The last time we spoke about this car, it was on a good all-round workout up to Cameron Highlands and back. But there’s only so much you can do on a schedule, with a driving partner. Also, the fact that the motoring media were about meant that the ‘sportier’ Avantgarde models were snapped up way ahead and held preciously throughout the trip.
It was everyone’s loss since nobody got to make a simultaneous comparison between the two trim lines last year. But a hardworking Shannon Teoh pursued Mercedes-Benz Cars Malaysia so he could ‘C-for-himself’.
Design & Engineering
Things haven’t changed much since the W204 C-Class entered the market late last year. The BMW 3-series is still sitting pretty on top and is the only member of the C-segment with GPS. The other premium executive sedans include the A4 with its quattro whilst its cousins, the Volkswagen Jetta and Skoda Octavia (technically a notchback but based on the same platform) are able to offer a significant discount on the luxury Germans. There’s a few other marques sniffing around at the fringes but it’s hard to build a strong case for any of them given the practical realities of our market.
The new C-Class continues the move away from the staid ‘uncle’ image of previous Merc designs that was first spotted on the CLS and then to a non-so-shocking degree, the B and R. There are now lines and angles everywhere, clearly taking on the rather fussy but overall well-crafted outlook of the 3-series.
This might not be so apparent on the Elegance line, which is meant to be elegant after all, but on the Avantgarde, the SL-derived radiator grille with the Mercedes tristar that’s probably visible on Google Earth, ensures that the ideas of being aged, gentlemanly and boringly German are replaced with those of being young, virile and well, somewhat Japanese.
The Elegance maintains the hood ornament but shares the chiseled headlamps, a bonnet cover that looks like it came from a different car and front skirting with the Avantgarde which give them a bolder outlook. Perhaps with a bigger canvas to paint on, MB have been able to incorporate all this exterior funkiness without looking too cluttered. Indeed, the deep shoulder crease looks better-utilised here than on nearly every other car I’ve seen.
They’ve made the W204 wider by 42mm, longer by 55mm and taller by 18mm and the resulting increase in cabin room is most enhanced by a whopping 45mm in wheelbase. Now measuring 2.76 metres, it solves the perennial irony of buying these luxury C-segment cars â€“ spend a wad of cash only to have your backseat passengers feel too cramped.
The result is that it feels nearly as spacious as D-segment cars like the Toyota Camry or even the BMW 5-series. The surprising thing is that despite more car to cover, the bodyshell is in fact, 8kg lighter than that of the outgoing W203, keeping to Mercedes commitment to reversing the trend of increasing weight on the backs of our poor roads and global warming in our atmosphere.
Placing this weight on the roads is a rather conventional suspension setup â€“ MacPhersons struts upfront and multi-link at the back. This is however, enhanced by Agility Control dampers which alter the ride according to driving style and road conditions. This is achieved by using multi-stage hydraulic valves which react to the velocity of the piston within the shock absorber, stiffening the shock absorbers during hard cornering.
It is the handling though, that has been the C’s weak point and it is telling that MB boasts a 52.5-47.5 front-rear weight distribution. Not quite perfect, although they will tell you that the front-bias is a more familiar setup to the average driver.
Other mentionable innovations include a twin rubber drainage channel which uses a two-piece rubber lip as a transition between the roof and the rear window. It basically channels rainwater away from the rear window and downwards along the window edging, keeping the window clean even at high speeds, saving the weight of a rear wiper. There’s also Adaptive Brake which gives you â€˜hill-hold assistance and also primes your brakes when you make a sudden liftoff from the throttle and also applies light contact to dry your brake discs in wet conditions.
The C-Class is well-appointed for whatever choice of interior you prefer. Those seeking the traditional wood veneer will find them sprinkled on doors and centre panel on the Elegance, whereas the Avantgarde, being the young punk’s choice, replaces all wood with brushed aluminium.
