From £15,285
C faring much better

Our Verdict

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

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

18 May 2004

With so much attention focused on the new sledgehammer C55 range-topper, the changes made to cars at the more humble end of the C-class range risk going unnoticed.

In fact, the V8 crowns a facelifted line-up. Saloons, estates and Sport-Coupés receive some subtle exterior styling tweaks and, more importantly, a revised cabin to address criticism of the original car’s quality. 

The semi-circular speedo makes way for pair of clearer, more conventional dials, while the centre-console switchgear now looks and feels better, although the ambience still isn’t quite up to Audi A4 standards. Spec levels receive a much-needed boost: air-con is standard across the range, as is Merc’s new scratch-resistant paint and even lowly Classic models come with wood trim, although it won’t be to all tastes.

What such skin-deep tweaks don’t reveal is a wider front track, improved manual gearchange and quicker steering; three small revisions that improve a car so competent that it outranked the class-leading BMW 3-series when the two first met here three years ago. But the important news under the bonnet of cooking models is a 7bhp power hike for the C220 CDI (now 150bhp), and a new supercharged 230K. Fitted with the same 1.8-litre blown multi-valve four used in the 143bhp 180K and 163bhp 200K, but coaxed into producing 192bhp, it propels the manual saloon to 60mph in 8.1sec and on to 149mph.

While estate cars come from the German factory and are on sale in Britain now, right-hook saloon Cs are built in South Africa and won’t arrive here until July. Not that UK customers are likely to mind much: wagons make up one fifth of all UK C-class sales, and when such elegant styling is married to one of the biggest load bays in the class it’s not hard to see why. Best buy is arguably a small petrol model or the four-pot diesel C220, which complies with Euro4 emissions regulations, thus escaping the three per cent benefit in kind loading. But we’ve got something of a soft spot for the lusty 2.7-litre five fitted to our test car, although its inferior fuel consumption and CO2 figures make it hard to justify.

And you’ll pay for the privilege of ownership. A standard C270 CDI Elegance SE wagon will set you back a stiff £28,165 and it’s hardly stacked. By the time you’ve added the almost obligatory – and very effective – five-speed auto ’box, not to mention the leather trim, CD changer and other goodies that should be standard, you’re looking at the thick end of £35k, or enough to seat you in a well-equipped Audi A6 Avant or 5-series – both much bigger cars – never mind a fully loaded rival.

Chris Chilton

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