The all-new Mercedes-Benz C-Class range has been expanded with the addition of a station wagon, or Estate as Mercedes likes to call it. Larger than the outgoing model it has rear-end styling that sits midway between that of the sleek CLS-Class Estate and that of an SUV. It could almost be added to the crossover list, rather than simply be called a wagon. That's clever.
The bodyshell is even more rigid than before in the interest of reducing noise and vibration, as well as giving even greater crash safety. It has an aluminium content of 49 percent and weighs as much as 65kg less, depending on which model you choose. This weight reduction is despite the increase in size of the new C-Class Estate.
It's 80mm longer in wheelbase (2840mm) than the superseded model; 96mm longer (4702mm) and 40mm wider (1810mm). The added space is chiefly for the benefit of those in the rear compartment, as well as to increase luggage space.
The rear seats now have a 40/20/40 split instead of the 60/40 split in the predecessor to permit more permutations of passenger and luggage room.
Power unlocking of the rear seat backrests at the push of a button provides a flat, load compartment. There's also single-fold function for the rear seat backrest.
Choose the right option and you can open and close the tailgate by making the correct motion of your foot under the rear bumper.
Almost like a smartphone, the touchpad in the Estate can be operated using finger gestures and there's also voice recognition.
Like the sedan on which it's based the C-Class Estate has many driver assistance systems to give high levels of safety. It's also the first in its class to offer the option of air suspension to further improve ride quality.
In the new C-Class Estate the driver can determine the individual driving experience at the push of a button. Depending on the equipment level, the driver can choose from various pre-configured drive programmes and one the driver can design personally to a large extent. The following characteristics are available: Comfort, ECO, Sport and Sport+. The additional 'Individual' setting enables drivers to configure their vehicle to suit their own preferences.
The climate control system 'talks' to the satellite navigation and does things like switching to air recirculation flap when the Estate enters a tunnel, then goes back to full-fresh air when it leaves the tunnel.
Like the sedan, the C-Class Estate has Mercedes' Frontbass system that uses the space within the cross-member and side member in the body structure as a resonance chamber for the woofers. The result is an excellent listening experience, perhaps not quite concert hall as claimed by the company, but pretty good nevertheless. A Burmester surround sound system is optional.
Mercedes' COMAND Online multimedia system now has a display with a resolution of 960 x 540 pixels. It receives digital TV and radio live traffic information where that's available. It has WLAN hotspot and company's Linguatronic voice-operated system.
Safety has been high on the Mercedes-Benz agenda for many decades and the C-Class Estate is fitted as standard with Attention assist that can warn the driver of inattentiveness and drowsiness. When danger of a collision persists and the driver fails to respond, the car can carry out autonomous braking at speeds of up to 100km/h. This either prevents a rear-end collision with slower vehicles or reduces the severity of a crash. At speeds of up to 50km/h the system also brakes in response to stationary vehicles, and is able to help prevent rear-end collisions at up to around 40km/h.
On the road we found the all-new Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate wagon felt like a car from the next size up. It's smooth, sophisticated and quiet. Rides beautifully - we tried both the Airmatic and standard suspension and found the latter to be almost as good as the former, showing the excellent basic platform on which the suspension is working.
As well as sampling turbo-petrol and turbodiesel models in a relatively limited drive program from Melbourne to the Yarra Valley and back, we also had a short run in the diesel-electric hybrid. It has excellent performance thanks to the combination of instant electric torque, and ongoing diesel grunt.
Fuel consumption in the C 300h hybrid was indicated in the 6.0-7.0L/100km range, but that was all in country driving, whereas hybrids are at their best in the cut and thrust of city work. Surprisingly the consumption would be lower in town, possibly below 5.0L/100km if you work at it.
Handling is everything you expect from a high-class rear-drive sedan. That's right 'sedan' because you really do feel as though you're in a sedan with a larger luggage area, not a load carrying station wagon.