What Car? says...
The Mercedes C-Class executive car – as you can tell from these photographs – bears more than a passing resemblance to the German brand’s bigger models.
As problems go, though, the fact that the C-Class saloon could easily be mistaken for a Mercedes S-Class (which costs around twice as much) is right up there with your wallet being too small for your £50 notes and your diamond shoes being too tight.
There are close links between the cars elsewhere, too, with the C-Class offering the same mild-hybrid (MHEV) engine technology and big infotainment system as its pricier sibling, in an effort to help it get the better of executive car rivals.
Those rivals include our current class favourite – the BMW 3 Series – along with the crushingly competent Audi A4, the fun-to-drive Jaguar XE and the safety-conscious Volvo S60. There are also some all-electric alternatives, including the BMW i4 and the Tesla Model 3, which will be particularly appealing to company car drivers because of their low monthly benefit-in-kind tax costs.
The Mercedes C-Class can make plenty of sense as a company car too if you go for the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variant, called the C300e, which brings ultra-low emissions and an electric-only range of up to 68 miles. Even if you don’t fancy a car you have to plug in, every C-Class comes with some mild-hybrid (MHEV) tech to keep emissions down.
Want your C-Class with a bit of added spice? You’ll want to take a look at the performance-focused Mercedes-AMG C43, which gets specially-tuned suspension and the same engine technology but with everything turned up to nine.
Sounds promising, doesn’t it? In this review, we’re going to find out if it’s too good to be true and how the C-Class stacks up against its competition for performance, interior comfort, running costs and so on.
Finally, remember that when you've decided which model to buy, we can help you save thousands off the list price if you search our free What Car? New Car Deals pages. Our mystery shoppers have found lots of tempting new executive car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Despite all the engines in the Mercedes C-Class range featuring electrical assistance for extra shove at low speeds, you have to work the entry-level 201bhp C200 petrol quite hard to get it from 0-62mph in 7.3sec. The C300 is better, cutting that time to 6.0sec. The AMG C43 performance car version feels rapid in comparison, and covers the sprint in just 4.6sec.
The diesel C220d has more low-end urgency than the C200 petrol. Its 197bhp is slightly down on the C200, but because of its extra pull at low revs, it manages to get from 0-62mph in the same time. Even so, it's still as quick as the 320d BMW 3 Series. The only diesel C-Class to beat that is the 262bhp C300d (0-62mph in 5.7sec).
Company car drivers will be more interested in the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) C300e. Its electric motor is more than capable of keeping up with traffic to motorway speeds, and it can travel 30 miles further on electric power than the rival BMW 330e. When you need to use the C300e's full 308bhp potential, the switch between electric and conventional power is seamless and acceleration is swift (0-62mph takes a mere 6.1sec).
Suspension and ride comfort
The non-PHEV C-Classes we’ve driven so far have had the optional adaptive suspension, which is now only available on models equipped with the powerful C43 engine. With that fitted, the ride can range from impressively absorbent to really quite sporty. In Comfort mode, it deals with the worst effects of bumps and potholes better than the 3 Series or the Tesla Model 3 but there's a slightly floaty sensation over undulating roads.
To avoid that (as the 3 Series and Jaguar XE so adeptly do) you’ll need to put the suspension in Sport mode. That tightens body control appreciably, although it does increase the car's tendency to thump over drain covers. We'd avoid using Sport+ because it's a bit too firm for pockmarked B-roads.
The PHEV C300e gets rear air suspension as standard. It’s there to help control the extra weight of the battery in the back, and does a very good job of keeping the car level over dips and crests at speed. Indeed, there's very little difference in the way the C300e and non-plug-in variants ride.
The standard C-Class’s handling treads a fine line between the Audi A4 and the 3 Series – it's more reassuring than the former but not quite as entertaining as the latter. You see, the steering is more accurate than the A4’s overly light set-up, but it doesn’t give you the confidence the 3 Series does.
There’s not too much body lean, but the 3 Series is better controlled, while the Alfa Romeo Giulia and the XE are sharper, and therefore more fun to drive. The C43 goes some way to making the C-Class more engaging, especially in Sport+ mode, with its stiffer suspension giving even better body control and more grip through corners.
PHEVs often feel less fleet of foot in corners due to the additional battery weight, but the C300e seems to be an exception. Its rear air suspension counteracts the pendulum effect some rivals display during cornering. The BMW 330e is tidier in bends, but the C-Class is impressively accomplished in the way it keeps you on an even keel.
Noise and vibration
The C-Class keeps engine noise to a minimum when cruising on a motorway, and there's just a touch of wind noise from around the panoramic glass sunroof (when fitted). However, you do hear a fair bit of road noise, most noticeably on coarse road surfaces.
