Mercedes W205 C-Class France 1

If there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that a shinier and sleeker missile will be deployed every cycle in the see-saw arms race that is the premium executive sedan segment. While no longer the starting point, it continues to define the market in many ways, so a swanky projectile that offers excellent penetration is a must – the category is still the key one in pulling in buyers making their entry into the premium segment, bragging rights, brand clout, that sort of thing.

For the longest time, the segment has been led by the BMW 3 Series in Malaysia (globallly as well). The sixth-generation F30, which premiered back in late 2011 (local market debut, Q1 2012), stepped things up a couple of gears – its arrival on the scene swung things back from the Mercedes-Benz W204 C-Class, which proved it could more than hold its own in a slug fest with the E90.

Other competitors have offered their own solutions since then. The new Lexus IS appeared, and just a few weeks ago, the Infiniti Q50, a rather invigorating reinvention that takes Nissan’s luxury brand closer to the leading pack, finally popped up. Both are very good cars, but haven’t (the Lexus) and are not likely (the Infiniti) to halt the 3er’s numerical progress. As for the B8 Audi A4, until Ingolstadt can get a fresh Minuteman out, the current one is well on its last legs.

The Tristar, then, has been the only one to keep pace, despite having to field the ageing car for the better part of two years now. The wait for a suitable weapon ends next week, when the Mercedes-Benz W205 C-Class finally makes its Malaysian market debut – the movement is about to get a very shiny missile, one that won’t just restore parity for its maker, but redefine the entire game.

Mercedes W205 C-Class France 2

Like the W204 did coming in from the W203, the W205 represents a fundamental step up in design over its predecessor, albeit with yet another directional tack. Despite some injection of flair over the blocky and boring W202, the car two generations back was still very much a stoic, no-nonsense C-segmenter that simply got down to the business.

Looking to win new friends (specifically, those eyeing the Munich offering), the design of the last one was sported up considerably. No matter that it couldn’t really outsport the BMW, even the E90, let alone the F30. The change to a more gilt-edged outlook served the purpose very well – it made headway in terms of sales, and more importantly, it got the necessary attention from the buying public and finally unshackled Mercedes from its ‘boring’ tag for many.

Still, impressions run deep, sometimes unchangeable, and so the automaker has cleverly abandoned trudging down the path at attempting a better 3 Series with a Tristar-badge, or at least play it head on. It’s a game that can’t be won with that approach, so another direction has been taken. Leaving the sportier pretensions to the W176 A-Class and, more directly, the CLA-Class, the new C-Class goes the premium route.

As the automaker puts it, the high-class appeal of the new C-Class feels like an “upgrade to a higher class of vehicle,” and the exterior reflects the suggestion quite well – there are enough cues reinterpreted from the new W222 S-Class as well as the W212 E-Class facelift unmistakably on show in those lines.

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Those used to the wedge-shaped looks of the W204 will think this one a bit swoopy upon first glance, but the new car eases to the eye quite quickly, and is far better looking in the metal than when projected through photos. Fancy a scaled-down serving of the W222? Here it is, at a blink.

The shape, the company touts, also offers best-in-class aerodynamics, with a Cd value of 0.24, achieved through the incorporation of an extensive package of measures. These include a special sealing arrangement around the headlamps and the so-called aero lip, which seals the shutline between hood and bumper – this prevents separation of the airflow at the front end of the vehicle.

Elsewhere, specially-shaped wheel spoilers optimise airflow around the front and rear wheels, while undesirable turbulence at the back of the car is minimised with an even burbling around the rear. New to the car is an Airpanel to further enhance Cd values. Available for Exclusive line models, the system uses active adjustable louvres to open and close the radiator grille’s surface area, depending on ventilation requirements.

Speaking of faces, you can pick from two, either a sports grille with centrally-positioned star or a classic grille with three bars and the star on the bonnet, the latter only worn on Exclusive variants. The sports grille adorns the other two lines, though specific bumpers differentiate the faces of the Avantgarde and AMG Line cars. I’ve never been big on the classic grille, but on this car it actually looks more organically integrated than the sports piece. One star, two faces and three lines, as it goes. Oh, and no less than 12 exterior colours.

