Mercedes must feel a little like Sisyphus every time it tries to roll a new Mercedes-Benz C-class up the mountain of talent presented by the BMW 3-series, only to lose the struggle within sight of the summit.

For as long as there’s been a C-class, so there’s been a 3-series for it to aspire to. That’s not to say all versions of the C have always been inferior to the Three, but overall and across the board, Munich has usually held sway over Stuttgart.

Which is not to say Mercedes has been less than solicitous in its attempts to get that rock to the top. Twenty years ago, a C-class was a car more likely be driven by an elderly gentleman in a hat than a dynamic young professional, and much has been done in the interim not only to the way the car is marketed but also to how it is designed to appeal to a far wider audience.

One way this has been achieved is to produce a C-class for everyone who’s ever fancied the idea of a quality compact German saloon. Or, for that matter, coupé or estate. So now you can buy a C-class with a choice of engines offering eight different outputs from as little as 136bhp to as much as 507bhp. There’s one that’ll do almost 70mpg, and another that, were you to remove its electronic limiter, can bit almost 200mph.

Trim levels also reflect the thrusting dynamism of the Mercedes C-class. Traditional Elegance and artsy Avant Garde models are out, replaced by AMG Sport and AMG Sport Plus, while the base SE model is now the Executive SE.

And what do they call the real AMG version? Just AMG, a name that needs no further embellishment.

Top 5 Compact execs

  • BMW 3-series
    The 3-series remains strong in the areas it has always excelled but now it's more rounded than ever

    BMW 3-series

    1
  • Mercedes-Benz C-class
    The C-class shares a lot of its looks with the new S-class, furthering its desirability

    Mercedes-Benz C-class

    2
  • The Audi A4 saloon is bigger, roomier and more aerodynamic than its predecessor

    Audi A4

    3
  • The CC offers a handsome alternative to the staid Passat

    Volkswagen CC

    4
  • Volvo S60
    The Volvo S60 is offered with an impressive new D4 diesel engine

    Volvo S60

    5

First drives

Videos

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    21 May 2015
    The DS 5 is hard to pigeonhole but it works as a package. Impressive French-style long-range cruiser, albeit at strong money for an unproven brand
  • Car review
    21 May 2015
    The industry's biggest power makes a plug-in hybrid for the masses
  • First Drive
    21 May 2015
    The 4C improves, and the Spider is a good conversion, but it remains dynamically troubled and absurdly expensive
  • First Drive
    21 May 2015
    More traction and nothing separating Jag's monstrous V8 mouthpiece from your ears. It's the shoutiest, priciest F-Type on sale, but is it the best?
  • First Drive
    20 May 2015
    The C63 may have lost its big V8, but its replacement makes it difficult to mourn