The latest Mercedes C-Class has already impressed us in saloon form, only narrowly losing out to its archrival the BMW 3 Series. Can this estate version level the score by beating the 3 Series Touring?
On paper there’s little to split the two cars. Both offer near-identical amounts of boot space (rear seats up or down), and emit similar amounts of CO2, with the Mercedes actually being slightly cleaner if you stick with a manual gearbox.
However, the C-Class is quite a bit more expensive to buy. In fact, what’s predicted to be the most popular version (the C220 Bluetec Sport auto) costs £34,060, which is roughly the same price you’ll pay for an automatic BMW 520d Touring, and more than Audi charges for its excellent A6 Avant Ultra.
What’s the 2014 Mercedes C-Class Estate like inside?
Let’s start with the most important bit: the boot. With the rear seats in place there’s 490 litres of space, which is only a fraction less than you get in a BMW 3 Series Touring, but still way down on what some full-size executive rivals – including the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 Avant – offer.
Still, there’s still plenty of room for a family of four’s holiday baggage, and the nice square shape of the load bay means it’s easy to make good use of what available space there is.
Folding the rear seats down is a doddle thanks to a pair of switches in the boot and rear of the cabin. Pull one these and the seatbacks drop automatically, lying virtually flat and increasing space to 1510 litres (slightly ahead of the 3 Series).
Better still, you can divide the rear seats 20:40:20 (as well as the usual 60:40), which means two adult passengers can sit comfortably in the back and you can still carry long items, as long as they're narrow.
Even seriously long-legged drivers will have no problem getting comfortable thanks to an enormous amount of front legroom, and there’s plenty of headroom, too, even in cars equipped with a sunroof.
The optional glass roof does impinge on rear headroom, although six footers will still fit easily and things aren’t that much worse than in the back of a BMW 3 Series Touring. In fact, the extended roof line in the estate means it's definitely roomier in the back than in the C-Class saloon.
Interior quality was never a strength of the old C-Class Estate, but it’s one of this new model's biggest assets. Every surface looks and feels a grade above what you’ll find in a 3 Series Touring, while most of the buttons and switches feel solid and well damped.
Range-topping AMG Line models are even better in this respect, because these have their dashboards wrapped in imitation leather, and get supportive and figure-hugging sports seats as standard.
All versions of the new C-Class Estate come with a seven-inch colour screen that’s controlled using a rotary dial and touchpad positioned between the front seats. You can use it to scroll through the on-screen menus, swiping left and right to cycle through functions, and pinching to zoom into maps.
Most of the time, though, you’re better off sticking with the rotary dial, which is quicker and easier to use on the move. It’s just a pity that whichever method you use, the on-screen menus aren’t as intuitive as the ones in BMW’s iDrive system.
As with the C-Class saloon, there are three trims to choose from. Entry-level SE cars come with 16-inch alloys, manmade leather seats, climate and cruise control, a reversing camera, rain-sensing wipers and a DAB radio.
We reckon it’s worth spending a bit extra on Sport trim, though, which adds all-important sat-nav, along with 17-inch alloys, smarter interior trim, heated front seats, LED headlights, sports seats and front and rear parking sensors. However, it's worth noting the sat-nav on this model is not very well integrated into the rest of the (otherwise smart) infotainment system.
The top-the-range AMG Line models come with even chunkier 18-inch alloys, an AMG bodykit, a leather-wrapped dashboard, sports suspension and gearshift paddles (if you've specced an automatic gearbox).
What’s the 2014 Mercedes C-Class Estate like to drive?
We tried the C250 and C220 Bluetec diesel models, which are differing power outputs of the same 2.1-litre engine. Both pull eagerly from low revs, and keep piling on speed as the revs pass 4000rpm. In fact, while the C250 is a touch faster in a straight-line drag, in real-world use the lower-powered C220 feels just as punchy, so it’s not worth the extra it costs to get a bigger number on your boot.
Most buyers will go for the optional seven-speed auto gearbox, and this works pretty well with both engines. It resists changing down when you just want to build speed smoothly and gradually, and can even sync with the sat-nav to preselect the optimum gear for upcoming hills and corners. It’s a bit jerky around town, though, and tends to hesitate when you ask for a sudden burst of overtaking oomph.
Our C250 test car was fitted with optional Airmatic suspension – an £895 option on Sport and AMG Line versions that brings a seriously comfortable motorway ride. In fact, at high speeds, the C-Class Estate lopes along in a manner that really would shame some luxury limos. Sadly, things are less impressive around town, where sharp-edged bumps and potholes tend to send jolts through the cabin.
Settle for the standard steel suspension that came on the C220 Estate we drove on UK roads, and it’s a similar story. On the motorway, it schleps along effortlessly, but around town and over middling-to-fast A and B roads, even moderate bumps and undulations are amplified into the cabin as heavy thuds and shudders. It’s not so harsh as to be uncomfortable, but – even with optional air suspension – the ride feels unsettled over typically worn roads.
It’s a real shame because the C-Class isn’t blessed with sharp handling to make up for this; it feels heavier than a 3 Series through corners, and body movements aren’t kept as tightly in check. Limited feedback through the steering also means it’s less fun.
Refinement is another area where the Mercedes disappoints, because its diesel engines are decidedly gruff when worked, and there's too much wind and road noise at a steady 70mph. That said, we’d level exactly the same criticisms at the BMW 3 Series Touring, so if you want a truly hushed estate car, you’ll need to look at either the Audi A6 Avant or BMW 5 Series.
Should I buy one?
There are certainly more practical estates available for this sort of money, so if a big boot is your priority then you’re better off looking at larger executive models, such as the 5 Series or A6 Avant.
However, if you’re willing to trade outright boot space for more compact dimensions, the C-Class has plenty going for it. It’s well equipped and has a seriously plush cabin, while the clever rear seats and a standard powered tailgate help make up for its average boot.
The trouble is, an equivalent BMW 3 Series Touring is quite a bit better to drive, just as spacious, and costs significantly less to buy. In automatic form, the BMW also emits less CO2, making it cheaper to run as a company car.
In the end, then, as with the C-Class saloon, this new estate version lags just behind its key rivals.
What Car? says…
Mercedes-Benz C220 Bluetec auto
Engine size 2.1-litre diesel
Price from £32,065
Torque 295lb ft
0-62mph 7.6 seconds
Top speed 142mph
Fuel economy 64.2mpg
CO2 output 115g/km
Mercedes-Benz C250 Bluetec auto
Engine size 2.1-litre diesel
Price from £33,220
Torque 368lb ft
0-62mph 6.9 seconds
Top speed 150mph
Fuel economy 62.8mpg
CO2 output 118g/km