Let’s talk about hero cars. No, I’m not talking about supercars or top-of-the-range-money-no-object flagships. I’m talking about cars that define a brand, models that people will immediately associate as the company’s icon. Imagine the nameHonda and you would follow up with the name “Civic” or BMW and the “3-Series”.
For Mercedes-Benz, their definitive hero has always been the S-Class, the company’s flagship and technological masterpiece for the generation, and as for their C-Class? Well, that is more of a sidekick. Just as how Robin is to Batman, or The Edge is to Bono, always living hidden in the shadow of the hero. Throughout its history the C-Class has been a small Mercedes fitted with a few hand-me-down features from S-Classes of old.
Well, it isn’t so much the case with the new 2014 Mercedes-Benz (W205) C-Class, because as we have found out in our recent drive in France, the new C-Class is living up to the S-Class’ reputation as a technological tour de force. Read on to find out more.
Buyer’s Guide: Should I Buy One?
If you don’t buy into the ideal that a small car must be sporty, then you can’t do any better than the C-Class. It doesn’t fall into the generalisation that cars such as the 2014 Audi A4 or 2014 BMW 3-Series should be built to appeal to youthful individuals. No, the C-Class is designed to be comfortable, fantastically well-equipped, and loaded with technology to make your commute all the more relaxing. It is a proper and classy executive car for those people who aren’t looking for exuberant behaviour or participate in enthusiastic driving on a daily basis.
KEY SPECS: 2014 Mercedes-Benz C250 BlueTEC
Engine: 2.2-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power: 204PS @ 3800rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1600-1800rpm
Acceleration (0-100km/h): 6.6 seconds (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 4.3L/100km (claimed combined)
Styling – Right Inside and Out
It is tricky when it comes to applying big-car styling to smaller body types, but the new C-Class certainly wears the emperor’s new clothes very well. In our opinion, the S-Class’ subtle curves and taut lines are better suited for the C-Class’ dimensions, it looks more athletic and especially sensuous in the right light. That shape is slippery too, as Mercedes claims that the C-Class could achieve a drag coefficient of 0.24Cd, the lowest such figure in its class.
Where the C-Class has truly made visible improvements is in the cabin. It is beautifully well executed with smooth shapes, fine details, and an eclectic mix of high-class materials. As night falls the cabin would light up with rows of LED ambient lighting elements fitted to the dashboard console panel and door trim, with a choice of three colours to choose from. If you judge a car by how it makes you feel inside, the C-Class is head and shoulders over the competition.
Debuting on the C-Class is a brand new control dial to operate the C-Class’ onboard COMAND multimedia system. More than just an aesthetically pleasing piece of design, the controller now packs a touch-sensitive surface which arcs over the rotary dial. This allows users to access shortcuts by using swipes from the finger.
Packed just behind the C-Class’ front occupant foot-well is the Frontbass system, which features subwoofers integrated into the car’s front cross member in the body structure to improve acoustics, a feature that was first introduced on the SL roadster.
Technology – Dressed in its Best
When it comes to the bones of the C-Class, we are duly impressed by its weight shaving measures. According to Mercedes-Benz, the C-Class boasts an aluminium hybrid body, which is around 70kg lighter than a conventional steel body. The C-Class now has 39 per cent more aluminium in its construction as compared to its predecessor, bringing its aluminium content to nearly 50 per cent. As such Mercedes-Benz’s engineers have been able to cut the vehicle’s overall weight by up to 100kg. Its lightness can be particularly felt from the moment you open its doors with its door frames made from the lightweight metal. It feels light as a feather and yet closes with a reassuring ‘thunk’.
Though customers can opt for the Exclusive trim with the traditional Mercedes-Benz grille and the tri-star sticking proudly on top, or the sporty Avantgarde trim with the star integrated into a sporty twin lourve grille, they actually have different functions. While the Avantgarde grille is fixed, the Exclusive grille features an active radiator shutter which closes the grille vents to optimise aerodynamics, or leave it open to improve cooling.
It isn’t just the looks that the C-Class lifts its inspiration from the S-Class. Beneath the fancy metalwork, the C-Class packs a vast array of short to long range of multi-mode radars, and both normal and stereo cameras to operate a whole cornucopia of safety systems.
