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Driven: new Merc C is an S-Class lite

By: Jesse Adams

Marseille, France - There was once a time when assessing a car’s quality was as simple as assessing its weight. Like a fine watch, it was all about substance, and the more effort it took to open, close and dent doors, the better. Heavy-gauge steel good; chintzy plastic bad.

Latest C-Class weighs 100kg less than its predecessor thanks to the widespread use of aluminium.Latest C-Class weighs 100kg less than its predecessor thanks to the widespread use of aluminium.Latest C-Class weighs 100kg less than its predecessor thanks to the widespread use of aluminium.Latest C-Class weighs 100kg less than its predecessor thanks to the widespread use of aluminium.Latest C-Class weighs 100kg less than its predecessor thanks to the widespread use of aluminium.Latest C-Class weighs 100kg less than its predecessor thanks to the widespread use of aluminium.Latest C-Class weighs 100kg less than its predecessor thanks to the widespread use of aluminium.uxurious and stylish cabin now sets the benchmark for cars in this category.Luxurious and stylish cabin now sets the benchmark for cars in this category.

But now, with environmentalists breathing down the necks of carmakers, and an ever-increasing quest for fuel efficiency, premium brands such as Mercedes-Benz find themselves in a dilemma. How do you make a luxury car light and therefore efficient, but high quality and substantial at the same time? The things that make a Rolex tick also give it some mass...

Take Mercedes’ all-new C-Class. It’s about 100kg lighter than the model it replaces which means it needs less energy to make it move, but somehow it still leaves its predecessor in the dust in terms of tangible quality.

Black magic has also enabled a size increase (it’s actually bigger than a two generation-old E-Class), and it’s filled with way more tech. In other words, more stuff makes it tick, but there’s less bulk behind it.

Okay, there’s no black magic.

Instead there’s aluminium. Lots of it. Overall content has increased from 10 percent to 50, and suspension, body and chassis components that were previously heavy steel are now lightweight alloy.

It feels light too. Besides its four doors which swing open with an unnatural (for a Mercedes anyway) lightness and a generally airy cabin ambience, the new C-Class drives with a fleet-footedness comparable with - I have to say it - a 3 Series.

We test drove the car at its international launch in France last week over a mixed bag of roads and surfaces and the medium-sized sedan showed it’s no longer the stiff upper-lipped old man’s car it’s sometimes accused of being.

FAIR FIGHT

Spec for spec the new C-Class’ weight is right on par with its rear-wheel driven German rival (hovering around the 1.4-ton mark depending on model), and as far as steering feel, agility and overall driving enjoyment goes, the BMW now has a legitimate and fair fight on its hands.

Of course the entire fleet of C-class test cars present were fitted with a R13 000 adjustable air suspension package – a first in this segment – which not only does wonders for ride comfort but transforms the car from A to S-Class and everything in between at the flip of a switch.

In some ways we can consider this an S-Class lite.

Not only is the family resemblance clear from certain angles, but many of the S’s fancy accoutrements (most of which are optional) have trickled downstream into the smaller C too. A 13-speaker Burmester sound system is available for an extra R9000, full LED headlights cost R13 000, colour-changing ambient lighting is R2600, head-up display R15 000, automatic parking with 360 degree aerial view another R16 900, and top-spec online navigation will cost you R23 500.

Another notable is a R4500 air freshener system that cleans, ionises and spritzes the cabin with perfume from interchangeable pods in the glove compartment.

TOUCHING THE FUTURE

Thanks to Mercedes-Benz SA, for including the new multi-function touchpad as standard equipment in all models. Originally intended for the S-Class flagship but late in development, this device curves up and over the familiar Comand system’s existing control knob, and reacts to swipes, clicks, pinches and symbol traces like a smartphone screen.

It’s gimmicky, but useful for certain functions, such as zooming in and out of maps and changing radio stations.

The new C’s interior is superb.

’ll even go so far as saying benchmark-setting. It’s styled in a way that makes its rivals seem so last season, and incredibly well made. Window switches click with weapons-grade precision, door handles engage latches with Nasa-like exactness and a full colour systems display screen (either 180mm or 215mm depending on spec) is propped up in the centre of the dash like a plasma TV unit in a meticulous boutique hotel room.

Light and airy yet solid and substantial at the same time. Mission accomplished. And it’s excellent to drive too.

FOUR-MODEL SA LINE-UP

Four derivatives will be released locally in May, starting with a 115kW/250Nm 1.6-litre turbopetrol C180 at R415 900, followed by a 135kW/300Nm two-litre turbopetrol C200 at R436 600. A 125kW/400Nm 2.2-litre C220 BlueTec priced at R459 000 will, for now, be the only turbodiesel option, while a 155kW/350Nm two-litre turbopetrol C250 at R502 600 will be the range-topper until next year.

A more powerful diesel option in the C250 BlueTec comes in September, and a C300 petrol arrives next June. Yes, there will again be 63 AMG options, but with a new four-litre turbo replacing the old naturally aspirated 6.2. Expect the new C63 in February.

The new C-Class, codenamed W205, will again be produced in South Africa at Mercedes-Benz’ East London plant, but only in right-hand drive. Left-hand drive markets will be catered for by factories in Germany, China and the USA. -Star Motoring

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