"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."
In 2011, the Mercedes C-Class was given a subtle, yet comprehensive overhaul. The sharper grille and bumpers help it stand out, while inside the dashboard has been totally redesigned using quality materials, a modern layout and a slick integrated media screen. There are three variants, a saloon, Estate and Coupe, with the four-door executive making up the majority of sales. With a range of efficient petrol and diesel engines, plus standard equipment like stop-start, the Mercedes C-Class is one of the most efficient premium cars on the market. The most environmentally friendly version is actually the punchy twin-turbo C220 CDI diesel, which can return 68.9mpg and only 109g/km of CO2.
When it comes to driver enjoyment, the Mercedes C-Class has long lagged behind the dynamic BMW 3 Series. It's a fine, relaxed and quiet cruiser, though – especially when equipped with the larger V6 engines, and the recent refresh has brought it closer to the dynamic prowess of the excellent BMW. The bonkers C63 AMG will hit 60mph in just 4.5 seconds and while the smaller petrol engines are economical, they can be rather noisy at high speed. However, the pick of the range has to be the punchy but frugal C220 CDI diesel, which boasts 168bhp and a 0-62mph time of 8.4 seconds, yet emits a only 117g/km of CO2 and will manage 68.9mpg. However, you’ll need to specify the vague and notchy manual gearbox and smaller alloy wheels to achieve these figures. The optional seven-speed automatic gearbox returns seamless changes and suits the saloon's relaxed character, so despite the extra cost, it's the specification to go for.
Capturing some of the effortless luxury of the bigger Mercedes S-Class, the baby C-Class is very comfortable whether you’re driving or being driven. The Executive SE is a relaxed motorway cruiser, with softer suspension than the firm AMG Sport models. Avoid the entry-level petrol and diesel engines and you’ll also find it remarkably quiet, with minimal wind or road noise disturbing the interior. There's plenty of space inside for passengers, but although the driver's seat comes with plenty of adjustment, rear passengers may find the firm seats a little wearing over longer journeys. If you opt for the AMG Sport or AMG Sport Plus models, the stiffer suspension and bigger alloy wheels make the car more fun to drive, but can make the C-Class feel slightly unsettled over ruts and bumps.
The previous Mercedes-Benz C-Class was a big step forward in terms of reliability, and with over 1.2 million cars sold worldwide, there have been few major problems reported. Servicing costs are in line with other prestige marques but a comprehensive warranty should keep a lid on expensive bills for the first three years. The latest model has moved on in terms of build quality and it's safer than ever too – taking many of its clever systems from the mega Mercedes S-Class. There are 10 new passive and active safety systems on board, with a pedestrian-friendly pop-up bonnet and fatigue detection as standard, and emergency braking systems, active lane assistance, blind spot assistance and speed limit recognition all available as optional extras.
The Mercedes C-Class isn't the biggest saloon around, but there's 475 litres of boot space – just five litres shy of the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series. However, an awkward opening limits the Merc's practicality, as does the lack of folding seats – an option you expect to be standard on all cars these days. Inside, you’ll find the reasonable rear legroom hampered by a large and intrusive central transmission tunnel, and a firm back seat, which can prove uncomfortable on longer journeys. That said, there are plenty of useful storage bins, and a generously sized glovebox to keep smaller valuables out of sight from prying eyes.
Value for money
There are four versions to choose from - but all come with very generous levels of standard kit. The entry level Executive SE gets cruise control, alloy wheels, climate control, a leather multi-function steering wheel and parking sensors. Add the Luxury Package and you’ll get extra chrome trim, LED running lights and a storage pack, while the AMG Sport comes with xenon headlights, sports seats and firmer suspension. Flagship AMG Sport Plus cars add 18-inch bi-colour alloy wheels, more aggressive styling and a small boot spoiler. List prices are high, but as with all Mercedes’, residual values are strong so that should go someway to offset the initial outlay.
All of the engines in the C-Class line-up are cleaner and more economical than before, particularly the petrol cars – the 3.5-litre V6 has more power, yet manages to be 31 per cent more efficient. However, for truly impressive running costs, take a look at the frugal diesel cars. The C220 CDI will do 64.2mpg and emit just 117g/km of CO2, but thanks to a pair of turbochargers will go from 0-60mph in 8.4 seconds. All models come with stop-start as standard, helping to cut emissions and keep a lid on costs. However, as with most premium brands, servicing, parts and insurance will all be above average, particularly if you use the main dealers.