Mercedes C-Class saloon
"The Mercedes C-Class is more comfortable, luxurious and efficient than ever before, and a thorough facelift has added the latest technology"
- Cheap to run
- Classy new interior
- Comfortable suspension
- Fastest diesel is too noisy
- Slightly cramped rear seats
- Limited choice of models
Mercedes began competing for honours in the compact executive class in 1983. The C-Class was first introduced 10 years later and was joined by the Audi A4 a year after, so that by 1994, both of these saloons were competing with the BMW 3 Series. It’s a battle that’s continued ever since.
These days, the C-Class has even more competition from non-German rivals. Italy, Sweden, Britain and Japan have all developed their own capable competitors in the form of the Alfa Romeo Giulia, Volvo S60, Jaguar XE, and the Lexus IS respectively. Few can boast such a broad range of engines and equipment levels as the Mercedes, though, with fire-breathing power and fuel-sipping economy both existing within the C-Class range.
That became even more the case from mid-2018 onwards, when Mercedes began introducing its EQ range of electrified models, along with a raft of new interior features. Despite subtle design changes, Mercedes promised this midlife revamp was the most comprehensive in the history of the C-Class, and included 6,500 new parts.
We'll start with economy and the new 1.5-litre EQ Boost petrol mild-hybrid, badged C 200. This compact engine produces 181bhp, but a generator harnesses energy under braking and can boost power by 14bhp when you put your foot down again. This makes it quick enough for most drivers and means it can return 44.1mpg according to the latest WLTP efficiency tests.
In C 220 d diesel form, the C-Class is claimed to return up to 55.4mpg and emit as little as 133g/km of CO2, appealing to company-car drivers with its reasonably low Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) band.
If economy is the last thing on your mind, you might prefer something from the opposite end of the price list. If you hanker for a 503bhp V8 petrol engine and four-second 0-62mph time, the Mercedes-AMG C63 S will oblige and we've reviewed it separately.
Whichever model you choose, you're unlikely to be disappointed by the driving experience. It might not have quite the sporty demeanour of a BMW 3 Series, but it's not far off, and offers a more relaxing drive to boot. There's a degree of adjustment available, too, with driving modes that sharpen up the steering and accelerator when you're in the mood for a little spirited driving. Every model has plenty of grip for fast cornering, and the 4MATIC four-wheel-drive system is standard on the Mercedes-AMG C43, giving greater security if the road surface turns loose or slippery – handy for rural drivers.
With the possible exception of cars equipped with the biggest 19-inch alloy wheels, the C-Class is among the most comfortable cars in its class, and its ride quality can be improved still further with optional Airmatic air suspension. It also provides the option of a firm setting that enthusiastic drivers will enjoy.
Trim levels range from SE all the way up to AMG Line Night Edition Premium Plus, with all UK cars getting a generous 10.25-inch infotainment display as standard. Mercedes’ MBUX infotainment system received a major update in 2018 but digital instruments remain a pricier upgrade than in most rivals, and the C-Class misses out on the latest 'widescreen' infotainment setup of newer Mercedes models. All feel well built and are spacious for those in the front, although rear-seat space could be more generous. The C-Class is also generally very quiet inside on the move – although the lack of wind and road noise, has the unhappy effect of making the engines more audible, especially the diesels.
The C-Class range finished a disappointing 74th out of the 100 cars ranked in our 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, and it didn't appear in 2020's run-down. Euro NCAP has given it the full five stars for crash safety, though. Overall, the C-Class is a car with few vices, despite its placing in our survey. Some may be more exciting, but you'll struggle to find a more competent all-rounder.