MOTORING / Road Test: C-class gets a B-plus: John Simister drives the new Mercedes C220 and finds the baby Benz to be a sizeable improvement on the 190 that it replaces
Out, then, goes the 10-year-old 190, which was thoroughly likeable except for one snag: tall parents had to trade it in for a bigger Benz once the children left primary school, as there was so little room in the back.
In its place comes the C-class (C for compact), aimed at holding buyers' interest into the next century. It is bigger, especially in the passenger compartment. An average-sized adult can sit behind another with room to spare. It is safer, too - an advertising copywriter would say 'even safer', since the 190 was hardly dangerous. But now there are seatbelt tensioners, side-impact bars and a driver's airbag.
And it is, of course, more modern. Not that there was much wrong with the 190, space apart. Its taut, trim lines never dated, and dynamically it remained right up there with the best. The only parts to show their years were the engines.
So, while fixing the space shortage was easy for Mercedes (lengthen the wheelbase and shrink the rear suspension), improvements elsewhere are subtle. But the styling does continue the old car's delicacy of line, keeping the smallest Mercedes saloon a much more handsome car than the dowdy E-class or the obese S-class. It is hardly trend-setting, but it won't date.
What is new is the wide range of C-class models. The 190's single trim level and hefty options list are replaced by a choice of five all-new engines and four trim levels.
The trim hierarchy goes like this: Classic (normal), Esprit (for youthful buyers who like lurid trim colours and slightly firmer suspension), Elegance (soft springing, lots of luxury) and Sport (taut handling, business-like trim treatment). Engines are a 1.8-litre four-cylinder, 2.0- and 2.2-litre versions of the same unit, a 2.8-litre six-cylinder (available next spring), and a five-
cylinder, 2.5-litre diesel. All of these engines, diesel included, have four valves per cylinder and plentiful power outputs.
If we take one from the middle of the range, the C220, we find a healthy 150bhp that exactly matches the power of BMW's rival (and cheaper) 320i. But what the Mercedes lacks are the six cylinders that make the BMW so smooth. The C220 is a refined car most of the time, especially at motorway speeds; but the engine becomes rowdier when worked hard.
It pulls well from low speeds, though, which is just as well because the optional automatic transmission, likely to be specified by most buyers, is reluctant to shift down a gear when you want to accelerate at a moment's notice. And this, I am pleased to say, is where gripes end and praise begins.
The C220 holds the road with exactly the sort of iron security you need for complete confidence. In Sport guise it steers crisply, too, and the firmish suspension keeps unwanted body movement firmly under control over humps and bumps. The only trade-off for this solid contact with the road is that the wheels can thump and jar a little over broken road surfaces.
Inside the cabin you will find a quality of design and assembly virtually on a par with that of bigger Benzes, give or take the occasional, and surprising, hard plastic moulding. And the dashboard architecture, with its logical switchgear and clear instruments, will make any existing Mercedes owner feel right at home. Buyers of the Sport, incidentally, are treated to inlays of pretend carbon fibre where the luxury versions give you wood.
If you are moving into a C-class from a 190, though, you will experience one serious shock. Instead of one electric door mirror, on the passenger's side, the C-class gives you two. A marketing-led Mercedes, indeed. This is a historic development, but perhaps not one for the archaeologists.
Mercedes-Benz C220 Sport, pounds 24,640. Engine: 2,199cc, four cylinders, 150bhp at 5,500rpm. Five-speed manual, four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive. Top speed 129mph, 0-60mph in 9.4 seconds (figures for automatic). Fuel: 27-32mpg unleaded.
Life & Style blogs
Versace haute couture review: Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
Why you should never make assumptions about people with autism
People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
What supermodels really think about posing in the nude
The biggest first date turnoff has been revealed
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
- 1 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
- 2 What supermodels really think about posing in the nude
- 3 North Korean defector flees to Finland 'with evidence of chemical testing on humans'
- 4 Black teen in critical condition after store employee 'shoots him for stealing 79-cent pack of cookies'
- 5 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...
£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...