Size does matter; in fact, it matters very much, especially in the prestige car market. That's why the folk at Mercedes-Benz have grown the new C-Class Saloon to cater for the increase in people's average height - not to mention the increase in the image rating.
Wheelbase, track and width are bigger, though many interior dimensions are about the same as in the previous model. Rear seat occupants are the main beneficiaries. In keeping with the upsizing Mercedes has endowed the new C-Class with luxuries normally found in more expensive vehicles from the German marque.
Despite the increase in size the all-new C-Class has weight savings of up to 40 kg. It has cutting-edge aerodynamics and new economical engines. Mercedes-Benz C-Class establishes new efficiency benchmarks in its segment.
A host of new assistance systems offers safety of the highest automotive calibre. The new C-Class comes in a range of sedans and estates (wagons) with the choice of petrol or diesel power, the latter incorporating Mercedes-Benz BlueTec technology.
A C 250 BlueTEC diesel came my way packed with technology yet to be seen in this market segment. This included the full Driver Assistance Package Plus, with Steer Assist, most recently seen in the latest S-Class.
Other high-end standard features, including Keyless-Go with hands-free access, leather upholstery and exotic19-inch alloy wheels are all part of outstanding value for a car costing just over $70,000.
Designers have gone for minimalist, pure forms to reinforce up-to-the-minute C-Class intelligent technology and engineering. The entry-level 'albatross' has been cast off.
This is even more applicable to the cabin interior, which is a showpiece of finely crafted quality materials offering a pleasingly tactile experience for occupants, according to the maker, 'akin to the uplifting feeling of being upgraded from economy to business class on an airliner'. So there...
It's down to business for the driver too with a 7-inch display screen, 8.4-inch with optional Comand Online, standing alone on the centre console above three-dimensional high-quality controls. It still looks a bit add-on to us, but perhaps that's part of the appeal to some.
To the rear of the centre console is a Mercedes touch pad in a hand rest above the control knob which operates screen functions by touch as in a smartphone.
A head-up display is new to the C-Class and displays important information directly in the driver's field of vision on the windscreen, including information on speed, navigation instructions and messages from the Distronic safe distance system for following the vehicle ahead.
New-generation multimedia presents information in a clear and concise manner, while a Frontbass acoustic system uses a body cross-member and side member as a resonance chamber for the woofers, resulting in excellent clarity. Burmester surround sound is an option.
Navigation is interactive, with information presented in a similar manner to on an airliner and Google Maps displayed on the head liner. Bluetooth is standard and Mercedes-Benz Apps such as Weather, Google Local Search with StreetView and Panoramio, destination/route download and Facebook can be used while on the move in conjunction with Comand Online.
ENGINE / TRANSMISSION
The C 250 BlueTEC is powered by one of the three new engines of the Mercedes C-Class. The four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine puts out 150 kW at 3800 rpm and a robust 500 Nm between 1600 and 1800 revs, while incorporating selective catalytic reduction for environment-friendly driving, ensuring the C-Class diesels make efficiency class A and in most cases efficiency class A+.
Mated with a seven-speed 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission and engine start-stop technology, fuel consumption is down by more than 10 per cent compared to its predecessor. The engine has a Euro 6 emission rating.
Intelligent Drive is how Mercedes-Benz tags active safety systems plucked from the latest S-Class and E-Class cars. These include Attention Assist which warns the driver of any lapse in concentration; Adaptive Brake Assist and Collision Prevention Assist Plus, which provide protection from potential crashes. Extra cost options offer further help should you want them.
Occupants are also protected by a suite of airbags which includes pelvis bags for driver and front passenger; a newly developed window bag; side bags for the outer rear seats, plus a knee bag for the driver.
Manoeuvring in tight spots is simplified by a rear-view camera with guidelines and parking sensors all round.
Keyless entry to the C 250 BlueTEC is a given, closely followed by push-button engine start-up. Engine noise is well damped in the cabin but noisy diesel clatter is excessive outside the vehicle. This certainly won't help you to impressive the neighbours, especially first thing in the morning when it creates what you would almost call a racket - very un-Mercedes.
Overtaking is easy thanks to the huge 500 Nm of torque on tap
The transmission is engaged via a stubby gearshift lever mounted on the steering column behind the wheel. It's not to the liking of everyone as it is possible to knock it into neutral with a finger while turning the steering wheel – something I found to my surprise.
In stop-start mode there is a fraction of a second before the engine fires, resulting in a jerky takeoff. On the move, the drivetrain is a smooth operator and shrugs off any attempt to unsettle it. Overtaking is easy thanks to the huge 500 Nm of torque on tap.
Thanks to Airmatic, the first air suspension in the segment, the driver is able to choose how he or she wants the vehicle to behave by switching throttle response, speed-sensitive power assist, automatic transmission shift points and suspension damping, via a control on the centre console.
Programs on offer include Comfort, Eco, Sport, Sport + and Individual. Eco had the car in sluggish mood, acting as though it didn't want to play; Sport and Sport+ were fun on the run, while Individual is, well, individual, letting you dial up your own needs and desires.
'Comfort' is the default mode and I found it produced flexible behaviour in all conditions and fuel consumption figures of 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres on the motorway and 8.7 litres per 100 kilometres in and around town.