Most diesel C-Class models are quick enough. True, the C 200 d does struggle for out-and-out pace, but the C 220 d has enough shove to carry the car along briskly; in fact, we wouldn’t spend the extra cash for the modest increase in pace that the C 250 d brings.
There’s also a diesel-electric hybrid edition, badged C 300, which allows you to trickle along on battery power alone in heavy traffic. The diesel engine cuts in quickly when you need it to, and performance is strong, although the energy recuperation system means the brake pedal response is inconsistent.
As for the petrols, the C 200 is fast enough, but it requires plenty of revs, while at the other end of the range Mercedes offers the unhinged C 63 AMG, which feels bullet-fast. If you want something fast but a little less crazy, there’s also a more manageable C 43 that has less power and four-wheel drive.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class ride comfort
The Mercedes C-Class comes with either conventional springs in various states of tune, depending on which trim level you go for, or optional air suspension (branded Airmatic).
None of the standard set-ups is particularly comfortable, but Airmatic does a really good job of cushioning out the worst imperfections at higher speeds. It can still get crashy around town, though, especially over potholes.
C 43 and C 63 models come with adaptive sports suspension, which is comfortable enough when dialled back to its most comfortable mode, but feels decidedly stiff over potholed roads in its more aggressive modes.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class handling
None of the three standard suspension set-ups – SE, Sport or AMG Line – delivers a great deal of agility; the C-Class isn’t as much fun as a BMW 3 Series or Jaguar XE down a twisty country lane. The steering is direct but the weighting isn’t consistent enough in corners, which can dent your confidence.
Versions with the optional Airmatic air suspension are far better. Put this into Sport mode and things tighten up noticeably, with strong enough body control to allow you to drive the C-Class along a twisty road pretty rapidly.
With their stiffer suspension and quicker steering, both the C 43 and C 63 AMG-tuned models feel much more alert when cornering. The C 43’s all-wheel drive brings greater stability in poor weather than the C 63’s lively rear-driven set-up.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class refinement
This is the area where the C-Class really disappoints. The diesel engines sound gruff and transmit too much vibration into the car, and the C 200 petrol is also pretty unrefined by modern standards.
There’s plenty of road noise on the motorway, too, and the C-Class doesn’t shut out wind noise as well as the best executive cars – particularly versions equipped with the optional panoramic glass roof.
Even the C 300 Hybrid is flawed in this area, because while the electric power does allow you to pull away from a standstill in silence, the diesel engine cuts in with its clatter all too readily.
Bigger wheels, stiffer suspension and rorty exhausts make the C 43 and C 63 models the noisiest of the lot at a cruise, although that’s part of the deal, considering their extra performance.
The C-Class’s entry-level petrol engine produces 181bhp, and on-paper performance looks encouraging. However, the engine doesn’t have the low-rev shove of the diesels, so in practice you’ll find yourself working the C 200 pretty hard to maintain brisk progress. It’s not the most refined of petrol engines, either. It can be combined with a manual or automatic gearbox.
Combines the C 200’s 2.0-litre petrol engine (in more powerful form) with an electric motor and an automatic gearbox. We’re yet to try this petrol-electric hybrid C-Class, but it promises super-low company car tax bills and superior refinement to the diesel-electric C 300 version. It has eye-opening claimed fuel economy, too, although it has a far smaller boot than those of other C-Classes.
C 200 Bluetec
The most modest diesel engine is a 1.6-litre unit with 134bhp, and it never feels entirely happy with the C-Class’s bulk. In fact, you’ll need to push it hard to get anywhere in a hurry. It’s available with a manual or automatic gearbox.
Our pick C 220 Bluetec
This is our favourite engine in the C-Class. It has enough shove to cope with a car of the C-Class’s size, it pulls strongly from low revs and it shouldn’t use much fuel. Refinement is less impressive; there’s always a bit of diesel clatter and vibration, even when it’s warmed up. Manual and automatic gearboxes are available with this engine.
C 250 Bluetec
The C 250 is the sportiest diesel in the C-Class line-up, but it’s still a four-cylinder unit and while it does have a bit more mid-range oomph than the C 220, it’s not really worth the extra money. Refinement is no better, either; you’ll still be troubled by the amount of noise and vibration transmitted through to the cabin. It comes with an automatic gearbox as standard.
C 300 Bluetec Hybrid
This diesel-electric hybrid C-Class mixes a four-cylinder diesel engine with a small electric motor. It can pull away from a standstill under electric power alone, but the diesel engine cuts in too quickly – and brings too much noise and clatter when it does so. Still, the Bluetec Hybrid does have one trump card: CO2 emissions. No matter what trim level you go for, the C 300 emits less than 100g/km of CO2, which makes it an appealing company car option. An automatic gearbox is the only transmission available with this engine.
The Mercedes-AMG C 63 gets a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine, producing a mighty 469bhp and 479lb ft of torque. That’s enough to take this C-Class from 0-62mph in a little over four seconds. Running costs are pretty high, though, with average fuel economy unlikely to crack 30mpg and CO2 emissions of nearly 200g/km.
C 63 S
In case the regular Mercedes-AMG C 63 isn’t quite enough for you, Mercedes also offers the ‘S’ variant with more turbo boost pressure. It has a colossal 503bhp and 516lb ft – enough to endow the humble C-Class with performance that will match a supercar’s in all but the most extreme situations. It’s debatable whether you need the extra punch over a regular C 63, though.
Powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6, the four-wheel drive C 43 is quick regardless of the weather conditions. It’s also less thirsty than the C 63, but not by a vast amount.