As standard the C-Class comes with Collision Prevention Assist Plus which enables autonomous partial braking from speeds as low as 7km/h to 200km/h, brakes in response to stationary vehicles at speeds of up to 50km/h, and can prevent rear-end collisions at up to 40km/h. Its Adaptive Brake system comes with brake priming and brake drying features, while a Crosswind Assist will automatically counter-steer any deviation in a windy day, and a Attention Assist driver drowsiness alert system will help keep an eye on the driver’s alertness.
Request for the options list and you can further spec the C-Class to come fitted with features such as the Distronic Plus radar-guided cruise control system with the semi-autonomous Stop&Go Pilot feature, which can recognise lane markings and follow vehicles in front at speeds below 60km/h. Or upgrade its braking system with the BAS Plus Brake Assist which can detect crossing traffic and pre-empt the braking system before hand if it receives no action from the driver. The system is said to be able to detect stationary vehicles and even pedestrians, and can apply the brakes autonomously at speeds of up to 50km/h.
If you hadn’t already noticed, these technologies are also fitted to the latest S-Class, and it is rather surprising to note that the C-Class comes with these toys this early on. Impressive to say the least for a car of its class, and comforting to know that there is a pair of electronic eyes looking out for you.
Ride and Handling – Keeping Calm and Relaxed
Understandably, with this being an event for the world’s media, our test cars in France had to come fitted with the C-Class’piece de resistance when it comes to ride quality, Airmatic air-suspension on all four wheels, a feature normally fitted to the most luxurious of cars and a first for a car of its class. As expected the gas-filled shock absorbers delivered a very cushy and cosseting ride, which was great whenever we came across some rough patches, as we never felt it passing underneath its stride.
The cabin refinement is excellent, and Mercedes explains it is thanks in part to their attention to detail as engineers have managed to optimise the noise characteristics of the interior blower, power windows, seat adjustment motors, and other operating noises. As expected the new C-Class did grow in size, but more importantly, Mercedes-Benz now says that its’ wheelbase is slightly longer than that of the W210 E-Class two generations ago, so when it comes to rear legroom, a previous C-Class bugbear, you would be glad to know that the space offered on the new one is rather generous.
When put through its paces along some mountain passes however the air suspension, even in its sportiest of settings, felt a little over-cushioned and allows some lean when pushed hard. That said despite its soft nature, the steering is pretty good, accurate and weighty in its sports setting, though the chassis is delivers a more comforting ride rather than a more involving one for the driver. But as we have established before the C-Class is meant to soothe rather than excite, and on that note, it does this remarkably well.
Ed’s note: On the flip side however, air suspension is offered as an option, which is usually a very costly one, and going off recent trends, we imagine that, models bound for Malaysia won’t be specified with this, so it might actually drive better though not ride as comfortably.
Performance: In other markets, the C-Class is offered with a wide range of petrol, diesel, and hybrid powertrains, but during our drive in France we were handed the keys to a diesel-powered C250 BlueTEC. With 204PS and a stellar 500Nm of torque from a 2.2-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel, acceleration was brisk and effortless, while the 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission delivered smooth shifts and was pretty responsive. 0 to 100km/h in the C250 BlueTEC was done in 6.6 seconds, which isn’t bad from something tipping the scales at 2.1 tonnes, and is capable of delivering a rated fuel consumption figure of 4.3L/100km.
Ed’s Note: Predictably due to our dirty diesel quality, we won’t be getting Mercedes-Benz’s latest clean diesel engines such as that used in the C250 BlueTEC. Instead we expect the C-Class range in Malaysia to maintain the same 184PS and 211PS variants of the 2-litre petrol engine range that you would find on the facelifted E-Class.
If predictions on its initial pricing of being in the regions of RM300,000 turns out to be true, the C-Class is going to be sporting a higher premium than its rivals. That said you get what you pay for with the C-Class, as it sets a new benchmark in cabin ambience and features. By comparison the C-Class makes its immediate Germanic rivals look drab and feel rudimentary.
It might not offer the sharpest steering or be the most exciting car to drive in its class, but we do get the impression that isn’t what the C-Class is made for. It is meant to appeal to the finer things in life. It feels like a million dollars inside, and with a number of semi-autonomous features helping you keep a watchful eye while you relax onboard, it will make you feel just as good when you get out. At the end of a hard day’s work for most, that is all that matters. This is deservingly the new hero in the segment.