It’s currently the best car in the world, you know: the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is the reigning World Car of the Year and will remain so until the 2016 winner is announced at the New York Motor Show in April.
But a few months are a long time in the premium compact saloon sector. Since it grabbed the award, Jaguar has launched the XE, BMW has revised the 3 Series and now Audi has rolled out an all-new A4. So how does the C-Class stack up now?
Well, it still looks great, that’s for sure. We reckon it’s the best-looking car in this sector, with its S-Class-lite styling enhanced all the more in test AMG Line guise. 4 in 10 buyers go AMG Line in the UK; from the 18-inch AMG alloys and perforated front discs to the liberal use of polished aluminium, it’s a real star. The standard one is still pretty, but a bit weedy compared to AMG Line guise.
Three in four buyers also go for diesel, and half of them take the C 220 d diesel. We, however, were intrigued by the more powerful twin-turbo 204hp C 250 d; for £1,155 more than the C 220, you get a monster 368lb ft of torque and a Porsche-like 0-62mph time of just 6.6 seconds. Yet there’s no mpg penalty either – why only 15% choose it is thus a mystery.
Our test car was also sensibly fitted with the AIRMATIC suspension option. At £895, it’s a no-brainer; for an added bonus, it can also be raised 25mm to clear high kerbs, steep driveways or other obstacles that can normally scrape bumpers and exhausts. It also auto-lowers 15mm at speed to reduce drag.
The C-Class is a regular top-10 best-seller in the UK, so it has many fans. Does it still command an advantage in a sector that’s seen many new and improved entrants recently arrive, though? We found out.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C 250 d AMG Line: on the road
Mercedes’ 2.1-litre turbodiesel engine is ageing these days. In other guises, it sounds it, with too much tappet clatter for modern ears, but it seems better isolated here. Maybe the extra power smoothes it out a bit.
It’s still audible when, say, the new Audi A4 runs silent, and you won’t rev it for the sheer (relative) pleasure of it, but it’s not objectionable. It comes with a standard seven-speed automatic gearbox, which again is hardly the freshest around; although more easily confused than BMW’s brilliant eight-speed option, it’s still passable.
Airmatic suspension means the C-Class rides with real gliding suppleness at speed. Its softly-cushioned damping apes an S-Class and it gives a unique sense of well-being. If you find it a bit queasy, tighten it up with the Agility Control thumbwheel.
What Airmatic can’t do is take the edge off sharp city centre bumps picked out by those big wheels and shallow 45- and 40-section tyres. BMW and Audi do this better; the thuddy crack as the Mercedes snaps into another ridge is at odds with its high-speed ride.
If you ‘sport-up’ the suspension, it handles extremely well. It has the roll-free sharpness of a BMW, and the rear-drive chassis feels stable and well-planted. Great for making best use of its monstrous torque – it’s a jolly swift car indeed if you want it to be.
The Sports Direct-Steer system is odd though. It’s super-fast, which takes a lot of acclimatisation, particularly around town where you’ll constantly be ‘over-steering’ and whipping near-violently into turns until you’re used to it. Fine for a C 63 AMG, a bit less relevant on a C 250 d.
Not that the C 250 d is the weak relation though. As we say, it’s a surprisingly fast car, and one whose power is easy to access. Driving a compact saloon with this much torque is a satisfying feeling: the drive lacks the sophistication of BMW’s revised 3 Series or the refinement of Audi’s new A4 but, in C 250 d Airmatic guise, it’s still reassuring and pleasing.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C 250 d AMG Line: on the inside
You sense Jaguar had already signed off the cabin for the new XE when Mercedes-Benz revealed the latest C-Class. If it hadn’t, it surely would have upped its game in response – that’s how wonderfully designed the stylish Merc’s interior is.
It’s the most avant-garde design in the sector, all piano black, polished aluminium and detail delight. The main controls are clear with it, even if the infotainment system needs some familiarisation; everything works with the usual Mercedes-Benz integrity.
An Audi A4 feels more indulgently premium though. So too does a BMW 3 Series. It’s good quality, the C-Class, but there are a few too many rattly-to-the-tap surfaces and slightly borderline plastics for it to feel the vault-like Mercedes of old.
What Mercedes have always offered are driving positions with a tremendous amount of adjustment. The C-Class is no exception. The seat runners seem to go on and on, and you can set the seat nice and low if you wish. Another Mercedes tradition is the firmness of the seats; some will consider them too hard for short journeys, but they come into their own after two hours behind the wheel.
It’s generally roomy enough – cars in this sector aren’t known for their vast spaciousness – and the boot offers 480 litres that’s easily accessible and well shaped. The hands-free electric tailgate option worked brilliantly; you ‘kick’ under the rear bumper to open it, like in other cars fitted with it, only here the system’s reliable enough for one kick to be enough. So you don’t look like a fool in the car park.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C 250 d AMG Line: running costs
Premium cars have strong retained values, particularly the C-Class in diesel AMG Line guise. This means PCP payments can be low because the car will still be worth so much at the end of the agreement. It also keeps lease costs down. Both reasons why the C-Class is so popular.
Other running costs will be manageable. Service intervals are potentially vast and, while Mercedes-Benz servicing might cost a bit more than Ford or Vauxhall, you’ll get a 30-year anti-breakdown guarantee if you keep it up. No other car offers that; very reassuring. Mercedes-Benz guarantees it won’t rust for 30 years too.
Fuel economy of 65.7mpg on paper should equal 50+ in real-world driving. Given the performance, this sounds good to us. You will need to budget for AdBlue emissions additive though, but the pay-off is Euro 6 emissions compliance for future-proofing.
One point to note if you’re a more enthusiastic driver, though – tyres will be 18-inch expensive and they are different sizes front and rear (wider and lower profile at the back) so you can’t rotate them to stretch service life. The AMG Line-specific perforated disc brakes might not be cheap either.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C 250 d AMG Line: verdict
The C-Class is good-looking, has a great interior, is a sweet long-distance cruiser (if you choose Airmatic) and performs really strongly (if you choose the C 250 d). It’s still a class contender.
It’s not a class-topper though. The recently-improved BMW 3 Series still betters it, and the impressive new Audi A4 is, surprisingly, the more refined and luxurious choice. Jaguar’s XE is more fun to drive too. Doesn’t make it a bad car, just the fourth-best out of four in a very tightly-packed sector.
As a C 250 d, it’s still worth a look (if only for the looks alone). Just don’t forget the Airmatic suspension, will you?
2015 Mercedes-Benz C 250 d AMG Line: specifications
Engine: 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Torque: 368lb ft
Top speed: 153mpg
Fuel economy: 65.7mpg
CO2 emissions: 113g/km