Mercedes C-Class: old vs new

A new version of the Mercedes C-Class executive saloon arrived in 2021 but how does it compare to the old model?

The Mercedes C-Class has long been a frontrunner in the compact executive car class, fighting with its long-standing rivals, the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. More challengers have emerged in recent years, from the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia to the electric Polestar 2 and Tesla Model 3. Despite the emergence of these new cars, the C-Class is still one of the best around.

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A new C-Class was launched in 2021, bringing Mercedes’ latest styling direction, added electrification and an upmarket interior that’s similar to the one in the flagship Mercedes S-Class limousine. Here, we compare them to see how much has changed, and determine whether you should go for the new model or save money and buy the previous one.

Styling

Mercedes went for an elegant look when designing the ‘W205’ C-Class that made its debut in 2014. It was a more modern and curvier approach than the C-Class before that and came at a time when Mercedes made all their saloons look very similar. The 2014 C-Class was every bit a mini Mercedes E-Class, itself quite similar to the S-Class. Lashings of chrome across the grilles, air intakes and around the windows added a touch of class. A facelift in 2019 brought a couple of new colour options and, more noticeably, LED headlights as standard.

For this new generation, Mercedes has fitted pointier headlights and redesigned the grille so that it almost looks like an upside version of the old one. Look closely and you’ll also spot tens of little Mercedes logos in the grille. The rear lights are now two-piece horizontal units rather than vertical. Choosing Sport trim means the car looks quite restrained, while AMG Line versions get bigger wheels and deeper air intakes in the bumpers.

The previous car was available as a four-door saloon, an estate, a coupe and convertible. At the time of writing, the current model comes as a saloon or estate, with no word on the future of the two-door variants.

Interior

The Mercedes C-Class is built to make long motorway journeys as relaxing as possible, so its interior has long been a highlight. Premium leather upholstery, smart wooden trim and cool metal controls make even the cheapest C-Class feel several levels more upmarket than a Volkswagen Passat or Ford Mondeo. For the most part, unwanted engine noise is kept out of the cabin.

Mercedes has somehow made the current C-Class interior feel even more indulgent, largely thanks to parts sharing with the S-Class. The central touchscreen will undoubtedly be a talking point, measuring almost 12 inches across and replacing nearly all physical buttons. A digital instrument cluster is now standard, although AMG Line cars get a sports steering wheel. As before, the gear shifter is mounted on the steering column to let the centre console feel uncluttered.

Economy and running costs

As a motorway mile-muncher, the Mercedes C-Class needs to be economical and an inexpensive option for company-car drivers. The diesel models fitted that remit with up to 55mpg promised, while the petrol engines were fine for lower mileage drivers. The C 200 petrol engine benefits from mild-hybrid ‘EQ Boost’ technology in post-2019 models, improving fuel economy and CO2 emissions to 42mpg and just over 150g/km. Two plug-in hybrid engines provided the lowest CO2 emissions in the range and therefore the lowest tax for business users. They both manage up to 35 miles of electric driving.

Having fitted its EQ Boost system across every engine in the new C-Class, Mercedes has made the range slightly more economical. Compared to the previous models, both petrol and diesel models manage a couple more miles to the gallon. Larger gains have been made with the plug-in hybrids, with a bigger battery set to promise over 50 miles of electric driving on a charge.

Performance

While the BMW 3 Series takes the plaudits as the best-driving car in this sector of the market, the C-Class isn’t too far behind. It’s capable of taking the stress out of motorway journeys but doesn’t embarrass itself if you want to take the scenic route home. Pleasingly, the new model has more steering feel but still stays comfortable. In terms of comfort and luxury, the Mercedes does this better than both the BMW and Audi.

No C-Class is slow, with even the current C 180 entry model hitting 0-62mph in under nine seconds. Upgrading to the 204bhp C 200, which we’d expect most petrol buyers to do, knocks that down to under 7.5 seconds. The diesels, with 197 and 261bhp, are arguably even more impressive, with the more powerful C 300 d version taking just 5.7 seconds to reach that benchmark. That’s the same as the Honda Civic Type R hot hatch but with the promise of over 50mpg. Most engines are slightly quicker than before, thanks to a small power boost from the EQ Boost system.

Practicality

Because the C-Class is a compact executive car and you’re expected to drive it yourself, most of the space and luxury is reserved for those in the front. There’d be more rear-seat space in the bigger E-Class but the C-Class will be roomy enough for most of your colleagues or family members. If the sloping roofline restricts headroom too much, check out the Mercedes C-Class Estate.

There’s a bit more space in the back of the latest C-Class due to it being slightly longer than its predecessor. Boot space hasn’t improved, so you’ll get the same 455-litre space as the old C-Class. Its rivals offer a tad more at 480 litres. We’re glad to report that the plug-in hybrid models no longer have a big step right in the middle of the boot floor, which makes the car more adept at carrying larger items. Bear in mind that the hybrids still have a smaller boot than petrol and diesel models, due to the positioning of the battery pack.

Verdict

Whichever generation of C-Class you choose, it’ll feel like a treat to own one. It’s a little clichéd but the C-Class does feel like a shrunken S-Class. For most people, the choice will come down to which model has the lowest monthly payments, or whatever their company offers. The newest C-Class feels like an evolution of the old one; nothing is strikingly different but Mercedes has improved it in a number of areas. The new model wins this comparison but the old model isn’t far behind.

Read our guide to the best used executive cars here.

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