Flagship of the range is the high-performance C63 AMG, but the more mainstream petrol engines include the turbocharged direct-injection C180 CGI (154bhp) and C250 CGI (201bhp). There are also three four-cylinder diesels: the C200 CDI (134bhp), C220 CDI (168bhp) and C250 CDI (201bhp). All are up to the job, but the C220 CDI strikes the best balance between speed, strength and affordability. The six-cylinder C350 CDI (261bhp) is very strong, but pricey.
There are two versions of the C-Class, one geared towards comfort and the other to sportiness. Each has adaptive suspension that automatically reacts to road conditions, and the standard set-up gives you a comfortable ride but sloppy handling. The sportier models have lower, stiffer settings and more direct steering, and the result is much tighter body control. However, ride comfort really suffers.
Refinement is what really ruins the C-Class. The small petrol engines sound breathless and strained, while the four-cylinder diesels are unforgivably clattery and give off way too much vibration. Settle for a manual gearbox, and you’ll also have to endure an overly springy clutch pedal and a notchy gearshift. The six-cylinder engines are much smoother, but they’re too pricey to recommend. Even with those, too much wind and road noise enters the cabin.
The C-Class costs more to buy than many of its closest rivals, but strong resale values help to compensate. The diesels offer competitive fuel economy and CO2 emissions for company car users, but leasing rates are high. The V6-powered cars are definitely the most pleasant in the range thanks to their superior refinement, but they’re very hard to recommend due to how much they cost to buy and run.
Mercedes has a reputation for quality and classiness, but peer into the C-Class, and you might wonder why. There’s soft-touch material dotted around the place, but many of the panels are disappointingly drab. That said, Mercedes performed well in our most recent reliability survey, and owners were extremely positive about the C-Class in the latest JD Power customer satisfaction survey.
Seven airbags, including one to protect the driver's knees, are standard, and there's stability control to help you stay on the road. Options that have filtered down from bigger Mercedes include headlights that adjust their beam pattern to suit the road and features to brace you in the ideal position in an impending crash. Deadlocks are fitted as standard to keep thieves out.
The C-Class has chunky switchgear for the ventilation system, but most other functions are controlled through a system where you scroll though on-screen menus with a rotary dial. It’s more complex than rival systems, which makes it more distracting. You might struggle to get comfy in manual models, too, because the pedals are heavily offset.
The C-Class can carry four adults in comfort, but the optional panoramic sunroof is best avoided because it eats into headroom. A hefty transmission tunnel makes life uncomfortable for any central rear passenger. The boot is one of the biggest in the class and is well shaped, but you have to pay extra for folding rear seats.
Entry-level Executive SE trim comes with most of the kit you want, including alloys, front and rear parking sensors, climate and cruise controls, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth and artificial leather upholstery. AMG Sport adds sporty styling tweaks inside and out, plus sports seats and a lowered suspension. AMG Sport Plus has even more aesthetic upgrades, plus xenon headlamps and upgraded brakes.
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The best C-Class model, but still lags way behind its best rivals.