ANY time a car hits the road with more than 1000 new parts you know it's more than just an over-easy facelift job. Ford drilled that deeply for the creation of its vital new Territory, Holden has also dug deep for an impressive job on the comfort and control of its locally-made Cruze, and now we have an updated C-Class from Mercedes-Benz.
It's had a predictable facelift swoosh across the nose, with new lamps and a change to the grille opening, but the update work almost qualifies the 2012 model as a new car. The basic body is left alone, but everything from a new diesel hero engine with seven-speed automatic to the dashboard and suspension has been tweaked to improve the driving and ownership experience.
Even some of the small switches reflect a stronger focus on luxury- class quality. It's the biggest mid-life overhaul since the mid-sized E Class was reinvented in 2006 a s a reaction to huge customer complaints in Europe, and Benz admits a lot of the latest C Class work was triggered by owners.
Benz intends to use the C-twelve to re-set the value bar in Australia and, even without full price details, Carsguide predicts it will top a lot more shopping lists and make a stronger case against Audi and BMW.
The starting price for the C200 CDI sampler provided for Carsguide is $60,900, which is a $1890 reduction from the previous model. We're not su re how the petrol price will play out, or what's going to happen further up the C-Class line towards the thumping C63 AMG, but all the prices are likely to be very close to the current numbers.
Benz is also expecting plenty of support for the latest C Estate, which only adds $2000 to the bottom line.
"The Estate is also going really well. Counting C63 we'll do around 700 estates this year, which is about 10 per cent of our C-Class volume," says Gordon Jones, product manager at Mercedes -Benz Australia.
As usual, the basic C200 does not get all the fruit, but buyers can pick up and play for plenty of extra stuff and the car is prepared for equipment including distronic cruise control and more. But the emphasis is on the basics.
"For a Mercedes-Benz facelift, this is very significant. It even goes further than the changes to the E-Class in 2006 in how it answers customer feedback," says Jones.
Now it will be interesting to see how BMW, for a start, responds. It's just slashed prices on its six-cylinder 3 Series cars and the freshened Benz could force another look at the showroom stickers, particularly with a freshen on the Three expected within six weeks.
A new dash is a reflection of the electronic updates in the new C, which picks up many more of Benz's latest safety systems and such mundane-but-enjoyable stuff as a full-colour display for the multi- function screen. The central display unit is now finally integrated into the dash and not in an added-on separate binnacle.
"The new dashboard comes with a new telematics platform," says Jones.
On the engine front, the updated diesel is still a 2.1-litre unit but has a single, variable-vane turbo and has been switched to lower-pressure direct fuel delivery to cut noise and the dreaded diesel rattling.
The most significant change, though, is the seven-speed automatic gearbox that has been trickling down through the Benz family. The combination of the seven-speeder and the new diesel is some nice numbers, with 100 kiloWatts and 330 Newton-metres, economy of 5.4 litres/100km and CO2 emissions of 143 grams/kilometre. Even if the numbers don't look as strong as some of the C-twelve's opponents, the new auto provides an impressive multiplier.
"There is this perception that our engines are behind, but they're not. The performance they deliver is as good as it gets," says Jones.
There is other new stuff under the skin, including changes to the suspension and steering, and even the LEDs used for the parking radar display have been changed from circular to square in shape.
But Benz is taking time to sift through the detail before the car hits showrooms next month.
The front-end look is the same, but different. The headlamps now lift up into the eyebrows, the shape of the radiator inlet is changed, and even the park-radar sensors have been moved and are better integrated intead of lurking as pimples on the bumper. The tail end has also had a tweak, but the obvious stuff is in the cabin. The dash is smoother and cleaner and the design team has put a new emphasis on quality.
A five-star rating is carried over to the C-twelve, with all the usual Benz electronics. Even the basic car gets the reviver reminder for long-distance runs. You must pay more for the really tricky electronic stuff but it's available thanks to the updated electronics.
There is more substance to the new C. You can see it in t he dash and feel it through the wheel, which is new and thicker in the rim, right from the first few kilometres.
It's raining in Melbourne, and the roads are slick, but the C200 CDI gives a solid, comforting feel as we head out for some fuel-economy trials on the highway and a sprint into the hills over Peter Brock's favourite test roads. The cheaper bottom line on the new C is welcome, although only really what you expect with the strength of the Australian dollar, and the trip computer reflects impressive economy. The readout dips as low as 4.4 litres/100km at cruise and after a tough run with some really twisty hill roads it still sits at 7.7 when I return the car to Benz.
The engine is strong enough for the job, and well matched to the slick seven-speeder. It does not have as much shove as some others, as BMW is doing a great job on its diesels, but if you want super-economy you must have a manual gearbox in Audi's A4 TDI e.
The performance of the C is not something you would complain about in any case. It sits easily with other traffic and has a good overtaking hit. There feels to be more heft in the car, more compliance to the suspension, and some solid work on noise reduction. No-one would pick the CDI as a diesel without checking the redline on the rev counter. The dash is more user-friendly, both the C wagon and sedan have enough visual changes to satisfy a badge-conscious buyer, and the all-round impact is as big as any Benz update in recent times.
The C-twelve moves to the top of the tree and we cannot wait to see what BMW does with the 3-Series in a few weeks.
It's called a facelift but it's much more, and much better.
AT A GLANCE
Mercedes-Benz C200 CDI
Price: from $60,900
Warranty: 3 year unlimited
Resale: 67 per cent after five years (est.
Service interval: 20,000km or 12 months
Safety: 5-star Euro NCAP ENGINE: 2.1-litre, 4-cyl diesel turbo, 100kW/330Nm
Body: Four-door sedan
Weight: Not available
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Thirst: 5.4L/100km, diesel, CO2 143g/km
"Much more than just a facelift"