What is it?
Mercedes will never admit this, of course, but the C 180 K BlueEfficiency is its attempt to play catch-up.
BMW’s Efficient Dynamics caught Stuttgart a little on the hop, you see, and it’s taken a few years to come up with an alternative to the ‘green package’ that’s been rolled out across so many of its key rivals.
Still, it’s here now, and it has promise. At 1597cc, the entry-level C 180 loses 199cc of its capacity but retains its supercharger. It keeps the same power figure (154bhp), and has 170lb ft of torque on tap between 3000rpm and 4500rpm.
This C-class is lighter, and Mercedes has also fitted low-resistance tyres, an energy management system that turns the power steering on and off as required and smaller side mirrors.
Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Particularly when even Minis and the humble Toyota Auris have stop-start. But as a result of the tweaks, the C 180’s CO2 emissions fall by almost a fifth, to 149g/km, dropping the car into lower bands for tax and road fund licence.
Mercedes claims an 11 per cent improvement in fuel economy, too, to a combined 44.8mpg.
What’s it like?
From behind the wheel, there’s precious little to suggest that this is a pseudo eco-mobile.
Sure, there are indicators for gearshifts and economy, but there are no ‘green’ logos splashed around the interior, and without the novelty of stop-start the driving experience is remarkably, well, normal.
But not rapid. The 1.6-litre supercharged lump just about copes with the C-class’s bulk, but it’s never going to feel genuinely quick.
Power delivery is linear enough and the engine spins freely to beyond 5000rpm (the gearshift indicator will have gone crazy on you long before then, mind). Away from motorways, the C 180 is happiest to use its mid-range torque in third and fourth gears.
It needs decent amounts of revs at all times, but effective soundproofing keeps the thrum acceptably distant. There’s impressively little road noise from the low-resistance tyres, too.
As for the fuel economy figures, we tried the C 180 over a mixed route that took in country roads, heavy motorway traffic, clear fast-lane running and an urban rush-hour, and it returned just shy of 39mpg.
We’d imagine that regular daily use would nudge that figure towards Merc’s claimed average.
The other C-class strengths are still present, naturally. Even on the new rubber, its ride errs on the side of comfort more than the 3-series’, but there’s plenty of ability in the chassis (even if its entertainment value is a touch short of that of its age-old rival).
And the Merc’s cabin is still a fabulous place to spend time; fit and finish are excellent, the soft-touch materials feel luxurious and the seats are superbly comfortable for long journeys. Even the basic stereo now includes Bluetooth phone connectivity as standard.
Should I buy one?
You could do far worse. Bear in mind, too, that BlueEfficiency models are cheaper by £50 (saloon) and £35 (estate) than the outgoing C 180s; that gives the bread-and-butter C-classes prices and power figures to fight with BMW’s 318i and 320i, without being able to score a distinct victory.
The decision between the two class leaders can scarcely have been more personal, really. And it’s going to get worse; the ultra-rapid C 250 CDI BlueEfficiency, an oil-burner that can return over 50mpg yet crack 0-60mph in around seven seconds, is now destined for the UK, too.