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An entry-level model certainly doesn’t sound enticing. And it usually isn’t – well, what with all the toys and goodies reserved for more upper-class variants.

Enter the C 180 Avantgarde Line, the most affordable model in Mercedes-Benz Malaysia’s now wide-spanning W205 C-Class range. It sits at the very bottom of no less than seven different variants of the brand’s compact executive sedan line-up, priced at RM228,888. That’s a full RM20,000 less than the next model up, and RM71,000 under the range-topping variant.

Chosen as the closer of our three Mercedes-Benz Malaysia-paultan.org road trips (the first two being the GLE 400 AMG Line to Kuantan and C 300 AMG Line to Penang), we travelled up to Ipoh with contest winner Reuben How in a pair of C 180 sedans. Can the base W205, then, prove to be the exception to the entry-level rule?

It’s a tough ask, made even harder when judged by yours truly, with a C 300 being my daily vehicle of choice, and Reuben who is a W212 E-Class owner himself. So does the base C-Class offer up a watered-down experience, or is it good enough in its own right to impress us both? Read on to find out.

First up, the fundamentals. The C 180 is powered by a 1.6 litre turbocharged direct-injection engine that makes 156 hp and 250 Nm. It gets to 100 km/h in 8.5 seconds, on to a top speed of 223 km/h – both far more sedate than say, the next model up, the C 200 with its 194 hp/300 Nm 2.0 litre turbo and benchmark figures of 7.3 seconds and 235 km/h. Thankfully, however, the seven-speed 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission goes unchanged.

It’s a rung down aesthetically too. Most obvious of all are the 17-inch five-spoke wheels that, while not particularly undersized, appear rather simple and underwhelming for a car of this stature. These will be swapped out for more attractive twin five-spoke wheels that were fitted on the earlier C 200 Avantgarde models from 2017 onwards. One “problem” solved, then.

Moving on, the headlamps are automatic single-LED High Performance projectors, and not the fully-adaptive ILS units on the C 200 Exclusive and up – though this is more of a visual downgrade than anything else, as ILS usability on Malaysian roads is pretty limited. The rest is as per the C 200 Avantgarde, with a central star grille and dual exhaust ports round the back.

Step inside and a few other trinkets are missing too. Compared to the C 200 Avantgarde, gone are the memory function for the powered seat, electric steering adjustment, reverse camera and ambient lighting. The climate control system is also a single-zone unit rather than dual- (C 200 and C 250) or triple-zone (C 300 and C 350 e) systems.

None of these items are what I’d consider to be deal-breakers, with only the reverse camera being the one feature I’d really wish it had. The essentials have all been left intact here, including keyless push-button start, auto lights and wipers, cruise control, rear air-con vents, rear and side window shades and of course, Bluetooth and (Garmin Map Pilot) navigation through the seven-inch Audio 20 CD infotainment system.

Safety has been left untouched too, with the C 180 having class-leading standard fitment of seven airbags, electronic stability control and most outstanding of all, Collision Prevention Assist Plus (autonomous emergency braking). It’s a decently equipped car by all measures. Entry-level here certainly does not mean bargain basement; it is, above all else, still a Mercedes-Benz through and through.

And it’s a rather good one at that. The W205 is as unmistakably C-Class as its forerunners. All the classic cues have been preserved in more or less modified form: the glasshouse, the short tail, the bold front end and sculpted flanks with the muscle line running through the side. This car leaves you in little doubt of its identity.

The latest C-Class looks classy, familiar, neatly proportioned and, as time will prove, rather timeless.

And it’s very well put together, it being locally-assembled or not. Our black-on-black example feels solid as a rock. So solid, in fact, that the last door has to be closed with an extra-firm thump because of the virtually airtight cabin. Compared to its predecessor, it’s both lighter (by up to 100 kg) and significantly more rigid– the mark of clear progress.

Inside, the C-Class comes across like a downscaled S-Class. Upmarket details include the alloy-look switchgears (all perfectly weighted, no less), retrotastic round vents, smartly-styled instrument cluster with a large colour screen and the smooth, premium leather used on the steering wheel (usefully perforated around the grips).

The perceived quality is excellent: the plastic surfaces are soft and well-textured, the Artico leather upholstery is as pleasant to the eye as it is to the touch, and nice details such as the perfectly knurled centre control dial lift up the cabin ambience to proper premium levels. This is no pretender classing up; this is the real deal.

There are drawbacks, however. The Audio 20 system isn’t the slickest around (the Garmin map looks and feels out of place), and the rear seat base is rather short for long-haul journeys. The piano black finish on the centre console, meanwhile, is extremely good at showing up fingerprints, dust and inevitably, scratches. Minor issues, but present nonetheless.

It’s a bigger car than the W204 C-Class, and the extra space is well used: 80 mm longer wheelbase (2,840 mm) means significantly more legroom and 40 mm more width gives extra elbow room and a wider track. Headroom is quite generous too, especially so on the C 180 as it comes without a sunroof (that’s a good thing in my books).

Mercedes-Benz says the latest C-Class is now as large as the W210 E-Class from 1995, even surpassing it in areas such as wheelbase, track and width. This is a compact executive car by name only.

On the move, the C 180 is a revelation, even compared to my C 300 benchmark. It somehow feels like it has its own independent DNA with a broader appeal. While the C 300’s dynamics are taut, flat and occasionally hyper-responsive, the C 180 is far more progressive and well balanced.

The C-Class’ sports suspension as fitted on AMG Line models here brings it a lot closer to the F30 BMW 3 Series, but the C 180’s standard spring and damper setting somehow suits the car better, with extra wheel travel and higher profile tyres giving greater comfort. Knock on the wheels all you want, but the C 180 is the best-riding W205 on sale in Malaysia.

Through corners, this car has learnt to act in a spontaneous and precise fashion; it feels balanced and poised instead of detached and boring, and there’s plenty of feedback. Despite it being numb to understeer and brake drive, the communication between car and driver has lost none of its three-dimensional subtlety.

If anything, the handling attitude is now even more linear and unambiguous, the cornering performance is even more down-to-earth, and the ride comfort is even more cossetting and supple. And despite the long-stroke suspension, body movements are not excessive; yaw and roll are in fact rarely an issue.

With just 156 hp and 250 Nm available, it’s no barnstormer, but you’d be wrong to think that it’s slow. What it has is a perfectly adequate performance level, with above-average mid-range oomph. Leaving city traffic behind, the smooth 7G-Tronic masks most of the engine’s inadequacies, swiftly calling upon a lower gear when necessary. It never feels as lazy as its figures would suggest.

On the strength of a week and 1,000-odd kilometres (we made the trip twice), the C 180 feels like an excellent all-rounder; it has lost little of its core qualities compared to the more expensive variants and, somehow, manages to feel like a slightly better car in certain aspects.

A few niggles apart (shorter equipment list than you’d hope – the C 200 Exclusive is my personal sweet spot of the range), the Mercedes-Benz C 180 Avantgarde Line is good-looking, roomy and well made. Its ride and handling hits the mark and it combines relative affordability with undisputed classlessness. As a base entry to what is now a fantastically well-rounded W205 range, the C 180 deserves a try rather than a miss.

Lower your monthly commitment, not your standards.

Customers can now enjoy the C 180 Avantgarde Line with Hire Purchase Classic starting from as low as 1.99%. Alternatively, customer can choose 3 years Agility Financing that offers low monthly instalments at RM3,253. The uniqueness of Agility Financing is that you can have flexible end of agreement terms and greater assurance with future value of your car guaranteed by Mercedes-Benz. This campaign is valid till end of the year, don’t miss this opportunity. Terms and conditions apply.