How Mercedes have learned their lessons in the C-Class...
...But it's still not all full marks
SOMETIMES you can sum up a car in a few short sentences. I did so when Mercedes' experts asked me what I thought of the new C-Class. That was after I had driven it on open highways, twisty mountain roads and through gridlocked Marseille.
I was concentrating on getting some food on board, so I think my unfettered thoughts may have caught them by surprise – they seemed to keep looking at me long after I had stopped talking.
So here is what I told them: I found it difficult to get used to not seeing the front 'corners' of the car from behind the steering wheel. The design is such there is a high middle that fades to the front and the side. It made it a bit more difficult to place on the road but especially in some of the tiniest back streets (we got lost).
Slowly, we got used to it. I love the front, especially the two-bar grille with the star in it (three for the Exclusive with the star on the bonnet) and low, wide light cluster. This is the sort of smart you want.
But the rear needs something. The flanks fade and disappear into oblivion.
Does it look like a Merc in the rear-view mirror? With that front grille, most definitely.
Does it look like a Merc from behind? No, it does not. It reminded me of an everyday sportback. Not impressed.
The cabin? At global launches, they pack in the top-level trim so it is impossible to visualise it in more standard garb but there is no doubting a few things.
It is bigger, comfortable, the seats are far better, there are no boring swathes of plastic and they have simplified the layout of the dash and instrumentation, though I'm not mad about the standalone screen.
They have this combination of central control touch-and-point buttons to manage your audio, sat nav, etc functions. As a unit, it is overly complicated. I'd prefer just a good old solid big dial to manage the functions.
I asked: Is it a man's car? I did so because the steering wheel was large and chunky. That shifted the executives' gaze a bit. I couldn't get a straight answer. I think it is. Dangerous territory here, I know, but there is that sort of macho feel to the dash, steering wheel and big, strong seating.
There is fair room at the back. Nothing to shout about and getting in and out of it is hindered a bit by the smallish gap between seat and middle pillar.
I thought it felt appreciably better on the road; the new suspension set-ups front and back isolate bumps and insulate the cabin from road/tyre noise. It is not a mad sporty drive but anyone behind the wheel of the current one will notice a big improvement. Like the car itself, it has grown up (and has lots of S-Class stuff). Mercedes are not vying with the BMW 3-series sportiness here. They are mixing their own cocktail.
Of the cars we drove, the two most relevant were diesels. The 2.1-litre C220 BlueTEC (170bhp, 104g/km) will be here late May/June. It puts in a decent stint. But the one that has slipped under the radar is going to be the bigger seller by far. It is the 136bhp 1.6-litre diesel in the C200 BlueTEC. Basically the car is still called C200 but the engine is smaller.
It doesn't get here until October, so you are looking at a 15-reg.
It has more than decent pulling power (torque) and provisional emissions of 99g/km. I drove it with a 6spd manual. Is it a younger person's (man's) car now in keeping with the 'ungreying' of all Merc ownership? Yes. And more people I think will go for the manual. Still they expect 70pc to choose automatic transmission (€2,800 extra).
Sorry, that's more than a few sentences but somehow it felt shorter when I was doing the talking and trying to eat simultaneously.
Anyway, it will cost you around 3pc to 5pc more to buy. The current car costs around €40,000 (that Edition C 'runout' version has €4,000 worth of kit at that). But there will be a new entry-level C180 later on around the €38,500 mark – the 115bhp version of the 1.6-litre diesel.
These are the spec levels/bodylines:
* Standard – formerly known as Classic; now just known as C-Class.
* Avantgarde, Exclusive and AMG.
They are trying to hold on to current customers with Exclusive and to bring in new ones with Avantgarde and AMG Sport (not AMG – that is a different proposition)
The change here is that you can now order a separate interior or exterior version of those lines. For example, you can order an Avantgarde exterior (€1,000 extra) or inside (€1,500 more). So you can have 'half' a basic car and 'half' an Avantgarde or Exclusive version.
Avantgarde will be the main spec – 17ins wheels (also on Exclusive), leather/fabric mix; sporty seats etc.
Strangely, cruise control is an option only. As is air suspension.
Standard equipment includes Collision Prevention Assist.
The car takes over the braking to avert colliding with car or pedestrian in front if it. There is also Attention Assist (it pings at you if your driving suggests tiredness), reversing camera, 16ins alloys, fabric seats etc, piano lacquer for interior (unlikely many will go for the basic model).
The C300 hybrid arrives in September. It is based on the C250 but with a 2.1-litre diesel. There will be a petrol plug-in next year.
They expect to sell 350 to 400 (including 100 of old stock) this year; 500 in a full year.
Finally, that's the end of 'few sentences'.