What is it?
This is the new, more useful version of Mercedes’ new C-class, the C-class Estate. It’s also our first drive in the car on UK roads, and a revisit for us to Mercedes’ 168bhp 2.2-litre four-pot turbodiesel engine.
As the cost of premium brand options becomes ever more outrageous one of the few tick-boxes that continues to offer undeniable value-for-money is the choice of an estate over a saloon. Not only is a station wagon intrinsically more useful at lugging, but it's also a far more imaginative selection than the default-choice three box.
Compared to the £1995 that Merc charges C-class buyers for full-spec sat nav, or the £1295 that a panoramic glass sunroof will set you back, the £1650 it takes to turn a C 220 CDI Sport saloon into an estate looks like a positive bargain.
What’s it like?
Historically Merc has struggled with the whole compact estate thing. The first C-class wagon was a generation behind rivals from BMW and Audi; it was also an awkward-looking thing and not particularly spacious.
Mercedes’ second attempt was far better, but few would claim it could match a contemporary 3-series Touring or A4 Avant aesthetically.
The new car, however, is a genuine contender. It looks great, sharing a fair bit of the handsome E-class wagon's design architecture and getting a neatly sculpted falling roofline.
It's also impressively useful, an area where premium-badged estates often fall short. The wide tailgate opens onto a spacious loadspace floor and there's more luggage space on offer with the rear seats in place than in either the A4 Avant or 3-series Touring.
Collapsing the rear seats creates an impressively roomy 1354-litres of volume and enough length to accommodate a reasonably enthusiastic Homebase workout. A collapsible shopping box that lives under the boot floor is standard and - for another £170 - buyers can opt for an "easy-pack load securing kit" to allow pretty much any shape of cargo to be held in place.
Top-spec versions of the C-class lugger get a power-operated tailgate, although its less-than-rapid reactions and irritating warning chime left us struggling to see the point.
The driving experience sticks predictably close to the saloon. Our test car's sports suspension put a noticeable edge onto the pliant ride quality that's impressed us so much in the standard C-class. This, together with the lack of a rear bulkhead, allowed a noticeable amount of road rumble to enter the cabin at motorway cruising speeds.
Fortunately this car’s steering is as direct and communicative as the saloon’s, and the handling balance is impressively neutral.
Should I buy one?
The C-class estate is pricey compared to its key rival - especially considering the 220 CDI's relative lack of urge. With just 168bhp on tap the Merc is comprehensively outgunned by the 177bhp BMW 320d, which also beats it on fuel economy and emissions.
The optional five-speed autobox fitted to our test car sapped performance further - our recommendation would be to save £1125 and stick to the sweet-shifting six-speed manual 'box if you can.
But overall this is the most convincing small Merc estate yet, and unless you’ve got to have the sharpest-handling option available – which, surprise surprise, is the BMW – is probably worth the extra cash.