Mercedes-Benz C-Class VS McLaren 540C
- New standard 10.25-inch display
- New standard 12.3-inch virtual instrument cluster
- C 43 is a milder form of wild
- Boot space in Sedan and Estate is on the small side
- Artico upholstery in C 200 feels 'plasticky'
- Some wind noise around wing mirrors
- Brilliant dynamics
- Impressive performance
- (Relatively) approachable price
- Tricky entry/egress
- Drinks a bit when pushed (don't we all)
- Practicality not a strong suit
Do you know how many bones you have in your body? Stop counting, there are 207. And if say half those bones were replaced with different ones would you consider yourself to still be the same? Well that’s what Benz has done with the new C-Class – sort of. Of the roughly 13,000 parts which make up a C-Class car, 6500 of them have been modified or changed.
You don’t need to know every change to the new C-Class, but at the end of this review you will be across the differences that you can see, feel and hear.
Just a note before we start. The top-of-the-range Mercedes-AMG C63 S arrives in early 2019 and wasn’t available to drive at the Australian C-Class launch. That’s why we’ll focus on the other grades here - the C 200, C 220 d, C 300 and C 43. We’ll test drive and review the Australian C 63 S when it arrives – promise.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
Believe it or not, the McLaren 540C is an entry-level model. But you won't find anything remotely resembling rubber floor mats, steel wheels, or cloth seats here. This is a 'base' car like few others.
Revealed in 2015, it's actually the cornerstone of McLaren's three-tier supercar pyramid, being the most affordable member of the Sport Series, with the properly exotic Super Series (650S, 675LT and now 720S), and pretty much insane Ultimate Series (where the P1 hypercar briefly lived) rising above it.
Only a few years ago, McLaren meant nothing to anyone outside the octane-infused world of motorsport. But in 2017, it's right up there with aspirational sports car big guns like Ferrari and Porsche, both of which have been producing road cars for close to 70 years.
So, how has this British upstart managed to build a world-beating supercar brand so quickly?
Everything you need to know to answer that question resides inside the stunning McLaren 540C.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
This may well be just an update to the C-Class, but the changes made are significant in terms of technology and performance, and you’re paying hardly any extra money for it. A good all-rounder for dynamics, features, refinement and value.
The sweet spot in the range has to be the C 300. It’s less than $10K more than the entry grade C200, but gets a powerful 2.0-litre engine, leather seats, the extra advanced safety equipment, tinted windows and convenience features such as a power tailgate (on the wagon) and proximity unlocking.
Is the C-Class still the king of the mid-sized prestige world? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The 540C is desirable on so many levels. Its dynamic ability, blistering performance, and stunning design make the cost of entry a value-for-money ticket. And the refreshing thing is, choosing a McLaren, with its focus on function and pure engineering, sidesteps the wankery that so often goes with ownership of an 'established' exotic brand. We absolutely love it.
Do you think McLaren is a genuine competitor for the usual supercar suspects? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Now, to spot the difference between the new and the old C-Class from the outside just look at the headlights – the shape of the fitting is the same, but the new standard headlights on the C 200, C 220 d and C 300 have an LED set-up which looks like teeth, while the optional units (standard on the C 43 and C 63 S) are also LED but with a tall staggered design. Tail-lights also keep the same shape but with a different LED pattern, too.
The front and rear bumpers have also been restyled for all grades and the C 43 and C 63 S have had their grilles updated, with the former getting a new twin-louvre design, while its big brother now has chrome vertical slats reminiscent of the grille worn by the 1952 Carrera Panamericana winning 300SL.
The AMG Line Exterior package is standard on the Coupe and Cabriolet, but if you option it on the sedan it will fit a sports body kit with AMG front spoiler and side skirts.
The C 43’s gloss black rear diffuser looks tough with the new quad exhaust and the car in wagon form wins my award for best looking of the C-Class bunch.
Cabins haven’t been overhauled but they have been updated with a 10.25-inch dash-top display for media and a 12.3-inch fully digital instrument cluster - both are standard across the range and make a big styling impact in the cockpit. Mercedes-AMG grades have their own sporty version of the virtual instrument cluster.
The layout of controls remains the same, but you can now option a new real wood veneer to the centre console with 'open-pore brown walnut' and 'open-pore black ash' being your choices.
The Artico upholstery in the C 200 looks and feels ‘plasticky’. I’d option the real leather which comes standard on the C 300.
New to the C 43 are the optional ‘Performance’ seats with integrated head restraints and standard on this grade is a new leather AMG steering wheel. Other cool cabin features are the stainless-steel pedals, the AMG floor mats and stitched dash (even if it is Artico upholstery).
