Mercedes-Benz has introduced a facelifted version of its C-Class, but has the Three-pointed Star done enough to keep the business class sedan at the cutting edge of its segment? We sampled the newcomer at its local launch...
It must be a good time to be working for Mercedes-Benz! Not only is the Stuttgart-based company the best-selling luxury brand in the world, it's also rated the 9th-most valuable brand globally, which is to say it rubs shoulders with the likes of Apple and Amazon. It's critical, then, for Mercedes-Benz to ensure that its bestseller remains at the top of the pile. To that end, the firm has introduced a raft of upgrades for the C-Class that bring it in line with the rest of Benz's portfolio and, thanks to a massive investment into the East London plant, the new car will continue to be assembled locally.
In terms of changes, the highlights are to be found in the cabin
You'd be hard-pressed to spot the changes to the C-Class' exterior. There are subtle revisions to the grille, some tweaks to the bumpers, plus revised head- and tail lights (the bumper treatments differ depending on trim level). Speaking of headlights, there are LED high-performance headlamps, but you really want the Multibeam LED units with Ultra Range, which Mercedes-Benz claims can illuminate up to 600 metres.
By contrast, there have been significant advances in terms of cabin layout, infotainment systems, ergonomics, and engines. Overall, Mercedes-Benz claims to have changed more than 6 000 parts, with a particular focus on electronics. The new electronics incorporate the latest safety systems from Mercedes-Benz and the Stuttgart-based brand claims in terms of semi-autonomous driving capability, the new C-Class is on par with the S-Class.
A digital dashboard makes its debut in the Mercedes-Benz C-Class; it is an extra-cost option, however.
Speaking of bigger Mercedes-Benz models, the first thing you'll notice when you step inside the cabin of the facelifted C-Class is the revised steering wheel, which is akin to those in the E-Class. It's a smart-looking tiller and you can now activate cruise control from the 'wheel as opposed to using the clumsy stalk of yesteryear. The 'wheel also gains smartphone-like swipe buttons... Remember the Blackberry touchpads from a decade (or so) ago? Well, they're very similar in operation. While you may scoff at the idea of Blackberry-style tech being used in a 2018 car, we can confirm after driving both the facelifted C-Class locally and facelifted C63 S internationally, that the controls are remarkably easy to use – and work well.
The other focus points in the revised cabin are the displays. The crisp 12.3-inch digital dashboard is admittedly an option, but it's worth considering because it brings the instrument cluster bang up to date with the best systems in the new vehicle market, let alone its business class segment. The Comand infotainment screen is underpinned by new software – its icons, menus and, importantly, user experience mimic those of a smartphone, which will please tech-savvy users. It's a smooth and intuitive system with excellent graphics, a far cry from previous generations of Comand.
The new steering wheel is stylish and now incorporates cruise control functions, which eliminates the need for the stalk.
From launch, there are numerous engines to choose from. Sadly, due to the C200 suffering a puncture on the test route, we weren't able to test the new 1.5-litre 4-cylinder turbo motor with electric assist. We got a chance to get behind the wheel of the C180 (the entry-level point in the range), as well as the mighty C43 AMG. All Mercedes-Benz C-Class derivatives now feature a new 9-speed (as opposed to 7-speed) automatic transmission.
The C180 is powered by a 1.6-litre turbopetrol engine, with outputs of 115 kW and 250 Nm. The C200's (relatively small-capacity) engine, pushes out a credible 135 kW and 280 Nm by virtue of turbocharging and a 48V electric system. The electrical system alone provides 10 kW and 160 Nm.
There's a punchy 2.0-litre turbopetrol in the C300 with 180 kW and 370 Nm and turbodiesel fans can opt for the C220d's 2.0-litre with 143 kW and 400 Nm. Finally, at the top of the pile of the C-Class range (at least before the C63 arrives later this year), is the new C43 AMG. Its 3.0-litre V6 turbopetrol now produces 17 kW more and is mated with the new 9-speed 'box. With its 287 kW and 520 Nm, the C43 4Matic is ballistic off the line.
What's it like it drive?
Refinement and build quality have improved, but the steering feel is more suited to cruising than dynamic driving.