It’s the first time I can recall a Merc with no wood in it and I like it â€“ I guess this makes me a young punk. The Elegance gets an extra button on the driver’s door to fold in the wing mirrors, a feature amazingly missing on the Avantgarde â€“ amazing because even a Perodua Viva has this now â€“ but overall, the controls for electric-driven seating, windows and mirrors adjustments on the door panel are wonderfully designed.
The same can’t be said for the centre console though. The Thermatic climate control buttons are fine enough but the Comand system which uses a dial near the gear shifter and then another bunch of buttons at the audio unit – incidentally, a 6-disc in-dash changer with MP3 playability that gives pretty reasonable sound quality â€“ aren’t exactly what you’d call ‘integrated’. There’s a bit of a plasticky feel to things â€“ part of the Jap-influence, I guess â€“ although fitment is much better than its predecessor.
Front seats are very comfy but in the back, a compromise still had to be made despite the increase in wheelbase. Making rear legroom improvements meant still incorporating a backrest which is still too upright.
Other minor features include rear air-con vents and an electric roller blind for the rear window but the addition of Bluetooth telephony will come in very handy for those who have to do their business on the go.
Engine, Gearbox & Performance
Soon, MB will launch the C230 which will have 201hp and the 7G-Tronic transmission although it’ll only get you from 0-100km/h 0.1s faster and just 3km/h faster at full speed. Unless it comes chock-a-block with features â€“ it will feature the Advanced Agility package, which may make better use of the power available â€“ there’s probably no reason to look past the M271 E18 1,796cc inline-four available in the C200K.
K stands for Kompressor which means supercharging, resulting in 181hp at 5,500rpm with 250Nm (up 18%) usable between 2,800-5,000rpm. This is 21hp up from the 1.8-litre supercharged unit in the W203, allowing it to hit the ton in 8.8s, a 0.6s improvement and charge all the way 230km/h,
You probably don’t want to be testing out those figures though because once again, the transmission is a disappointment. Once you’ve experienced the precise yet smooth changes in a six-speed Beemer’s shorter gearing, the C-Class disappoints in responsiveness.
Within a particular gear, the C is refinement personified but eventually it’ll need to change up and this is when a driver making haste will inevitably get frustrated. Even when you flick out of Comfort and into Sports and also try to override the gear selection manually, you can’t take anything for granted as the car continues to follow its own idea of what gear you should be in.
Ride & Handling
Thanks to Agility Control, the car remains as poised and easy-on-the-bum as ever yet with more to offer in terms of handling. The Avantgarde’s slight price premium comes into play here, with speed-sensitive steering that varies the amount of assistance provided. The Elegance’s reinforced rigidity of its steering rack already adds 6% more directness than the W203’s so the Avantgarde’s was so much better than the outgoing C-Class that I could nearly forgive how huge the wheel actually was.
The Avantgarde also comes with a slightly harder suspension setting, to facilitate what is presumed to be a more hooligan-ish demographic. Up until the limits, the Avantgarde proves to be a capable roadhugger.
However, despite the cars wider track and new, lighter shell, it certainly doesnt seem to have more bite than the W203. It feels more composed and capable in either trim and the Avantgarde’s better steering certainly gives you a lot more confidence thanks also to less bodyroll than the W203.
Improvements in the engine and aerodynamics not only see the car being faster, but also more fuel efficient. Saving you half a litre every 100km, it claims 12.2km to the litre. Of course, in reality, we only got 7.7km.
This means you could stretch its 66-litre tank to 600km if you were really light-footed but expecting 500 is more realistic. Not bad and this is thanks to weight control as well as ventilating slits in the lenses of the tail lights. When the car is on the move, air is sucked in from the underbody and is conducted to flow out of these slits which forces air out sideways, reducing turbulence behind the car and reducing air resistance to a CD coefficient of just 0.27.
In the end though, unless you’re some sort of hypocritical treehugger, these slight savings in fuel won’t matter to you since you’re splashing out RM248,888 (or RM10K more if you’re picking the Avantgarde).
PHOTOS: Mercedes-Benz C200K Elegance
PHOTOS: Mercedes-Benz C200K Avantgarde