All grades now come standard with the 64-colour ambient lighting system. You should see the system fading through the colours at night and with the right music the whole effect is amazing.
Exterior and interior dimensions stay the same, all variants measuring about 4.7m in length. That’s a good size; not too big or small, making parking and manoeuvring in tight spaces pretty fuss-free.
The C-Class is made in various parts of the world, but I can tell you the C 200 Sedan we get in Australia is made at Mercedes-Benz's East London plant on South Africa's east coast.
In 2010 the recent rise (and rise) of McLaren Automotive really began, when its design director, the hugely respected Frank Stephenson, started to send things in a compelling direction.
He says McLarens are 'designed by air' and that intricately sculpted, wind-tunnel-driven approach to supercar beauty is clear in the 540C's shape.
A serious front spoiler and a mix of large intakes low in the nose create a delicate balance between downforce and corridors for cooling air.
Broad strakes down the side, standing proud of the main bodywork, are reminiscent of a formula one car's turbulence reducing barge boards, and giant intake ducts channel air through to the radiators in the cleanest, most efficient way possible.
And the look is suitably spectacular. You could hang the dramatically carved doors in a contemporary art museum.
There's a delicate lip spoiler on the trailing edge of the main deck, and a giant multi-channel diffuser proves air flow under the car is just as carefully managed as that going over it.
But the 540C doesn't lack traditional supercar drama. The dihedral design doors swinging up to their fully open position is a camera phone attracting, jaw dropping, traffic-stopper.
The interior is simple, striking and single-mindedly driver-focused. The chunky wheel is completely unadorned, the digital instruments are crystal clear, and the seats are the perfect combination of support and comfort.
The vertical 7.0-inch 'IRIS' touchscreen is cool to the point of minimalism, managing everything from audio and nav, to media streaming and air-con, with low-key efficiency.
The boot, for example in the C 200 is 434 litres, which isn’t as big as the cargo space offered by the BMW 3 Series or the luggage capacity of the Audi A4. This is partly because the hybrid system uses space under the bonnet, so the car’s battery needs to go to the boot.
The C 300 doesn’t use the hybrid system and so the sedan in this grade has 455 litres of boot space.
Choosing the C 300 Coupe’s will reduce your luggage carrying ability to 380 litres and the C 300 Cabriolet’s cargo capacity varies from 360 litres with the roof up and 285 litres when it’s down and eating into the luggage area.
The Estate is the best luggage hauler but it’s still not enormous – the C 43 Estate that we test drove has a cargo capacity of 480 litres.
Legroom in the back of the C 43 Estate is good and at 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position with about 20mm to spare thanks to the sculpted seat back.
Headroom is getting tight in the Estate and especially in the Sedan – well for me, anyway – and the optional sunroof will lower the ceiling height even further.
Up front space in the Sedan and Estate isn’t an issue with plenty of head-, leg- and shoulder room offered.
Storage throughout the Sedan and Estate is good with a large centre console storage bin, two cupholders up front and another two in the back along with a storage area in the fold down armrest, but all four door pockets are on the slimmer side. Still they can fit a small bottle of water, plus a wallet or purse.
That centre console bin houses two USB ports, and a 12-volt outlet can be found in the storage area under the climate controls – which also houses the optional wireless charging pad. Without the charging pad that small area is too tiny to place my iPhone8 Plus.
Rear headroom and legroom in the four-seater Coupe and Cabriolet is limited, but both get a pair of cupholders in the back and two more up front.
There are some cursory concessions to practicality… like a glovebox, a single cupholder under the dash at the leading edge of the centre console, a small bin between the seats, housing multiple USB outlets, and other storage options here and there.
The latter includes a shelf at the top of the bulkhead behind the seats, marked with a specific label saying (words to the effect of) 'don't put stuff here', but that's more about objects flying forward in a high-G deceleration, which in this car is more likely to be the result of hitting the brakes, rather than a crash.
But the 'big' surprise is the 144-litre boot in the nose, complete with light and 12 volt power outlet. It easily swallowed the CarsGuide medium sized, 68-litre hard shell suitcase.
In terms of getting in and out, make sure you've done you warm-ups because frankly it's an athletic challenge to maintain composure and get the job done either way. Despite best efforts, I hit my head a couple of times, and aside from the pain it's worth pointing out that being a follicularly-challenged person I'm forced to display abrasions in full public view.
Price and features
The range kicks off with the C 200 and its C 220 d diesel siblings, then steps up to the C 300. Prices for these grades have increased by $1500 in this update but you’re being given more features. Above the C 300 live Mercedes-AMG’s wild animals – the C 43 and C 63 S.
