Johannesburg - Old Mercs. Ask any car enthusiast what his or her car-restoration bucket list looks like and, alongside the very-rare and unusual, I’ve no doubt you’ll find the odd Benz or two. I’ve for years had the itch to bring an old 450 SLC back to its former glory, but certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up to an immaculate W123 230E as a daily drive. Of course, should Lady Luck really shine on the cuzzy, a pristine Gullwing or Pagoda is the silver lining on any car-dreamer’s dark cloud.
The point here being that older Mercs have a certain romance and desirability about them – which is something, in my opinion anyway, that seems to have faded away as newer, more plasticky and run-of-the-mill model-generations have filtered through the carmaker’s line-up. It’s like the sausage-factory approach killed a golden era.
Stand in a Merc showroom these days and you’ll be hard-pressed to ignore the streak of creativity flowing through the veins of the brand. Virtually the entire line-up is brand-new, with ranges like the A, CLA and GLA raising the eyebrows of the younger set, and the new S-Class a technological limo-piece. Meeting somewhere in-between is the new C-Class, which for the first time – in a long time – makes me believe that since the W123 range there’s finally a family sedan range that one day, someone will look to preserve.
At the outset it must be said that the W205 (the codename for the new C) is more than just a new offering, the technology and final product feels more like a two-generation jump than single-generation progress. Instead of creating a new C-Class, it’s clear the engineers in Stuttgart opted for a baby S-Class instead – with everything from the C’s styling to technology palate mimicking its stately elder.
FIRST CLASS CABIN
Before even turning the key, you’re forced to take a second look at the level of accoutrements in the spacious cabin. Where the previous car had a bit of a Game/Makro store appliance feel to it, the new car is Boardmans all the way.
Touch anything, and I do mean anything, and you get that definite tactile feel of quality.
Scroll through the menus and there’s a subtle electronic click to every movement, prod the electric window buttons and they return a cushioned feel, glide your finger over the new touchpad and it’s like touching glass, turn the rotary dial and it clicks mechanically with the precision of a Swiss watch. You picking up what I’m putting down?
Then there’s the electronic gadgetry, some of which I’ve no doubt costs extra but are certainly cool-to-haves. Trinkets straight out of the S-Class include the fancy perfume factory, which lives in the cubbyhole and will keep Aunty Tiny’s pungent fish curry at bay; while the three-colour ambient lighting system, paired to crystal-clear Burmester-spec sound, should impress aunties of the younger varietal.
The interior’s sloping centre console is a work of art; while the touchpad, which was introduced in the C and will be next seen in the S-Class Coupé, is quite nifty too – allowing for quick swipes through menus like you would on your smartphone. But the deal-sealers here are the graphics used within the various menus, with shadow vehicle illustrations moving in the backgrounds, and fonts and colours (again, from the S-Class) splashed across most selections.
And did I mention the little Karl Benz signature on every C-Class windscreen? Nice. The old key-fob, that’s been used in generations of Mercs now? Not so much.
GUTSY TURBO MOTOR
On test here is the 2-litre turbocharged C200 auto (R455 729 before you tackle the options list), which pushes 135kW and 300Nm through rear rubber, and is the first Merc I’ve tested in years where the badge actually matches the engine’s cubic capacity. On this point, it’s interesting that the 200 badge in the A, CLA and GLA ranges equates to 1.6-litre turbos – while in the new C-Class it’s the 2-litre (in detuned state) from the C250.
It’s a reasonably gutsy engine, but prefers, shall we say, moderation to mayhem. Which should fit well into the persona of the C200 buyer, whom I reckon would be looking more to this car’s haute than hooligan side. And haute (as in haute couture or high fashion) is what this mid-sized sedan’s all about. We strapped in a VBox, though, and frog-marched it to our 1370m high-altitude test facility, where it quietly returned a 7.6 second 0-100km/h sprint time before crossing the quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds. Which is decent pace, but if truth be told the C200 is much more comfortable with the driver alternating between the Eco and Comfort modes within its standard Agility Select system, than coercing it into hot laps.
The Agility tech here offers mild-and-meek to hot-and-bothered driver modes – which duly adjust steering, throttle and gearshift behaviour. It’s in the softer modes that the engine matches the mink-and-manure pedigree of the beast – it tends to get a bit buzzy at higher revs. Buyers should be okay with the 9.7l/100km consumption we got, too.
Ride quality in the daily grind is top notch, with that ensconced cabin alienating you nicely from the hustle and bustle of planet Joburg. There’s optional air suspension (another trick from you-know-which-range) for uber-waftability.
As standard off the East London factory floor, though, (where this charmer is built), the new C already has stately road manners – I can’t see the need for more feathers in its pillow.
You have to feel for the product planners at BMW and Audi. It’s a game of roulette, with the carmaker bringing out the latest product in the segment usually getting the limelight.
The new C-Class is a little different, though. It’s a game-changer, taking quality and refinement – versus the 3 Series and A4 – to a whole new level.
Yup, the W205 is a keeper. -Star Motoring
Follow me on Twitter: @mineshbhagaloo
Mercedes-Benz C200 AT
Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: Seven-speed automatic
Power: 135kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 300Nm @ 1200-4000rpm
0-100km/h (tested): 7.6 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 235km/h
Consumption (claimed): 5.6 litres per 100km
Price: R455 729
Maintenance plan: Six-year/100 000km
Audi A4 1.8T SE (125kW/320Nm) - R412 500
BMW 320i AT (135kW/270Nm) - R431 247
Volvo S60 T5 Excel (180kW/350Nm) - R447 700