As standard, the W205 comes equipped with H7 halogen headlamps, but two LED systems are available options – one is a static system, the other a ‘LED Intelligent Light System’ dynamic version with Adaptive Highbeam Assist. The rear lamp and brake light in the tail lamps are also LED units.

The claim of going a step up in class isn’t just made subjectively, be it in looks and appointments, but also measurably. The new C-Class is a step up in size over the W204, measuring in at 4,686 mm long (+95 mm over the W204) and 1,810 mm wide (+40 mm). It’s also marginally lower than the old car at 1,442 mm (-5 mm).

It sits on a 2,840 mm-long wheelbase (+80 mm), and the 1,588 mm front and 1,570 mm rear tracks are wider than its predecessor (1,547 mm, both front/rear). The boot, meanwhile, is good for carrying 480 litres of luggage, the same as that on the F30 3er.

To offer a view of how its C-segment offering has grown in scope and size, the automaker volunteers that in some measurements, the new C-Class approaches the dimensions of the W210 E-Class from 1995, even surpassing it in areas such as wheelbase, track and width.

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It’s also a much lighter car than the W204. Shedding the pounds is a game manufacturers are avidly playing these days, and for good reason – weight is the new enemy. The W205 is up to 100 kg lighter than before, thanks to its lightweight Modular Rear-drive Architecture (MRA). A hundred kilos may not sound like much, but consider that the F30 3 Series lopped off up to 45 kg a few years ago, and a hundred is a pretty big deal.

Aluminium contributes to the cause extensively. Around 39% of the car’s hybrid body is made up of it, aiding in making the bodyshell 40 kg lighter than that of the W204. Overall aluminium content is up from less than 10% on the W204 to around 50% here – the doors, roof panels, hood, front fenders and rear lid are all made of the stuff.

At the car’s point of launch, the petrol engine range announced were 1.6 and 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo units in different states of tune. All are based on the M 274, the longitudinally-mounted variation of the transversely-mounted M 270 DE as seen in the W176 A-Class. So, in many cases, the outputs are similar to that seen in the five-door hatch as well as the CLA-Class.

  • C 180 – 1.6 litre M 274 DE 16 AL (154 hp/250 Nm), also in C 180 BlueEfficiency Edition.
  • C 200 – 2.0 litre M 274 DE 20 AL (184 hp/300 Nm)
  • C 250 – 2.0 litre M 274 DE 20 AL (208 hp/350 Nm)
  • C 300 – 2.0 litre M 274 DE 20 AL (235 hp/370 Nm)
  • C 400 4 MATIC – 3.0 litre M 276 DE 30 AL (328 hp/480 Nm)
  • C 350 Hybrid Plug-In – 2.0 litre M 274 DE 20 AL (208 hp/350 Nm) and 50 kW electric motor.

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At the international media drive in March, the twin-turbo 3.0 litre V6-equipped C 400 4 MATIC was also heavily showcased, even though deliveries of the variant are only due to begin from this month. Incidentally, the M 274 engine can also be seen in the recently-launched Infiniti Q50 2.0t.

As for diesels, the BlueTec range starts with a new 1.6 litre turbo – the OM 626 DE 16 LA, to give the unit its official designation, is derived from the Renault R9M, with Mercedes implementing specific technology modules for the application here. These include an ECO start/stop function, ancillaries and a special dual-mass flywheel. Like the petrols, the oil burner range – made up of variations of the OM 651 – is also seen on the A-Class.

  • C 180 BlueTec – 1.6 litre OM 626 DE 16 LA (115 hp/280 Nm)
  • C 200 BlueTec – 1.6 litre OM 626 DE 16 LA (134 hp/320 Nm)
  • C 220 BlueTec BlueEfficiency – 2.1 litre OM 651 DE 22 LA (161 hp/400 Nm)
  • C 220 BlueTec – 2.1 litre OM 651 DE 22 LA (168 hp/400 Nm)
  • C 250 BlueTec – 2.1 litre OM 651 DE 22 LA (201 hp/500 Nm), also in C250 BT 4 MATIC.
  • C 300 BlueTec Hybrid – 2.1 litre OM 651 DE 22 LA (201 hp/500 Nm) and 20 kW electric motor.

