Bigger, better and in possession of a cabin borrowed from the S-Class, the baby Benz is all grown up now.
Published on May 09, 2022 12:30:00 PM
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Mercedes Benz first launched the C-Class in India back in 2001. Put on sale at a princely sum of Rs 21 lakh, the W203 featured a solid build, a common rail diesel engine and dynamics that managed to be both comfort oriented and sporty at the same time. Known as the baby S-Class, because it had an almost identical rear end, it kick-started India’s love affair with the C-Class, and Mercedes India hasn't looked back since. Now two decades and three full generations on, with several thousand cars sold in between, Mercedes is back with the all-new C-Class or W206, and from what we can tell, it deserves the baby S-Class tag even more. But just how much better is it compared to the earlier W205? And does it deliver what Indian buyers want in their luxury car? Just some of the questions answered below.
The new C is a baby S. Place one above the other in profile, stretch the C-Class, and what you get is a near mirror image. It’s that close. And the rears are even more of a match. The wedge-shaped rear, the slimline tail-lights, the clean and compact boot, they are indistinguishable from each other. And that, of course, isn't by accident. A strategy Mercedes has used successfully in the past, that the C-Class is easy to confuse with the S-Class, is clearly intentional.
The nose, however, is quite different, especially on this AMG kit-equipped version. The AMG grille is wider at the base, there’s a shark-like overbite that looks neat, and while the regular car gets vertical slats, the AMG line gets a star pattern. What also gets my attention is the sporty profile; the long bonnet dips down in an almost Maserati-like manner, and with the cabin pushed well back, a prominent side skirt and bigger AMG wheels, the C300d looks the business. Yeah, remember when cars looked good… and not just imposing?
The C-Class, of course, retains its rear wheel drive layout and there’s an updated four-link suspension at the front and the multi-link rear gets a chassis-mounted subframe. Rear wheel steering is available on this car in other markets, especially on sportier models, but we don’t get the feature in India.
The new C comes with three engine options, all of which have a 48V Integrated Starter Generator. Essentially a mild hybrid system that uses a motor/generator to wind back power to a battery and then provide an electric boost, the car sends back 20hp or 200Nm of torque via the e-motor. It’s the first time this tech makes its debut on a diesel engine in India and helps make both diesels very efficient; the 220d has an ARAI-certified fuel efficiency of 23kpl, with even the 300d recording 20.37kpl. The C200 petrol gets a figure of 16.9kpl.
As is the norm today with many carmakers, the badge seldom matches the capacity of the engine. So here the C200 is a 1.5-litre direct injection turbo petrol with 204hp and 300Nm of torque, the C220d is a 2.0 litre diesel that gets 200hp and 440Nm of torque, and the C300d is the same engine with more boost, which makes a very strong 265hp and 550Nm of torque.
The first clue that this car uses an updated chassis comes when you shut the door. Yes, the famous Mercedes ‘thunk’ is there, but isn’t quite the same. The sound is a bit muted here, and the door doesn't feel quite as heavy. The build, however, still feels fantastic, and the door slots right in with millimetre precision.
Once inside, a bit of disorientation sets in; is this the S-Class or the C-Class? The cabins are so close, it’s worth remembering that the C-Class has circular vents; C for circular. The illuminated vents are superb to look at and a joy to use; especially the twist to close function that clicks home sweetly when you shut it. What grabs my attention next is the stunning AMG steering wheel with the piano black spokes. It gets capacitive touch buttons that are fiddly to use, but grip on the steering wheel is fantastic and it feels just the right size.
Also part of the AMG pack is the metallic carbon-fibre finish that looks just stunning. And what I absolutely love is the deconstructed dash. This includes all manner of ‘floating’ elements, and even the door pads with their scooped out sections look stunning. Especially like the floating door handle with its soft touch buttons and LED lighting.
What helps brighten up the cabin and flood it with soft light is the massive sunroof. Wish the capacitive touch controls weren’t used here too; they are cool, but functionality, again, is poor. You need to slide your finger along the length to get the sunroof to open, but this only works sometimes, which can be galling, especially on the move. And while I am ranting,I don’t much care for the pinstripe dash on the non-AMG car, which to me only sort of works.
My attention next drifts to the lush 11.9-inch portrait-oriented screen… that again, like the S-Class, is breathtaking. The sharpness, colour and contrast are all fantastic and functionality is first rate too. And, wow, doesn’t the wireless Apple CarPlay look grand here. Like the S-Class, the screen also gets touchscreen-based aircon controls that remain static here. This is nice. No, you can’t ‘feel’ the buttons, nor can you use them while looking elsewhere, but you don’t need to dive into a menu to get to them either, and that’s a big plus.
This car also gets some interesting features like fingerprint-based biometric authentication. It lights up blue and automatically selects your profile; neat. And you also get a top flight Burmester audio 3D surround system, while the Mercedes Me app now gets additional features like remote cabin cooling, and a host of other regular connected features, including cloud connectivity. The latter allows multiple Mercedes cars to share alerts on rain, traffic and even calls for assistance. And you get also get Active Brake Assist, which is a bit oversensitive for our conditions.
Cooled seats, however, are absent on this car and then when you want to adjust the powered front seats, the seat pictograms on the doors aren’t very functional. Push them and they don’t move, and there’s no haptic feedback either, so you’re not sure if the buttons are working or not.
