Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The C220d is our favourite version. With the same 191bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine as is used by the larger Mercedes E Class Estate, it provides plenty of low-down grunt and feels fast enough to hold its own against any of its chief rivals. There's also a more powerful 242bhp version of the same engine, badged C300d. The same engine provides the basis for the C300de, in which it’s boosted by a 120bhp electric motor. When the two power plants combine, 302bhp is the result, and that’s enough for it to feel very quick indeed – 0-62mph takes just 5.6secs. Response is instant when you put your foot down at a standstill, and the electric motor proves more than capable of keeping up with urban traffic – or even joining busy motorways – on its own. You should be able to eke over 30 miles of zero-emissions motoring out of it on a full charge, which takes five hours from a domestic socket.
As for the petrol options, the 1.5-litre mild hybrid C200, though, never really feels as fast as its 184bhp power figure suggests. You really have to work it hard to extract what performance is available, especially on hills, and that isn’t always easy because, as with its stablemates, the auto gearbox takes its time to kick down. By contrast, the 2.0-litre engine of the C300 has loads of power; with 254bhp, it’s incredibly responsive and builds speed with ease.
Up at the top end of the range are the performance AMG C43, which, with 385bhp to call upon, manages 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds. That should be plenty fast enough for most drivers, and it has the added appeal of standard four-wheel drive for extra traction in poor conditions. For those who want even more performance, the savage AMG C63 S tops the range; follow that link to read all about it.
Suspension and ride comfort
All models have conventional steel-sprung suspension that Mercedes calls Agility Control. Sport models have a Comfort version of the setup, which we have yet to try. AMG-Line versions, meanwhile, have a firmer and slightly lowered Sports setup. With this, potholes and lumps cause all versions to fidget noticeably, notably over crests, and the C Class is less comfortable than the equivalent Audi A4 Avant.
With what Mercedes calls Agility Control suspension, the C-Class Estate is pretty good to drive, but not as much fun as a BMW 3 Series Touring or even an Audi A4 Avant down a twisty country lane. While the steering is direct and responsive, its weighting is a little inconsistent and doesn’t involve you in the experience as much as it could.
With its adaptive suspension and quicker steering, the C43 feels more alert when cornering, and four-wheel drive makes its performance usable whatever the weather.
Noise and vibration
Unfortunately, the mild-hybrid C200 disappoints in this regard. Even when you’re cruising along, it transmits a noticeable hum and even a little vibration into the car; call for more acceleration and, as the revs rise, so does the racket. The plug-in hybrid C300e is much better, being extremely hushed on electric power alone, with a transition between electric and petrol power that’s largely seamless.
The C220d, meanwhile, is very impressive; when you’re coasting or cruising along, it’s very quiet indeed for a diesel engine. But, again, when you ask for a burst of acceleration, it grows somewhat gruffer, proving more intrusive than the Audi A4 Avant’s diesel engine. While the plug-in C300de uses the same 2.0-litre engine as the C220d, its electric power boost means you won’t need to stretch the engine so often in normal driving. Only when pushing it really hard does the engine noise start to grate. Further credit goes to the brakes, which – unlike those of many electrified cars – switch smoothly between conventional and regenerative braking, so it’s easy to bring the car to a gentle stop. There’s no noticeable lurch between electric and diesel power, either.
The nine-speed automatic gearbox, while occasionally slow to react, changes gear smoothly and crisply, while the adaptive suspension generates less noise than the conventional steel-sprung setup. Some wind noise is noticeable, though. Excluding the specialist C63, bigger wheels, stiffer suspension and a rorty exhaust make the C43 the noisiest of the lot at a cruise, although that’s all ‘part of the fun’ in a performance car.
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