The C 300 BT Hybrid is only due out in the market next year, which is also when the W205 C 63 AMG with the new M 177 DE 40 AL twin-turbo 4.0 litre V8 will be introduced (the M 178 variation of the mill is seen on the just introduced AMG GT). A bridging model between the 63 and the rest of the range looks like it’s on the cards too – a C 450 AMG Sport petrol variant has already been spied.

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All engines are equipped with start/stop and are Euro 6-compliant, while all diesels come with selective catalytic reduction (SCR). Transmission choices are a new six-speed manual (for entry-level four-pot models) and the seven-speed 7G-Tronic Plus auto – the introduction of the new 9G-Tronic transimission has been preliminarily announced for higher-spec models; the C 250 petrol is due to get the new ‘box.

Improvements elsewhere include an electro-mechanical Direct Steer steering system across the model range, as well as a fully revised suspension setup, which includes a newly-designed four-link front axle, primarily made of aluminium. In this one, the front independent suspension is fully decoupled from the spring strut, improving grip and lateral stability. The back, meanwhile, gets a five-link independent setup.

As standard, the car is fitted with a steel suspension, though there are three selective damping setups available for the Direct Control suspension, as it’s called. There’s a comfort suspension, a comfort suspension lowered by 15 mm for the Avantgarde and a sport-oriented setup, also lowered by 15 mm, the latter for the AMG Line.

The new C-Class also features an optional Airmatic self-levelling air suspension, a first on the car as well as the segment. The system features electronically-controlled, continuously-variable damping applied to both front and rear axles, with Agility Select enabling chassis-specific programmes (Comfort, Eco, Sport and Sport+) to be chosen through a console mounted switch. There’s also an Individual mode for the driver to configure the vehicle according to preference.

In terms of safety systems, the C-Class is equipped as standard with Attention Assist, Adaptive Brake (with Hill Start, brake priming and brake drying) Collision Prevention Assist (autonomous braking at speeds of up to 200 km/h, and provides braking in response to stationary vehicles at a speed of up to 50 km/h) as well as Crosswind Assist, which helps maintain directional stability and is active from 80 km/h when driving in a straight line as well as through bends.

The optional items list is long and comprehensive, and includes kit such as Distronic Plus with Steering Assist and Stop&Go Pilot, BAS Plus with Cross-Traffic Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Parking Assist with Parktronic, a 360-degree camera, Traffic Sign Assist with Wrong Way Alert and Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus.

Airbags, meanwhile, include pelvisbags for the driver and front passenger, a newly-developed windowbag, sidebags for the outer rear seats and a kneebag for the driver. The front passenger seat can also be fitted with automatic child seat recognition, which now works by a weight mat, enabling any child seat to be used – the airbag is automatically deactivated when a child seat is fitted, and reactivated once it has been removed.

The interior is where the car really starts pushing the envelope, and hugely at that – the jump from the W204’s cabin is eye-opening and makes the old car’s feel like vanilla. Yes, the general overtones are familiar to that seen in recent times, with the triple-configuration circular air-con vents in the centre console being one of the more immediately visible cues.

The specification of material and trim (spotted on a display on a presentation wall in France were four trim and four leather colour schemes) is of a much higher standard though, with the bump up in refinement visually and sensually noticeable.

The air-conditioning switchgear is a direct translation from the S-Class, and more control switches are now finished in metallic, bumping up the opulence factor. Also to be found, a new instrument cluster with a central colour screen, but there are many surfaces that provide visual engagement – the sizeable surface area of the new centre console, which provides a great platform to highlight the surface material, is one.

All in all, there’s a definite sense of occasion, and to say this is the best looking interior in its segment, with the best feel, would be putting it mildly.

