The Mercedes-Benz C-Class maintains an important position in the German automakers range. Before the A-Class was introduced in 1997 it was the company’s entry-point model and had a tough job offering the same exclusivity and advanced technology as its more expensive siblings. In 2007 the third generation C-Class was released with improved dynamics and bold new design. It went on to become a desirable sales success. Now for 2011 Mercedes has put its compact sedan under the knife for a mid-life facelift. This is no token gesture either; the updates include design and bodywork tweaks, new powertrain technology and safety features. In total there’s been around 2,000 changes to the new C-Class over its predecessor. So, has the facelift made this popular baby-Benz even better? Car and SUV spent a week rolling in the diesel-powered C250 to find out.
There aren’t that many design tweaks but they are highly effective in sharpening up the C-Class sedan aesthetic and visually aligning it with the current E- and S-Class models. There’s a new aluminum bonnet, which saves 10kg in weight and re-profiled front and rear bumpers. Both the headlights and taillights have been restyled and there’s new LED daytime running lamps dissecting the lower air inlets. The front grille has been changed to a sportier three-bar job with a prominent three-pointed star badge. Along the flanks little has changed but our test subject looked smart with chrome trim bordering the window line. At the rear, there’s more chrome highlights and the tail lamps use LED lighting for a distinctive glow at night. Our tested mid-range C250 CDI is finished with a single chrome exhaust tip and 18-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels.
In the C-Class cabin the updates are more significant, particularly with the new switchgear and instrumentation. It’s a classy environment, the leather seats and materials are to an exacting grade and there is plenty of crisp detailing. The steering wheel is a particular highlight, wrapped in Nappa Leather it feels great and houses 12 buttons for easy access to the car’s many features. The redesigned dashboard uses a softer feel plastic and surrounds a new telescopic instrument cluster that mixes old school charm with new school tech. A TFT colour display sits within the speedo and allows access to various trip and vehicle info. But the 7-inch main control screen is centrally located in the dash and provides an interface with Mercedes-Benz’s COMMAND computer system. It’s a high-tech unit with capabilities similar to a netbook, it supports SD memory cards, USB and Bluetooth. The system can stream music from a Smartphone, copy MP3 files to its 10gb hard disk, display cover art for your music and obey voice commands like “Next Track”. But it doesn’t stop there, it displays sat nav in 2D and 3D forms and has a web browser for surfing online. The COMMAND system has plenty more applications and you don’t have to be Gen Y to work it either, with just a little patience anyone can access its potential.
Other handy standard equipment in the C250 CDI includes Mercedes’ latest Parktronic system with sensors front and rear, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control air-con and a tyre pressure loss warning system. While the C250 isn’t fully loaded it does have plenty of classy touches, like subtle interior lighting and clever small storage options in the cabin.
In terms of interior space the front seats are definitely the place to be. There is plenty of leg and shoulder room with broad seats that offer a variety of electric adjustments. The C-Class’ compact dimensions are more evident in the back seat where it’s still easy enough for two passengers to get comfortable. On longer journeys however, those in the front will need to slide their seats forward to create fair legroom. Luggage capacity in the boot is an impressive 475-litres, there’s hooks for shopping bags and the rear seatback folds forwards for loading long items.
Under the bonnet our tested C250 CDI is fitted with the more-powerful version of Mercedes-Benz’s 4-cylinder diesel offerings. With a displacement of 2143cc the diesel mill enlists twin-turbochargers to achieve 150kW of power and a hefty 500Nm of torque. The new C-Class has brought some economy-focused changes to the diesel powertrain to further lower fuel consumption. Engine mapping has been revised and an ECO start/stop system added. The most important change comes with the fitment of the new 7-Speed G-TRONIC PLUS automatic transmission. Combined, these mechanical updates have lowered the C250 CDI fuel consumption to just 5.1l/100km combined – an amazing result for a car of this weight (1587kg) and power output.
On road, the C250 is pleasant and relaxed to drive. There is some clatter from the diesel engine particularly when it’s cold, but sufficient sound-deadening measures mean it’s rarely disruptive. The sequential turbo-charging system builds generous torque from low down in the rev range, meaning it moves off the line smartly and has plenty of punch for open road overtaking. The 0-100km/h sprint is achieved in 7 seconds flat with linear and predictable acceleration. The C250 isn’t quick enough to be a true sports sedan but it’s a flexible machine that’s equally confident working through the suburbs as it is on twisty back roads. The new 7-speed transmission is a delight, it can move through the gears rapidly when required and is smooth in its changes.
Dynamically, the C250 is exactly what you’d expect from a Mercedes-Benz sedan. It’s assured and comfortable with taut and responsive chassis dynamics. It keeps flat during cornering and there is plenty of grip through the rear driving wheels. Its overall handling abilities may only fall slightly short of the BMW 3-Series but the feel for the driver is markedly different. The C-Class has its Agility Control Suspension system that ensures a comfortable ride but denies it the same level of driver involvement as the 3-Series. The steering is also lighter on the C-Class, which is nice around town but it isn’t as communicative when pushing through back road bends. That said, the C250 isn’t billed as a performance model and for the average commuter has a handling limit that will never be exceeded.
Our test vehicle was fitted with the ‘Driving Assist Package Plus’ a $4,600 option that boosts the technology level on board. Included in the package are assistance systems for blind spots and lane keeping. It also adds the clever Disctronic Plus adaptive cruise control system, which acts like regular cruise control but can automatically vary speed to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front. Other safety features include a full nine-airbag cache with drivers’ knee bag, there’s a full stability program, seatbelt pretensioners and active front head restraints. All up, the C-Class is about as safe as you’ll get in a mid-size sedan.
At $87,500 for the C250 it’s not a cheap means of transport, but the level of technology onboard and the recent updates make it a credible alternative to the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4. Highlights include the very useful COMMAND computer system and the diesel powertrain, which is a true star of economical motoring. If you’re already a Mercedes-Benz fan there really isn’t anything to put you off with the C250 and plenty to excite you. If you’re simply on the lookout for a luxury mid-size sedan then the C250 warrants closer inspection.
Price: $87,500 as tested $94,700
What we like:
- Economical powertrain
- Smooth 7-Speed transmission
- COMMAND computer system
What we don’t like:
- Engine noise
- Rear seat legroom
Who will buy this car: The new styling and technology will tempt some existing Mercedes-Benz customers to update. It has good all-round appeal, but may suit older buyers best.
Cool Factor: Moderate, the styling updates give it a more brawny look but it still lacks the street cred of some direct competitors.
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo