Two years ahead of its planned UK introduction, Mercedes’ engineers have begun honing the next generation C-class in a bid to see it better the class benchmark, the new BMW 3-series. Along with the four-door saloon, the new car’s platform will be used underneath a five-door estate, the three-door Sports Coupé, CLK coupé and cabriolets, and the X-class, a compact 4x4 rival for the BMW X3.
Our computer-generated rendering reveals the C-class’s sharp new appearance. It borrows styling cues from the next S-class, due this September, with tauter surfacing, greater flaring of the wheelarches and prominent swage lines. The headlamps switch from today’s double-rounded form to a trapezoidal shape, while the tail lamps take on a more dynamic form.The car will ride on a newly developed chassis with a longer wheelbase and widened tracks. The four-link (front) and multi-link (rear) suspension will continue, but with altered pick-up points, revised geometry and increased travel. It is allied to a stiffer body shell and redesigned platform structure – both using laser welding techniques for greater strength and tighter production tolerances.However, Mercedes-Benz’s AirMatic air suspension and Active Body Control have been ruled out on cost grounds, as has the troubled Sensotronic brake control which will be replaced by a fully hydraulic system.Direct injection will be made standard across Mercedes-Benz’s four-cylinder M271 engine family for increased output and improved fuel consumption. All of the new C-class’s four-cylinder engines will have the same 1.8-litre capacity but will be offered with 150bhp, 170bhp and turbocharged 190bhp outputs.
Stuttgart’s new M272 naturally-aspirated 24-valve V6 engine family will supply 204bhp 2.5-, 231bhp 3.0- and 272bhp 3.5-litre powerplants for the C-class. At the top of the line-up will be an AMG flagship, expected to retain the existing car’s 5.4-litre V8, but with a power output up from today’s 367bhp to around 410bhp.Work is also well advanced on a redesigned 2.2-litre four-cylinder common-rail diesel. This should remain in the line-up for at least three years, enhanced by the incorporation of efficient piezo fuel injectors boosting power by 13bhp to 163bhp.The 3.0-litre V6 diesel will be offered in two different states of tune: 190bhp and 224bhp. Also under development is a performance-oriented version of this engine with three turbochargers and claimed to deliver 286bhp along with a hefty 467lb ft. It could be sold under the AMG name.
The new car retains rear-wheel drive, a six-speed manual gearbox as standard and a seven-speed automatic as an option across the range. Mercedes-Benz’s 4Matic four-wheel-drive system will also be available, on C350 and C320 CDI models only, though there’s no word yet on whether it will be offered in the UK.
Inside, there will be new cabin architecture, improved quality and a longer list of optional features. The dashboard design centres around a new rotary controller that’s set to make its debut in the next S-class. Mercedes’ answer to BMW’s iDrive and Audi’s MMI system operates in tandem with a new multi-function steering wheel that’s likely to be standard across the range. Options will include high-intensity air conditioning, Keyless Go, Distronic cruise control and dynamic seats.Mercedes-Benz has also been working on improving the driving position of its new models. After feedback provided by Autocar, Mercedes Research and Technology board member Dr Thomas Weber has committed to improving the driving position in some right-hand-drive Mercedes, after problems with an uncomfortable driving position caused by pedals offset to the right and a steering wheel offset to the left. Weber assured Autocar that ‘the problem will not be there in future models.’