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C-Class Benz gets brio and flair


I’ve always thought of Mercedes’ C-Class as dull, if worthy cars. The sort bought by colourless types in tweed jackets with leather elbow patches; by blue-rinsed wives with worthy chins.

Or by people for whom appearance is all, performance meaningless, while actual build quality is negotiable.
True, the AMG version could raise the pulse a tad, but that was the exception that proved the rule.

But this new, larger version has me reconsidering.

Its skin may be handsome in an understated Germanic fashion, rather than actively racy, but there’s plenty of substance beneath its metal skin.

Like the three engines offered, for example.

The 1.8-litre four makes more power, with 135kW and 250Nm, put to the ground via a five-speed auto for a 0-100km/h time of 8.8 seconds – half a second better than before.

Claimed fuel use is 8.2 litres/100km, which naturally can’t beat the 2248cc turbocharged diesel at 6.7.

Eat your heart out petrol fans, for that C220’s frugal thirst is matched by almost as much power at 125kW – and considerably more torque, with 400Nm on tap for a 0-100 time claimed at 8.4 seconds.

We couldn’t measure that on the C-Class model launch, but can report it proved smooth and refined at open road speeds, yet delivered plenty of go almost everywhere you wanted it. Both petrol engines spread their torque over a wide rev range, yet can’t beat the C220 for pulling power.

Why buy the entry-level petrol, then? Er – you save three grand. More to the point, why buy the 3.0-litre V6?

The C280 has got more power – the 170kW and seven-speed G-Tronic auto transmission assisting it to 100km/h over a second quicker.

But how often do you sprint?

Take the diesel’s grunt, is our advice, and enjoy travelling considerably further per fill.

Actually, you’ll probably enjoy travelling. This car is more rigid, but it’s also got a more sophisticated suspension set-up that includes what Mercedes calls ‘agility control’, which adjusts the damping systems according to the conditions, the surface, and your driving style.

Meanwhile, the brakes – using tech filched from the S-Class – include start-off assist for uphills. They will prime if they think things are getting critical, and will dry themselves in wet weather.

Want more? Later this year advance agility will allow you to select sports mode for sharper acceleration response and firmer variable damping – plus adjustable speed-variable steering.

Meanwhile, the standard car offers a predictable drive with a touch of flair; it’s steady as a rock when driven briskly and happy to take corners at an unseemly rate. Prefer sedate? You’ll certainly be comfy as you cruise, while your boasting rights are considerably boosted by this car.

For even the entry-level petrol Classic offers ABS, ESP stability control, ASR acceleration skid control, active head restraints, eight airbags, and what Merc calls PRESAFE.

If the electronic nannies think you’re about to crash, the car not only pretensions the seatbelts, but repositions the seats and closes the windows and (optional) sunroof for you.

New Mercedes general manager, Roger Zagorski, has a refreshing sense of humour and an appreciation for what Kiwis want from their cars – hence the “love the road” ad series, not to mention a healthy respect for what his brand’s boffins have achieved.

“Our safety systems look at four stages; safe driving, with systems to help you avoid danger, like tyre pressure monitors. Safe driving when danger threatens, like PRESAFE, which prepares you for a crash.

During a crash, with airbags, neck protect etc. And post crash, with engine shutdown, doors unlocking and so on.”

Then there are the other goodies – the 12 steering wheel-mounted buttons that offer easy access to several functions without introducing the feared complexity their number suggests.

Then there’s the Satnav that’s relaunched with this car – and can be retrofitted free of charge if you’ve already got a nav-capable Mercedes. And multi-format audio, Parktronic, child seat recognition sensors, plus climate control, phone pre-installation, rain-sensing wipers and Bluetooth.

All these are standard, even on the entry-level car, which starts the bidding at $69,900 in Classic form, or $72,900 for the delicious diesel.

Pay a tad more for Elegance specification and you’ll add anti-dazzle mirrors, electric front seats with memory, and burr walnut fittings.

Both Classic and Elegance spec levels are aimed at the traditionalist, who likes the three-pointed badge poking above the bonnet.

The Avant Garde is for the more dynamic type. Hence the different grille, pinned into place by its central badge – a format that’s long been a signature of the brand’s sporting cars.

Take Avant Garde and you’ll also get full leather, aluminium trim and a host of other goodies mated to any engine – with a price range peaking at $93,900.

Or spend $99,900 and go for the AMG sport pack with its upgraded brakes, its sports seats and pedals, its sport shift lever. A full AMG? Not until next year. Sorry.

And actually I was, despite my initial scepticism. For this is a C-Class that even in its basic form can be fun to drive. It seems well built; it’s certainly well-designed, the cabin is a pleasant place to be and to use.

In entry level form it’s even good value. For buy a similarly-priced Holden Statesman or Ford Fairlane and you’ve got a common-or-garden Falcodore in the driveway.

Spend the same money on a C-Class and you’ve got a safer car with more knick-knacks that’s easier to park, fun to drive, and holds its own in the executive carpark.

Jacqui Madelin

Auto Trader New Zealand