Output remains the same as the outgoing model, at 168bhp and 295lb ft of torque. It is channelled through a standard six-speed manual gearbox, although the car we’re in sports the optional seven-speed automatic gearbox, complete with remote shift paddles.
As with every C-class since the original, this new one will be sold with standard rear-wheel drive. But, in a long overdue move, selected models will also be available with optional 4Matic four-wheel drive in right-hand-drive guise, allowing Mercedes-Benz to challenge the likes of the Audi A4 quattro and BMW 3-series xDrive for the very first time.
It has grown, most notably in length. In keeping with developments with other recent new models from Mercedes-Benz, the new C-class has been given a much longer wheelbase in a move clearly aimed at providing added distance to the recently introduced CLA.
It also provides the basis for added interior and boot space – the latter of which increases by five litres to a nominal 480 litres with the rear seat backs in place.
Despite the light disguise covering the car we’re about to ride in, it is clear the new C-class has been styled to resemble the larger S-class. This is particularly evident in the detailing of its bold front end, surfacing treatment, body side feature lines and gently sloping rear. As with the larger E-class, buyers will get to choose between a traditional grille like that of the prototype and more modern soft-nose treatment.
Stepping inside, you’re immediately aware of Mercedes-Benz’s efforts to provide the new C-class with a more contemporary look as well as a big lift in perceived quality. The swoopy dashboard and wide centre console are a big departure from those of the preceding model, giving it an instantly more up-market and more luxurious air.
The front seats, a new development, are typically firm. But with a broad contoured squab and back rest, prove terrifically supportive.
Dominating features include an expensive-looking three-spoke multi-function steering wheel, a free standing colour monitor and a quintet of round aluminium-look air vents.
Before we get underway, Kraemer points out a number of optional features that are yet to be offered on any other Mercedes-Benz model, S-class included. Among them is a head-up display unit. It projects information, including speed, posted speed limits, navigation commands and warning from assistant systems, on to the windscreen.
The C220 BlueTec’s four-cylinder unit delivers a good deal of torque in the first couple of thousand revs, providing it with impressive low end urgency away from the traffic lights and through the gears. As with the outgoing model, there are three driving modes: Eco, Manual and Sport.
Mercedes-Benz’s figures give the expected volume seller of the new C-class line-up a 0-62mph time of 8.1sec in sport – a 0.3sec improvement on the outgoing model. Subjectively, it feels faster.
The most impressive facet of the driveline is its ability to propel the C220 BlueTec along at typical motorway speeds in such a completely relaxed manner. Longer gearing clearly plays a crucial role here. Isolation of engine noise from the cabin is also excellent.
I’m merely a passenger, but the feeling as we leave the autobahn behind and begin heading along narrow back roads is one of added agility. With a new four link front suspension and aluminium wheel bearings, Kraemer says the C-class is now more responsive than ever before. “The dynamic improvements have as much to do with the new suspension geometry as they do with the tuning of the new electro-mechanical steering system,” he says.
The pilot production car we’re in is fitted with an Air Matic air suspension, which will be an option on all models to be sold in the UK. Even on badly rutted surfaces, the ride is superbly controlled. There is an underlying smoothness and engaging fluency to the way the new C-class travels down the road, both at typical city speeds and when whipped along back roads with a heavy right foot. It will be interesting to sample the standard steel sprung system, but there’s little doubt the air sprung underpinnings.
Refinement is another strength, with little hint of tyre slap or tread roar on coarse and uneven bitumen from the passenger seat. Low levels of wind roar and buffeting make for hushed progress at all but breakneck speeds.
As well as enhancing the primary ride and improving comfort, the advanced underpinnings also provide Mercedes’ new mid-range saloon with constant self levelling and the ability to lower the body at speed to improve the aerodynamics, which Kraemer describes as best in class.
The basis for the excellent ride and refinement is an extra stiff body with extremely rigid mounting points for the suspension. The new structure is fashioned largely from aluminium, which now makes up 48 per cent of the materials within the body as opposed to just nine per cent with the old C-class. As well as being significantly more rigid, the body structure is also 100kg lighter than before.
This reduction in weight not only helps boost performance, it also leads to a 20 per cent improvement in fuel economy across the new C-class line-up. With claimed average consumption of 70.6mpg, the new C220 BlueTec is more economical than both the Audi A4 2.0 TDI (62.8mpg) and BMW 316d (65.7mpg).
Our next outing in the fourth-generation C-class will be a proper drive. Until then, our initial impressions from the passenger seat are of a smoother, quieter and more comfortable car, with hints of added agility, improved response and impressive economy. On top of this, the new Mercedes-Benz boasts clearly improved interior quality, accommodation and every day practicality.
In short, it appears to be a better prospect in every crucial area than today’s C-class. But when the competition includes such outstanding cars as the BMW 3-series and Audi A4, it’s going to need to be at the top of its game simply to stand a chance.