The C 220 d Sedan lists for $64,900 and the only other form it comes in is the Estate for $67,400.
The C 300 Sedan lists for $71,400, the Estate is $73,900, the Coupe is $84,900 and the Cabriolet is $101,900.
The C 43 Sedan lists for $107,900, while the Estate is $110,400, the Coupe is $111,900 and Cabriolet is $124,900.
The C 63 S Sedan lists for $159,900, however, prices for other body styles have not yet been announced.
So, about all the stuff you’re receiving in return for the price increase – a 10.25-inch display screen replaces the smaller one in the previous car and it’s standard across the range. Don’t stab and poke at it like I did with my finger for hours, because it’s not a touchscreen.
Other standard features, starting with the C 200 and C 220 d, include 'Artico' upholstery, which is a synthetic attempt at leather, a reversing camera, shifting paddles, dual-zone climate control, aluminium roof rails on the Estate, LED headlights, 64-colour ambient lighting and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The C 300 has the C 200’s features and adds leather upholstery, privacy glass (coupe only), proximity key and 19-inch alloys. The C 300 also gains the 'Driving Assistance Package' which I’ll tell you all about in the safety section below.
The C 43 picks up the C 300’s equipment and adds an enormous list of its own gear including a new AMG steering wheel, brushed stainless steel pedals, Burmester 13-speaker stereo, heated sports front seats, head-up display, wireless charging, intelligent LED headlights, panoramic sunroof, black roof racks on the Estate, analogue clock and 19-inch AMG alloy wheels.
Metallic paintwork is also part of the C 43’s standard features list which includes 'Obsidian Black', 'Iridium Silver', 'Mojave Silver', 'Cavansite Blue', 'Emerald Green' and 'Brilliant Blue', but you’ll have to pay for 'Hyacinth Red', which is a sort of candy apple red. Non-cost colours for the lower grades are non-metallic black and 'Polar White' non-metallic.
The C 63 S adds to the C 43’s equipment list with its own AMG steering wheel, illuminated door sills, digital TV tuner, nappa leather upholstery, an electronic rear differential lock, 19-inch alloys in matte black with high-sheen rim, plus high-performance brakes with red calipers.
Standard kit runs to climate control air con, an alarm system, cruise control, remote central locking, LED headlights, tail-lights and DRLs, keyless entry and drive, a limited-slip differential, leather steering wheel, power folding mirrors, four-speaker audio, and a multi-function trip computer.
'Our' car featured close to $30,000 worth of options; headline items being the 'Elite - McLaren Orange' paint finish ($3620), a 'Sport Exhaust' system ($8500), and the 'Security Pack' ($10,520) which includes front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, alarm upgrade and a vehicle lifter that raises the front of the car an extra 40mm at the push of a column stalk. Very handy.
And the signature orange shade follows through with orange brake calipers peeking out through the standard 'Club Cast' alloy rims, and similarly coloured seatbelts inside.
Engine & trans
This isn’t a hybrid with an electric motor driving the wheels, it’s an electrical system which is able to provide an additional 10kW/160Nm when accelerating. Known as the 'EQ Boost', the system also allows the C 200 to coast at a constant speed if the driver takes their foot off the accelerator. The battery is then re-charged when braking.
The C 220 d offers a diesel alternative and its new 2.0-litre engine now makes 18kW more power at 143kW and the same 400Nm of torque.
The C 300’s 2.0-litre turbo four has had a 10kW increase, taking power to 190kW, while peak torque is still 370Nm.
Also getting a power bump is the C 43 and its 3.0-litre V6 petrol is now good for 287kW (up from 270kW) while torque stays at 520Nm. The C43 uses Mercedes-Benz’s '4Matic' all-wheel drive system, while every other grade, including the C 63 S, is rear-wheel drive.
The C 63 S still makes an impressive 375kW and 700Nm.
The C 200, C 220 d, C 300 and C 43 all use the same nine-speed automatic transmission, while the C 63 S uses a ‘AMG Speedshift 9G’ which is a nine-speed dual-clutch auto.
Aside from you and a passenger, the most important thing sitting between the 540C's axles is the 3.8-litre (M838TE) twin-turbo V8.
Developed in collaboration with British high-tech engineering specialist, Ricardo, McLaren's used it in various states of tune across different models, including the P1, and even in this 'entry-level' spec it produces enough power to light up a small town.
In 540C trim, the all-alloy unit delivers 397kW (540 metric horsepower, hence the model designation) at 7500rpm, and 540Nm from 3500-6500rpm. It uses race-derived dry sump lubrication, and a compact flat plane crank design, favoured by Ferrari and others in high-performance engines.
