Mercedes-Benz couldn’t have positioned the new C Class more differently from the BMW 3 Series if they tried. It’s so radically different, that besides price, size, and obvious rivalries, I wouldn’t outright declare the two cars as being in the same class. I’d also never dare place the C200 alongside the BMW 320i in a performance shootout – the BMW would win that hands down, I’m sure.
That’s not to say the C Class isn’t quick enough to compete – the gravelly 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine serves up figures of 135kW @ 5500rpm and 300Nm from 1200-4000rpm – but it just doesn’t lend itself to feeling driver-inclined in any way. Take for example the rear-wheel drive configuration of the C Class, which doesn’t feel particularly rear-driven at all, nor front-driven for that matter – it just seems to move, without any definitive pull or shove being directed fore or aft. Even under heavy throttle loads the rear end doesn’t even dream of squirming, and despite that 300Nm torque figure, the C200 just doesn’t feel as if it has that much shove to offer. Acceleration from standstill to 100km/h is still dealt with in 7.3 seconds though when equipped with the 7G-TRONIC transmission, though, and one would never describe the C200 as being slow by any means.
But whilst it isn’t much of a driver’s car, the C Class plays a convincing role in the segment as an out-and-out luxury vehicle, a miniature S Class. Our test vehicle was equipped with a lavish equipment list, too long to elaborate on entirely, that ranged from the S Class derived Air Quality package, complete with air freshener and ionisation kit in the air-con setup (R4500) and automatic climate control (R6500) to the nifty, but completely unnecessary, rear and side sun-blinds at an additional R3500 each.
Additional equipment also included LED High Performance headlamps (R13 000) which adapted high beams to shape around other road users – again not really necessary when the LED lights provided more than ample road coverage without the extra expense. The R9 000 Burmeister sound system and R28 900 Exclusive interior package were however justifiable in cost, aiding in creating a mini-S Class ambience – however buyers would be wise to be tightfisted with the options as the final price could end up at R676 350 as was the case with our test unit, a far cry from the R454 000 base price with automatic transmission.
Of course, included in the possibly exorbitant starting price, one does receive family looks – not to everyone’s liking, but certainly not the ugliest vehicle on the roads – a fairly classy interior, and a rather plush ride, especially on the standardly available 18-inch alloy wheel. Anything larger than that would definitely have ruined the ride quality; however the 18s do perhaps look a little dwarfed by the C Class’s body, a necessary concession on aesthetic appeal if you value comfort.
The interior, complete with ‘wood’ trim and black leather upholstery, wasn’t without its foibles though. Although classy, certain edgings and finishes felt somewhat plasticky and in places trim felt a tad loose. Small children and their inquisitive fingers would perhaps not bode well for certain aspects of the C200’s trim, but for an executive rep-mobile, these faux pas would be soon overlooked in light of what the C Class had to offer in other aspects.
The 7G-TRONIC transmission, for example, offered buttery smooth shifts, whilst the Airmatic Agility package suspension provided comfort over poor road surfaces – perfect for long commutes in the South African setting. The Agility Select switch, complete with 5 modes, from Eco (Not to be touched unless you have the desire to experience soul-sapping boredom) to Sport+, with Comfort, Sport, and Custom in between. Sport mode provided a happy medium between spirited and comfortable driving, while Sport+ tried to be aggressive yet just didn’t have the punch to match – the suspension wasn’t set up for adept handling either, but rather for comfortable cruising. Custom settings were best avoided, simply because the best engine/transmission/suspension combinations were already covered in Comfort and Sport modes.
Perhaps an area for concern in right-hand drive markets, the centre console featured the Agility switch on the passenger side of the vehicle, awkwardly placed for the driver to find without removing attention from the road ahead. The touch-pad too, although clever and remarkably adept at detecting numerical and alphabetical inputs, was placed awkwardly, to the left of the driver, when nearly 80% of the population is right-handed and are unable to write particularly well with their left hands. However, there were also certain areas of Mercedes-Benz’ interior design that worked flawlessly, such as the heads-up display (R15 000) with speed and navigation details projected onto the windscreen ahead of the driver, preventing diversion of attention from the road ahead.
With careful specification, an affinity for luxury, and an aversion for a particularly sporty drive, the C Class provides a fine balance between class, luxury, and cost-effectiveness. The C200, sipping 7.2l/100km, proved to be relatively easy on the wallet, whilst providing a serene haven from the chaos of South African roads during peak traffic. On the flipside of that coin though, the C200 was a rather emotionless car, evoking little sense of passion or happiness, but rather a numbness that one would seldom encounter in the likes of a BMW.
The C Class in its latest iteration has deviated from the 3 Series competitor we’ve come to know; and in doing so it has perhaps carved a niche it can dominate rather than playing second fiddle to the BMW in performance stakes whilst not being resoundingly classy either. For the 1st time in a long rivalry, Mercedes-Benz has gone their own way and provided a vehicle that sits as a true luxury saloon in miniature – but in doing so panders towards an older audience, leaving the CLA to fend for the affections of youthful buyers.
|No. of Cylinders:||
135kW @ 5500RPM
300Nm @ 1200-4000RPM
7-G DCT Automatic
|0-100 time (As tested):||
|Fuel Tank Capacity:||
|Fuel Consumption (Regular driving, combined cycle):||
|Price (as tested):||
Author: Roger Biermann