There's some buzz from the petrol engine of the C200 model at higher revs while the petrol engine in the C43 has been tuned to make a sportier noise. The C220d diesel is similarly smooth to the BMW 320d, but the Audi A4 40 TDI is quieter still. The quietest C-Class is the C300e, especially when it's running on electric power. Its engine gets a bit raucous under hard acceleration, but we found it quite a pleasant sound.
A nine-speed automatic gearbox is standard across the range, and gets on with the job of shuffling through the gears without much fuss. The brakes of non-PHEV C-Class models are easy to operate, but the PHEV isn't as confidence-inspiring, with some mushiness in the middle of its long pedal travel as it switches from recovering electricity to mechanical braking, robbing you of some precision and confidence in its ability to stop in time.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
It's easy to find a comfortable driving position in the Mercedes C-Class because all models have plenty of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel. Lumbar adjustment is standard to make long-distance driving less taxing on your back, while AMG line Premium and C43 models add full electric adjustment with memory settings.
There are not many physical buttons on the dashboard (much like in the Volvo S60) but at least the touch-sensitive climate controls are constantly displayed on the lower section of the infotainment display, rather than hidden in a menu. They’re not as easy to use as the physical controls in the Audi A4 though.
Instead of analogue dials, the C-Class has a crystal-clear 12.3in digital display that can show trip and media information, as well as a small map. We prefer Audi’s Virtual Cockpit because it's easier to navigate your way around the various menus, plus the physical controls on the A4's steering wheel are easier to use than the touch-sensitive ones on the C-Class. Mercedes adds a head-up display showing road speed, traffic-sign information and sat-nav instructions if you go for top-tier AMG line Premium Plus trim.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
Visibility in the C-Class is fine looking forward, but the chunky side pillars, the placement of the rear head restraints and the shallow rear window conspire to make the over-the-shoulder view no better than that offered by rivals.
A reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors are fitted as standard to assist when parking, though, and this is upgraded to a 360-degree camera if you plump for mid-range AMG line Premium.
LED headlights are included on all models, with fancier adaptive units coming on AMG line Premium and upwards.
Sat nav and infotainment
The C-Class interior is dominated by digital displays. Along with the crisp 12.3in driver’s display, there’s a large portrait-oriented 11.9in central infotainment screen that can be operated by touch, voice or via the touch-sensitive controls on the left-hand spoke of the steering wheel.
The central touchscreen responds quickly to inputs and has super-sharp graphics, although we’d prefer that Mercedes had kept the physical controller of previous versions, because it was less distracting to use on the move. Voice control is included on all trim levels and is surprisingly good at recognising your requests, which can include everything from changing the interior temperature to programming a location into the nav.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration is provided as standard, and there’s wireless phone-charging and two C-USB sockets in the centre console to charge up your devices. Music lovers will need to shell out for either the top-spec AMG-Line Premium Plus or C43 Premium Plus for the 13-speaker Burmester surround-sound system, which provides really rich sound quality.
Here’s where the C-Class’s review score takes a downturn. Inside, it has plenty of the kind of cheap-feeling hard plastic that you’d expect to find in an inexpensive small hatch, not a premium executive car.
It's everywhere on the lower dashboard and centre console, around the air vents and on large sections of the door panels. That stands in stark contrast to the A4, which uses top-notch materials everywhere you look and touch.
The 3 Series and, to a certain degree, the Skoda Superb provide a more upmarket environment than the C-Class too. That’s especially evident in the poorly mounted shortcut buttons under the central screen – they wobble when you press them.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There’s plenty of room for a six-foot driver up front in the Mercedes C-Class, although the panoramic glass sunroof steals a little head room. Anyone taller than six feet might need to drop the seat on to its lowest position if they have that roof fitted.
There are lots of storage areas to hide your belongings, including sizeable door bins and a compartment in the centre armrest.
In the back, head room should be fine for those less than six-foot tall, but things might not be so rosy for anyone taller, especially with the panoramic sunroof fitted. There’s also a chunky central floor hump that a middle rear-seat occupant’s legs will have to straddle.
As a result, the C-Class isn’t the best car for three adults travelling in the back. For something more spacious, take a look at the Skoda Superb which isn’t far off the Mercedes S-Class (short wheelbase) for rear space.
There are, though, decent sized rear door bins to put bottles in, plus a map pocket on the back of each front seat.
Seat folding and flexibility
The C-Class’s rear seat has a useful 40/20/40 split-and-fold configuration as standard. That's more useful for loading longer items than the 60/40 set-up in the Volvo S60.
If electric front seats are fitted to the C-Class, they automatically move out of the way when you fold the second row and return to their original position when you put the rear seats back up again. That makes life a little easier.
Front passenger seat height adjustment is standard, as is four-way adjustable lumbar support.
