It could be the most important car Mercedes-Benz has yet built. The new version of the C-Class – code-name W205 – has just been launched in South Africa and the German company is pouring millions of rands into its promotion across the country.It’s been, I was told, a race against time: the original change to the W205 was supposed to have happened only in July or August 2014 but had to be accelerated to meet world demand for the cars.IMAGE GALLERY: 2014 Mercedes-Benz C-ClassIMAGE GALLERY: 2014 Mercedes-Benz C-Class EstateMassive signage, a special two-month rental on a totally refurnished and redecorated Johannesburg office block complete with 3D-cinema, lecture theatre, lounges, coffee bar and sun terrace in Johannesburg, long-term use of the Red Star Raceway on Zonderfout Farm near Delmas in Mpumalanga for handling and performance demonstrations and huge expenditure on air fares and hotels for journalists, sales staff, preferred customers and foreign guests.All this promotes the C-Class slogan: ‘The best knows no alternative’ under the ‘C-Class World’ banner.BOOST FOR SA ECONOMYIt all adds up to an enormous investment – but is still just part of the bigger expenditure picture. The company’s plant on the Buffalo River estuary in East London in the Eastern Cape has been upgraded to become one of four global production units (the others are in Germany, China and the US) for the W205 C-Class and will be supplying EIGHTY countries around the globe with the cars.More big numbers: Mercedes-Benz SA is not permitted to quote production figures but I was told that 30% more complete cars will be coming off the South African production lines than was the case with the previous (W204) car and that production capacity is 50% higher than before.About 20% of the East London C-Class build will be for local distribution, the rest will be shipped worldwide – a huge boost for the South African economy as a whole and the small Eastern Cape town in particular.VARIOUS VERSIONSMBSA’s divisional product and marketing manager Selvin Govender said: “Model variants with larger engines will be introduced at a later stage but the C-Class is our biggest-selling model series - global sales of the preceding model (W204) launched in 2007 sold more than 2.4-million units.”Indeed, Govender describes the new C-Class as “the most important car we will ever launch”. As with most M-B products, the car will be available in Avantgarde, Exclusive and AMG versions, each equipped variously with a wide range of options that can easily add R150 000 to the base price of a given unit.Florian Seidler, vice-president of MB SA, said: “The C-Class is a best-seller that has always been a trendsetter in the mid-size luxury segment. This is also true for the new C-Class as it comes with qualities usually reserved for higher-class vehicles – environmentally responsible, technologically advanced and high levels of comfort and driving enjoyment.”Since the initial launch of the C-Class way back in 1982 – that was the C190 – more than 8.5-million units have been produced worldwide. The latest cars, however, are proportionately way lighter thanks to much greater use of aluminium and the ditching of a spare wheel (all cars have run-flat tyres, not to everybody’s taste, but still...) and their technology, in terms of performance, passenger safety, exhaust cleanliness and comfort, is as far apart as a coracle and a cruise liner.MODELS FOR NOWThe South African C-Class model range will initially comprise of the C180 from R415 900, C200 from R436 600, C220 BlueTec turbodiesel from R459 000 and C250 from R502 600 (including VAT and CO2 emission taxes). Claimed fuel-consumption figures are hugely (as much as 20%) less than the previous models. • The diesel 2.1-litre C220 model makes 125kW/400Nm and goes to 100km/h in 8.1sec. It has a claimed fuel combined consumption of four litres/100km and 113g/km CO2 emissions. • The C 180’s 1.6-litre engine makes 115kW/250Nm and reaches 100km/h in 8.2sec. Fuel consumption is listed as five litres/100km with a CO2 emission rating of 131g/km. • The two-litre C200 and C250 are capable of 135kW/300Nm and 155kW/350Nm respectively with 0-100 times of 7.5 and 6.6sec and have CO2 emissions of 127 and 139g/km respectively. There’s a new six-speed manual gearbox for the four-cylinder engine while the 7G-Tronic plus