Johannesburg – The three-box saloon segment might not be a very exciting one relatively speaking, but it’s one that makes up a huge part of our market, and, at its larney end where premium models like C-Class hang out, it’s also mercilessly competitive.
Although many have tried, brands can’t just show up here with their leather-lined takes on what a fancy sedan should be and expect to be treated with respect. No. Experience is key. And Mercedes-Benz has tons of it.
And, the new C-Class is a full-on, no-holds-barred display of experience. Merc knows that quality is imperative when taking on its German counterparts (and many others), and this car raises the bar in that department. Take the interior for example… the way the wood veneer curves and is finished with immaculate precision. The way the window switches click up and down reassuringly. The silentness of the electric seat motors. The perfectly knurled rim of the Comand system’s dial controller. It’s all worthy of multi-million rand super-luxury cars, and in some cases, it’s even better.
The quality isn’t reserved for the interior either, as the C-Class is probably the best riding car in its bracket. Note I said riding, not handling. It’s rear-wheel-driven just like Beemer’s 3 Series, but the Merc definitely leans more toward comfort than being able to slice and dice ribbons of bendy road. It’s an excellent balance. Nothing like the squishy-sprung Mercs of yesteryear which old men with sensitive posteriors enjoyed. But also nowhere near as hard riding as some of the modern sports saloons with ridiculously low-profile rubber and pseudo racing shocks.
Our test car was also fitted with an optional air-suspension system – a R13 000 must-have option if you ask me, which comes with a three-way firmness adjustment switch as part of the deal. It’s not hovercraft floaty like some giant air-sprung saloons including the C’s stately S-Class relation, but instead uses the system to intermix bump absorption and dynamism in equal parts. It’s happy to take corners with a bit of spunk, but it also can dismiss highway expansion joints, catseye lane markers and coarse road surfaces like they’re not there.
PICK OF THE BUNCH?
A few months back we road tested a 2-litre petrol version of the new C-Class which we were massively impressed with, but the subject of this review, a C220 BlueTec (2.2-litre turbodiesel), is the pick of the current five model bunch in my opinion. There’s a decent 125kW at work here but it’s the 400Nm torque figure that gives the C220 such a fine, effortless feel. Power comes on in a hefty, low-revving wave which is ridden with ease across all gears.
This engine variant comes standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, but for another 18 grand you can match it to Merc’s brilliant 7G-Tronic seven-speed auto – another must-have option. This turbodiesel and this transmission work together in perfect harmony, speaking the same language all the way, with intuitive and natural feeling shift points at any speed. I remember the C200 turbopetrol hunting around for efficient rev-range sweet spots a bit more. The C220’s sweet spots are just broader, resulting in a calmer and more relaxed drivetrain. Merc quotes average fuel consumption as low as 4-litres per 100km, but our test car saw a much more realistic but still very decent 7l/100km.
Mercedes, like other luxury brands, has a reputation for expensive options lists that can add up to astronomical pricing and it’s quite prevalent in the new C-Class. Radar-based Distronic cruise control (R13 500), self parking (R8 500), Heads-up display (15 000), Burmester sound (R9 000), panoramic roof (R16 900) and integrated air-freshener systems (R4 500) and plenty others are all nice-to-haves, but I’d recommend leaving them out to save cash for other necessities if on a budget.
Personally I’d spec my C-Class with navigation (R23 500), Intelligent LED headlights (R20 000), a media interface for cellphone plug-ins (R3 250), and an extended maintenance plan (model and length dependent) although even these could be avoided to keep costs down. Our specific test car came in at over R650 000 from a base price of R459 000, but in all fairness it did make me second guess the existence of the much more expensive S-Class from time to time… such are the levels of larney-ness available here.
The new Mercedes C-Class (in C200 trim) was recently nominated by the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists as a finalist in its annual Car of the Year contest, and I think it’s a worthy contender that’ll give the 10 other nominees a good run for their money.
This car turns the mercilessly competitive premium sedan segment on its head with quality, tech and comfort levels never before seen in this class.
True, it can be expensive especially with irresponsible options box ticks, but remember, they’re optional…
Follow me on Twitter: @PoorBoyLtd
Mercedes-Benz C220 BlueTec AT
Engine: 2.1-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox: Seven-speed automatic
Power: 125kW @ 3000-4200rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1400-2800rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 7.8 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 233km/h
Consumption (claimed): 4.5 litres per 100km
Price: R477 000
Warranty: Twp-year/unlimited km
Service/Maintenance plan: Six-year/100 000km
Audi A4 2.0 TDI S (130kW/380Nm) – R416 500
BMW 320d AT (135kW/380Nm) – R476 000
Infiniti Q50 2.2d (125kW/400Nm) – R410 000