THIS is a very important car for the world’s oldest car maker because, while Mercedes-Benz is the best-selling premium brand in Australia, the three-pointed star is behind Audi and BMW in the global sales race.
The C-Class has long been the brand’s top-selling model in Australia, and has to take a step up from the rival BMW 3 Series, which is only two years old, and the Audi A4, which is ageing gracefully.
This W205 C-Class, which looks like a shrunken version of the flagship S-Class that’s been lauded by the motoring press globally, weighs about 40kg less than the previous W204, thanks to extensive use of aluminium and the fact that there’s no spare tyre.
Yet the new model isn’t short on spec. The $60K entry-level C200 boasts LED headlights and 18-inch alloys, while inside you’ll find a cabin that’s little short of breathtaking for the cash and includes sat-nav as standard.
The elegant, sophisticated interior design sees less clutter, with fewer buttons than before, and its simple approach puts the BMW 3 Series interior to shame.
The centrepiece is a superb touchpad that looks like it was inspired by a yacht. It’s finished in gloss black and is easy to use, with a pinch function and natural feel, but there’s still the textured buttons and rotary dial of the Comand system.
On the road, the C200 is a solid performer.
The driving position behind the stunning-looking steering wheel is low, comfortable and offers good all-round vision from supportive fake-leather seats. To get real leather, you’ll need to pay an extra $7K for the C250, which has the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder but with more power.
In the C200 it makes 135kW and 300Nm, but even in this least powerful guise it has reasonable throttle response, even in the default Comfort mode.
Switch to Sport, which sharpens the steering, throttle response and damping, and you’ll find the meagre body roll further reduced and a car that sits impressively flat under heavy acceleration and hard braking.
This is not a perfect car, though. Our test car revealed a compliant ride that saw every bump felt through your hips rather than the sharp, well-weighted steering. This improved from the C200’s 18s to the C250’s standard 19-inch wheels, but the optional air suspension, not tested here, should really solve this.
There’s also discernible wind noise on the freeway from the A-pillars, but very little noise from the engine. It only makes itself known under throttle, and can verge on coarse when you rev it hard – which it needs when you’re having a go on a windy road – but its remains impressively vibration-free, complementing the 7-speed auto’s smooth changes.
The C-Class is a major step up for the segment, and first impressions on Australian soil show a car that can easily take it to the 3 Series. It’s high on spec, fit and finish, and possesses a genuine premium feel. It is, almost, a mini S-Class.
Model: Mercedes-Benz C200
Engine: 1991cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 135kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 131Nm @ 1200-4000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1390kg
0-100km/h: 7.3sec (claimed)
On sale: Now
Click here to read the full range review of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class