Mercedes C-Class is of vital importance to the German marque. Many typical Mercedes owners still take the purist view that it's the smallest 'real' Mercedes; that is one with relatively conservative styling, a longitudinal engine and rear-wheel drive.
The launch of the first all-new C-Class in seven years is an important event in the world's automotive industry, not only to Mercedes enthusiasts, but also to all car makers. Obviously Audi, BMW and Lexus will pay particular attention, but plenty of makers of low cost cars realise that new Mercs point the way to the future, especially in safety and technology.
New C-Class is larger than before, with a longer wheelbase aimed at providing extra legroom in the rear, there's more headroom back there as well. Clever design that includes more aluminium in the body means it's about 40 kg lighter than the outgoing C-Class.
The shape the new C-Class leans in the slightly conservative direction to keep existing owners onside. The upright front is a striking feature at a time when others are heading in the sloping front direction. With a bit of imagination you can see a design cues to the Mercedes SLS 'Gullwing' AMG at the front. The profile is sensibly high and the side view is enhanced by definite swage lines running most of the length of the body.
The rear is quite different to anything we've seen in the rear-drive Mercs before, with softly rounded sides and a distinctive kick up at the top. Aerodynamics obviously play a large part in this rear shape and the C-Class has an impressively slippery Cd number of 0.27. This not only reduces fuel consumption and emissions, but also makes for an even quieter interior.
(Many people aren't aware that the design of the back of a vehicle is much more important than the front when it comes to aerodynamics. About 75 per cent of the aero work is done at the rear to reduce drag as the air rushes back into the gap created by the car. Just look at the shape of birds and fish to see how nature has been doing it for millions of years.)
Inside, the styling is excellent, with various elements nicely working together to give a feeling of stylish quality. A slightly jarring note is the positioning of the infotainment screen, which looks like an afterthought.
Audio and video playback is possible via Bluetooth, from an Apple iPod or iPhone, from an SD card, USB or, even the old fashioned route of CD and DVD.
A Bluetooth-capable mobile phone with data option makes the Audio 20 system in all C-Class models internet-capable. Mercedes apps such as Weather, Google, Local Search with StreetView and destination/route download and Facebook can be used in conjunction with Mercedes COMAND Online.
An amazing feature is climate-control air conditioning that keeps track of the time of day and 'talks' to the sat-nav satellites to find out where the car is. It then senses the direction in which the Mercedes is moving and adjusts the air conditioning to provide added cooling to the sunny side of the car.
It also knows when the car is approaching at tunnel and sets the air conditioning to recirculation so it isn't sucking in dirty air from the tunnel.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
A wide range of engines is being offered, though not all are part of the initial shipment. All are turbocharged for greater efficiency and added torque. A diesel-electric hybrid will join the lineup up later.
Petrol units are likely to be the bigger sellers as the latest designs are almost as economical as the diesels. The C 200 is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit that provides 135 kW of power and 300 Nm of torque. Going up to the C 250 gives you the same engine in a higher state of tune to give 155 kW and 350 Nm.
An interesting unit is the 1.6-litre turbo-diesel that produces 100 kilowatts of power and 300 Newton metres of torque. It has official fuel consumption of just 4.5 litres per hundred kilometres. There's also a 2.1-litre diesel with 150 kW and 500 Nm.
All engines sit in front of a seven-speed automatic transmission with several modes and manual overrides.
It goes without saying the new C-Class has the highest safety rating of five stars. Better still it's crammed full of things to stop you having a crash: The Mercedes can sense an upcoming collision and brake to avoid it; steer itself back onto the correct path, between lane lines, if the driver hasn't been paying attention; semi-autonomously follow the vehicle in front at speeds up to 60 km/h, this includes stopping and starting; senses if the driver is becoming drowsy; and more.
Not all items are fitted in all C-Class models, contact your dealer for details. All new Mercedes cars come as standard with a QR reader that provides information to crash rescue professionals, letting them know the best way to cut into the Merc to gain access to injured occupants.
New Mercedes C-Class is larger than the E-Class of a couple of generations back. Such is the march of progress that it's also smoother, quieter and more powerful than its well regarded ancestor.
We tested three variants during the press event to launch the Merc. Ride comfort is very good in all models, even more so in the C 250 we drove that had the air suspension system.
Noise and vibration are well controlled and even on roughish Australian backroads there's very little intrusion into the cabin. Run-flat tyres have come of age and there's none of the harsh feel that we experienced in the first generation tyres, tyres that provides safety unlike any other.
The front seats are spacious in their own right, but the wide centre console stretches back a long way and there's the feeling your legs are very much in their own private space. Not sure if this will appeal to everyone…
There's good head and legroom in the back seat for adults, even on long country trips. Three full-size people can fit across the rear seat but it really is better if there's only two back there. The boot is large and easy to load. The use of run-flat tyres makes for greater boot depth.
Handling is impeccable, with so much in hand that only the most undisciplined of drivers is even remotely likely to get into trouble. Even then, the ham-fisted driver will have found their car doing everything it could to bring matters under control again.
Initially, we found the steering to be rather abrupt on corners such as you meet in the suburbs, but we soon became accustomed to the feel.
The engines are strong and the low down torque and seven-speed transmissions mean they are never working more than moderately hard.