By IOL Motoring Staff
Johannesburg - The all-new Mercedes-Benz C-Class, released in South Africa last week, is a world car in the true sense of the world.
Within just four months production will be up and running in four plants - Bremen in Germany, Beijing in China, a brand-new assembly line in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and our own world-class Mercedes-Benz factory in East London.
The C-Class has also grown, partly to take account of people's increasing average height and partly to accommodate the maker's stated intention of 'moving up a class', of making the new C-Class everything you would normally expect from an E-Class.
At 4686mm it's 95mm longer overall than its predecessor - 80mm of which is between the axles to increase interior volume. It's 40mm wider at 1810mm and, at 480 litres, also has a slightly larger boot.
Denis Droppa of our print sister publication Star Motoring was at the launch.
“Essentially it feels like an S class with less legroom,” he reported, “and that legroom is also less compromised in the roomier new C-Class, which now comfortably accommodates four adults without any unwanted intimacy.”
However, thanks to clever design, innovative use of materials and smaller, lighter engines, the new C-Class is as much as 100kg lighter than the equivalent model in the previous range - with a raft of new driver aids, safety kit and gizmotronics, and air-sprung suspension an option for the first time on a C-Class.
“Among the features inherited from the gadget-laden S class,” writes Droppa, “are the ability to automatically keep a safe following distance, stay in its lane, park itself, and slam on the brakes when inattentive pedestrians walk into the road.”
CHOOSE YOUR GRILLE
Customers can choose from two front-end styling treatments: sporty with a central star or - reserved for the Exclusive trim line - the classic sedan grille with the Mercedes-Benz star on the bonnet.
The maker's efforts to move the new C into E-Class territory are also evident in the interior finish, where Mercedes has borrowed styling cues for the centre console from the sports two-seaters.
The middle of the fascia is dominated by a free-standing colour display - standard issue is 178mm diagonal, giving way to 213mm screen if Comand Online is specified.
There's a new touchpad in the handrest above the controller on the centre console.
It provides for simple, intuitive finger control - just like a smartphone - and can also read letters, numbers and characters written by a fingertip in any of 20 languages.
Also available is a head-up display - a first for the C-Class - that provides information on speed, navigation and messages from the Distronic system.
There are three different trim lines: Avantgarde emphasises clean lines and upmarket chic, Exclusive is all about status and luxury, and AMG versions - unsurprisingly - lend the C-Class a decidedly sporty look.
Droppa commented: “The interior trimmings have reached a level of craftsmanship that will have even Audi worried. The switchgear is also notably more solid-feeling than before.”
The fifth-generation C-Class has also borrowed from the two-seaters the unique Frontbass layout for the audio system, which uses the space inside the cross-member and side members of the body shell as a resonance chamber for the sub-woofers.
The new C-Class will be available at launch with a choice of four engines - three petrol and one diesel - starting with the 1595cc C180, rated at 115kW and 250Nm.
The C200 and C250 share the same 1991cc four, with different mappings: the C200 is tuned for 135kW and 300Nm, the C250 for 155kW and 350Nm.
And lastly, the proven 2143cc C220 BlueTec turbodiesel has been tweaked to deliver 125kW and 400Nm, at a quoted cost of four litres per 100km and 109g/km of CO2.
Still to come are the C250 BlueTec turbodiesel in September 2014 and the C300 petrol in June 2015.
All of these come with an idle-stop function as standard, complete with a new starting set-up that reads the crankshaft position and fires the next cylinder to pass TDC on the compression stroke, enabling a very quick start-up, after only a partial rotation of the crank.
The three petrol fours come standard with new six-speed manual gearboxes, specially set up for slick, precise gearshifts. Optional on petrol variants but standard on the diesel set-up is the latest version of Mercedes' 7G Tronic automatic transmission.
“Like its market rivals the C-Class offers a driving mode for every mood,” writes Droppa, “with a five-mode Agility Select system that adjusts the steering, throttle and gearshifts from mild-mannered to sporty.”
The C-Class runs an all-new, four-link front axle that completely isolates the suspension from the spring strut for light, accurate steering and improved grip, even under high cornering forces.
The five-link rear suspension has also been revised to improve wheel location and straight-line stability.
Customers will have a choice of three versions of the standard-specification steel suspension - including a very sporty set-up - in addition to the optional Airmatic magic carpet.
But, according to Droppa, this R13 000 option seems almost superfluous in a car with such plush ride comfort on its standard steel springs.
“Its excellent ride quality is probably the most standout feature of the car,” he writes, “and it has selective damping that automatically adjusts the suspension for the road conditions.
“Mercedes-Benz SA hosted part of the media launch at a local racing circuit,” Droppa adds, “and, although the bread-and butter engine versions are no track cars (we'll have to wait for the C63 AMG for that), it demonstrated how safe and unflappable this car's handling is.
“It takes a lot of driver abuse to unsettle this chassis.”
'INTELLIGENT CARS CRASH WELL'
Should the worst happen, the new C-Class certainly looks after its occupants when a crash becomes inevitable, with pre-tensioned seatbelts, dual front and combined thorax/pelvis side airbags, new curtain windowbags and a kneebag for the driver.
But before it gets to that, it'll keep you awake with attention assist, slow you down with autonomous braking from up to 70km/h for slower or stationary vehicles ahead; the system will even prevent rear-enders altogether from speeds slower than 40km/h.
Optional safety systems include Distronic Plus, which uses lane markings and radar spacing to follow the vehicle ahead at up to 60km/h, Brake Assist Plus, which detects crossing traffic and brakes accordingly, Pre-Safe Brake, that identifies stationary vehicles or even pedestrians and brakes accordingly, parking assist (brakes and steering!) a 360-degree camera and LED headlights that blank out the part of the beam that's dazzling oncoming traffic.
C180 BlueEfficiency - R415 900
C200 BlueEfficiency - R436 600
C220 CDI BlueTec - R459 000
C250 BlueEfficiency - R502 600
The new C-Class comes with a six-year or 100 000km maintenance contract with the option to extend.
“It's been a long time since a C-Class might have been viewed as a 'poor man's Benz', but the new W205 really raises the game. Overall, a definite contender for Car of the Year.”