What we’re driving: Mercedes-Benz C Class
What it costs: from $63,400 (C200) and $107,900 (C43)
There is more to the latest Mercedes-Benz C Class than just another cosmetic tickle for a mid-life update.
A recast of the bodywork is the least of the deal on the latest C-cars, although there are double-stacked LED headlights to point out the new C200 and different noses up through the range.
The real changes – all 6,500 of them! – are hidden inside a car which is Benz’s best seller in Australia and the number two overall in the mid-sized class.
“They are significant changes," CEO of Mercedes-Benz Australia, Horst von Sanden, tells Australian Business Traveller. "Call it a massive facelift, if you wish. We could as well sell it as a new C Class!"
The rollout for the updated C Class begins this week with the C200 sedan and the AMG C43, which is available as as an 'estate' station wagon, a sporty sedan...
... a coupe...
... and a drop-top cabrio.
Following soon is the C300 which is traditionally the top selling C-car, while the hotrod AMG C63, with its thumping V8 engine and bone-shaker sports suspension, lands in 2019.
On the outside
There are new designs for the alloy wheels, with changes to the grilles and lamps and front bumpers, but otherwise the latest C Class is a steady-as-she-goes car.
Keeping the body unchanged means the money can be spent on lots of smaller items and more technology, as well as protecting the resale value of cars already on the road.
It’s become a familiar pattern at Mercedes-Benz, with a full body switch every four years or so – apart from the S Class flagship which runs closer to eight – with a major mid-life tweak at two-year intervals.
Under the bonnet
Hybrid power comes to the C Class with the new C200. Its four-cylinder turbo engine has been downsized to 1.5 litres, but the big change is a 48-volt hybrid system that harvests energy and then injects it on call for a 10-kiloWatt power boost.
There is still a traditional 12-volt battery for cold starting, but once the car is rolling a gizmo called a ‘Belt-driven starter generator' controls the hybrid package with everything from ‘coasting’ downhill to the city stop-start system.
A 10 per cent improvement to fuel economy is the bottom line, without any performance penalty.
The V6 turbo engine in the C43 has a little more meat, with 17 extra kiloWatts to trim the 0-100km/h time to 4.7 seconds.
On the inside
Digital instruments are the peak of chic at the moment, so the C Class joins the pack – currently led by Audi with its ‘virtual cockpit’ – with a pair of big new screens.
A driver-configurable 12.3-inch display serves for the instruments and other essentials...
... including a special AMG sports setting in the C43 dominated by a giant tachometer...
... with a bigger 10.25-inch wide-screen infotainment screen in the centre of the dash.
The steering wheels are new – the C43 gets the AMG item already touching the S63 flagship – with more fiddly buttons for all sorts of controls and adjustments, but otherwise things are much as before apart from more colour choices for the cabin lighting effects.
Packaged into the new C-cars is more standard safety equipment, including something called ‘evasive steering assist’ to push harder in a potential emergency and a camera system that watches for traffic signs in the C43.
On the road
"Nicer" is the best word to describe the updated C Class cars.
While there's nothing radical about the 2018 update they feel a little more refined, a little more enjoyable and even a little quieter on the inside.
Driving the C200 and C43 with a variety of body styles – the stealthy wagon is as subtle as always and the coupe is the best for a five-star arrival – through Melbourne and into the Victorian high country shows they can cope easily with any conditions in Australia.
The C200 is a relaxed cruiser and loses nothing in performance while gaining hybrid efficiency....
... while the C43 is ideal for people who enjoy driving but don’t want to shout about it or show off. It really can crack through the twists, with composure and balance that’s best in class.
The C200's hybrid driveline is a win-win and shows what is coming soon across the Mercedes-Benz family as smaller engines with electric boosters become the rule rather than the exception.
But the C43 is the pick of this litter, and still the best of the C-cars.
It’s quick when you want, and really quick when you’re in the mood, but can be just as relaxed as the C200 for country touring.