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Want a Merc C-Class? Then best you come up with a bar

Lifestyle

Want a Merc C-Class? Then best you come up with a bar

The ‘baby Benz’ is growing up, in nature and price, but overall it’s worth it

Motoring editor, reporter and presenter
It has an aggressive look, but the drive is quite civilised.
GRUMPY It has an aggressive look, but the drive is quite civilised.
Image: Supplied

The C-Class was the original “baby Benz” at inception. Today, however, it is one of the middle children in the brand’s passenger car range.

You already know the model traces its roots to the iconic W201, a compact, elegant specimen that sought to make three-pointed star ownership a bit more accessible. Nowadays, the A-Class and CLA-Class serve those roles at the introductory end of the portfolio. And with the increasing popularity of sport-utility vehicle (SUV) offerings such as the GLA-Class and GLC-Class, the long-standing C-Class is no longer the automatic go-to.

But there are still enough buyers out there who see the merit in a premium sedan. While looks are subjective, one cannot dispute the classic simplicity of a good three-box design. And then there are the clear handling and stability benefits of a vehicle with a lower centre of gravity.

We spent two days with the newest C-Class in C200 form, the starter model in the range, with a base price of R849,000. Included is the equipment what you would expect from a German standard -- just the essentials.

It boasts Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Artico leatherette upholstery, the MBUX digital interface, cruise control, tyre pressure monitor, LED headlamps, selective suspension damping, keyless-go and cruise control.

Our vehicle was optioned-out, as is customary with demonstrator units. A R54,000 AMG Line added spiffy sport seats, sharper exterior elements, a six-spoke steering wheel in soft Nappa leather and 19-inch multi-spoke wheels. Electrically adjustable seats added R14,000, the digital headlight system with adaptive high-beams cost R29,000, R13,900 bought a navigation system and an extra R17,400 got us a digital instrument cluster and ambient lighting. There was more: R22,900 for a panoramic sunroof and R5,800 for heated seats.

Rear styling has been firmed up.
Rear styling has been firmed up.
Image: Supplied

Even though the AMG Line styling package turns the wick up, the C-Class in regular form looks quite aggressive. That scowling, up-turned grille contributes to a disgruntled face. And the slanting eyes complete the ticked-off frontal appearance. Unlike its predecessor, you can no longer have the classic slatted grille with star hood ornament. The flowing, sculpted side profile culminates in a rounded tail, though much less droopy than the rear of the former W205. An attractive design effort overall.

The exterior takes on an evolutionary approach, but the cabin is a lot more radical. While the old car still relied on rotary dials and switchgear that clicked, the 2022 model ushers in a new operating concept, with a massive central display and soft-touch keys, with some controls (volume, for one) operated by sliding an index finger left or right. It took some getting used to. By now it is clear that for most manufacturers screen-intensive fascia areas are standard.

Which is great, but perhaps in the process traditional areas of the typical premium car experience are being neglected. Tactile quality, for instance. You will find some plastic surfaces in the C-Class seem poorly suited to a vehicle of its price and status. This was quite a disappointment.

A digitised interior marks a big leap for the C-Class breed.
A digitised interior marks a big leap for the C-Class breed.
Image: Supplied

But the drive redeemed these reservations somewhat. Ride quality is markedly improved. Despite the 19-inch rollers and firm bias of the suspension, damping and compliance was far better than one would have expected.

The steering is light but precise and the motor (though modest in capacity) seemed well up to task. It is a 1.5-litre, turbocharged-petrol unit as experienced in models such as the A-Class, but on this occasion it gains mild hybrid technology, making a world of difference. Look, you never feel like hurrying the C200 along, but when a leaden-foot approach is required (overtaking), it complies with reasonable expedience.

The 9G-Tronic transmission ensures the tachometer needle is sitting low in top gear, thus using less fuel. We saw consumption as low as 5.7/100km on the open road, going up to 7l/100km in conditions where urban traffic was involved. Economy is a big part of the new C-Class story. To quite an extreme degree, considering even the Mercedes-AMG C63 version will be powered by a four-cylinder motor, with electric assistance. Quite a thing to wrap your head around, but it is an inevitable move. The next C-Class is likely to not have any internal combustion engine choices at all.

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