what that fellow said about the inside of the C-Class, but I liked it a lot. I think there's a breed of petrol-heads out there who overlook everyday use and exclude everything except power, handling and pace from consideration.

Many of us 'live' in our cars for two or three or more hours a day. It is essential we are comfortable and that things are right.

In the real world of bums on seats in a €50,000 executive motor, all I know is that this C-Class had by far the best, most comfortable, driving position that I've encountered in anything this year – though I would have loved forward/backward electric adjustment.

The steering wheel helped; it is designed so I could see all the important information on the dash.

Now that is completely at odds with what I felt when I drove this abroad earlier this year. It may have been a different version/spec, but I remember asking if the C-Class was a man's car because of the large, chunky steering wheel. It just goes to show...

Importantly, they have avoided the curse of the big, boring dash too and have mixed curves and lines to keep it fresh. The control slot on the central console is the main focus – phone, radio, media, vehicle settings (I kept mine in Sport most of the time) etc. All the info is displayed on a large central standalone screen. Maybe it was a bit too fussy. While there is more room generally, getting into the back wasn't as easy as it should be. There wasn't much distance between the front of the rear seat bottom and the middle pillar of the car.

A couple of other things took away brownie points. There was appreciable and, sometimes, intrusive wind noise from the wing mirror area – not something you associate with a Merc at low speeds.

And the biggest puzzle of all came with my fuel consumption.They are claiming around 62mpg but we know that's achieved under perfect conditions. I noticed how quickly the notches on the gauge slipped by in the course of ordinary, low-rev driving around town. Even on the M50/ M4/M6 where I merely cruised, I wasn't expecting to reach quarter-full nearly as soon as I did. It's because they have reduced the tank to just 41 litres (rivals are nearer to 60). Not a great idea.

The 2.1-litre engine was okay but a bit garrulous when pushed. It worked well with the seven-speed automatic box. They have an excellent 1.6-litre (136bhp) diesel coming in the autumn. That will be a breath of fresh air; the car needs an injection of something to lift it a bit. This car has also shed weight and felt the better for it.

The one bit of that overheard conversation that still sticks was about the old BMW 3-series being a sharper handler. BMW have always done sporty. Mercedes have always placed more emphasis on the comfort side of things, admittedly to the detriment of handling and ride.

I think they have sharpened the handling as part of its 'youthification' but, naturally, they have a balance to keep. They still have a huge number of buyers who don't necessarily want ultra-sporty driving.

So you see, unlike the one-sided conversation I overheard, there are always two sides to a story.

Mercedes C-Class saloon specs

* C-Class saloon, C220 BlueTEC AMG Sport seven-speed automatic (2,143cc, 170bhp, 113g/km, 4.3/ 4.5litres/100km, €200 tax).

* Standard equipment on test car included air con, cruise control, reversing camera, collision prevention assist, Bluetooth, stop/start, attention assist, USB connectivity and more. Options on test car included black Open-Pore Ash wood inlay (costs €536).

* Price from €51,615. With options: €53,590. Delivery and related charges are extra.

My side of the road

I don't think there is a cheaper move in motoring than someone illegally parking in a disabled bay.

Handy parking spaces near the shops can be scarce, but for those of us able to walk it's not a big deal. Yet there is always someone ready to sneak 20 minutes, isn't there? I see it a lot.

It must be shocking for someone, entitled to use a disabled slot, to find themselves locked out. Come on. We can do better than that.

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