Superbly engineered, technically sophisticated and pleasure to drive…
The mid-sized C-Class is the most popular and affordable Mercedes-Benz sedan and about 8.5 million of them have been produced, since it was originally introduced in 1993.
Mercedes engineering typically operates on a seven-year “circle of life” production run and an all-new generation of C-Class will arrive in Canada, as a 2015 model year vehicle, this summer.
In brief, it’s a bigger and better C-Class, however, real progress is in the details. This C-Class is lighter, safer, comes with a choice of two more powerful (yet more fuel-efficient) new engines, uses even more advanced technologies, plus its body is more aerodynamic and, to my eyes, better looking. The South of France global launch location, even though I had to share it with over 800 other auto hacks, was another nice bonus – more later…
There’s no pricing available at this time, but we do know the initial trim levels offered in Canada will be a C300 and a C400. A sporty AMG edition, called the C63, will also be added to the line in January 2015. Although not official, a diesel edition is also expected to be added in 2015. At this event Mercedes was also showing a Euro-destined hybrid-diesel edition.
An optional (Airmatic) air suspension is offered for the first time in C-Class. It allows a driver to choose between Comfort, Eco, Sport, and Sport+ settings via an Agility Select switch on the console. The 4MATIC all-wheel drive system is, as before, the other major option. Also available is a Sport Package that includes AMG trim upgrades, wheels and front brake system.
The C-class has classic rear-drive vehicle proportions with a long hood (with a choice of two front grilles) and a short rear deck. It looks like a smaller version of the top-line, and redesigned last year, S-class, especially the new LED headlights and taillights. Compared to the current C-Class it’s longer, lower and wider and is now close in size to a 90s E-Class. Its extended wheelbase also helps create more interior space, especially for rear seat passengers.
The big change under-hood is a four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0-litre, in the C300, that’s max rated at 235 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. While it produces more power than the outgoing base V6, I found the initial power surge, when you push on the gas pedal, overly aggressive. In fairness, the North American edition will come with different throttle mapping.
The twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 in the C400, on the other hand, is a beauty. It can pump-out up to 329 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. More importantly, it does so in a quieter, smoother and effortless fashion that most drivers expect when at the wheel of a Mercedes. Both engines come with idle fuel saving start/stop systems and are mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission.
The list of standard and available high-tech active safety features is simply amazing. It includes almost everything that’s available in the top-line S-Class, which is touted as the world’s safest car. Intelligent Drive is an optional suite of technologies that includes autonomous braking with pedestrian recognition, a low-speed heavy traffic auto-pilot feature, active parking assist and a 360-degree camera setup with numerous views of immediate surroundings.
Bordering on frivolous, there’s an Air-Balance in-car perfuming system … to prolong that new-car Mercedes smell. Another one is a GPS-linked climate-control system tech feature that automatically switches it to “recirculation” mode when a C-Class is driven into a tunnel.
The test drive actually did include a few tunnels and there are lots of them in and under Marseille. It’s the second largest city in France and its busiest port with numerous ferries to other Mediterranean destinations.
Our drive route took us out of the city on a circular mostly rural route around the outskirts of Marseille and ended at the picturesque small harbor community of Cassis. A mountain drive along the Route des Cretes (Route of the Ridges) was spectacular. It’s a narrow, winding high-elevation road with pull-offs at numerous view locations.
Even with the (100 kg) weight reduction, this C-Class is sublimely stable on the road. The switch to a full electronic assist rack and pinion steering system, called Direct Steer, is also flawless. There are fuel economy and active safety benefits.
Inside the seating is typical Mercedes with easy to find power controls on the door panel. Generous in size, yet excellent support and a good range of adjustable elements didn’t give my weak back a reason to complain, even after many hours of driving.
The restyled dash is an elegant and less fussy design, thanks mainly to a new Touchpad controller that eliminates a multitude of switches. It can recognise both single and multi-finger gestures, wiping movements, zoom finger gestures, even user handwriting.
That said, the stand-alone display screen looks out of place, as if an afterthought I-Pad was attached to the dash.
Overall, this C-Class is sure to please both purists and newcomers. Superbly engineered, technically sophisticated and pleasure to drive.