April 02, 2014 00:00 By Kingsley Wijayasinha
They are veritable masterpieces inside and out, lighter, faster and highly comfortable, and feature a host of technological innovations. Welcome to Mercedes-Benz's C180 and C250
At this year’s Bangkok International Motor Show, the highlight at the Mercedes-Benz booth is none other than the all-new C-Class.
The German automaker’s best-selling model is offered in two variants – the C180 priced at Bt2.79 million and the C250 retailing at 3.19 million.
I drove the new C-Class recently, having been invited to participate in the global test-drive event held in southern France.
The Cote d’Azur region is popular for such events as it is warmer during the earlier part of the year when European automakers start launching new models. In fact, last year Mercedes staged the CLA test-drive right here, and apart from its location, I think everybody wants to head there for the extravagant food and wine.
The new C-Class has grown larger compared to its predecessor in every dimension, with the wheelbase being extended by 80mm to 2,840mm. Meanwhile, the body is now as much as 100mm longer at 4,696mm and the width has been increased by 40mm to 1,810mm.
In the Thai market, the front end of the C180 is offered with the classic and innovative radiator grille with the Mercedes star on the bonnet. The louvres in the grille are automatically closed to optimise aerodynamics, resulting in even better fuel economy.
The C250 comes with the AMG Dynamic front end that is much sportier, but doesn’t feature those automatic louvres.
The design of the new C-Class is a masterpiece, and from many angles it actually looks like a concept car, both inside and out. The lines and surfaces produce arousing light and shadow effects, and the result is a minimalist, purist form intended by the designers.
Apart from the choice of two front-end designs, the rear end is stylishly discreet and this is my favourite part of the car.
While the rear seems short compared to the long bonnet and the passenger compartment being set well back, open the boot and you will be surprised to see how deep it runs into the cabin, offering 480 litres of luggage space.
With the measurement increases, it is no surprise that the interior space is now also more spacious. There is plenty of headroom and legroom for all occupants, while the seats are also larger.
The interior of the new C-Class is again a masterpiece with sporty elements being seamlessly blended with top-notch luxury.
The interior architecture is highlighted by the large one-piece centre console that sweeps right to the centre of the cabin. All the air vents are oval in design, adding to the sporty touch (two for each side and three in the middle).
A new feature is the touchpad in the handrest above the controller on the centre tunnel. This provides for a simple operation of all head-unit functions by using your fingers as you would on a smartphone.
There’s a 7-inch screen that looks like an iPad right above the three oval centre air vents that is practical, but it doesn’t look integrated with the rest of the interior.
Meanwhile, the head-up display offered is excellent, offering info on speed, speed limits, navigation instructions and messages from the Distronic system.
What impressed me in the new C-Class is the attention to detail and the quality of materials, which combine to offer a highly luxurious feel. Just touching it can make you happy.
Another plus is the Air Balance package, which is taken from the S-Class, and provides active fragrancing, ionisation and further air filtration. There are four scents to choose from, and the dispenser is located in the glovebox.
But luxury’s not everything in the new C-Class as it brings along a host of technological innovations.
The weight reduction of 100kg, thanks to the aluminium hybrid body (the amount of aluminium used is up from 10 per cent in the old model to almost 50 per cent), results in instant benefits. They include a 20-per-cent improvement in fuel consumption and added agility for this car.
The body is also more rigid, and wind noise is surprisingly low, giving occupants a quiet and comfortable ride.
The C250 is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder direct injection petrol engine developing 211hp and 350Nm of torque, which is available from 1,200-4,000rpm.
The engine features the BlueDirect technology taken from the larger V6 and V8 Mercedes engines, which include direct injection and Peizo injectors, as well as rapid multi-spark ignition that enables up to four sparks in a millisecond.
The engine, with an automatic start-stop function, is mated to a 7-speed automatic. Acceleration from 0-100km/h takes 6.6 seconds, a huge improvement from the previous model, and the top speed is raised to 250km/h, which are spectacular figures for a car with a 2.0-litre engine.
What’s more is that average fuel economy is claimed to be just 5.3 litres per 100km (18.8km/litre) while carbon dioxide emissions have dropped to 123g/km.
But start the engine and some might start to frown, as the engine idles like a tired cat, with no hint of sportiness whatsoever. After enjoying the foreplay offered by the new design, this is surely a downside, until you decide to get the revs up.
The new C-Class allows you to personally set up different driving programmes (Comfort, Eco, Sport, Sport+, Individual). The choice of programmes influences the throttle response, power steering, transmission shift points and suspension damping.
While driving in the city streets of Marseille, the default Comfort setting helped absorb vibrations effectively, but as we headed up the narrow, winding roads towards Aix-en-Provence, switching to Sport and Sport+ was the better option.
While the cabin of the new C-Class is really quiet and comfortable, the driving character is also reflective of those qualities.
The four-link front and five-link rear suspension, along with the precise steering and rigid body give the car improved handling and roadholding.
While taking sharp curves you can easily feel the lightness of the car and the steering precision mid-corner. But despite the dynamism, the C-Class still feels comfortable while carrying out all these manoeuvres, maintaining its luxury and elegance all the way through. It’s not a car that offers the beefiness of a BMW 3 Series, but one that can go as fast and with a much higher amount of maturity and comfort.
The car’s brakes are good too, with strong initial bite and all sorts of assist functions. In fact, there are more than two dozen assist systems available in the new C-Class.
While the pricing of the C180 may be much higher than the old C200 that is currently being offered, the C250 costs just Bt200,000 more than the old model, making it a highly attractive buy.