"The changes made to the C-Class have turned it into a real contender. Quality, efficiency and power have all been improved, making it a superb all-rounder."
The Mercedes C-Class was brought up to date in 2011, with a subtle but thorough overhaul that kept it on par with its main compact executive rivals the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4. More stylish grill and bumpers make it stand out and feel modern, while the interior got a totally redesigned dashboard that's made of higher quality materials, with a slick layout complete with integrated media screen. You can get the C-Class as either an executive saloon, a more practical estate car or a speedy-looking coupe, with the four-door executive accounting for the bulk of all sales. The saloon comes in four main specifications – the entry-level Executive SE, the sportier AMG Sport and AMG Sport Plus, then the top-of-the-range AMG, with the C63 AMG performance model by far the fastest in the range. All models come well equipped, fitted with air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and alloy wheels fitted as standard across. All the petrol and diesel engines on offer are efficient, with standard-fit BlueEFFICIENCY technology and stop-start helping to make the C-Class one of the most efficient premium cars that you can buy in the UK. The most environmentally friendly model is actually the twin-turbo C220 CDI diesel, which can return 68.9mpg in combined fuel economy and only emits 109g/km of CO2. Potential buyers should be aware that 2014 will see the arrival of the latest all-new Mercedes C-Class, so it may be better to wait for the new model or buy the current one second-hand and save some cash.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The C-Class is now much cleaner and more economical than ever before, with all engines – the petrols especially – have really cleaned up their act. The 3.5-litre V6 offers better performance, but does so while still managing to be 31 per cent more efficient than the previous model. That said, if you want truly impressive running costs, we’d recommend the frugal diesel cars as the better option. The C220 CDI returns 64.2mpg in combined fuel economy, while emitting only 117g/km of CO2, at the same time as accelerating from 0-60mph in 8.4 seconds, thanks to a pair of turbochargers. Stop-start technology is fitted in all cars as standard, which reduces the emission and improves the fuel economy even more. But this is a premium car, so any fuel costs will be balanced out somewhat by the above-average cost of servicing, parts and insurance, especially if you go through the main dealers.
Interior & comfort
The C-Class has carried over some of the effortless luxury on offer inside its big brother, the Mercedes S-Class. It doesn’t matter whether you’re driving or are lucky enough to be being driven, it is comfortable and luxurious at all times. The entry-level Executive SE proves to be a calm, relaxing motorway cruiser, offering softer suspension than the stiffer AMG Sport performance models. We’d recommend avoiding the entry-level petrol and diesel engine if you want proper peace and quiet, but otherwise there's remarkably little wind and road noise audible inside. There's plenty of space inside the sleek dimension, but passengers in the back may find the somewhat hard seats a bit uncomfortable over long drives. And, if you choose the AMG Sport or AMG Sport Plus models, the firmer suspension and larger alloy wheels make the car more fun and engaging to drive but also make the C-Class’ ride quite unsettled and uncomfortable over bumps and potholes.
Practicality & boot space
This is one of the few categories where the C-Class is decidedly average, not being the largest family saloon that you can buy. So you get 475 litres of boot space – which is only five litres less than in the Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series. Which is fine, except for the fact that the opening is an awkward shape, which makes loading and unloading much more difficult than it should be. But what's most surprising is the absence of a folding rear seat, so you can’t expand the boot space at all. You can add split-folding seats as an optional extra, but this is now considered a standard feature on much less expensive mainstream cars, let alone in a premium model like the C-Class. Inside the C-Class, legroom is fairly good in the back but is compromised by a big lump in the floor underneath the middle seat. Also, the back seats are a little hard, and become fairly uncomfortable over longer drives. But you do get a large glove compartment and lots of useful storage bins dotted around the interior.
Reliability & safety
For a car that has sold over 1.2 million cars around the globe, the previous generation of C-Class had remarkably few problems reported. It represented a real step forward in safety and reliability, helping to shore up Mercedes reputation in the process. The latest version therefore ranked 28th in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey's list of the top 100 cars, managing to buck the usual downward trend to actually climb up the list by 14 places from its 2012 position. This is also reflected by Mercedes itself placing three spots higher than the previous survey, coming fifth in the manufacturer rankings. The current C-Class has further built on the groundwork set by its predecessor, so its build quality and safety equipment are both even better, and it also has a lot of the intelligent systems already fitted in its bigger brother, the Mercedes S-Class. There are 10 passive and active safety systems inside the C-Class, including a pedestrian-friendly pop-up bonnet and fatigue detection being fitted as standard, plus emergency braking systems, active lane assistance, blind spot assistance and speed limit recognition all available as optional extras. Being a premium car, servicing costs aren’t cheap, but the comprehensive warranty should help you keep expensive repair bills at bay for at least the first three years of ownership.
Engines, drive & performance
Mercedes leans more towards comfort and luxury than the more traditionally sporty BMW or Audi equivalents, with the C-Class always lagging behind the BMW 3 Series for a great driving experience. But it is definitely a calm and quiet cruiser, perfect for long journeys, particularly the larger V6 engines. And the gap between it and the 3 Series was narrowed a bit by the recent mid-life refresh of the C-Class - if you really want to live by the seat of your pants, then you go for the mad, bad and dangerous-to-know C63 AMG, which accelerates from 0-60mph in only 4.5 seconds. Mercedes' introduction of its BlueEFFICIENCY technology to the smaller petrol engines has improved fuel economy but has also made them a bit noisy at higher speeds. We’d single out the fast-but-frugal C220 CDI diesel, which produces 168bhp and accelerate from 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds, yet still manages to only emit 117g/km of CO2 and return 68.9mpg in combined fuel economy, which is very impressive for a premium car. The downside is that you have to have the vague and clunky manual gearbox and smaller alloy wheels to be able to match these figures. The optional seven-speed automatic has seamless gear changes and suits the saloon's relaxed character much more, but it is less efficient and will cost you more – still, it's the version we would recommend.
Price, value for money & options
This is a Mercedes – it isn’t going to be cheap. The flip side is that, because this is a Mercedes, you’re going to get a certain level of luxury, lots of equipment and accessories, and some real style for your money. The base-spec Executive SE model comes fitted with cruise control, alloy wheels, climate control, a leather multi-function steering wheel and parking sensors as standard equipment. If you add the optional luxury pack then you also get extra chrome trim, LED daytime running lights and a storage pack, while the performance-focused AMG Sport comes with xenon headlights, sports seats and firmer suspension. The top-of-the-range AMG Sport Plus is fitted with 18-inch bi-colour alloy wheels, more-aggressive styling and a small spoiler fitted to the boot. Even with all of this, there's no denying that the list prices are expensive – you should expect to pay £50,000 and above for the top-spec C63 AMG – but you can take heart that resale values on the used car market for Mercedes are usually strong, which should go someway to offsetting the initial outlay when you come to make a second-hand deal.