Exceedingly pleasant inside, although conspicuous in its absence is the smart dual-screen digital slab found in the E-Class, S-Class and now even the A-Class hatch.
To compensate, the instrument binnacle dead ahead of the driver is now fully digital (optional, alas, requiring you to part with £2795 for the Premium Package) and the screen for the Comand infotainment system has grown to 10.25in.
There’s also ambience lighting and new finishes including walnut and oak, although the basic architecture remains. As such, anybody coming from a 3 Series will find this a characterful, opulent environment, while those accustomed to a reasonably well equipped A4 might call it fussy and a little disappointing to the touch.
Driven here is the C200. While it won’t constitute the bulk of C-Class sales (that’ll be the 220d), it is arguably the most interesting car in the line-up, not least because under the bonnet is a downsized 1.5-litre in-line four internally known as ‘M264’.
This engine features twin-scroll turbocharging for greater torque at modest crank speeds, while the cylinder bores have been pared back at their bases to reduce friction while preserving a tight seal. It’s an old-school efficiency gain — and a clever one at that. Meanwhile, the belt-driven starter-generator running off a 48V electrical system is the latest application of Mercedes' EQ Boost mild hybrid technology and supposedly yields the performance of the old 2.0 engine but with much less of a real-world thirst.
It’s a decent engine in practice, too, even if its thrummy tone is a bit present for the three-pointed star. The electric element is succinctly integrated, and in Eco mode you’ll find the engine shutting down completely and seamlessly while you coast. If it could do so just a fraction sooner after throttle closes it’d be more effective — and that is something Mercedes will surely refine as time goes by. As it is, on motorway and dual carriageways, you’ll spend a decent proportion of time burning no fuel at all, although this driveline doesn’t have the ability to sustain momentum with bursts of purely electric power.
It’s not all about economy, though. The EQ Boost system also helps the engine and gearbox rev-match for quicker shifts and there is supposedly an element of torque-filling as the turbo spools up — not that it was particularly noticeable at any point during our test drive. That nine-speed automatic gearbox shuffles its glut of ratios with adequate dexterity if your only intention is to make relaxed progress; push on and, despite its respectable balance and accurate (but uneasily numb) steering, the C200 cuts a strained figure. There’s a great deal of noise but not much propulsion.
Those in a particular hurry should look first to the 2.0-litre C300, although neither is much of a driver’s car. The C300 boasts 254bhp but forgoes electrification for a combined economy of 41.5mpg to the 44.1mpg of the car driven here (we managed about 50mpg at a 70mph cruise). Not a great deal of difference, admittedly, but due to a crucial disparity in CO2 emissions the taxman gazes rather more favourably on the smaller-engined car — as long as you don’t go for 19in wheels, which push CO2 output above 150g/km.
As for ride, on the standard Comfort suspension the C-Class is suitably fluid, if dispassionate, and has good body control. The C-Class also remains the only car among its peers to be available with air springs. These should be optioned with care, particularly by anybody who frequently drives in built-up areas crammed with speed bumps and the like. Motorway drivers have greater justification in spending the additional £895.