Thursday 22 March 2018

Merc's quiet revolution

RATING 81/100

We might as well get the formalities out of the way now. If you are of a certain age, background and disposition, driving a new Merc will represent a pinnacle of achievement. Not necessarily an in-your-face reminder of opulence in straitened times, but a token of success nonetheless.

There is no point in ignoring or dismissing that reality.

And there is no point either in denying that there is a certain little frisson of -- let's call it pride -- when you sit into a well-bedecked Merc interior as I did with the extensively revamped C-Class saloon and estate. I've driven a good few on test over the years and, possibly with the exception of the initial A-Class, I have always registered that bit of what I call 'reassurance'. Others might call it ego massaging.

Mercedes isn't alone. All the prestige marques do it. That's why they are called prestige. It's just which bit of the ego you want massaged.

Audi will give you technologically resilient, rock-solid comfort with its A4, BMW offers sport and sizzle with its 3-series and so on.

The Mercedes C-Class has always been seen as a more conservative buy.

But that's no good any more; hasn't been for a long time. There has to be more, much more. Everybody is improving at such a rate there is no time to stand still.

Even when the C-Class was brand new, Mercedes cleverly made one stream for the conservatives and others for the younger bloods in the marketplace.

Now it's gone and given the range a major overhaul. It's not completely new, but large swathes of it have been reinvented and tweaked. The two versions I had (both Avantgarde) bore the three-pointed star on the grille; the Classic version bears it proudly at the front of the bonnet. And I have to say the former is easily a winner. There's a big, strong, 'younger' look to it; far more eye-catching. It has changed a lot in what has been a quiet revolution. It is still a C-Class through and through.

The diesel engines (the same 2-litre in each case) are now really at the cutting edge. Mercedes took a while to catch up with some of the others on emissions and frugality but is now flying. I mean here is a saloon with annual road tax of €156.

I liked the cabin a lot; comfortable, good room for the front passengers, plenty of equipment and that cocooned feeling I referred to earlier. The seats by the way, were excellent; not a twinge after a lot of driving. Mercedes has upgraded it all over, but especially with a complete redesign of the dashboard.

I marginally preferred the saloon to the estate even though the latter looks sportier and more 'lifestyle', if that is the word and it has a really large and useful luggage area. We found out how useful it can be as it ferried two young ones and their cases and all their stuff to the airport.

But the EFFICIENCY bit is really where the big guns join battle.

They all have different names for it but essentially it is down to how much they shave off items such as wing mirrors, tyre rolling resistance and that sort of stuff -- as well as technically improving engine performance and so on. It all adds up.

So, here's a car, be it estate or saloon, that you can sit into on a good motorway, put on the cruise control and let it soak up distance and, in the case of the estate, the luggage. That is its great forte.

On the other hand, there is no denying that there are sparkier cars to drive in its class. It fails, for instance, to match the likes of the 3-series on the sporty handling front.

However, that essentially is not what it is about. Never was and probably never will be. Rather it has had its mid-life facelift in order to push harder at trying to be a prestige, classy compact-premium car with a lot of equipment and a reassuringly easy way about it.

With this refreshed phase it keeps pace in the key areas of comfort, technology and running costs. And I'd say you'd get a decent price for it in three years as a trade-in. Price is another area where all these marques now compete viciously, with fuel consumption and emissions having such a huge impact on the VRT rate. Yes, these are the things that really matter nowadays. The 'snob' value is an added bonus. But that wouldn't last long if the car itself wasn't doing the business.

There has been no bloody revolution here; rather a quickening of evolution towards what all carmakers must achieve -- vast improvement in comfort, technology and running costs. Today's buyers expect no less.

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