Visually, the new C-class shows a clear family resemblance to the latest S-class and recently revised E-class, as well as the smaller A-class family. Following Mercedes’ ‘sensual purity’ design theme, the fundamental classic rear-drive saloon proportions, including a long bonnet and set-back cabin, remain, but the Mercedes design team, headed by Gorden Wagener, have reduced the overhangs, raised the beltline, narrowed the glasshouse and added sculpted, flowing lines and surfaces that taper back to give a more classic profile inspired by the Streamliner models from the 1920s and 1930s.
This ‘soft’ treatment, which includes front and rear ends that avoid sharp edges and creases by curving into the car’s sides, contributes to the C-class’s class-best drag coefficient of 0.24.
The overall result is a more modern-looking C-class that Mercedes hopes will appeal to a much younger audience without alienating the more traditional C-class buyer.
The new look for the modern, luxurious interior is bolder still than that of the exterior. Its ‘wraparound’ dashboard design is derived from that found in the A-class family and the new S-class and features three central circular air vents, greatly reduced switchgear on the centre console and improved overall fit and finish.
A free-standing screen on top of the dashboard displays key information and infotainment options and is controlled by a standard rotary controller, or an optional touchpad that mimics the controls of a touchscreen smartphone.
In the rear, the longer wheelbase means back-seat passengers get 25mm more legroom, while the increase in overall width further boosts space. Boot capacity is up by five litres over the outgoing C-class, to 480 litres.
The structure of the new C-class is now almost 50 per cent aluminium, contributing to an overall weight reduction of up to 100kg, model to model. This not only helps to reduce fuel consumption but also improves strength, ride and handling characteristics and safety performance.
The new C-class’s chassis has been tuned to offer a more sporty and agile drive without compromising ride comfort. Stiffness has been increased by around 20 per cent.
The suspension consists of a four-link set-up at the front and a five-link arrangement at the rear. A steel suspension system with selective damping is fitted as standard in three different versions, including a sports set-up lowered by 15mm in AMG Line models.
The big news, however, is the option of AirMatic air suspension, the first time it has been offered in this class. This fully adaptive, self-levelling system offers four driving modes, from Comfort to Sport+, or allows the driver to tailor his own preferences in the Individual mode. The steering set-up, meanwhile, is a speed-sensitive electro-mechanical system.
All engines in the C-class range are Euro 6 emissions compliant, come with stop-start as standard and offer up to 20 per cent better economy than the previous line-up but with no loss of performance.
The engine range at launch includes a 168bhp 2.1-litre turbodiesel in the C220 Bluetec, a 154bhp 1.6 petrol in the C180 and a 181bhp 2.0-litre petrol in the C200.
A series of other engines will be rolled out soon after launch, including a new 1.6-litre turbodiesel co-developed with Renault. It will be offered with power outputs of 113bhp and 134bhp and will see the C-class’s CO2emissions dip below 100g/km in its most frugal form. Other variants of the familiar OM651 2.1-litre turbodiesel will also follow, with power outputs ranging from 113bhp to 201bhp.