New Mercedes C-Class driven - What's it like?
With engines now up to 5mpg more fuel-efficient and 22g/km better for CO2 emissions, the C-Class is ready to go on the attack against the BMW 3 Series and its hitherto unassailable combination of low running costs and great driving characteristics.
Some versions of the C-Class now attract less tax than their BMW counterparts, led by the C220 CDI. With CO2 emissions down from 127 to 117g/km, compared with the 320d's 125g/km, a 40% taxpayer will be five tax bands and £450 a year better off choosing the C220 over a 320d.
BMW also has the 320d Efficient Dynamics – a business-user special that puts out a mere 109g/km, thanks to the aid of a few special tweaks. However, as it costs more than the C220 and is taxed at the same 13% rate, you'll still be marginally ahead with the Merc.
The latest C-Class goes on sale with five four-cylinder engines. There are three versions of Merc's 2.1-litre CDI turbodiesel: C200 (134bhp/266lb ft); C220 (168bhp/296lb ft); and C250 (201bhp/370lb ft) and two versions of the 1.8-litre direct-injection turbocharged petrol unit, badged C180 (154bhp/185lb ft) and C250 (201bhp/229lb ft).
All have engine stop-start, even when bought with the seven-speed automatic transmission that replaces the former five-speeder.
A V6 diesel launches in summer and a revised AMG model – with the old 6.3-litre V8 engine but with a new gearbox and power steering pump that boosts economy by 10% – will follow later.
There's much more to the revised C-Class than competitive tax ratings, emphasised by a total of 2000 new components scattered around the range. Ten new driver-assistance systems are available, the interior has had a quality upgrade and the exterior has been subtly refreshed.
The key selling point, however, will be the stronger business case the C-Class can now put forward, despite costing more than the corresponding 3 Series or Audi A4. Merc has raised prices by an average of 1.5% to reflect the changes, but despite that the C-Class is now a better overall ownership proposition.
There's no silver bullet behind all this. It's just been a matter of chipping away here and there. Stop-start makes a sizeable contribution, of course, as does the new seven-speed automatic gearbox for four-cylinder versions.
Even weight-saving has a part to play: the bonnet is now made of aluminium rather than steel.
The headline-grabbing C220 CDI wasn't present at the launch, so we had to make do with a C250 CDI. Still, it had the new automatic gearbox and AMG sports suspension which will be fitted to the most popular trim option (Sports) in the UK.
How does it drive?
You know what? The C250 CDI doesn't feel any different to the current car. There's still that slightly coarse sound to the diesel engine, the rather detached demeanour of the steering (the car changes direction fairly well, but doesn't want to bother the driver with the details), and the more comfort-oriented way the car goes about dealing with changes in the road surface.
The AMG suspension is sometimes a bit on the firm side but things are mostly much as they were. Mechanically, the biggest news is the introduction of the stop-start function and the new gearbox, which is mostly delightfully smooth.