What is it?
Mercedes’ new contender in the junior executive class, which has the unenviable task of taking on the BMW 3-series.
This all-new C-class was developed entirely within a computer until late on in the prototype stage, and also embraces plenty of new technology in its production form: electronic dampers, a new generation of voice control, and S-class-style COMAND system to name but a few.
Essentially, though, it’s the familiar recipe of sophisticated suspension and rear-wheel drive.
There’s a predictable – yet carefully developed – range of engines from the four-cylinder petrol to the V6 350 and diesel 320CDi engines.
What’s it like?
We tried the C320 CDi in Sport trim. The fact that it was a Sport is now quite important, because Mercedes has put more air between the differing trim levels in the range.
An Elegance is very much the luxury variant; a Sport gets switchable dampers, a quicker steering rack, an AMG bodykit including a totally different grille and sportier interior.
In the glinting black of our test car, the Sport looks really rather effective indeed. Mercedes has really tried to put the gravitas back into the C-class and the mixture of current S-class themes and the big, upright grille – like that on a 1980s 560 SEC – give this car genuine presence.
At town speeds and when cruising the C320 is a very easy and relaxing car to drive. The steering is light but accurate and the ride – on these ripple-free Spanish roads at least – is very smooth when the dampers are set to normal.
There’re oodles of grunt on tap from the refined V6, and the seven-speed automatic gearbox shifts smoothly.
As a sports saloon it’s not quite so successful, if still a highly competent steer. There’s plenty of grip and composure up until eight-tenths, beyond which it lacks the genuine sporting poise and entertainment of a 3-series.
Nevertheless, the C-class is roomier than its Bavarian rival, with a bigger boot and better ride. It also gets much more attention from passers-by.
Should I buy one?
If you're about to replace your compact exec saloon, you should certainly try one. Although it doesn’t offer quite the entertainment of a BMW, based on this initial sampling the new C-class is a strong all-round package.