The Mercedes C-Class saloon is an executive car that goes up against other premium German offerings like the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series. While buyers at this end of the market were once limited to German cars, the Japanese Lexus IS and British Jaguar XE offer a greater breadth of choice today, although the C-Class still makes a good case for itself.
While the C-Class is more expensive than many of its competitors, the allure of Mercedes’ brand image remains very strong. This, combined with a luxurious interior and excellent standard equipment, will be all the justification many need to choose the C-Class over its rivals.
Inside, there's a sense that you’re getting a scaled-down version of the uber-luxurious Mercedes S-Class saloon, and to an extent, that's the case – assuming you’re happy to spend some money on options. The C-Class is also available with some genuinely smart technology such as adaptive cruise control (which will match the speed of the car in front) and a self-parking system. If you’re after serious performance, there's also the extremely swift (and expensive) Mercedes-AMG C63, which competes with the BMW M3 saloon.
Aside from the C63 and C43, the C-Class is offered with a range of efficient petrol and diesel engines. If you’re after a traditional petrol, your only choice is the 2.0-litre C200. This can return 53.3mpg and costs £110 a year to tax, while a 0-62mph time of just 7.3 seconds means it certainly feels sprightly enough.
There's also the C300h diesel-electric hybrid and C350e plug-in hybrid, which uses a petrol engine in conjunction with an electric motor. The C300h can return 74.3mpg, while the plug-in hybrid C350e manages a claimed 134.5mpg and emits just 48g/km of CO2. These models both cost roughly £10,000 more than the standard C200, though, and many drivers will struggle to match those economy figures in the real world. In truth, if you’re after efficiency, choosing a diesel engine is the best option, and most C-Class customers do so.
There are four diesels available, ranging from the 134bhp 1.6-litre C200d to the 2.2-litre 204bhp C250d. We recommend the mid-range C220d diesel, as its 170bhp takes it from 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds, while fuel economy of 70.6mpg and a £20 annual road-tax bill impress. The less powerful petrols and diesels are available in either manual or automatic guise, but as you rise up through the C-Class range Mercedes’ seven-speed automatic gearbox becomes standard. If you go for a C220d or C250d, you can now opt for Mercedes' 4MATIC four-wheel drive system for the first time, too.
On the road, the C-Class sacrifices little in the way of driver enjoyment in its pursuit of luxury and comfort. It feels agile in corners, with accurate steering that provides plenty of ‘feel’ through the wheel. A choice of four driving modes means you can set up the C-Class depending on whether you want comfortable cruising or a more spirited driving experience.
The C-Class has comfortable suspension as standard, but the optional air suspension smooths out all but the largest of potholes. Sportier models come with stiffened suspension and we recommend checking you’re happy with this setup, as it can make the C-Class a little uncomfortable over poor road surfaces.
The only downside to the C-Class’ driving experience is the noise from the diesel engines. They sound slightly coarse and their pronounced clatter detracts somewhat from the overall sense of comfort and luxury.
Inside, the C-Class’ well built interior manages to blend modern design with Mercedes’ traditional class and comfort. While it's a lovely place to sit and front passengers have plenty of space, those in the rear may wish for more: the rear footwells are cramped and the sloping roofline eats into rear headroom.
Mercedes offers the C-Class in three core trim levels: SE, Sport and AMG Line, with enhanced versions of each denoted by Executive, Premium and Premium Plus badges. Even the entry-level SE is well equipped, coming with alloy wheels, a reversing camera, cruise control, DAB radio, a seven-inch display and powered lumbar adjustment for the driver and front-passenger seats.
Aside from the noisy diesel engines, the Mercedes C-Class should be an enjoyable car to own, with a 42nd-place finish out of 200 cars in our latest 2015 Driver power customer satisfaction survey. The only caveat to that result is that the C-Class came 189th in terms of outright reliability; so an extended warranty is worth considering. There are no such qualms over safety, however, thanks to the C-Class’ five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP.