BlueEfficiency may be one of the clumsier model names around, but make no mistake… the Mercedes-Benz C180K BlueEfficiency reviewed here is destined to be a strong seller based simply on the fact that it is the most affordable Mercedes sedan on the local market. Its “green” talents are likely to be a secondary consideration for most customers, even though that’s not the case for Mercedes-Benz. This brand is getting serious about cuttings emissions and, as you’re about to see, it takes a holistic approach that goes beyond mere engine downsizing. Prius… you’d better watch out!
Expensive Looks for Mercedes-Benz C180KPerhaps one of the secrets to the C-Class’s success is its upmarket and elegant looks, no matter which model you’re looking at. This Mercedes-Benz C180K BlueEfficiency may be the cheapest of its ilk, but it certainly doesn’t look it. The design is crisp, modern and slightly conservative – just as South Africans like it. Even this model rides on smart 17-inch alloy wheels and sports front and rear fog lamps, two features that immediately boost the car’s “perceived” cost. What you can’t easily see, however, is the intensive work done by Mercedes’s engineers to make this C-Class cut through the air more smoothly. There’s a partially blocked-off grille, for example, as well as a smoother under body – all in the aid of aerodynamics and ultimately fuel efficiency. Even harder to spot are the results of the flab-cutting diet the C-Class was subjected to – Mercedes has used thinner insulation materials, and even a thinner windscreen.
Consequently, the Mercedes-Benz C180K weighs in at 1 485 kg, which certainly makes it one of the lighter cars of its size. Inside it is very hard to spot any significant changes. It gets the same beautifully made facia with its simple, elegant lines and straightforward ergonomics. The instrumentation panel is particularly neat, with a large digital display incorporated into the central speedo. There really is nothing about this car that would make existing Mercedes customers pull up their noses in disgust – except perhaps for the manual gearlever, but more of that later.
Overall, the cabin’s spaciousness and high comfort levels are standard C-Class fare, as is the large (475 L) boot. Unfortunately, a folding rear seat to expand packing space is not standard. What is standard, however, will perhaps surprise you; climate control, auto lights/wipers, partial electric seat adjustment, cruise control, radio/CD player and no fewer than seven airbags are all present and accounted for. There’s even a standard ESP (electronic stability system). You pay extra for park assist and satellite navigation, among other items.
Supercharged… economyThe Mercedes-Benz C180K moniker is misleading as the engine powering this model is not a 1,8-litre, but a supercharged 1,6-litre petrol. The engine delivers 115 kW and 230 Nm of torque – the same as the brand’s 1,8-litre engine, except that the torque is developed at slightly higher revs (3 000 rpm). The benchmark sprint is completed in a reasonably brisk 9,5 seconds, and there’s a 230 km/h top speed. But sprinting ability is not this car’s forte, although the engine arguably punches above its weight in that regard. Mated with a six-speed manual transmission, this drivetrain’s focus is on efficiency. The gearshift indicator on the instrument panel urges you to shift up way before you’d normally feel comfortable to, all the way to sixth which is very much an overdrive gear to achieve ultimate cruising economy. An average fuel consumption figure of 6,7 L/100 km is achievable with some effort, but a more likely consumption is around 7,5 L/100 km. So, it’s certainly economical.
As much as one can thank the transmission for that efficiency, unfortunately its clunky shift action and unpredictable clutch make it a less than smooth companion around town. In fact, it can be quite tiresome. An automatic transmission may have resulted in slightly heavier consumption but ultimately would have made this a nicer car to drive. Similarly, one senses that some compromises have been made in terms of refinement, too. The ride and handling set-up remains very impressive, perhaps partly as a result of the reasonably sized wheels and tyres (other markets get smaller, efficiency-oriented wheels), but subjectively there is more road noise coming into the cabin, which can only be because of the cutbacks on insulation materials. For most customers, however, especially those who haven’t driven a “normal” C-Class, this is unlikely to be a deal breaker.
Mercedes-Benz C180K Blue Efficiency - VerdictIn its most basic form the C-Class remains a hugely desirable product, mostly because it doesn’t look notably less sophisticated or cheaper than its more pricy siblings. The efficiency boosting changes have all happened under the skin, and they’ve combined to give this C-Class very low (potential) fuel consumption. But… the manual transmission and the “springy” clutch are disappointments, making the Mercedes-Benz C180K a frustrating car to drive around town. And out on the open road, the C180K may impress with its smoothness and fuel economy, but the thinner insulation can be felt/heard in the higher levels of road noise. Its German rivals from Audi and BMW may not be ultimately as economical, but perhaps they’re more enjoyable cars for everyday driving, while at the same time also not being gas guzzlers. Back to the drawing board, Mercedes?
• Good quality interior • Standard specification • Ride/handling • Fuel economy • Willing engine
We don’t like:
• Transmission smoothness • No standard flat-folding rear seat
Engine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder, supercharged petrol Power: 115 kW @ 5 200 rpm Torque: 230 N.m @ 3 000 rpm Transmission: six-speed manual Wheels: 17-inch alloy Top speed: 230 km/h 0-100 km/h: 9,5 seconds Fuel economy: 6,7 litres/100 km
• BMW 320i Start: Cheaper and slightly more powerful (though not as torquey) the BMW also can’t match the Mercedes’s excellent fuel economy. But it’s a far smoother drive.
• Audi A4 1,8T FSI Ambition: Actually comes pretty close to matching the Mercedes-Benz C180K in terms of fuel economy, yet also packs more power and nippier performance. Oh… and it’s cheaper. Beautifully built.
• Toyota Prius: The all-new Toyota Prius is around the corner, and will be similarly priced. If you want to green, then you can just as well do it properly. Prius offers vastly more frugal driving, but is down on power (if not specification) and the driving experience is… well… very beige.