You get more total boot space in the C-Class than the Jaguar XE and it's a match for the Audi A4 but there’s more room in the BMW 3 Series and the Tesla Model 3 (which has a front boot as well as rear one).
As with most saloon cars, the C-Class has a narrow boot opening that makes it difficult to load it with bulky items. If you want an executive car that gets around that, have a look at the Skoda Superb and VW Arteon both of which have a handy hatchback tailgate with a much wider entrance. They also have far more luggage capacity, although you’ll still be able to get a set of golf clubs or a few carry-on suitcases in the back of the C-Class.
You might anticipate a ‘but’ coming for the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) because of its larger battery. Well, as expected, the boot is shallower, although it's just as long and wide (the same is true of the PHEV 3 Series), meaning there’s still a good amount of space. Sadly, there isn’t a useful storage cubby for the charging cables. They must live in a bag velcroed to the boot floor.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Mercedes C-Class is pricier to buy than the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series. However, you do get far more standard safety kit and technology, much of which you’ll only get on rival cars by adding them as options or stepping up to more expensive trim levels. So pricing for the C-Class is more competitive than it initially looks.
If you compare like-for-like alternatives to the C220d, the C-Class stacks up well against the A4 for CO2 emissions, but not the much cleaner BMW 320d. That means company car drivers are likely to pay more to run a C-Class than for a 3 Series, but should be better off than those going for the A4. The C330e's exceptional electric-only range leaves you with a lower benefit-in-kind company car tax rate than the equivalent BMW 330e. Company car buyers can save even more by going for an electric car such as the Tesla Model 3.
The two diesel C-Classes manage to beat the equivalent engines in the A4 and 3 Series for fuel economy, with the C220d edging over 60mpg and the C300d getting high 50s. The petrol offers similar economy to the rivals, but none can match the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) C300e. Its 25.4kWh battery pack takes two hours to charge using a dedicated home charger. UK cars have a slower Type 2 plug and charge at a maximum of 11kW, whereas other markets get rapid charge capability using a CCS plug. Insurance and servicing costs tend to be quite pricey with a Mercedes but residual values are on a par with the A4 and 3 Series.
Equipment, options and extras
Even entry-level AMG line trim comes with sporty exterior and interior styling, along with a standard 12.3in digital driver display and an 11.9in portrait-oriented touchscreen. Every C-Class gets leather trim and heated front seats.
We reckon the small jump up to AMG line Premium is worth it as you benefit from keyless entry and go, augmented reality navigation, and electrically adjustable front seats with three-position memory. The range-topping AMG line Premium Plus adds three-zone climate control, a panoramic glass sunroof and the excellent Burmester sound system.
The sportier Mercedes-AMG C43 comes in either Premium or Premium Plus trim and the equipment levels largely follow that of the normal car. You do, however, get bespoke AMG styling with all versions of the C43, along with special driving modes, alloy wheels and AMG sports seats.
The latest C-Class was too new to feature in our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey. Mercedes as a brand didn’t do very well, though – it managed only joint 23rd place (with Vauxhall) out of 32 manufacturers. That puts it behind Lexus, BMW, Volvo, Tesla and Audi, and it only beat Jaguar by two places.
The Mercedes three-year unlimited-mileage warranty with three years of breakdown cover is similar to BMW's offering and slightly better than the three-year Audi offering, which is limited to 60,000 miles in the final year.
Safety and security
When it was tested by Euro NCAP for safety in 2022, the C-Class was awarded five stars out five, and scored well for occupant protection. That five-star rating matches rivals including the A4, 3 Series and S60, but they were all tested years earlier and the tests are more stringent now. That makes it hard to compare all four scores and means the C-Class could potentially keep you safer.
All versions have automatic emergency braking (AEB), plus tyre-pressure monitoring, airbags (including one between the front seats) and blind-spot monitoring, which is either an option or reserved for top trims on many rivals.
An alarm and engine immobiliser are fitted as standard too.
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Both the C-Class and the Mercedes E-Class scored four stars when tested by our expert road testers, but the model that suits you better will depend on your requirements. The C-Class is an executive car that gives greater efficiency, while the E-Class is a larger luxury car with more space and power.
We think the C300e in entry-level AMG Line trim makes the most sense, especially for company car drivers. That combination gives you great efficiency and low emissions but with a trim level that gets lots of standard equipment and keeps costs down.
If you want the fastest and fanciest C-Class around, you’ll want to go for the Mercedes-AMG C63 S. That performance car version gets all the bells and whistles, along with an engine that produces more than 650bhp.
|RRP price range
|£45,165 - £103,155
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|petrol, diesel, petrol parallel phev
|MPG range across all versions
|31.7 - 62.8
|Available doors options
|3 years / No mileage cap
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£728 / £5,154
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£1,455 / £10,307