Mercedes C-Class saloon

£27,665 - £69,405

The Mercedes C-Class saloon is the brand's answer to those other premium German models, the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 – as well as the Japanese Lexus IS and British Jaguar XE. Prices start at around £29,000, making it easily the most expensive of the lot, but to many people its famous badge and top-drawer image, not to mention excellent standard equipment, will be worth the extra.

These same people might also consider they’re getting a scaled-down S-Class – and to a great extent they are. With a little help from the options list, you can give it an equally luxurious interior and some genuinely smart technology. Meanwhile, just like the S-Class, there's a range-topping Mercedes-AMG version that goes head-to-head with the BMW M3.

This C63 model aside, ordinary versions of the C-Class are available with a choice of efficient petrol and diesel engines. The petrols are represented by a 2.0-litre (badged C200) and another 2.0-litre boosted by an electric motor (called the C350e). Mercedes claims very impressive fuel economy and CO2 emissions figures for the latter hybrid version, but it's around £10,000 more expensive, so we’d recommend the C200 instead. This costs £110 a year to tax and does just over 53mpg.

However, for truly impressive fuel-economy figures, you need to look at the diesels. There are four, ranging from a basic 1.6-litre to another expensive hybrid. Our favourite is the mid-range 2.1-litre C220d, which can do 70.6mpg and costs just £20 a year to tax. The less powerful petrol and diesel engines are available with manual and automatic gearboxes, but as you rise through the range, Mercedes’ seven-speed automatic transmission becomes standard.

The C-Class is a luxury saloon, but it's fun to drive, too. It's agile in corners and offers a choice of four driving modes to adjust the car's behaviour to suit your mood. The only downside is the diesel engines’ generally coarse and vocal character. The basic SE has a comfortable ride, but all versions can be fitted with optional air suspension that smooths away all but the very worst bumps. Sporty versions have stiffer suspension as standard, which you may find less comfortable.

The interior is one of the C-Class’ strongest points. It's very stylish, but still classy and extremely well made. It's spacious in the front, however the rear could be roomier; the sloping roofline comes at the expense of headroom and the footwells are cramped.

Putting the Mercedes-AMG C63 to one side, there are three core trim levels: SE, Sport and AMG Line. They’re supplemented by enhanced versions badged Executive, Premium and Premium Plus. Gone are the days when Mercedes were poorly equipped. The C-Class comes with lots of equipment as standard: even the basic SE has alloy wheels, a reversing camera, cruise control, DAB digital radio, a seven-inch display and powered lumbar adjustment for the driver and front-passenger seats.

The C-Class is a largely trouble-free car (its noisy diesel engines appear to be the only cause of concern). It's a safe car, too, securing the full five stars from Euro NCAP to prove it. In addition, even the basic model has a range of high-tech driver-assistance features, tyre-pressure monitoring and a reversing camera.