The car debuts Mercedes’ new pod-shaped controller, which is placed over the S-Class-style COMAND dial. It features a touchpad on the central top part of the unit, allowing for operation of all the head-unit functions using finger gestures, with tactile feedback during operation. The touchpad also permits letters, numbers and special characters to be entered in handwriting, in any language supported by the system.

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The controller works a base seven-inch floating central display (again, familiar from the A-Class in the way it’s presented). If COMAND Online is specified, the screen gets bumped up to get an 8.4-inch display with a resolution of 960 x 540 pixels and a special bonded glass cover. The latter system offers digital TV/radio reception, navigation, automatic tailback avoidance via live traffic information, integrated WLAN functionality and the Linguatronic voice control system.

It may be timely to mention that the console-mounted analogue clock that be seen in the photos of the C 250 Exclusive is not seen in the other variants. This will be of interest to anoraks more than the general buyer, but here it is anyway, in response to my question about it to the Mercedes personnel – said clock is exclusive to the Exclusive line. The Avantgarde and AMG models feature a different panel insert, and the differing cutouts needed mean that there are two different console panels in use for the car.

Audio systems start from the basic Audio 20 system and Audio 20 CD to a lush sounding Burmester surround sound system, the drive units which are dressed with swanky-looking speaker baffles. A unique Frontbass system, which uses the space within the cross-member and side member in the body structure as a resonance chamber for the bass units, and provides enhanced sonic envelopment within the cabin.

Other features include a head-up display, which displays information such as speed limits, navigation instructions and Distronic Plus messages and an electronic parking brake as standard. The air-conditioning system, meanwhile, has been improved in terms of performance and efficiency.

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It also features a tunnel detection system – working in tandem with map info from the navigation system, the air recirculation flap is automatically closed when the car enters a tunnel, and reopened when the car exits.

If that’s not enough, helping the interior smell fresher and cleaner is an Air Balance package, which provides active fragrancing, air ionisation and more efficient filtration – the system’s primary base is housed within the glove compartment.

The W205’s cabin isn’t just a plusher place to be, but a quieter one as well. The boast is that the W205 is the segment’s new benchmark in NVH figures for comfort and occupants’ well-being and concentration. Interior noise levels have been reduced through optimisation of the noise characteristics of the blower, power windows, seat adjustment functions and other actuation/operating noises. Wind noise transmission levels, meanwhile, have also been lowered from that of the W204.

The test fleet in Marseille was a mixed bag, consisting of C 200, C 250, C 400 4MATIC for the petrol variants and C 200 BlueTec, C 200 BlueTec and C 250 BlueTec for the oil burners, with five examples of C 300 BlueTec Hybrids also on call.

Mercedes W205 C-Class France 6

Incidentally, despite the fact that the C 200 will be one of the incoming models to Malaysia (the other is the C 250), we never got to sample it. Both it and the C 200 BlueTec were only available in manual transmission, the standard gearbox shipping with the car. They were also limited in number, the company opting to highlight the rest of the model range in greater measure.

In any case, the cars assigned to contingents were already pre-designated, a single C 250 and four C 250 BT chosen for the Malaysian group. For the first day of driving, my co-driver and I managed to land the single C 250 petrol, an Exclusive trim unit, finished in Cavansite Blue with a crystal grey/deep-sea blue Artico man-made leather interior.

A quick mention on this. You’ll notice in the photos that the test mule is keyed, but there’s keyless ignition – presumably, Mercedes removed the button plug so as not to have it liberated in the test cars. We’re not all like this, mind you, but removing temptation is always a good idea.

Aside from that, the media fleet vehicles were loaded, natural given that they were meant to dazzle and impress. So something like the car we were in had just about everything, from 360-degree camera and Airmatic to the fabulous Burmester audio kit. It’ll be interesting to see what our initial batches of imported CBU units will feature as far as kit goes.

One thing the Malaysian cars won’t have is the air suspension, so it’s impossible to pin down how the regular sprung car will feel like in terms of ride comfort. Airmatic, meanwhile, works a charm, provided the roads measure up. Navigating out of Marseille, with Comfort engaged and speed limited, the ride was supple and plush, and to suggest that it felt every bit a limo wouldn’t be amiss.

