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My ups and downs in posh new estate from Mercedes

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Mercedes C-Class Estate: lots of room for passengers and luggage

Mercedes C-Class Estate: lots of room for passengers and luggage

New 1.6 litre diesel engine makes a difference

New 1.6 litre diesel engine makes a difference

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Mercedes C-Class Estate: lots of room for passengers and luggage

A POSH estate is a totally different proposition to your more sought-after prestige saloon.

I'm not an avid fan of the former, but I know people who love them and would never yield to the current fascination with crossovers and SUVs.

No question, the crossovers are out of sight on sales - there's no contest really. But you have to bring a different mindset to the likes of the Mercedes C-Class estate on test. This is for a different sort of buyer. That is, someone looking for what I'd call posh practicality: simple, everyday, unfussy flexibility - in Merc comfort. Such as the 1,510 litres of space you get with the rear seats folded or split (40:20:40 - nifty buttons). There's no problem taking three rear passengers and their luggage, or whatever your sport or lifestyle requirements.

By the way, it is 100mm longer than the saloon and I think it has distinctively different ways about it altogether - some for the better, some for the worse.

One for the better is that its increased wheelbase yields up more knee, head and shoulder room for rear passengers. That's worth noting because this lends itself so much more to being a family, rather than a business, motor. However, I think it loses something of the saloon's alacrity. I'm not saying the former is the tightest of drivers, but the estate was looser and the steering feedback (critical for me as a driver) was quite, quite poor.

It felt woolly and all over the place sometimes and, even allowing for the different modes I could set for the car (comfortable, sport etc), it never overcame that. For a car targeting younger 'lifestyle' drivers/families, that represents something of a drawback. The BMW 3-series Touring is still the class leader in my books.

Yet, let me pay the Merc a backhanded compliment. The badging on my test car said C200 (don't worry, I'm not going to rant about Mercedes needing to identify engine size with nomenclature). I presumed, initially, it was the C200 with the 2.2-litre diesel under the bonnet.

Before really getting into the test drives - down to Arklow, over to Celbridge, along the M50, in and out of town etc - I checked out my details. I got a pleasant surprise.

No, it wasn't the 2.2, it was the new 1.6-litre diesel (I'd driven it abroad in the saloon last year).

The car came to mean more to me as a result. This is a noteworthy powerplant and represents a new breed of engine. Power sources, especially diesel, have drawn some of the bigger criticisms on Mercedes back the years.But this was excellent. And for good measure, its power (136bhp) is the same as the old 2.2-litre. They even have a 1.6-litre with 116bhp (badged C180), which they reckon will outsell this by two-to-one.

Certainly, my test version blended in well and gave me plenty of response through the excellent 7-speed auto gearbox.

This was real progress because, despite losing weight, the estate is still a substantial piece of motor metal. And your road tax is just €200 a year.

I should mention the car looks so much better, though not as well, in my opinion, as the saloon.

The front is probably, no definitely, the best in the class and has put the likes of the aforementioned 3-series in the shade. While the rear is plainer, it's a more stylish estate overall now.

Functionality is important but people, rightly, expect good looks too, especially in an era of those sharp-design crossovers.

The cabin, albeit robed in extras such as ARTICO leather and burr walnut wood, has a touch of class, not just in design, but in mostly quality material.

I smiled when noting the leather and wood - a hint at an illustrious, classic, past. However, the dash, for all its clarity, smartness of design and logic, is way overloaded with buttons and dials - especially the tactile, but badly illustrated, ones for ventilation.

They are even more frustrating at night, because the back-lighting is poor enough (and yes, I turned it up full).

Equally, the buttons for the interior roof lights are too far away and badly illustrated. An ergonomic difficulty I think that should be addressed - a minor point that irritated.

Verdict: I might buy the Beamer for the drive, but I have to say I'd buy this for the sense of family comfort and that little touch of class that Mercedes has managed to convey more successfully.

Mercedes C-Class estate C200 BlueTEC auto

Avantgarde spec test car included: air con, Bluetooth with audio streaming, cruise control, reversing camera, several airbags, automatic headlights and wipers, Audio 20 with touchpad, LED daytime running lights, USB connectivity, stop/start, collision prevention assist, attention/tiredness alert, several passive safety systems.

Optional extras on test car included metallic paint (€1,445), ARTICO leather (€834), Burr walnut wood trim (€539), 'Stowage package' (€306), remote online (€278), R48 alloys (€93).

Avantgarde price: €47,520. Extras brought price to €51,015. C-Class estate range starts from €39,860.

Remember: delivery-related charges are extra.

My side of the road

I'm going to have to buy a packet of plastic gloves and keep them on board at all times.

It is the only way to avoid having 'diesel hands' when I re-fuel.

Look, I'm well used to the sight and smell of diesel but it is not fair to smear it all over the steering wheel, gear knob, handbrake and upholstery.

That's what happens me about half the time I re-fuel because some garages haven't the courtesy to provide paper rolls or one of those plastic glove dispensers.

It's just not acceptable any more - and I'm not being snobbish. The smell of diesel permeates everything; that is its nature. And I can still get it in the car hours later. I've had it with suffering in silence after my latest escapade.

We're paying enough without associated penalties. So I'm going to complain to the manager of each outlet that doesn't provide some cover. What do you think?

ecunningham@independent.ie

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