Meet Mercedes' crucial new 3-series rival, on sale later this year
18 January 2007

Meet the new C-class. It's sportier to look at, more spacious inside and packs more powerful engines. Crucially, Mercedes says it's sportier to drive, in an attempt to tackle the BMW 3-series head on.

The new C-class takes on a family look that's reminiscent of the larger S-class. It's also bigger, putting on 55mm in length at 4581mm, 42mm in width at 1770mm and 42mm in height at 1448mm. Top-of-the-line Avantgarde models get a coupe-like grille with an oversized three-pointed star, while Classic or mid-range Elegance models retain the traditional three-pointed star atop the bonnet.

The changes inside are as radical as those outside. The dashboard has a new design that combines cues from the S-class together with a high-mounted monitor that folds away when not in use. It works via a rotary control placed between the front seats. The bigger body makes for increased shoulder room (40mm more up front and 20mm more in the rear, plus a little extra rear legroom. Despite the new car’s shorter rear overhang, boot space has also risen by 20 litres to 475 litres.

Safety kit is comprehensive: seven airbags are standard including two twin-stage airbags for the driver and front passenger, a kneebag for the driver, two sidebags in the front seat backs and two curtain-style airbags in the roof. Buyers can also add side airbags in the rear and Mercedes' Pre-Safe system.

Longer, wider, bolder

To accommodate the new C-class’s larger body, Mercedes has comprehensively re-engineered its entry-level saloon’s chassis. The wheelbase is 45mm longer, and the track is 44mm wider up front and 76mm at the rear. This larger footprint helps to improve weight distribution, shifting more of it rearwards than ever before – something that should benefit handling and make it more entertaining to drive.

The suspension retains the same three-link MacPherson strut (front) and five-link (rear) design but has been completely overhauled with new lightweight components, altered geometry and variable-rate dampers. Further changes have been concentrated on the rack-and-pinion steering, which now operates with a more direct ratio.

Our Verdict

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

The Mercedes C-Class marks a return to the company's old-school values of all-round quality and maturity

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Under the bonnet

The engine range is a mix of in-line four and V6 units – the former heavily upgraded in both petrol and diesel guises with moderate gains in output together, lower fuel consumption and cleaner emissions, although as before the capacity doesn’t always match the badge on the bootlid.

Petrol engines start with a turbocharged 1.8-litre four developing 156bhp in the C180 Kompressor and 184bhp in the C200 K– an improvement of 13bhp and 20bhp respectively. Above them is a trio of carry-over V6s: a 204bhp 2.6-litre in the C240; 231bhp 3.0-litre in the C280 and a 272bhp 3.5-litre in the range topping C320, the latter providing enough grunt to hit 62mph in 6.4sec. Among the diesels is a thoroughly revised 2.2-litre four pushing out 136bhp in the C200 CDI and 170bhp in the C220 CDI. They are joined by a 224bhp 3.2-litre V6 in the C320 CDI.

With the exception of the C350, which gets a seven-speed automatic, all new C-classes come as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox. The seven-speed auto is optional on V6 models, while four-cylinder models get an optional five-speed unit.

Although Mercedes hasn't officially announced it, a range-topping C63 AMG will join the range later, powered by a naturally-aspirated 6.2-litre V8. A C-class estate is due to be unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in September. It will head to UK showrooms shortly afterwards. Also on the way is a follow up to the C-class Sport Coupe.

The C-class saloon goes on sale in the UK later this year. Prices are expected to rise by around three per cent over those of the outgoing model, making an entry-level C180 K Classic £23,175.

Greg Kable

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