Our first ride in the all-new new Mercedes C-class reveals a car that will offer serious competition to BMW and Audi, thanks to improvements to its ride, engine and interior
11 December 2013

Mercedes-Benz has been talking up its new fourth-generation C-class for some time now, suggesting it is a significant improvement on its predecessor.

Up to now, though, the only real evidence at the new executive class contender’s progress has come by way of some early details, revealing its lightweight aluminium construction and its stylish new interior, which is clearly a big improvement on that of the old model — not only in terms of design and quality but overall accommodation and sheer feel-good factor.

Now, with Mercedes-Benz officials on edge as they prepare to take it public for the first time, here we are at the German car maker’s vast R&D centre on the outskirts of Stuttgart, ready to ride in a lightly disguised prototype of the new C-class saloon, the first in five individual bodystyles in which it will eventually be produced. We're also here alongside the man responsible for its development, Michael Kraemer.  

Fittingly, Mercedes-Benz has brought along what it expects will be the best-selling model in the UK, the C220 BlueTec. Powered by an upgraded version of Mercedes-Benz’s widely used turbocharged 2.1-litre four-cylinder common rail diesel, it becomes the first C-class model to receive urea-injection technology, in the process providing it with EU6 emission compatibility as well as significantly improved fuel economy. It also ditches the CDI model identification for the BlueTec tag.

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.

First impressions?

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).

The verdict

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.

Our Verdict

Mercedes-Benz C-Class 2007-2014

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

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Comments
18

11 December 2013
Is the claimed 70.6mpg figure for the manual or auto? Either way, that's mighty impressive for a compact exec saloon, especially one that does 0-62mph in 8.1s.

11 December 2013
Haven't Autocar always slated the A4, and now describe it as an outstanding car? Confused. Like the back end styling to this. However this early report sounds like a MB promo......

12 December 2013
[quote=sipod]Haven't Autocar always slated the A4, and now describe it as an outstanding car? Confused. Like the back end styling to this. However this early report sounds like a MB promo......[/quote] completly agree i am confused by the A4 comment.. i honestly can never remember a A4 being better than a mercedes in any test report...I have an A4 3.2 Quattro( i boughtit because i got a great used deal), really like it but having driven many Mercs..even though the current C class suffers in terms of interior quality, there is somthig about them that the A4 doesnt have..the A4 is great but it just somehow just feels like a step up from the passat platform it is based on! I never walk up to it feeling the same way I did when I walked up to my BMW or Merc. something just missing! Anyway loving all the new Merc interiors.. some of the recent styling a little bit iffy( CLA, M-class), but liking the new merc C and S and also cant wait for the S class Coupe that looks likely to be a very goodlooking muscular car.

12 December 2013
I'm to opposite to you. I prefer Audi's to BMW's and Mercs. The last thing I want when driving in central london traffic is a car with a personality. Hondas are also good in this regard. However the reverse is true on nice A roads, but I rarely get to drive at speed on them. Maybe its a case of of getting the right car for your driving needs and circumstances.

12 December 2013
but the cuuent C has always been ahead of the A4

twitter @anikadamali, @notPCnairobi

12 December 2013
Ok, I like it compared to recent fussy Mercs, but it's hardly a leap forwards. Particularly with that rear end, it's not far off a mildly updated Rover 75. Again, not a BAD thing, but hardly worth the typical German manufacturer eulogising.

12 December 2013
'aluminium wheel bearings' ? I doubt it. I guess the author means wheel bearing housings. Is there an engineer on the Autocar staff? If so, get him to do some proof reading!

marineboy

12 December 2013
I wonder how this one will do in the iihs small overlap crash test. The current c class is rated poor.

12 December 2013
[quote=winniethewoo] I wonder how this one will do in the iihs small overlap crash test. The current c class is rated poor. [/quote] It got a marginal, which isn't as bad as a poor. Not too bad considering the car is about to be replaced and many newer vehicles don't fare as well. The Audi A4 got a poor.


12 December 2013
The IIHS did two tests on the 2012 C class. The first car they tested was rated Poor. Mercedes went back, made some modifications and they did a second test. This scored marginal. So we are both right. Pre December 2012 C Class are poor, Post December 2012 C Class are marginal. They are the same model, otherwise. The small overlap crash data was out in the public domain, showing 25% of people were dying from this sort of crash, yet Mercedes decided it wasn't worth bothering designing crash structures for until the IIHS outed their cars as being unsafe. Only Volvo and Honda decided to act on the data without being pushed into it by poor crash test results. With Volvo it was a company culture thing as they really do care about safety. I read a Honda interview where they said that as it was public information, they thought it was only a matter of time before independent crash testing bodies starting acting on it and incorporating it into their crash testing regimines, and they better be prepared. Mercedes arrogantly denied this scenario was important at all, and issued statements as such when the C Class got rated poor by the IIHS.

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