has been enhanced for the auto-equipped models. Depending on model, they will have five instantly switchable performance modes involving engine output, suspension control and gear-shifting.New driver assist systems include Distronic Plus with steering assist and stop/start function, brake assist and enhanced lane-keeping assist. The cars can also be equipped with self-parking, a 360° camera view and self-adapting high-beam headlights.Wheel sizes range from 17 through to 19” in varying spoke patterns with correspondingly larger tyres (see specification sheets. bottom of story).E-CLASS LOOKALIKE?Still to come (in 2015) is Big Daddy, the C-Class C63 AMG and – perhaps in two years – C-Class Coupes and Cabrio - in September 2014 the E-Class Estate. Other models still to arrive include 12-cylinder versions of the S-Class, the S-Class S500 and S63, S-Class Coupe and S500 while Mercedes SA is planning a corporate refit of the Swartkops Raceway outside Pretoria.And the next E-Class, I was told, will bear a resemblance to the rearward-cabin look of the new C-Class.But back to the C-Class...There are several obvious visual changes from the W204: the glasshouse (cabin) is set much further back, resulting in a longer bonnet and shorter boot; there’s a choice of two grilles - sporty with a central star or (reserved for the Exclusive line) the classic sedan radiator grille with the Mercedes-Benz star on the bonnet – and a choice of three headlight unit styles.The cars are also slightly longer (by 95mm) and wider (40mm) though, frankly, it’s easy to understand them being described as ‘family’ cars: the rear seat can seat three adults though a tall driver is going to need his/her seat fairly well back and that makes rear legroom rather restricted – check it out if you elect to have a test drive... (the family bit means youngsters will be fine back there).Despite the shorter tail, the boot, at 480 litres, is larger than that of the W204.FREE-STANDING DISPLAYThe interior design, MB SA says, has “a bold new approach”. There’s a whole new centre console with sporty flowing lines. In vehicles with an auto transmission a large one-piece centre console panel “performs an elegant sweep from the centre air vents to the armrest”. Units with the six-speed manual transmission have a centre console is slightly steeper to create space for shift lever operation. A centrally positioned and free-standing central display- rather like a large iPad - is the main eye-catching feature across the centre console. It has an 18cm (diagonally) screen (21.3cm if the Comand Online option is chosen).A new touch pad over the transmission tunnel between the front seats is described by M-B as “an evolutionary step”. It works like a smartphone and allows letters, numbers and special characters to be entered in handwriting - in any language supported by Audio 20 or Comand Online. The user receives clear tactile (haptic) feedback when operating the touchpad's control surface.A windscreen ‘head-up’ display is now a C-Class option, displaying satnav instructions and instructions from the car’s Distronic computer system as well as boring stuff such as ground speed. And talking speed, with a Cd value of 0.24, the C-Class is described as “setting a benchmark in the medium/luxury segment”.The car also claims to be the first in its class to have air suspension allowing the driver to switch through Normal, Comfort, Eco, Sport and Sport+ with the car sorting the choice off suspension and performance settings. Or the driver can do that, too.DATA SOURCESThe C-Class is also available with new driver assistance programs previously only seen on S and E-Class units: collision prevention and mitigation, lane-keeping, braking assistance and pedestrian collision avoidance.Internet and various data sources are available (when the car is stationary) from the base model up in conjunction with a smartphone.Find out more about the 2014 C-Class direct from Mercedes-Benz SA.Mercedes-Benz has raked in the accolade of 'top family car' in the 2014 What Car?/JD Power Survey.2014 Mercedes-Benz C-Class specificationsPRICESMercedes-Benz C 220 BlueTEC - R459 000 Mercedes-Benz C 180 - R415 900Mercedes-Benz C 200 - R436 600Mercedes-Benz C 250 - R502 600All Mercedes-Benz cars are sold with a six-year or 100 000km maintenance plan. The C220 is exempt from CO2 tax.