The S Class is synonymous with the best car in the world. So, Mercedes has decided to make a slighter smaller one – the new C!
With the power of hindsight, I think it’s safe to say that the Daimler-Chrysler “Merger of Equals” was a disaster on all counts. Not only did Daimler sink billions of Euros and thousands of man-hours trying to forge synergies across the Atlantic, but they also lost focus on their own line-up and ended up with a Mercedes range that had questionable quality for perhaps the first time in history. The sale of Chrysler in 2007 to Cerberus Capital Management was another audacious and inspired move (on the part of the buyers once again) – but that’s another story altogether. What it meant for Daimler was that they could focus on doing what they’ve always done best – creating some of the best cars in the world with a three-pointed star on the bonnet.
A fleeting glance at the Merc range today is enough to convince you that Mercedes has well and truly got its mojo back – it’s certainly back to its best! And nothing is more representative of this than the brand new S Class, which is a technological tour-de-force – something it always has been, but this time it’s taken it a notch further. Not only is the new S Class a technological marvel, but it’s also beautiful inside and out. So what better car to draw inspiration from when developing a brand new C Class?
And it certainly appears that what Mercedes has done is put the S Class in the wrong wash cycle and ended up with a 1:75 scale version, which they’ve badged the C Class. And that’s a good thing! In fact, it could well be a masterstroke. The C Class has been their best selling car since it was introduced in 1992 to succeed the legendary 190 E. So, there’s no question that it’s an important model for Mercedes. In Elegance trim especially, with the traditional chrome front grille, it really does bear a striking resemblance to the S Class. Personally, I much prefer the Sport variant, which is what we have here. It’s a stunning car!
It’s got a sharp and striking front end, which gravitates to a really elegant tail with beautifully integrated lamps that seem sculpted into the fenders. It certainly stands out a lot more than its main rival, the BMW 3 Series. On the inside as well, the cabin of the C is just a really special place to be. Granted, our various test cars were fully kitted out, but each of them had some really special touches – such as the metallic Burmeister speaker grilles, the circular chrome vents, or the meaty three-spoke steering wheel. On the whole, it’s a sea change from the model it replaces.
Last year, we had a C250 CDI as a long-term test car for a couple of months, and I grew to really like the car. The engine was punchy and the chassis was extremely capable, but the cabin wasn’t particularly special. In fact, on one occasion I has a senior member of the Jaguar Land Rover management team in the car with me and he furrowed his brow at the sea of button on the old-fashioned centre console. Well, those buttons are all but gone in the latest generation, and if I were him I’d be worried about the fact that the new C has raised the game for the forthcoming Jaguar XE – which is expected to debut later this year.
The cabin of the new C is dominated by a tablet-like screen in the centre of the dash, below which is a cascading centre console. Traditionalists may not approve of the screen, but I actually like it. And I dare anyone to say that the centre console is anything but pure automotive art. In fact, at the base of the centre console is a cubbyhole for small bottles, phones, and the like. But the biggest problem with storing your phone in this compartment is that leaving the lid open completely ruins the lines in the cabin – so, it’s better to keep the phone in your pocket! Actually, the biggest problem with the cabin is the fact that some of tech can be quite a challenge to access though the various menus of the new Command system – which is controlled by a rotary controller underneath a nifty touchpad that actually allows you to spell alphabets with your finger. Apparently, it even recognizes Chinese and Japanese script. It does take some getting used to though, and I actually preferred using the ‘old-fashioned’ rotary controller.
The cabin has so much tech, in fact, that it even has an active fragrance system. When I opened the glove box, I was surprised to find a bottle of car perfume connected to the ventilation system to ensure that the cabin always smells nice – and all this while I had been thinking that my co-passenger was just very well groomed! What the new C didn’t have was Apple CarPlay, but it’s coming soon and should make its way to the cars we get in India by early next year. CarPlay is Apple’s latest invention that seamlessly integrates iOS 7.1 into the car’s infotainment system.
Another aspect of tech that the C Class is absolutely brimming with is safety technology – it simply has dozens of cameras, sensors, and radars that have you covered from every angle. In fact, we even did a test by accelerating towards an obstacle directly in our path. Thankfully, the car’s safety net kicked in and stopped the car in its tracks before we hit anything, despite the fact that I still had my foot on the accelerator. Now I’m sure that the various electronic systems possess nerves of steel – or none at all for that matter – but it was a pretty nerve-racking experience for me. The radar systems – which include various types of short and long-range radar that can scan the road up to 200 metres ahead – are, unfortunately, banned in India.
The cameras and sensors can stay thankfully, and there’s one very good reason why they should. You see, the wide A-pillar and side-view mirror block out a huge portion of the visible area from the drivers’ seat. In fact, that was my single biggest gripe with this car – because you could almost lose a full vehicle in the blind spot. That apart, however, I couldn’t really find any fault whatsoever with the driving experience. We drove a few different variants, the most relevant of which were the C 250 BlueTEC and C 220 BlueTEC – which is the model that will, most likely, replace the C220 CDI that’s on the market currently. And while the C is all-new, the drivetrain isn’t drastically different from the current generation. It still has a 2.2 litre turbo-diesel mated to a 7-speed automatic that produces 170 horsepower and 400Nm of torque in the 220. 100km/h comes up in fairly sprightly 7.7 seconds.
While engine performance is quite similar to the outgoing car, the gearbox is a little more responsive. But where Mercedes have made massive gains is in the area of refinement. The air suspension means that the car rides brilliantly, while also giving the tarmac a bear hug at the same time. And while the new C is larger than it’s predecessor – it offers 40mm more legroom in the rear – it’s actually 100 kilos lighter than before thanks to half the body being made from aluminium. And you can sense that immediately as you drive down the road. The C just feels light and agile like never before. It’s extremely keen to turn-in and attack corners. On the whole, it just feels extremely composed no matter how you drive. It’s not quite as involving as the 3 Series, but it’s quite a bit of fun all the same. And the refinement levels are just on another level completely. The steering is light, but very accurate and direct. The drivetrain, while not outstanding, never lets you down and the handling is simply impeccable. The compromise that Mercedes has been able to achieve between involvement and comfort is just right – in typical Mercedes fashion leaning just that little bit towards comfort. I still wish you could turn off the ESP completely if you wanted to – but 99% of C Class owners will never want to, so it’s a non-issue really.
What the new C offers is more space and luxury than ever before. It also offers a tech-laden and beautifully crafted cabin. Most of all, though, it offers a sense of style and individuality that will be a huge attraction in this segment. The only real problem, then, is the fact that the new C will be more expensive than it’s predecessor. Just how much remains to been seen. Let’s just hope that MB India doesn’t price it such that your only hope of owning one will be to channel Janis Joplin and sing “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz.”