Mercedes-Benz has given its C-Class sedan and estate a striking makeover - inside and out - but the big news about the 2012 models are their nine new driver assistance systems and a whole new telematics package that will add fuel to the debate about the safety issues inherent in having a car with full-time internet access.

But first, some designerspeak: The front bumper has been reshaped to give more visual support to the grille, as does a new, V-shaped centre air intake. The side intakes are lower down, making the car look like it's hugging the road, and the lines follow through under the headlight to meld into the sides.

New headlight clusters and bonnet also emphasise the centre V of the front treatment, while the bonnet, front wings and door modules are now aluminium to reduce weight.

At the rear, the light-catching contours of the rear bumper slope up towards the outside, to emphasise the width of the body and flow into the sides, and each tail-light unit now has a continuous covering lens with a central LED indicator, which appears to float in front of the red upper and lower light bands.

Inside, there's an all-new dashboard, with more finely detailed control elements and a stepped extension to the instrument cluster to accommodate the central display. Trapezoidal centre air vents and round vents on the outside also have bright-metal trim. The upper dashboard section - with a new surface grain - continues into the beltlines of the door panels.

The new instrument cluster has an integral trip data display and three sporty, bright-metal tubular surrounds.

The Avantgarde interior is trimmed in brushed aluminium and high-gloss black ash, while the Elegance is finished in brown ash or dark burr walnut, and includes luxury head restraints with adjustable side bolsters.

TELEMATICS:

The Comand multimedia system now provides internet access for the first time, a feature which will gradually be introduced in other Mercedes-Benz models, as well as a larger display, phone book transfer, display of SMS messages, wireless music reproduction via Bluetooth and a USB port in the centre armrest.

Passengers can surf the net or go directly to Mercedes-Benz Online, an easy-to-navigate service featuring weather information and a special destination search via Google, as well as downloading a route that's been set up on a PC using Google Maps and sent to the car.

The satnav system now has a 3D display with plastic city views, trips can be recorded and repeated later, and personal destinations can be imported via an SD card. The satnav can even display four alternative routes on the navigation map, one of them optimised to use the least possible fuel, irrespective of distance and time.

The C-Class has nine new driver assistance systems, some more spectacular than others, starting with active lane-keeping, which warns the driver with an icon in the instrument cluster and vibration on the steering wheel and then gently brakes the opposite wheels to being the car back into its lane.

An active blind spot system will do exactly the same if the car detects a collision risk while changing lanes.

Attention assist uses high-resolution sensors to observe driver behaviour and can recognise whether the driver is tired or not paying attention, based primarily on steering wheel movements. Visual signals on the dash, an audio alarm and nasty vibrations should get your attention, failing which you will need…

Brake assist plus, which uses radar sensors to recognise an impending rear-end collision, calculate the necessary degree of braking needed and implements it as soon as the driver presses the brake pedal.

If you're too close and a collision is unavoidable, Pre-safe will apply about 40 percent of maximum braking force 1.6sec before the calculated moment of impact and, 0.6 sec before crunch time, will apply maximum breaking force.

It will reduce the impact, says Mercedes-Benz, but it won't prevent a rear-ender. To do that, the C-Class has Distronic Plus, a radar-based proximity control supports that adjusts the distance to the vehicles in front - it'll even brake the car to a complete stop and pull away again, so it can be used in stop-start city traffic.

The C-Class' adaptive brakes will also prevent creeping while standing at a red light in Drive, or rolling back during a hill-start.

The Parktronic system's ultrasonic sensors measure the length of parking spaces as the car drives past and the cockpit display gives you a schematic representation of the recommended parking manoeuvre. The ultrasonic sensors then help prevent any mishaps if you're not quite as good at parallel parking as your C-Class thinks you are.

And finally, a sensor on the windshield measures ambient light and can switch on the headlights automatically, while the adaptive highbeam system detects vehicles ahead of the car, politely dips the beams and adjusts the range of the headlights so as not to blind oncoming drivers.

ENGINES:

The revised C-Class is available in South Africa with a choice of four petrol and three diesel engines. All the petrol engines have direct fuel-injection and, on the all-new 3498cc V6 in the C350 model, that's led to a 12 percent power gain (225kW and 370Nm compared to 200kW and 350Nm in the previous model) and a huge 29 percent reduction in claimed fuel consumption from 10.3 to seven litres/100km. Performance is quoted at 0-60 in six seconds flat and 250km/h flat out.

The C180, C200 and C250 all have the same 1796cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine, in different levels of tune.

The C180 uses 6.5 litres/100km to produce 115kW at 5000rpm and 250Nm from 1600rpm, accelerating it from 0-100 in a claimed nine seconds and on to 225km/h.

Mercedes-Benz says the C200 is good for 135kW at 5250rpm and 270Nm from 1800rpm, 0-100 in 8.2sec and a top end of 237km/h at a cost of 6.4 litres/100km.

The C250 pushes that up to a claimed 150kW at 5500rpm and 310Nm from 2000rpm, 0-100 in 7.2sec and a top speed of 240km/h, while burning 6.9 litres/100km.

The same applies to the C200 CDI and C250 CDI, which share a 2143cc turbodiesel four. The C200 CDI is tuned for 100kW/360Nm, using only 4.9 litres/100km along the way, while the C250 CDI pushes 150kW and 500Nm and burns 5.2 litres/100km.

The C350 CDI, however, has a three-litre V6 turbodiesel for which Stuttgart quotes 165kW at 3800rpmn and 510Nm from 1600rpm, good enough for 0-100 in 7.7sec and 250km/h, while burning 7.5 litres/100km.

PRICES

SEDANS

C180 BlueEFFICIENCY - R359 000

C200 BlueEFFICIENCY - R379 000

C200 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY - R380 000

C250 BlueEFFICIENCY - R469 000

C250 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY - R470 000

C350 BlueEFFICIENCY - R520 000

C350 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY - R520 000

ESTATES

C180 T BlueEFFICIENCY - R368 000

C200 T BlueEFFICIENCY - R388 100

C200 CDI T BlueEFFICIENCY - R389 300

C250 T BlueEFFICIENCY - R478 600

C250 T CDI BlueEFFICIENCY - R479 600

C350 T BlueEFFICIENCY - R530 000

The new C-Class comes with a six-year or 120 000km warranty and a MobiloDrive 120 maintenance plan.