What is it?
The much-improved Mercedes-Benz C-Class; this time in its fleet-friendly C 220 guise, and, for the first time, on UK roads. Like the C 250 already driven abroad, the model gets Mercedes’ 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, albeit with slightly less power and, correspondingly, slightly better economy.
The latter is improved even further by pairing the familiar BlueTec unit with its default six-speed manual gearbox - a distinctly unfamiliar feature to most British C-Class buyers, who opt heavily in favour of the seven-speed automatic. Changing ratios yourself means an average CO2 saving of 6g/km; which sees the pram-wheeled SE model sink to just 103g/km.
Even in the mid-spec Sport model we drove - a £1995 premium over the starter car which includes 17-inch wheels, lowered suspension, heated sports seats, LED headlights and Artico leather upholstery - it’s only 1g/km worse off and is still potentially good for 70.6mpg.
Along with the analogue transmission, our test car did without the new option of self-levelling Airmatic suspension, relying instead on steel springs and the redesigned multi-link front and back axle for its bump absorption. In fact, other than metallic paint, it came with no ticks at all, leaving it admirably close to Mercedes’ on-the-road price of £31,360.
What's it like?
Very impressive, in the main. Mercedes’ claim that this is a smarter, lighter and classier brand of C-Class has not been undone by either its translation to right-hand drive or haphazard English road surfaces. Despite its misleading name and 15mm drop in ride height, the Sport gets ‘Comfort’ suspension settings rather than the ‘Sport’ setup found aboard the top-spec AMG Line model, and its body control compromise is highly satisfying.
Shod in Continental tyres (the Hankook alternatives somewhat dull the effect) the C220 delivers the obliging comfort one best equates with Mercedes; riding for the most part with real plushness and tranquility without ceding the purposefulness one expects of a compact saloon. Better sportiness has not been striven for senselessly - the 320d’s sharper edge is avoided, one suspects, consciously; the newly slimmed C-Class steers sweeter, not harder.
The manual ‘box, surprisingly, proves an ally to the dynamic in as much as its function is quiet, measured and heftily positive. Again, there is none of the bite mark a BMW 3 Series would leave on your palm; the Mercedes take on six-speeds is mature and smoothly considered - even a needless bit of auto blipping on downshift in Sport mode is delivered with quiet modesty. Its well-judged ratios assist in extracting the best from the 168bhp motor, too.
We’ve already highlighted the bluntness of the more powerful version, and, needless to say, its not remedied by a significantly smaller portion of potential torque (295lb ft from 1400rpm). It’s not unforgivably poor - or even a constant bugbear - by any stretch of the imagination; it simply isn’t quite up to the surrounding car’s standard, and must be worked too hard too often for persuasive results.