While vibration damping can be an issue with this configuration, it allows a much higher rev ceiling relative to the more common cross plane arrangement, and this engine screams up to 8500rpm, a stratospheric number for a road-going turbo.
The seven-speed 'Seamless-Shift' dual-clutch transmission sends drive exclusively to the rear wheels and comes from Italian gearbox gurus Oerlikon Graziano. It's been progressively refined and upgraded since its first appearance in the MP4-12C in 2011.
Fuel consumption obviously depends on the engine, but did you know the body type also affects mileage?
The C 200 Estate according to Mercedes-Benz will need 6.5L/100km, the C 200 Coupe uses 6.4L/100km and the C 200 Cabriolet will need 6.8L/100km.
The C 220 d Sedan is frugal with diesel fuel consumption being 4.7L/100km, while the Estate version needs 4.8L/100km.
Mercedes-Benz is yet to announce the C300’s fuel consumption figures.
The Mercedes-AMG cars are the thirstiest with the C 43 Sedan using 9.4L/100km, and the Estate will use 9.6L/100km. After 286km of country roads the trip computer in our C 43 Estate was reporting an average consumption of 10.3L/100km. The Coupe economy is 9.5L/100km and the Cabriolet needs 10.0L/100km.
The C 63 S Sedan puts it away at the rate of 10.4L/100km, and the Estate’s usage is 10.7L/100km, while the Coupe and Cabriolet’s fuel efficiency is yet to be announced.
McLaren claims 10.7L/100km for the combined (urban/extra urban) fuel economy cycle, emitting 249g/km of CO2 at the same time.
For the record, that's six per cent better than the Ferrari 488 GTB (11.4L/100km – 260g/km), and if you take it easy on a constant freeway cruise, you can lower it even further.
But most of the time, we, ahem, didn't do better than that, averaging 14.5L/100km via the trip computer in just over 300km of city, suburban and freeway running.
The Australian C-Class launch gave us the opportunity to drive the C 200 Sedan and C 43 Estate on a test route stretching from Melbourne's Tullamarine airport, roughly 300km north to Milawa in Victoria’s alpine region and back, with the conditions being dry and cool.
I knew the C 43 would be ridiculously fun, but you can’t eat your dessert first, right? So, I started in the C 200, which is far from just meat and three veg – it’s refined and enjoyable to drive.
Steering is well weighted and accurate, offering a better sense of connection to the road compared to some of its prestige rivals. The steering wheel itself felt good to hold, too – and this is on the base car.
The test car wasn’t without its options though and it did have the 'Dynamic Body Control Suspension' with its Comfort mode softening the dampers for a more compliant ride and the Sport setting for better handling.
And that ride was comfortable. The only disturbance to the serenity (we did go through Bonnie Doon) was a bit of wind noise created by what sounded like the wing mirrors.
Apart from that, the experience was serene – those seats up front are comfortable and supportive even after hours, the vision all-around is excellent and then there’s the engine, which is perfectly adequate.
Okay, 1.5 litres sounds small but the output is almost the same as the previous 2.0-litre and the 48 Volt EQ Boost hybrid system does provide just enough of a kick to get you away from the traffic lights or overtake without any discernible lag.
The hybrid system's coasting function is excellent – take your foot off the accelerator and your revs drop to zero but the car will maintain its speed. When you brake the battery is recharged so you’ll have the extra grunt again when you need it.
Now for dessert. Just idling the C 43 sounds sedate, but that’s with the exhaust note and engine in the Comfort setting. It means you can pull into your street at night or start it up early in the morning without waking the up the entire neighbourhood.
Or, to hell with them, the people next door are jerks anyway: put it in Sport and the twin-turbo petrol V6 snarls and crackles as you shift through the gears. It’s not as vicious as the V8 C 63 S, but that’s the appeal of the C 43 – it’s a milder form of wild that’s easier to live with, but still so much fun.
The back roads from Milawa to Mansfield were a great testing ground for the C 43 Estate with their hill-climbing bends and downward forest runs. Merc AMG claims the C 43 can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 4.7s, and while that’s more than half-a-second behind the C 63 S, it’s still plenty quick.
With fantastic turn-in, all-wheel drive offering superb traction and great grip from the Continental ContiSportContact rubber (225/40 R19s front, 255/35 R19 at the back), a smooth-shifting nine-speed, impressive brakes and that turbo V6 which pulled the car heroically out of corners, it was hard not to grin like an idiot.
Only my mouth hurt afterwards, not my body. There’s a line you’re not going to read in any other car review. Some sports cars have a ride so firm, and seats so hard, and driving positions with hip points so low, that I almost have to leave the vehicle on all fours.
