What is it?
The inevitable diesel version of the brand new Mercedes-Benz C-class, and Merc’s second new launch (out of a planned 15) for this year. Last December, the company elected to launch the new C only in fully loaded, fully imported petrol guise, and it was only a matter of time before the diesel version came along. The thing is, while local assembly of the petrol version has begun, this C 220 CDI is still an import, but apart from the fully kitted-out 'Avantgarde' trim we're testing here, you can have it in a lower-spec 'Style' trim as well. Local assembly will follow eventually and with it the equipment spec of the car could change, but for now, this is it.
The car will debut in ‘C 220 CDI’ guise, with no immediate plans for the more powerful, twin-turbo ‘250 CDI’ motor that you find in the E-class and M-class. This means the new C-class diesel produces 168bhp and 40.78kgm of torque, which goes through a seven-speed torque converter auto to the rear wheels.
That aside, it’s pretty much identical to the C 200 petrol model, and that means S-class-inspired styling (a good thing), a fresh-looking, high-quality interior with many parts lifted from the S-class (a very good thing) and loads of equipment. And it’s not just obvious features like the ambient cabin lighting, high-res infotainment screen, navigation or the touchpad, but also subtler things you’ll notice further down the line, like the electrically adjustable steering wheel, and the proper two-pin plug at the rear to charge your laptop. Thoughtful stuff.
The cabin is still the highlight of this car, and offers a superb sense of luxury and occasion. Likewise, however, the rear bench – where many owners will spend most of their time – while good enough on legroom, is a little short on headroom, very short on thigh support, and not quite up there with the class best on overall comfort.
What’s it like to drive?
As we’ve seen with this 2.1-litre diesel motor in most of its guises, its strength lies in its strong bottom-end and mid-range of the power band. There’s plenty of punch low down and a good reserve when you want to overtake. It’s also surprisingly refined if you keep the revs under control, but that also highlights the road noise, which on coarse surfaces, constantly makes itself felt in the cabin. Stretch it to its limit, however, and it will sound (and feel) very strained. And in pushing it hard, you’ll also find the 7G-Tronic gearbox getting caught out from time to time. Like most diesel Mercs, this one is best driven in a leisurely manner.
Also making a return in the diesel car in Avantgarde trim are Mercedes’ ‘Agility Control’ driving modes, which alter the engine, steering and air-con performance with each setting. ‘Eco’, with its blunted throttle response, is best reserved for your chauffeur, while we found ‘Sport+’ to be a little too highly strung for stop-and-go city traffic. ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’, on the other hand, offer a good blend of responsiveness and a smooth delivery of power.
The suspension setup (raised for India) still errs a bit on the stiff side, and while that gives the C-class great composure out on the highway, it makes it a touch skittish over bumps and undulations, with a fair bit of vertical movement inside the cabin. It’s still a comfortable car by conventional standards, it’s just that the segment – especially this car’s own predecessor – has set the bar quite high on ride quality. The steering is quite light, but it's quick and accurate, making the new C quite a lot of fun to tuck into corners.
Should I buy one?
Even as the gap between petrol and diesel fuel prices shrinks with each passing month, when it comes to buying new cars – even in the luxury segments – the tide hasn’t fully turned in favour of petrol yet. Diesel is still the pick for most buyers, and in that light, it’s not hard to see why Mercedes has launched this version of the C-class so soon after the petrol car. The thing is, this car is still a Completely Built Up (CBU) unit or an import and that has made it more expensive than its locally assembled contemporaries from BMW and Audi. At Rs 42.9 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi, for this Avantgarde trim, it's really pushing this segment's pricing into new territory. Factor in the high registration charges levied on CBU imports in some states and the differential in on-road prices vis-a-vis the 3-series and A4 is likely to be even more significant.
Considering the high price, Mercedes has made sure it’s packed with equipment, and then there’s the fact that, in this spec, the interiors deliver a sense of luxury that none of its current rivals can match. If you loved the new C-class – and there are many reasons to – but simply had to have the diesel version, your wait has just ended. If you do think this is a bit too pricey, however, you’ll just have to hold out until later in the year when local assembly commences, but if the petrol car's new CKD pricing is anything to go by, the price won't go down by all that much.