By: Dave Abrahams

George, Southern Cape – The sportiest member of the new C-Class family, released in South Africa this week, is remarkable for the degree in which it manages to be its own car, closely related to but distinct from its sedan and estate siblings.

As far back as the A-pillar it’s exactly the same, except for a diamond mesh grille that lends a purposeful, no-nonsense look to the front treatment, but from the long, elegant doors with their signature frameless windows to the unusual, tucked in C-pillars the Coupé is pure, well, coupé.

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The Stuttgart stylists have pulled the bases of the C-Pillars in towards each other, in an effort to make the lower rear treatment look wider. Opinions are divided as to whether it works, either practically (it makes the boot-lid appreciably narrower) or aesthetically. Certainly the AMG version, which we were shown but not offered to drive, carries it off more successfully, whereas the standard model looks rather like a duck’s tail from behind.

The standard steel suspension (air suspension is an option) has been lowered by 15mm, while the dramatically swooping roofline is 40mm lower than that of the sedan. That means less glazed area, and you sit deeper in the special integral-look sports seats to avoid brushing against the headlining, so the cabin has a more closed-in, racier ambience.

That’s borne out by the somewhat muted standard trim, derived from the Avant-Garde line version of the sedan, in Artico synthetic leather and open-pore black ash veneer, set off by brushed-aluminium trim elements.

But, as supportive as they are, the deeply bolstered seats are comfortable almost to the point of decadence, and the Coupé has all the bells and whistles of the sedan, focused around a vast colour display sticking up from the dashboard that looks like an upmarket tablet and is controlled by the latest version of Mercedes’ familiar centre-console Comand knob.

But we were there to drive the cars, not fiddle with the gizmotronics, and drive them we did, over a variety of fast open roads and gnarly twisties, all over the southern Cape, swopping cars often enough that I got to drive all three SA-market variants.

NUTS AND BOLTS

The C-Class Coupé is available at launch in South Africa with a choice of one turbodiesel and two turbopetrol engines. The petrol-powered C200 and C300 each have the same 1991cc four-cylinder engine, tuned either for 135kW/300Nm or 180kW/370Nm, while the 2143cc diesel delivers 125kW and a robust 400Nm.

The C200 comes with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed 7G-Tronic transmission, the C220d with either the six-speed manual or a nine-speed G-Tronic, and the C300 in only seven-speed paddle shift format.

Each is also available for a limited period, at a extra cost of R49 000, in an exclusive Edition 1 version with special AMG-Line trim , including a distinctive mesh grille with black-chromed buttons and 19 inch rims.

The fire-breathing C63 and C63 S AMG Coupés, due in SA in the fourth quarter of 2016, will also be available at launch in Edition 1 trim – but not for long.

I first drove the range-topping C300, and was impressed by its muscular power delivery. Mercedes quotes a 0-10 sprint six seconds flat and an electronically limited top speed of 250km/h. The C300 is certainly no slouch, treating tight overtaking manoeuvres with the disdain of a true GT car and cruises effortlessly at thoroughly naughty speeds.

It likes an early apex and lots of loud pedal coming out of the turns and will reward you for planning your corner properly with absolutely lag-free acceleration and leech-like roadholding – but more about that later.

The C220d has a markedly gruffer voice, as befits a diesel, and produces a wave of torque from just above idle. I drove the nine-speed G-Tronic version and was impressed by its smooth upshifts and seemingly intuitive kickdowns – it almost always seemed to know just when I wanted them. I was surprised, however, on one full-tilt boogie overtake, to see it rev to almost 5000rpm before upshifting – this is one sprightly diesel.

PLEASANTLY SURPRISED

After all that I was expecting to be a little underwhelmed by the entry-level C200 - albeit in 7G-Tronic format. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by the slightly less ‘fussy’ interior trim with its clean, almost Scandinavian finishes, and by the detuned version’s willingness to rev its nuts off when asked to kick some slow-moving butt.

Mercedes quotes 135kW at 550rpm and 300Nm from 1200-4000rpm, along with 0-100 in 7.3 seconds and 235km/h flat out. But in real-world terms, it did everything the C300 did, it just worked a little harder, accompanied by a subdued but sharp-edged exhaust note that grew on me after a while.

We started off with the C300 in Comfort mode, and I was taken aback by the firmness, not of its ride - which was, to coin a word, sumptuous – but of its responses. Outside of the car-park, the electromechanical steering was heavier than I was ready for, a little remote but as razor sharp as a John Cleese comment.

It tracked like it was on rails, seemingly ignoring mid-corner bumps, owning the road in a way that has largely gone out of style in this egalitarian era. And across the range, that initial impression stuck. As we dialled in sharper drive modes, the cars’ throttle responses and shift points sharpened, the steering became even tighter, but their almost arrogant attitude remained.

Performance-car enthusiasts are fond of saying that such-and-such a muscle-car shrinks around the driver as you get going. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupé isn’t like that. It’s a big, heavy car (the C220d weighs 1615kg with a full tank) that’s not ashamed of being a big, heavy car.

As such, it is far more a Gran Turismo than a sports car – but it is, indeed, a very Grand Tourer.

PRICES

C200 - R551 100

C220d - R592 700

C300 - R660 300

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