Let's start with the Mercedes-AMG C43 sedan. Other than a subtle AMG badge, bigger alloy wheels and quad exhausts, its an understated car. The transmission's closer-spaced ratios allow you to access that sonorous V6's powerband often and in Sport+, it feels effortlessly capable of matching its claimed sub-5-second 0 to 100 kph time. We also commend the AMG division for amplifying the soundtrack of the C43: it's certainly a lot louder than before. Each pull of the nicely-crafted metal shift paddles prompted a cacophonous bang from the new-look quad exhaust system.
Drawbacks? Well, the 9-speed transmission battled to produce smooth gearshifts in Comfort mode, but seemed more keen to deliver lightning-quick shifts in Sport+ mode. We believe the clumsy shifts could be attributed to the newness of the car – our unit had only 300 km on the clock! We expect that the car will loosen up nicely after a few thousand kilometres and we look forward to giving the C43 a more thorough assessment on home turf.
With a smart 1.5-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder motor combining with an electric assist, the C200 should be light on fuel
The road noise was a little high, but the test unit did traverse sections of very coarse tarmac. The ride quality was commendable, but it all depends on which driving mode you're in, as the differences between them are night and day. Comfort is pliant and fair, while Sport+ is firm and poised. The modes also modify the engine's responsiveness, exhaust tone and gearbox shift speed. The best part is you can get the best of both worlds by using the Individual setting: Suspension in comfort, engine responsiveness about midway and exhaust at its loudest would be our preferred setting.
Our second vehicle to drive was the entry-level C180, which came in AMG Line trim. It really is a good-looking car with its diamond-stud grille and 5-spoke AMG alloys. The performance of the turbocharged 1.6 litre was adequate for around town, but highway overtaking manoeuvres required a bit of effort (and several kicks down the 9-speed auto 'box) to access all of the 250 Nm. It may have had bigger, sportier wheels, but ride quality was not that compromised. The steering setups in both the C180 and the C43 are not the most direct, with a bias towards comfort and ease of use.
The updates bring the C-Class up to date with its rivals and with a new BMW 3 Series just around the corner, it's going to have its work cut out
There's a distinctly upmarket feel about the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class. On the back of a massive investment (R10 billion), the future of Benz's East London plant is looking bright as the assembly line's productivity is expected to increase in the near future. In the past, we've criticised some Mercedes-Benz products for marginal cabin finishes (frequently, test units have had annoying rattles and squeaks). While press cars tend to live hard lives, it's unfathomable how an R800 000 premium German sedan could suffer from a creaking dashboard with under 10 000 km on the clock.
Thankfully, our first impression of the facelifted C-Class' cabin quality is positive! The materials feel more upmarket and critically, solid. The C180 unit we drove did have a rather rudimentary glossy plastic finish around the trio of centre vents, which unfortunately creaked, but it's perhaps forgivable on the entry point of the range and likely to be improved as local production ramps up. Also, we expect dealerships to offer prospective C180 customers tasty incentives to get them behind the wheel of the C200, the second-from-bottom derivative we expect will be the most popular.
Overall, the facelifted C-Class does what it says on the tin – but in an admirable way – it's a package that looks smart and performs smartly. It should remain the brand's best-seller (both locally and globally) and with these new technological updates, continues to shake off its "Old Man's Car" image. With a facelifted Audi A4 and all-new BMW 3 Series due before the end of the year, the battle for "best in class" will resume in earnest.
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class main change is in the interior
Mercedes-Benz C-Class prices in SA
You may look at the price and wonder how Mercedes-Benz justified this new price when compared to the outgoing model. We sure did. For example, a pre-facelifted C200 cost R559 167, whereas a new car retails for R613 500. Mercedes-Benz explained that there's more specification fitted as standard, as many of the options fitted to the outgoing model had a 100% take-up rate. So instead of Mercedes-Benz making them available as costly options, they're fitted as standard. The facelifted Mercedes-Benz C-Class comes with a 6-year/100 000 km maintenance plan.
C180 R586 500
C200 R613 500
C220d R651 000
C300 R716 000
Mercedes-AMG C43 R948 500
C180 R666 000
C200 R766 000
Mercedes-AMG C43 R983 500
C200 R793 500
C300 R884 000
Mercedes-AMG C43 R1 100 000