Next year will bring us an all-new, fifth-generation Mercedes C-Class; and we already know what a different prospect that car will be to the one it’s replacing. There will be no multi-cylinder engines this time, we hear (not even in AMG versions), as part of a bid to make the world’s biggest-selling Mercedes models do their bit to drive down the brand’s corporate carbon emissions. Sounds ominous to me.
I wonder, in fact, how long it’ll be until we have another C-Class that represents such a titanic leap forwards for its maker as the ‘W205’ did; or that stands as such a potent symbol of success for a firm riding the crest of a Zetsche-era wave that propelled it beyond both Audi and BMW to become the world’s biggest-selling luxury car brand.
The outgoing C-Class was a crowning achievement for its maker. When it appeared in 2014, it did what none of its forebears quite managed by so successfully miniaturizing the lavish ‘big Benz’ luxury character of its larger sibling saloons. It had big-saloon perceived quality, super-sophisticated onboard technology and greatly improved cabin space.
To drive, it felt more comfortable and self-possessed as a refined, relaxed, mature choice in a saloon niche where its rivals squabbled over pre-eminent claims to ‘sportiness’. It looked great, too: every inch the boil-washed S-Class limo. When we sent out a BMW 3-Series to the European press launch on the Cote d’Azure, I wrote up the comparison – and it was one of the toughest verdicts I’ve written. At the time, as I remember, the Merc’s slightly agricultural 2.1-litre four-pot diesel gave the BMW’s better 2.0-litre just enough momentum to secure the win; but then that old engine was replaced as part of a mid-life facelift.
And, boy, did it ever sell. Helped by local production and popularity in the increasingly important Chinese market, the W205 was Mercedes’ biggest-selling model year after year. Even last year, with a brand-new A-Class hatchback and countless newer SUVs for company, it continued to account for every fifth three-pointed star sold anywhere in the world.