Finding a comfortable driving position, however, is easy. The front seats are large, they provide good lateral support and since there isn’t much pedal offset, despite the big gearbox, the driving position of the C-Class feels pretty natural. Comfort levels in the back are much improved too. The new C gets 21mm more legroom, due to the longer wheelbase. However, the seat is a bit low, a bit more legroom would have gone down well and a third passenger will not be comfortable. There are no aircon controls in the back and headroom for tall passengers could be tight. You do get blinds all around and the rear blind is electrically operated. There’s even a nifty phone holder that pops out from the elbow rest. While the rear of the new C is clearly an improvement over the earlier C-Class, which was more cramped and came with a smaller seat, this still isn’t the car to buy if you are going to be predominantly chauffeur-driven.
As far as practicality goes, you get a good amount of storage in the big door pockets, the space in the central console has been cleverly designed to hold a phone securely and charge it, and with the adjustable cup holders, you can be sure your drink is secure. You, however, get only one USB C port upfront and two in the elbow box; rear passengers don’t get any. The 455-litre boot isn’t class leading, and while it is wide and deep, the spare tyre sits here and takes up a lot of space. You can flip the rear seats down at the touch of a button and open up more room.
Get behind the wheel of the new C-Class and you can tell it's different from the word go. Lighter on its feet, it feels taut, responsive and eager to change direction. This doesn’t come at the expense of straight line stability. In fact, in a straight line, it feels rock solid even as speeds rise. It displays phenomenal body control over undulating roads and then what elevates the driving experience is that the steering is quick, direct and gives you a real sense of connect. Mercedes today clearly are the gold standard when it comes to electric steering systems. In tighter corners, the steering is also quick off centre, body control is fantastic and then, even when you hurl it into a corner, it remains stable and stoic. As traction in the rear starts to fade, it allows you to correct easily and enjoy the rear wheel drive handling.
There’s no Sport plus on offer here, but the C300d does slacken the ESP in Sport and this makes driving it rapidly even more thrilling. Wish the brakes offered more initial bite and confidence though; the typically comfort-oriented Mercedes brake set-up is a bit soft initially and this doesn’t really help when you want to ‘feel’ your way into a corner.
Adding to the driving experience is the 265hp diesel. Responses in the midrange are strong, the engine likes to rev; and then what makes it fun to drive is that it has tremendous grunt. Tap the throttle at just about any engine speed and the C-Class just shoots forward, and the 9-speed automatic keeps you nicely in the powerband. Power delivery isn’t spiky as on most BS6 diesels, and this masks speed and catches you off guard. In fact, with so much torque under foot, 500Nm from the diesel and a further 200Nm from the electric motor, it often feels like you have a much larger engine pushing you forward. And it’s quick, how about a claimed 0-100kph time of 5.7 seconds; and it feels quicker still at times. What’s also nice is that in Sport, it holds on to gears for longer and even downshifts for you as you brake hard. While the diesel is quite silent and refined for the most part, there is a bit of a grumble at idle, and extend it to the redline and it does drone a bit. While this is only to be expected, a six cylinder would clearly have been smoother and more refined, especially one of Merc’s creamy straight sixes.
We also drove the C200 petrol. The 1.5-litre engine may be small but it makes 204hp, and manages well at small throttle openings. Drive it in a relaxed manner and the engine and e-boost actually manage quite well together and the bottom end is responsive. Ask for more power, however, put your right foot down and it doesn’t deliver the performance in a quick or seamless manner. Lacking in cubic capacity, the mid-range isn’t the strongest around. It needs to be revved to help it deliver more performance, and while the performance is there, once you get the engine spinning faster, it tends to feel strained and a touch noisy at higher revs. Adding to this is the fact that the gearbox isn’t too quick on the draw and then just as the engine gets into its stride, the gearbox shifts up at a modest 6,100rpm. So it’s best to drive the C200 in a relaxed and laid back manner.
On its 18-inch wheels, the C300d rides well once you up the pace. It rounds off uneven surfaces well, the C-Class rides flat and it doesn’t get tossed around in the least. In fact, over undulating hill roads it displays nothing short of phenomenal body control, allowing us to carry on, and even add power. Still ride at lower speeds is a bit firm and busy, especially for a Merc. Some sharp edged bumps do thump through and the C-Class is also upset by larger craters and potholes as the relatively short travel suspension struggle when greater wheel excursions are called for. The C200 petrol, on its smaller 17-inch wheels, does ride better. The taller sidewalls soak up more of the bumps and then the set-up doesn’t seem to be quite as sporty as the C300d.
The new C-Class has evolved in many ways; cleaner, greener and more luxurious on the inside, it is a big step forward. All models come with a 48V hybrid system, the cabin is more spacious and luxuriously appointed… and then there’s that huge S-Class screen, and all the tech that comes with it. Even agility and handling are in another league. The petrol engine, normally the one to buy if you want performance, however, left us wanting: look at the 300d if you want more grunt. Then, the spare tyre that sits outside the wheel-well takes up a lot of space in the boot, and of even greater concern is that, with all the new tech and high quality bits, the new C-Class is now more expensive, with prices ranging from Rs 55 lakh to 61 lakh. So yes, while there’s never been a C-Class that has moved the goalposts quite as much, and in many ways, this is a junior S-Class, one thing’s for sure, this clearly is the best C-Class ever, one that will rattle the competition. Be prepared to want one.
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ADAS is becoming increasingly common. What is your opinion on this safety tech?
sandeep pandey - 53 days ago
Very good and diligent report. Glad to know Autocar captured this rear seat height issue in their review which a lot of customers don't observe while buying. This is a big turn off for this car.
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Nikhil prajapati - 290 days ago
Thanks for sharing a detailed review
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