We tested the new Mercedes-Benz C 200 in the South of France earlier this year to do our Mercedes Benz C 200 Review, and absolutely loved it. You could argue, though, that the scenic surroundings clouded our judgement, so we’ve brought the car to the BIC to find out if it truly is the real deal...Last year, Mercedes was kind enough to drop off a C 250 CDI to our office – and then conveniently forget about it for the next six months. As you can imagine, we weren’t exactly beating their door down to return the keys. It had a strong engine, planted chassis and hydraulic steering that was sharp and precise. But it was starting to look a little dated – especially on the inside. And so the new C couldn’t have come soon enough. I was hugely impressed with it when we tested it in May of this year. It looked every bit the mini S Class – the new S is a stunning machine!
The most impressive bit is that the new C is an S clone in the cabin as well – which is to say that style, fit-and-finish, and quality are head-and-shoulders above anything else in this segment. I had the opportunity to drive the new C Class in the hills around Marseilles in the south of France, and it felt like a proper BMW 3 Series rival – but perhaps the scenic surroundings skewed my judgment. And so we’re at the Buddh International Circuit for our Mercedes Benz C 200 Review and to find out if the new C Class from Mercedes drives as well as it looks. Can it really take the fight to the king of sport sedans – the 3 Series?
The first C to land on our shores is the Mercedes-Benz C 200, which has a 2.0 litre, four cylinder, naturally aspirated petrol engine that produces 181 horses and 300Nm of torque. And if that doesn’t sound particularly impressive on paper, don’t be so quick to judge! You see, while this car is actually larger than its predecessor – offering 40mm more legroom in the rear – it’s actually 100 kilos lighter thanks to the extensive use of aluminium. And so, immediately, it feels light and tactile like never before. The engine is extremely smooth and very responsive, while the chassis feels agile and friendly – as opposed to stiff and heavy, in the case of its predecessor.
The first thing you notice is that not only is the cabin a beautiful place to spend time in, but it’s also ergonomically perfect. The seats are comfortable and supportive. The three-spoke steering wheel is just the right size and feels fantastic to hold. It doesn’t have quite as much feel as the hydraulic unit it replaces, but it’s pretty good for an electric setup. While the chassis has multiple modes, from Comfort to Sport-plus, the steering can be set to either Comfort or Sport. In Comfort, it’s ridiculously light and feels completely disconnected from the front wheels. Fortunately, in Sport it feels much better without being overly heavy. In fact, it’s still quite light – but far more direct and responsive.
Throw the car into a corner, though, and the front end will wash wide – but only slightly, and largely because of the fairly substantial sidewalls on the 225/50 R17 Michelins fitted to our test car. A set of 18’s would have done wonders for performance – and looks as well for that matter. This first lot of cars are being imported as CBU’s (Completely Built Units). Assembly of additional models will start next year, and an AMG package can’t be very far behind. Of course, the C63 will follow eventually as well.
But back to the Mercedes-Benz C 200 – there’s a little bit of flex from the sidewalls on turn-in and that tends to push the chassis wide slightly. But the electronics work so well on this car that they almost never let you know that they’re doing their magic in the background to make sure that the car stays on line all the time. And so, it miraculously – and quite seamlessly in fact – places the car back on the right line and allows you to power out of corners with complete confidence. The brakes are extremely strong. This is an incredibly easy car to drive at the limit. A bugbear on most previous gen Mercs has been their seven-speed gearbox. Thankfully, they’ve finally got this sorted with the latest generation seven-speed dual-clutch ‘box – which responds instantly to the pull of the paddle behind the steering wheel.
At first, I couldn’t figure out how to turn the ESP off and managed a fairly dismal lap time of 2:39.7, which was over 3.5 seconds slower than the BMW 328i. Sure, the BMW’s TwinPower turbo engine is more powerful and the entire car feels like it’s built for the track, but a three-and-a-half second deficit was a bit more than I was expecting – especially since track conditions were pretty good for this test. And so I delved a little deeper into the myriad of menus on the Command system until I finally figured out how to turn ESP off – and that yielded a lap time 2:37.5, a full two-and-a-half seconds quicker. Still 1.3 seconds off the 328, but pretty impressive all the same. In fact, you can’t turn the traction control off all the way – it still cuts in when it senses too much slip, which does restrict speed through some corners. But it was quick enough to prove that this Merc really is a drivers’ car. Yes, it still errs on the side of comfort, but that just means that you’ll be quite relaxed when pushing it on road or track. Even on some of the harsh kerbs at the BIC, the Merc was very compliant and never jarring.
It’s confirmed then – this is a very impressive machine! Not only did it look and feel pretty good, but it drove extremely impressively as well during our Mercedes Benz C 200 Review in India. Sure, the BMW is still the more focussed drivers’ machine, but in all other respects the new C leads the way. I’ll take mine in silver – with 18-inch wheels please...
- Mercedes-Benz C 200
Engine: 1,991cc / in-line 4 cylinders / 16 valves/ DOHC
Transmission: 7-Speed dual clutch / Rear-wheel drive
Power: 181bhp @ 5,500rpm
Torque: 300bhp @ 1,200-4,000rpm
Acceleration: 0-100kmh - 7.3 seconds