But only my face hurt from smiling so much – you could pilot a car like the C 43 until it ran out of fuel from a full tank and still feel comfortable – which is almost what we did. How much fuel did it use? Keep reading to find out.
The best word to describe driving this McLaren is orchestration. The 540C's dynamic elements flow seamlessly together to transform its operator into a conductor guiding a well-honed mechanical orchestra through an energetic concerto.
And slipping (carefully) over the carpeted bulkhead into the driver's seat is like dropping into an ergonomic masterclass. It feels like you're putting the car on, rather than getting into it.
Like all other current McLarens, the 540C is constructed around a one-piece, carbon-fibre tub, which it calls MonoCell II. It's super stiff, and just as importantly, light.
McLaren quotes a dry weight (no fuel, lubricants, or coolant) for the 540C of 1311kg, with the kerb weight a stated 1525kg (including a 75kg passenger). Not featherweight, but with this kind of power sitting a few centimetres behind your head, it's not a lot.
A sophisticated launch control system means zero to licence loss is achieved in a flash (0-100km/h – 3.5sec), with jail time lurking if you ever decide to explore the 540C's 320km/h maximum velocity. And in case you're wondering, it'll blast from 0-200km/h, in just 10.5sec.
The engine sounds brilliantly guttural, with lots of exhaust roar managing to find a way past the turbos. Maximum torque is available across a flat plateau from 3500-6500rpm, and mid-range punch is strong. However, the 540C is anything but a one-trick pony, or is that 540 ponies?
The double wishbone suspension, complete with the adaptive 'Active Dynamics Control' system lets you channel all that forward thrust into huge cornering speed.
The switch from Normal, through Sport to Track progressively buttons everything down harder, and an ideal weight distribution (42f/58r) delivers fantastic agility.
Feel from the electro-hydraulic steering is amazing, the fat Pirelli P Zero rubber (225/35 x 19 front / 285/35 x 20 rear), developed specifically for this car, grips like a Mr T handshake, and the standard 'Brake Steer' torque vectoring system, which applies braking force to optimise drive and minimise understeer, is undetectable in the best possible way.
The steering wheel paddles come in the form of a genuine rocker, so you're able to change up and down ratios on either side of the wheel, or one-handed.
Hammer towards a quick corner and the reassuringly progressive steel rotor brakes bleed off speed with complete authority. Flick down a couple of gears, then turn in and the front end sweeps towards the apex without a hint of drama. Squeeze in the power and the fat rear rubber keeps the car planted, and perfectly neutral mid-corner. Then pin the throttle and the 540C rockets towards the next bend… which can't come quickly enough. Repeat, and enjoy.
But slotting everything into 'Normal' mode transforms this dramatic wedge into a compliant daily driver. Smooth throttle response, surprisingly good vision and excellent ride comfort make the McLaren a pleasure to steer around town.
You'll love catching a glimpse of the heat haze shimmering up off the engine in the rear-view mirror at the lights, and the (optional) nose-lift system makes traversing awkward driveways and speed bumps manageable.
The C-Class was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2014. The base grade C 200 is fitted with nine airbags, AEB which works most effectively at lower speeds, and blind spot warning.
No spare tyres here. The C 200, C 220 d and C 300 all come with run-flat tyres, while the Mercedes-AMG grades have a puncture repair kit.
For child seats, you’ll find two ISOFIX points and three top tethers across the back row of the Sedan and Estates, while the Cabriolet and Coupe have two ISOFIX points in the back.
There are also two hi-viz vests in the cargo area and, yes, you do get a warning triangle, too.
In terms of active safety, the car's dynamic ability is one giant safeguard against a collision, and that's backed up by tech features including ABS and brake assist (no AEB, though), as well as stability and traction controls.
But if a crunching-type incident is unavoidable, the carbon-composite chassis offers exceptional crash protection with dual front airbags in support (no side or curtain airbags).
Not a huge surprise that ANCAP (or Euro NCAP, for that matter) hasn't assessed this particular vehicle.
The C-Class is covered by Mercedes-Benz’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. We’re keen to see Mercedes-Benz move to longer warranty periods as is becoming the norm with mainstream brands, many of which are offering five year coverage.
Servicing is recommended at 25,000km/12-month intervals for the regular C-Class cars and the C 43. The C 63 S needs servicing every 20,000km or annually.
It’s great to see Mercedes-Benz offers capped price servicing. For example, the C 200 will cost you $396 at its first service, the second is $792 and the third is also $792.
That's a lot of kays for a premium exotic like this, and some may not see 15,000km on the odometer… ever.