This compliance holds up to cruising speeds, though the system could be caught out at times. At higher speeds, the setting’s rebound characterics translated to a floatiness and distension over certain terrain. In the end, Sport was selected for the most part of the drive – it attenuated well enough to be manageable in terms of comfort, without losing incisiveness where it counted.

The route didn’t present too many tight corners and switchbacks, but on the few that were Sport+ was trialled. The setting tightens damping yet further, as well as sharpening the throttle and weighing up the steering. It did offer the ability to push harder, the car responding with impressive levels of grip and agility, though conversely it also behaved more skittishly over poor road surfaces.

As for the steering, it’s fast but vague in loading, with very little feedback, even in Sport+ – does the air suspension play a part in the steering’s decoupled feel? Perhaps. There were times when it felt unusually light, the weighting patchy.

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So, while a lot has changed, some things haven’t, and the W205 is still no measure of its Munich rival in outright handling. But outdriving the F30 has never been part of the equation or primary in its intended brief – the truth is, some parts of the examination of its handling are unlikely to be scrutinised in such fashion by owners who end up with one.

In general conditions, it drives well, and it feels lively, in this aspect a significant advancement over the W204 in character. The loss of weight translates to lightness in overall disposition as well. This keener sense of agility, for most buyers, will make the new C-Class responsive and athletic enough. In any case, its real ability to conquer effectively comes from its looks and increased level of frill.

As such, in areas that really matter, it ticks the boxes off in great fashion. Seating comfort is high from a frontal perspective, likewise overall spatial perception. The rear still feels a bit pinched in the final measure to seat three comfortably, but legroom feels improved over the old car. Having a light-coloured interior helped improve the sense of space in the case of the petrol – the cranberry red/black interior of the AMG Line C 250 BlueTec we drove on the second day felt less airy.

In terms of motors, the diesel offered its usual pull, but aside from the winsome tractability, between the two C 250s on call my pick was the petrol. It was quieter and felt inherently more refined, and the Exclusive trim actually presents the car in better fashion, or at least in projected intent.

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Wind noise was consistent across both models, lowish, though in terms of overall NVH the petrol presents a less strained take on things. Masked as well as it is, you can still hear the oil burner’s clatter, and it tends to hum a bit at higher speeds.

Some of the group thought that operational aspects of the switchgear and functions could have been smoother and more straightforward. I didn’t feel this to be the case, with movement across mechanical and virtual aspects accomplished without fuss, save that of the COMAND dial/touchpad pod controller combination.

There’s no doubting that it is a very cool-looking thing, the touchpad, but in use there’s a fair amount of duplication leading to redundancy, and for cycling through functions, it proved faster and easier accomplishing tasks via the rotary than the touchpad pod. Regular use might change that perspective, of course, but I’m willing to wager most users will end up running the rotary/push-button almost exclusively.

Mention must also be made that the screen of the floating central display in Malaysian cars might not look as neat as the ones you see in the photos, if that served up by the local A-Class is any indication (same surface measurements, smaller working screen area, very uninspiring). Hopefully this won’t be the case, but don’t get your hopes up too much that it’ll be any different.

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These are the only real niggles in an otherwise thoroughly engaging vehicle. The final verdict will come with local specification variants (the C 200 and C 250 will arrive first as CBU, with CKD production from next year), as it rightly should, but the gloss presented by having an array of tech and equipment on the drive fleet takes nothing away from the car itself, such is the innate shine it has.

The new C-Class is very well thought out, compelling package, and the directional change from Stuttgart has resulted in a car that punches well above its class – it’s supremely well played, the move towards premium and luxury. Armed with this wider appeal, it’s definitely set to make more new friends than ever before.

Last month, we saw the contender arrive. A week from now, we’re set to welcome what is surely the game changer. As irresistible force meets immovable object, the coming head-on with the F30 for top-dog honours should be nothing short of explosive. The smart money’s on the Tristar, because it really is quite the missile.