The new C-class proves that Mercedes is back doing what it does best – making cars that are like dull uncles

Would suit: People who wouldn't be seen dead in a Mondeo
Price: £34,982 (as tested)
Performance: 145mph, 0-60 8.5 secs
Combined fuel consumption: 47.9mpg
Further information: 0800 181361

Well, the good news is that Mercedes is no longer making cars out of crisp packets, straw and old linoleum floor tiles. Everyone says that Mercedes is back to building cars that are cast from molten granite in the lava fires of Mordor; cars which, in their reassuring structural heft, make BMWs look like those Beetles made from Coke cans by people who live in shanty towns. This is because the Stuttgart firm has finally, and at great financial loss, lanced the festering pustule that was Chrysler. Rid of its weeping American carbuncle, Mercedes' quality-control bods need no longer spend their time in transatlantic cattle class on emergency fire-fighting missions to regulate shut lines and glovebox tolerances. No, Mercedes is now free to do what it does best: making cars as monuments; cars that feel as if they will never die.

Or, at least that's what I thought until I sat in the new C-class and, with my finely honed instinct for finding the worst in a car, started prodding the gear-lever surround and it came off in my hand. I started the engine. It was a diesel. It sounded like a cement mixer full of gravel and ran out of puff surprisingly low in the rev range. I wasn't impressed, particularly when I checked how much it cost and found out that, though the base price is £28,000, if you throw in the BMW iDrive-style Comand (sic) multimedia system and a panoramic sunroof, among a few other bits, you'll be up to £34,982. For what is, essentially, a Golf rival with a boot!

But I stuck at it and drove around in this, the C220 CDi Sport version, with its upright styling (the shape of things to come, I'm afraid, thanks to new pedestrian impact safety legislation), chunky grill (you can have yours with either the old-fashioned grill with "rifle sight" badge on top, or with a more streamlined "Sport" grill) and snazzy AMG wheels. And, do you know what? In the classic Mercedes manner, slowly, steadily, it began to work its way into my affections. Yes, the gear lever surround was wobbly, but the rest of it just felt so reassuringly weighty and well built. As I got to know the engine better, I found it had real guts; I loved the discreet power delivery, the way it flowed down the road and the way the ride offered the perfect balance between refinement and sportiness. Over just a few days I came to think of it as a member of the family – that dull uncle who can only talk about golf – which is how a Mercedes should be. It is a heavy car compared to a BMW 3-series (almost 200kg heavier, in fact), but it carries it well and you'd never guess from its spectacular frugality.

So yes, this is a qualified return to how a Mercedes should be and, I suspect, once people start to perceive the company is back on form in terms of quality and gravitas, that high sticker price will be reflected in excellent resale values (and you do get a reasonable array of extras, such as climate control and front, side and driver's knee airbags). Just imagine how good Mercedes would be if it could only get someone to take Smart off its hands...

It's a classic: Mercedes 19

The Mercedes 190 isn't yet a classic – there are still too many of them around – but it deserves to be. For me it epitomises what a small Merc should be – over engineered, simply yet elegantly styled, built from rock but with a quiet dignity and indomitable strength. Launched in 1982, the Baby Benz, as it was nicknamed (this was before the A class, of course) pioneered the multi-link suspension still used by the current C class and came with airbags, seat belt pre-tensioners and ABS. The 190 came with the usual bewildering array of Mercedes engines, with the 2.6l Evolution versions the pick of the bunch. Mercedes had great success with the 190 on the track with a Cosworth-developed engine. AMG-tuned versions were also available but I can't be doing with all that, give me a straight but tatty, base-model, four-cylinder diesel 190 and I'd be a very happy man – for at least 250,000 miles.

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