Typically, car manufacturer model codenames mean little to anyone but car manufacturers – but not always.

German car aficionados aren’t alone, for example, in nodding sagely at the casual mention of a W124, a W140, an R107 or, super-keenly, a W198. Some Mercedes-Benzes, it seems, are so legendary that to refer to them by their proper names seems almost to do them an injustice.

How Stuttgart would love it if the new W205 C-Class comes to earn that kind of reverence. Assuming that significance gives any clue to overall stature, it certainly should.

Daimler-Benz started making recognisable compact executive saloons in the 1950s, with the four-cylinder W120 series. The seminal moment for the modern C-Class came, though, with the launch of the original C-Class’s immediate predecessor: the 1982 Mercedes 190 and 190E.

This was the W201, and it was followed in 1993 by the W202, which first bore C-Class badging. Mercedes introduced a two-door coupé version alongside regular saloons and estates with the W203 in 2000.

This is the first Merc, however, based on an all-new aluminium/steel hybrid rear-wheel drive platform that’ll be adopted for a whole phalanx of bigger sibling models. From body to chassis to powertrain to interior, it’s a sign of things to come from Mercedes.

There’s plenty riding on it. At the car’s launch, Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche confirmed that, despite the army of smaller, cheaper front-drive models launched of late, the C-Class remains the company’s biggest-selling model. And the Stuttgart firm put its money where its mouth is by investing in creating not only an estate version but also W205 coupés and cabriolets, but there was more to come as Mercedes' AMG division has also launched hot and ballistic versions of the C-Class in the shape of the C 43 and C 63.

The S-Class, launched in 2013, suggested that Merc was rediscovering top form. So is the C-Class destined for greatness?

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Hyundai i30 N
    Standard spec is good so paint colour is our car’s only option
    First Drive
    23 April 2018
    What’s Hyundai’s first hot hatch and N-brand debutant really like? Let’s find out
  • Jaguar E-Pace 2018 review hero front
    Car review
    20 April 2018
    Can Jaguar’s compact SUV bring flair and dynamic polish to a fast-growing class?
  • Audi TT RS Coupé
    First Drive
    20 April 2018
    The Audi TT RS has the looks, a vociferous engine and the supercar-baiting performance, but is it too uncompromising to use as a daily driver?
  • Lamborghini Urus review 2018 hero front
    First Drive
    19 April 2018
    The supercar maker's new 4x4 is massively capable wherever it goes, while being extremely conspicuous and costly while it does it
  • Skoda Kodiaq
    First Drive
    19 April 2018
    High-spec seven-seater Kodiaq begins its family life with a lot to prove — for Skoda and SUVs