Mercedes’ new mid-size warrior, the C-Class, has been in Australia since August. It's a massively important car for Mercedes and is the car most-feared by BMW and Audi in the race for the young-ish thruster garage space. The new C is more youthful (the better to catch A and CLA buyers on the way up), lighter and more agile.
It's also wildly popular - in November it outsold the BMW 3-Series and the Audi A4 (and the Mazda6!), each by quite some margin and has been doing so all year, even with the old model drawing to an end.
The petrol-powered C200 kicks off the W205 sedan range at $60,900, with the C200 diesel BlueTec an extra $1500. The range heads on up through the C250 petrols and diesels ($68,900/$70,400) and then to the C300 diesel-electric hybrid at $74,900. You can make your own Collins Class submarine joke here.
The C200 is a solid $8000 more than a poverty-spec BMW 318i, and between four and five grand more than A4 and Lexus IS respectively.
Our test car was the C200 petrol, which came with metallic paint ($2,300!), the oddly-priced AMG Line ($3454), the Vision Package (also $3454) and COMAND package ($2300), bringing a grand total of $72,408.
The C200 has a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four cylinder engine and seven-speed dual clutch auto transmission. In base form interior, it's trimmed in Artico fake leather, power front seats, seven-inch screen with sat-nav, DAB+ digital radio as standard and keyless entry and start.
The AMG Line lowers and tightens the suspension, adds a nice set of 19-inch alloy wheels and a bit of visual aggro as well as the open-pore wood interior, sports seats, drilled front disc brakes, Sports Direct steering, tyre pressure monitoring and a slightly suspect analogue clock.
The Vision package adds a gigantic sunroof (the front two-thirds third slides back), LED lighting with cornering mode and an excellent head-up display.
And finally, COMAND is Mercedes' answer to Audi's MMI and BMW's iDrive. The optional upgrade brings a bigger screen (8.3 inches), 13 Burmester speakers (up from five), a 10Gb hard drive and voice control.
The box-fresh C-Class isn't exactly a surprise to Mercedes watchers - a lot of its styling themes should be familiar to anyone who has seen the A and its more closely-related CLA-Class sedan.
As always, styling is subjective - the overall design is confident, functional and fluid while more conservative than the smaller cars. The flush-fitted tail lights and softening lines make it look a bit melted at the back. Not in a bad way, in an old Ford Taurus way - there's a lot of the CLS in it - but it does seem that the styling team lost its way slightly at this end.
Inside is magnificently executed - there's a genuine feeling of solidity, with switchgear a class above and a good mix of real and fake leather and the AMG Line's open-pore wood is very nice indeed.
There's no gear selector on the console, but a column shifter, (except it's more like an indicator stalk) that might cause some anxious moments if you're swapping out of a non-Merc - go for the wipers (or indicators) and you'll get neutral.
Unlike its compatriots, there's a hell of a lot of buttons in there. Some functions can be accessed from three separate places which feels like the result of customer feedback and giving them what they want rather than thinking about how to modify old habits and reduce button clutter.
There's a reasonable amount of storage around the cabin, but most of it seems a bit shallow, especially the bin in the centre console. The boot, however, is gigantic for a car this size, at 480 litres. Rear legroom is better than the old car (up 25mm) and headroom is also adequate. Three across the back is a squeeze but not a terrible one.
Along with nine airbags (front, head, pelvis, knee and curtain) and the usual ABS, stability and traction controls, the C200 comes standard with autonomous emergency braking (very effective) and fatigue detection. ANCAP awarded the C-Class five stars.
The COMAND upgrade brings a bigger screen and, as is the fashion, it looks like it might be removable, but really isn't. The combination rotary wheel and over-the-top scribble/touch pad takes a long time to master, the touch pad hanging like an awning over the wheel.
The upgraded stereo is 13 speakers that fills the cabin with a rich, bassy sound. You can stream music from your phone via Bluetooth or USB. Again, the interface could be much easier and a lot of the buttons that replicate functions could go in the bin come refresh time.
ENGINE / TRANSMISSION
The C200 is powered by 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol, with very respectable figures of 135kW and 300Nm. With the aid of stop-start, Mercedes claims 6.0L/100km on the combined cycle. We saw nearly 50 per cent more, 8.9 L/100km, but this did include some enthusiastic driving and we often disabled the stop-start to help the air-con overcome some oppressive humidity.
The seven-speed dual-clutch will push the commendably light (1421kg) sedan to 100km/h in 7.3 seconds, driving the rear wheels.
The first thing that strikes you about this AMG pack-equipped C200 is the pointy front end - you steer, it goes, no slack or softness. It takes a little while to get used to, but its positivity is welcome and quite a lot of fun.
The second thing you notice is the incredibly stiff ride in the rear. The front end seems well damped and can cope with the big bumps, but rear passengers will be bounced out of their seats. The last German car that was this hard in the rear was an old-school M Sport pack-equipped 2007 BMW 118i.
The upside of the rugged rear end is that (a) you're driving so don't notice and (b) despite lacking in power and torque, it's quite a lot of fun to throw around, whether you're scampering around town or streaking down your favourite bendy bit of bitumen.
The transmission is very well-mannered and eager to please around town but gets it a bit dithery when you decide to switch to the sportiest of its several modes (Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+). It's the only real blot on the page and the only time you'd wish the seven-speeder wasn't the ZF eight-speed found in Audi and BMW peers.