Richard Bosselman reports from the model launch of Mercedes-Benz’s new mainstream sedan.
July 10, 2007, 10am. Twisting and diving alongside an azure ocean, snaking inland through limestone-pocked hills, slipping easily through undulating grasslands into the Garden City. Know the road? It’s the section of State Highway 1 between Kaikoura and Christchurch.
It’s also one of the country’s three greatest –according to a brand-driven survey of Kiwi Mercedes Benz owners.
The other Benz boy (and girl) favourites are the Desert Road through the central North Island and that coast-hugger on the Thames side of the Coromandel Peninsular.
You’ll see snippets of each in a television campaign for the new C-Class.
The tagline for the car’s sales campaign is “love the road.”
Sadly, that ideal smacked of wishful thinking when we took the South Island route for the car’s introductory drive.
Great scenery. But, on a Tuesday afternoon, way too much heavy traffic. And, lamentably, few places to pass. Ultimately the first run in this Merc became more of a trial than a test.
Pity that. The maker promises the third-generation car will provide a higher level of driving pleasure than its immediate predecessor, which was no bad thing in itself.
What’s different? Not the price. Well, not much. The cheapest is the $69,990 C200K Classic and the dearest is the $99,900 C280 Avantgarde with optional AMG sports kit included.
The old line started in the same place but just $10 short of $110,000.
What was evident on drive day was how it’s shaping up in other respects. Sheer size alone has never been the measure of all luxury cars, but it certainly helps them to be noticed.
Bigger, bolder and brasher is the way this time. It also seems the smallest of Mercedes Benz’s sedans wants to step out of the shadow of the higher-echelon E and S Classes. It demands to be noticed and will be, not least because it no longer looks like a smaller version of those models.
That’s a change for a car that has been as much a cash cow for Mercedes as the 3-Series is to BMW. In 2001, at the height of its success, the previous generation C accounted for more than half a million sales worldwide.
It’s been core business in NZ, too, with 1300 registered in seven years.
A taller, wider, longer yet slightly lighter body and a bigger (by 45mm) wheelbase support Mercedes’ claim for a more spacious cabin in the new C-Class.
Passenger room has increased quite substantially, with rear occupants benefiting most.
The seats are comfortable and supportive, although the electronic controls push the bases too high and don't allow rear passengers to get their feet fully under the seat. The boot is massive.
Looks-wise, the car is definitely more imposing. The bluff nose, stepped bonnet and wavy headlights are all needed to meet latest Euro pedestrian impact rules.
Slots in the taillights duct air off the coachwork without turbulence, which reduces drag to 0.27Cd and dispenses with the need for a rear spoiler.
The styling is more mature than the previous model, which is interesting. The C, after all, has always been about introducing younger buyers to the brand. Will this one?
There are several new high-tech features, some adopted from the S-Class, starting with PRE-SAFE, an advanced preventative occupant protection system that primes itself if it thinks you're going to crash.
Within the cabin, it picks up the bigger models' electronic architecture, including a single multi-function COMAND controller. It's easier to use than BMW's iDrive, mainly because it has only a single set of sub-menus.
Bluetooth phone connect is standard, and it has operational satellite navigation. Better still, the software the New Zealand distributor has sorted will work on any post-2003 car with the Comand hardware.
Owners of those vehicle – nearly 1000 in all – will get the software for free, a generous move.
Still absent is the Intelligent Light System where bi-xenon headlights have five different settings depending on weather and driving conditions. It can’t be offered here until it meets LTSA sanction.
Following Benz tradition, the C-Class sedan arrives first. A wagon will be revealed in Europe in September and should land here in April-May of 2008, when the first of the AMG-fettled racers – the 378kW 6.2-litre V8 C63 – also arrives.
On first acquaintance, the C-Class came across as a compact and classy car. We’re looking forward to another drive, on roads of our own choice.
– Story and photographs by Richard Bosselman.
C-Class range in detail
July 10, 2007, 10am. New C-Class spec levels are split among Classic, Elegance and Avantgarde, with pricing stepped accordingly.
All have eight airbags – including driver’s knee airbag and rear airbags – and have alloy wheels, rain sensor and climate control air.
Elegance takes electric front seats with memory, burr walnut and leather, and 16-inch wheels.
Avantgarde gets the full new generation Comand, a top sound system with a file download facility, plus a neat pop-up navigation screen.
It also gets the Agility Control package with variable-rate dampers that increase resistance for sporty driving and decrease resistance for more relaxed cruising.
The Avantgarde gets a three-pointed star on the grille, a locale hitherto reserved for coupe models. The others continue with a badge plonked atop the bonnet, like a gunsight.
The four and six-cylinder engines develop up to 13 percent more power than their predecessors, with fuel consumption reduced by up to six percent.
The entry-level model is the C200 Kompressor, whose supercharged 1796cc four-cylinder makes 135kW of power and 250Nm torque.
It reaches 100km/h in 8.6 seconds and returns an average fuel burn of 7.9 litres/100km. It’s here in $69,900 Classic and $81,900 Avantgarde form.
The 125kW/400Nm, 2148cc C220 CDI turbodiesel is a relaxed (8.4s to 100km/h) but frugal (6.7 litres/100km) runner, perfectly suited to easy-going long hauls. It’s offered in Classic spec, for $72,900 and Avantgarde, at $84,900.
Top puppy is the C280, powered by a 2996cc 170kW/300Nm normally-aspirated petrol V6 (7.3s/9.4 litres/100km).
It eschews the cheaper models’ five-speed auto for a seven-speeder and only comes in Avantgarde, for $93,900 without the AMG bits.
The 165kW/510Nm C320 six-cylinder turbodiesel will become a special order item from later this year, but despite the popularity of the outgoing C350 V6 petrol, we won’t see the new edition with a 200kW/350Nm engine.