CLARENS, Free State Province - Mercedes' C-Class Estates with a choice of three turbocharged engines, several models and a Sears catalogue of options have arrived in South Africa and the automaker chose the Golden Gate National Park for the occasion.
It’s 340 square km of majestic mountain beauty in the eastern Free State, adjacent to Lesotho.
The geology of the park is ancient: free-standing mountains with deeply eroded sandstone cliffs and buttresses loom over the road and are pocked by caves that must have been the home of pre-historic man.
Use a little imagination and you could be on a movie-set for a re-make of ‘Jurassic Park’. The new Merc C-Class Estates, by contrast, are so stunningly designed and high-tech that they could have dropped into the scenery from way in the future.
And it’s on those attributes, says Selvin Govender, managing director of Mercedes Cars in South Africa, that he's depending to make the cars sell here. Merc describes the cars as “multi-faceted lifestyle vehicles”.
GALLERY: 2014 Mercedes C-Class Estate
VIDEO: C-Class Estate
Estate cars – station-wagons, if you prefer – became, like the dinosaurs roamed Golden Gate, extinct in South African showrooms back in the 1980’s as hatchbacks grew in size, comfort and complexity. Mercedes, if I recall correctly, was the last to give up the fight for such cars’ survival.
South Africa, for uncertain reasons, is not a big market for estates. Govender is looking for perhaps 250 sales a year. That’s sustainable, he explained, because the cars, except for the rear body parts and glass and the slightly longer body, are identical to the C-Class sedans, inside and out, and share their engines, gearboxes and wheelbase.
He also believed previous estates were perceived as staid and clumsy, certainly not exciting to the eye or enticing to the driving enthusiast. “This C-Class Estate,” he asserted, “is modern, dynamic and emotional and no other automaker has as much tech (available) in its products.”
South African stock comes to order from a plant in Bremen, Germany.
BIGGER BETTER, WIDER LONGER
Certainly the cars are exciting to behold and, frankly, don’t really look like “station-wagons”. The lines are as sensuous as those of the latest C-Class sedans, merely extended somewhat with the roof continuing the downward curve of its contemporary sisters.
The cars, compared to the previous C-Estates, have grown with an 80mm wheelbase increase (to 2840mm), 96mm in length (to 4702mm, mainly for rear passengers) and 40mm in width (to 181mm). There is, Merc says, also more interior width and headroom than in the previous units.
Maximum load capacity is 1510 litres – up by 10 litres on earlier models.
Govender sees the Estate as more sports-car than utility vehicle; fact is, given its ability to morph from a five- to a four- to a three- and even a two-seater, it’s more of a convertible than a, well, convertible. Even better, the rear seats can fold electronically and there’s a hands-free system to open the boot – waggle a foot under the rear bumper. (Try not to fall over while holding four shopping sacks and balanceing on one leg.)
The media release explains: “The new C-Class Estate combines a striking, dynamic design and high-class appointments with outstanding variability and a high level of utility.
“With its versatility it also adapts to a wide variety of requirements. As a stylish, sporty, spacious vehicle it accompanies active, modern people when shopping, on holiday or when playing sports, and is suitable for families in every respect.”
Certainly the cars are performance machines, despite the modest size of their engines: the four cylinders of the petrol-fuelled C200 displaces 1991cc but make 135kW at 5500rpm and 300Nm of torque at 4000 to deliver 100km/h in 7.5sec and 233km/h. Fuel consumption is rated at less than six litres/100km (test conditions).
The four-cylinder unit under the bonnet of the diesel C250 BlueTEC (Merc’s capitals!) displaces 2143cc (to make a bit of a fib of its badging!) but is way more powerful and fuel-efficient and slightly faster than the C200: 150kW at 3800rpm, 500Nm from 1600-1800rpm, 100km/h in 6.9sec, 241km/h, less than five litres/100km (test conditions).
Even the C180 (which also fibs a bit – its displacement is only 1595cc) packs 115kW at 5300rpm and 250Nm from 1200-4000rpm, takes 8.4sec to 100km/h and can reach 223km/h. Claimed (test) fuel consumption is listed as 5.4/100.
OLD QUESTION: WANT OR NEED?
A few other small fibs: while the cars’ pricing (below) is accurate and indeed the same as those listed when the C-Class Estate’s arrival was announced, choices from the “options” list can rapidly increase those figures by as much as 50%: take the mid-range C200…
You may or may not want:
Driving Assistance PLUS, power/memory front seats, lumbar support, stowage package, rear sunblinds, sunroof R16 900), 7G-Tronic Plus auto transmission (R18 000) or a head-up display (R15 000), sport suspension, media interface, satnav (R23 000), auto headlights (R20 000), keyless start, front-seats heating, keyless go, Air-Balance package (makes cabin smell nice), parking sensors, mirrors package and AMG exterior bits package…
but if you do you’ll need and extra R230 150 on top of the R447 600 basic price. Plus the relevant emissions tax.
C180 Estate - R447 600
C200 Estate - R468 300
C250 BlueTEC Estate - R558 400
(including 14% VAT excluding CO2 emissions tax.)
All Mercedes-Benz cars are delivered with a six-year or 100 000km PremiumDrive maintenance plan with no customer contribution.
It’s clever marketing and in the past has been used by some automakers to maintain prices (not necessarily a reflection on Mercedes); make aircon an option, save R5000 on the base price next time around.
Merc also points out that the touchpad (see gallery images) in the new Estate is “an evolutionary step”. As on a smartphone, all the head unit functions can be operated using finger gestures. The 65x45mm control surface of the pad is built into the handrest on the floor-mounted central control panel and bordered by a high-quality metal support – a design feature with a high-tech feel.
The (optional) head-up display projects information directly onto the windscreen in the driver's field of vision: is less distraction from the road. It shows vehicle speed, posted speed limits, satnav instructions and messages.
The driver can determine the driving experience through several pre-configured (though they can be modified to some extent). The choices "Comfort", "Eco", "Sport" and "Sport+".
Standard is a collision avoidance system that monitors speed and distance to traffic ahead and will, in extremis, brake from as fast as 200km. At up to 50km/h the system will brake behind stationary vehicles.
Bluetooth phone connection is standard and internet connection possible through the free-standing information screen via a cellphone connection.
There are also further collision avoidance systems in that ‘Sears catalogue’.
...AND NOW, THE TYRES
Finally, Mercedes SA is going into the tyre business... there have been many instances reported in recent years of upmarket car-buyers being unable to find the correct – particularly run-flat – replacement tyres for their cars.
What with potholes and all.
Govender said Mercedes dealers would gradually be equipped with a full range of tyres and service bays to fit them at Mercedes owners’ convenience.
Now that’s a better idea than automatic perfuming of the cabin.
For more information about the Eastate visit mercedes-benz sa.
Click here for full specifications of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate