The baby in the Mercedes-Benz sedan line-up performs a very difficult task. It has to not only make Mercedes-Benz ownership accessible to a wider audience, but it has to do so by extolling the virtues that make Mercedes-Benz ownership so attractive in the first place. Those attributes include superb quality, luxury, comfort and desirability… certainly a stiff challenge for the design team back in Stuttgart!
But with the Mercedes-Benz C180K Automatic tested here, the brand has very successfully stuck to what it does best. Firstly, a Mercedes-Benz’s design must never shout. The crisp, clean lines of the C-Class endow this sedan with modernity, but also a healthy dose of typical ‘Benz conservatism which, as most fans of the brand will tell you, is a must. That is not to say that the C180 is unattractive. In fact, far from it… It has a very svelte rear end and in Elegance trim, gains the iconic Mercedes-Benz grille with the three-pointed star emblem standing proud on the bonnet. It very successfully broadcasts something else that is also a Mercedes requirement – status.
Germanic precision?The interior design team was arguably less successful. Yes, with its 2 760 mm wheelbase, the C-Class has enough space. Even rear legroom is good, which in a rear-wheel drive car of this size is not always a given. The boot is of an acceptable size (bigger than the BMW’s), but it’s a bit naughty from the local firm to charge extra for folding rear seats. If you’re buying second-hand, and this is a requirement, be sure to check… Of course, unlike the BMW, the Mercedes actually has a full-size spare wheel in there.
The C-Class’s bigger problem is that the facia design and trim plastics just don’t look and feel “premium” enough. The design is neat but fairly blocky and unimaginative, while some of the plastics feel cheap (for a Mercedes). Then again, the test car never rattled or squeaked, so build quality appears to be very good. To some extent the conservative design is highlighted because it looks somewhat out of place as a backdrop for all the high-tech features. When the very cool information screen glides out of the centre of the facia, its arrival tends to be followed by impressed oohs and aahs from the passengers. Controlled via a rotary knob on the centre console, this screen allows for easy feature selection, much in the same way as BMW’s iDrive. For more traditional folk hard buttons replicate some of the functionality on the facia. See how well Mercedes knows its core market?
The base model it may be, but the Mercedes-Benz C180K Elegance is nevertheless well-equipped, especially in terms of safety. It features front, side and curtain airbags, an electronic stability programme (ESP) and ABS with EBD. Cruise control is fitted (as is to be expected on an automatic Mercedes), but the automatic wipers and lights, climate control and comprehensive 6CD sound system are perhaps nice surprises. Navigation is, however, optional.
On the roadEven from just sitting behind the steering wheel the attention to driver comfort is obvious, although the seats feel strangely hard at first. The steering wheel features generous rake and reach adjustment, and the seat can also move up or down. A comfy driving position is therefore easy to find. The firm seats proved extremely comfortable on longer trips and it is on such road trips that the C180K’s true talents really shine through. The five-speed automatic ‘box is not the swiftest around, but its lazy character suits the engine delivery in this environment, giving the Mercedes-Benz C180K the character of a quiet, swift tourer with excellent fuel consumption. If one had to nit-pick, the overly light steering may come in for criticism. A bit more weight and feel, especially at higher cruising speeds, would have been welcome.
Around town, however, the Mercedes-Benz C180K is perhaps a bit less impressive. The throttle response is quite slow, which combined with the relaxed transmission, results in lethargic getaways. This tends to make the driver behave more aggressively with his/her inputs, which in turn doesn’t quite gel with the nature of the car, leading to significantly higher fuel consumption. Thus far it may sound as if the car’s powertrain is unimpressive, but that’s not entirely true. The supercharged engine is refined and there’s good overtaking acceleration on offer. It is just that this car is tuned to please a relaxed driver, not a driving “enthusiast”. You know which one you are!
Mercedes-Benz C180K - VerdictIt is refreshing to drive a car that does not pretend to be anything that it is not. The Mercedes-Benz C180K is a typical, old-school Mercedes – relatively conservative in styling, but always classy and with a laid-back character that puts the focus on comfort, quality and cruising. It will remain popular for many years.
- Laid-back character
- Fuel economy
- High safety spec
- Slow throttle response
- Overly light steering
- Slightly “basic” facia design
Engine: 1,8-litre, supercharged, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 115 kW @ 5 200 rpm
Torque: 230 N.m @ 2 800 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Top speed: 223 km/h
0-100 km/h: 9,5 seconds
Fuel economy: 7,6 litres/100 km
- Audi A4 1,8T FSI Multitronic: The A4 finds a fine balance between the overtly leisure-oriented approach of the Mercedes-Benz C180K, and the sportiness of the BMW 3 Series. If you can live with its continuously variable transmission (CVT), it’s very much worth serious consideration.
- BMW 320i Steptronic (E92): The 3 Series continues to set the dynamic benchmark, but it’s not without its flaws. The boot is comparatively small, the steering is too heavy and the ride rather firm. The engine, however, is a peach.
- Jaguar X-type 2,0 SE: Yes, there is a Ford Mondeo hiding under the retro looks, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The X-type’s resale values have been surprisingly good. It is well-equipped and swift, but perhaps just a little bit too “kitsch”.