At its international premiere, we proclaimed the Mercedes C-Class the new segment leader. Now that it’s finally landed in Singapore, have we changed our minds?
Pictures by Derryn “Sum Ting” Wong, Leow Ju-Len
SINGAPORE — One of the most highly-anticipated new cars of the year is finally here, and till its arrival we couldn’t wait to drive it. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class has been a top-seller in Singapore before, so it’s only natural that this new, W205 version has a few of us here at CarBuyer rubbing our hands together with anticipation.
Anyway just look at it. Visually, two words describe the new C-Class in a nutshell: baby S-Class. There’s more than a hint of family resemblance between this and the Mercedes flagship, which is a good thing.
Viewed from the side, the C 200 apes the bigger car’s proportions, with a long stretch for the bonnet and a surprisingly pert rear end, and a roofline that curves gracefully as it tapers toward the boot. That gives the car some classically elegant lines that should serve it well as time marches on.
From the rear it might easily be mistaken for the new S-Class, given how the lines back there have a similar curvature, but the C 200 does have a more sporty-looking front end, particularly when you choose the AMG or Avantgarde styling packages. The bonnet stands prominently between the pulled-back headlamps, and the bumper’s large air intakes and wing-like shapes are all very high-adrenaline.
For all that, there’s something to be said for the more traditional Exclusive trim line, which really does play up the “baby S-Class” thing with a three-pointed star emblem perched on the nose of the car (instead of within it) and a more chrome-laden grille. Call me old, but it’s this version of the C-Class that encapsulates what a small Mercedes should look like if you ask me: dignified, stately and luxurious.
But really, very few cars can pull off sleek and posh at the same time, and the C-Class is one of them.
Three engines are on offer now, and this one here is the mid-range C 200. First impressions? It’s quick. The engine feels like it doesn’t skip its meat and potatoes, and once you rev it past 2,000rpm it really drives the C 200 along quite hard.
One of the new features on this model is a toggle ‘Agility’ switch. It lets you choose between a spectrum of driving modes with ‘Eco’ on one end and ‘Sport+’ on the other, with a customisable one for you to impose your own mix of settings.
It tweaks the steering weight and throttle response, as well as the gearbox’s reflexes. Features like these can feel gimmicky, but what do you know, the one on the C 200 works.
In the sportier modes you can feel the seven-speed transmission shift more urgently, and it’s nice that the Eco mode (which also tames the air-con and enables a freewheeling function for the gearbox) doesn’t make the car unbearably unresponsive.
For all that, you’ll be spending plenty of time in Sport or Sport+. What’s immediately apparent with the new C-Class is that the steering has been worked on. There’s plenty of immediacy to the way the C 200 changes direction, while the steering action itself is well-weighted with a nice amount of feedback.
And if the accelerator pedal has a bit of velvet over its relationship with the engine, the way it seems to have in all Mercedes, the brakes are the opposite: sharp, progressive and with lots of ready bite.
Where the plot unravels slightly is in the ride department, where the C 200 sometimes feels like it can’t make up its mind about what it wants to be. The springs are firm on the one hand, which means you do feel road imperfections work their way into the cabin. At the same time the damping feels relatively soft, so when you attack a few corners hard there are little movements from the body to think about, leaving you wishing for more poise, particularly in the rear end of the car.
It’s enough to make you wonder what the Airmatic air-suspension system does for the car, and whether it would give it the incredibly smooth, magic-carpet ride that the S-Class boasts.
Still, there’s grip aplenty from the tyres. Our test car came with Pirelli P7 Cinturatos, which aren’t exactly hot stuff, but it made the most of them to deliver cornering speeds that I wouldn’t care to put down in black and white.
Ultimately it’s on the highway where the Mercedes offers the most composure, perhaps aided by its longer wheelbase to offer plenty of cruising stability. Overall, it’s a noticeable step up from its predecessor in the chassis department.
It’s a step up in the cabin, too. In there, the C 200 doesn’t ooze a sense of fine craftsmanship the way an S-Class does, and none of the materials feel particularly expensive, but it all comes together into a very modern and yet classically luxurious whole.
Some of the controls feel like a real upgrade (the air-con ones in particular) and the moving parts have a nice action to them—play with the air vents and you’ll see what we mean.
There’s a new touch-sensitive controller, that supplements the rotary knob to operate all the menus on the central screen (whose display is now nicely crisp with super smooth animation), but prepare to be made to feel old: unless you’re a tech-savvy teen, it takes plenty of time to get used to the C 200’s controls.
If the menus and controls are confusing, at least the cabin is generally soothing. The C 200 is quiet and well-insulated from outside noise. The engine makes something of a clatter when it’s running, but you only notice it when you’re standing outside of the car. Inside the Mercedes, the C 200 is like, well, a Mercedes.
The old C-Class didn’t really lack space, and the new one does have a decent amount of room as well. In fact it’s interesting how this W205 is very nearly as spacious inside as the E-Class from a couple of generations ago.
The key point for the local launch has always been this: How will the entry and mid-range C-Class models translate here? At the car’s international debut in Marseille, we only drove high-specced versions of the car, as is normal for such an event. The entry-level C 180 is still a question mark, but there’s no doubt the C 200 (and likely the C 250 above it) have delivered.
But it’ll be interesting, too, to see how this C 200 will do in the market with respect to Mercedes’ own E-Class. Along with the rest of the market, the larger E-Class has moved up in price after all, so this C 200 might just slot in where it left off.
And why not? It has the size, the grace and the elegance to pull it off, plus an added dash of fun and agility. We called the new C-Class a segment-beater when we drove it at its overseas launch, but it looks like it could do more than win sales from rivals, and might actually be a threat within its own family. It’s that desirable.
NEED TO KNOW Mercedes-Benz C 200 Avantgarde
Engine 1,991cc, 16V, turbocharged, in-line 4
Power 184bhp at 5500rpm
Torque 300Nm at 1200-4000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed automatic
Top Speed 235km/h
0-100km/h 7.3 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.6 to 5.3L/100km
CO2 131 to 123g/km
Price $214,888 with COE