It’s not often that Mercedes-Benz hits the styling nail absolutely on the head, but with the second-generation C-Class, introduced at the dawn of the new millennium, it seems to have done just that. Five years into its lifecycle, and with only a very slight facelift under the belt, it still looks as stylish and modern as it did back then. It says much for the original design that such a minor upgrade was all that was needed – only a Mercedes anorak will notice the changes to the front airdam and wider tracks of the Mercedes-Benz C220.
Of course, keeping the C-Class fighting fit is very important for Mercedes-Benz. It has not only been tasked with battling the ageing E46 BMW 3 Series, but will also have to stave off the new 3 Series for a while before the next-generation C-Class is ready. Then there’s also the ever-improving Audi A4…
Ageing cabin in the Mercedes-Benz C220
The Mercedes-Benz C220 arguably shows its age more inside, where there’s no iDrive-rivalling control system or glitzy displays, but rather traditional analogue instrumentation and a plethora of big buttons. There are also a couple of real Mercedes quirks, such as the left-foot controlled “hand-brake” and the single stalk for the lights and wipers which can get in the way when trying to operate the cruise control stalk. Of course, familiarity will set in with a few days of use, and those buttons are certainly clearly marked, but it’s nevertheless not quite as easy to settle in as with an A4, for example.
Rear legroom is another complaint and the consequence of the rear-wheel drive layout, but it’s no worse than a BMW 3 Series in this regard. The boot is of a useful size, however, and it packs a full-size spare wheel. The rear seats can also fold down to boost load-carrying ability.
If it all sounds rather disappointing thus far, don’t fret, because these are relatively minor irritations. The Mercedes-Benz C220 interior quality is superb and the basic design (flowing and rounded) has aged well. In Elegance trim, as tested here, the C-Class cabin gains a very upmarket aura that will impress even E-Class buyers. Comfort levels are superb. The steering wheel is rake-and-reach adjustable, the seat can be raised up or down and there’s a convenient centre armrest/storage box. Seated on the well-padded driver’s seat and with the typically oversized Mercedes steering wheel in hand, one can’t help but feel satisfied. It may be the “small” Mercedes sedan, but it comes across as a real Benz.
Focus on comfort
With very light steering, fairly high-profile tyres and a suspension set-up tuned for comfort, there aren’t any sporty pretensions about this model. It is therefore the ideal platform to make use of Mercedes’ proven 2,1-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine. Pumping out 110 kW and an impressive 340 Nm of torque (from 2 000 rpm), the Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI certainly has grunt. It is mated with a five-speed automatic transmission that features Comfort and Sport modes, as well as manual shifting via Mercedes’ TouchShift system. However, the latter system is unlikely to be used much as the drivetrain simply doesn’t encourage enthusiastic driving.
The engine note is fairly gruff at idle, but thankfully smoothes out at speed, where it is also much quieter. In fact, once on the move one tends to forget about the engine and gearbox, as they do their jobs unobtrusively. It’s a very relaxing car to drive, this, and also impressively economical. Mercedes claims a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 6,8 litres/100 km.
While Mercedes has indeed fettled with the suspension settings at the time of the upgrade and widened the tracks, the overall experience is much the same. The Mercedes-Benz C220 is a very competent handler, with good body control and considerable front-end grip. But it doesn’t quite feel as hunkered down and sharp on turn-in as, for example, a 3 Series. Then again, in terms of ride comfort it is far superior to the BMW (which uses RunFlat tyres). The Mercedes glides over imperfections and cossets its occupants. For relaxed drivers, the slightly vague steering will not be an issue.
As befits a Mercedes-Benz, the C-Class is packed with safety equipment, including an electronic stability programme (ESP). The ABS-equipped braking system also features BAS (brake assist), but somewhat disappointingly only features solid discs at the rear. Nevertheless, braking performance is good.
Mercedes-Benz C220 - Verdict
The Mercedes-Benz C220 may be ageing (especially inside), but it’s doing so with much grace. There’s still considerable styling appeal on offer here, and the cabin is well-made and comfortable. The engine and transmission are geared for cruising, so drivers who place an emphasis on performance may need to look elsewhere for their kicks. Overall, the Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI Automatic is a classy, relaxing and economical long-distance tourer.
- Stylish looks
- Ride quality
- Fuel economy
- High safety spec
We don’t like:
- Ergonomic quirks
- Dull steering
- Rough idle
Engine: 2,1-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 110 kW @ 4 200 rpm
Torque: 340 Nm @ 2 000 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Wheels: 16-inch alloy
Top speed: 218 km/h
0-100 km/h: 10,3 seconds
Fuel economy: 6,8 litres/100 km
- BMW 320d Steptronic: Whether you opt for the earlier E46-generation car, or its replacement, the E92, the BMW is a formidable rival with excellent dynamics, a superb engine and classy interior. The latter model offers more space and refinement.
- Audi A4 2,0 TDI Multitronic: A car that has become increasingly attractive as it gets older, the A4 is not to be ignored. It can’t quite yet match the Mercedes’ status appeal, or its ride comfort, but the gap is no longer very big. Multitronic CVT boosts economy but at the cost of some driving enjoyment.
- Volvo S60 D5 Geartronic: Suffers appalling and unfair depreciation, so is better as a used buy. A very comfortable, good car, although it lacks the rear legroom of the others and the D5 engine sounds a bit gruff.