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We drive facelifted baby Merc

2011-07-15 07:37

BRIGHT STAR: C-Class facelift’s new signature lighting package traces a LED-illumination “C”, visible to the inside of the light cluster. Image gallery

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Mercedes-Benz
Model C-Class
Engine 1.8 turbo, 2.2l CDI, 3l V6, 3.5l V6
Power 115kW @ 5 000-, 135kW @ 5 250-, 150kW @ 5 500-, 100kW @ 2 800-, 250kW @ 4 200-, 165kW @ 3 800-, 225kW @ 6 500rpm
Torque 250-, 270-, 360-, 310-, 500-, 510-, 370Nm
Transmission Six-speed manual, 7G-Tronic
Zero To Hundred 9-, 8.2-, 7.2-, 9.2-, 7-, 6.4-, 6 sec
Top Speed 225-, 237-, 240-, 218-, 240-, 250-, 250km/h
Fuel Tank 66-litres
Airbags Dual front and side, rear curtain,

Lance Branquinho

In the year of its 125th anniversary, Mercedes-Benz, the original automobile company, is in great shape.

Five years after Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, Daimler, managed to disengage from its disastrous merger with Chrysler, the iconic German automotive brand is racing in F1 and releasing a stupefying array of new models.

It boasts (by far) the most comprehensive range of vehicles of any of the three German premium brands (the others being Audi and BMW) and its C-Class sedan remains South Africa’s best-selling executive car.

The C-Class, of course, has always been a rather special car for South Africans, being built in East London in what was once the only Mercedes plant outside Germany and constituting one of the most successful automobile export ventures the local auto industry’s managed to execute.

It’s popular, too.

More than 8.5-millions have been sold worldwide (175 000 in South Africa). Plainly, the C-Class is Mercedes’ best-selling product. It’s also always been considered the "true" buy-in point to the premium values associated with the three-pointed star. A and B-Class may be a cute case of clever marketing but the C is where true Mercedes-Benz ownership starts.

Suffice to say, then, that the launch of a C-Class is always diarised as a rather notable event in the motoring calendar. For 2011, luxury car buyers now have option on the new W204 C-Class.

"Hang on," you’re probably muttering to yourself, "there’s been a W204 C-Class on sale since 2007." Well, of course, you’re right.

Mercedes-Benz say this "new" W204 has more than 2000 new components so qualifies as a new model, not just a facelift, but, in truth it rides on the same W204 platform as before. The true fourth-generation C-Class is only coming to market by 2014.

That settled, what does the W204 facelift offer? Well, essentially, there’s a new bumper, lots of neat LED illumination finishes, remoulded cabin trim (especially the fascia) and improved direct-injections engines.

BABY MERCS: Despite this Mercedes-Benz heritage image, most consider the 190E to not be the true original C-Class. That title goes to the W202, top-middle…


Despite its designation as the baby Merc (when classifying the brand’s four-door sedans),the  C-Class has always managed to be uniquely stylish. Whereas the E-Class has suffered some rather "interesting" styling evolutions over the past decade-and-a-half (especially its bug-eyed dual-headlight design ushered in by the W210) since its launch in 1994, the range has always remained an elegant but compact executive four-door.

To my mind, Merc’s smallest sedan has very much always been a miniaturised S-Class in terms of styling detail and proportions. Think I'm joking? Well, trace the facelift’s front styling upgrades. There are those new V-shaped lower air-intakes. The new bumper, shaped into a more three-dimensional form, and the rear lights, fully LED-embedded but still triangular – much like the S-Class.

All things considered, the styling upgrades work well, although purists will probably find the elongated, wraparound headlight clusters and the collection of letter-C-clustered LED illumination arrangements (in the external mirrors' repeaters, rear indicators and front light clusters) a touch short on class.

As usual, all new C-Class models (seven of them) are available in either classic Elegance trim (if you prefer the three-pointed star badge atop the bonnet, for teenagers to vandalise, and a four-spoked steerin-wheel) or Avantgarde (with the three-pointed star roundel neatly placed in the middle of the grille and a three-spoked wheel).
Elegance, with its more traditional grille and multi-spoked alloy rims (as well as the comfort suspension package) is aimed at Mercedes customers of greater seniority, while the more contemporary Avantgarde finish is styled to appeal to younger buyers.

All C-Class models have 18" alloy rims; only the three lowest grades (C180, C200 and C200CDI) have a full-sized spare wheel. A rather peculiar specification, considering many owners are sure to travel vast distances where a flat could be hugely inconvenient – especially in isolated rural areas.

If you can’t wait until the C63 derivative is imported from AMG’s Affalterbach plant in October, you can always option the third trim finish, Mercede’ rather popular AMG sport package that has some rather striking 18" alloy rims, a thick-rimmed steering wheel (with thumb points and paddle shifters) and sports seats for between R25 700 and R28 200.


Beyond the newfangled exterior styling bits, the most tangible C-Class improvements are to be found at the wheel, whose  designs and reshaped fascia combine to invigorate the driver’s C-Class interface.

The most profound cabin upgrade, though, is improved digitisation and infotainment, including internet accessibility thanks to an improved Command APS navigation and infotainment system (R22 600). Called Comand-on-line, it needs a smartphone and displays online navigation and functionality on a new and larger 14.8cm colour screen.

Now it all sounds awfully promisin, but considering the system self-cancels your browsing experience as soon as the C-Class gets moving and there's no override option for a passenger to browse on the single central display, it really is a bit pointless? Who, realistically, is going to want to browse only while  stationary? Adding to the system’s functional misery is the (extremely) laborious task of having to use a rotary switch to select letters to type on-line search or navigation destinations (there’s a touch pad but it’s still of the old three-letters-to-a-numeral telephone configuration) instead of a seamless digitised QWERTY keypad system.

Manufacturers would be better served realising that smartphones have developed to a level where they beat most vehicle satnav and browsing technologies for ease of use. As such, Mercedes (but not only Merc) should rather spend technological resources on providing owners with a simple smartphone and tablet docking-station with motion override for passengers to benefit.

Standard cabin equipment across the range includes Merc's new Audio 20 infotainment system, featuring a six-disc CD shuttle and USB port, auto aircon and leather. Specify the R9200 lane-tracking package and your C-Class will gain blind spot and lane-keeping assistance – quite a boon on South Africa’s chaotic urban highways.

Cabin safety equipment is (quite) comprehensive (two front side and all-round curtain airbags). It would be nice, though, if rear side-bags (beyond the standard curtain variety) were standard – not a R4300 option...

STEERING A NEW COURSE: New three-spoked Avantgarde wheel looks good. C-Class dynamics rarely disappoint either, neatly balanced by the range of very efficient direct-injection engines…


Tthe facelifted C-Class range has a choice of seven engines. The fuelling split is four-to-three, favouring petrol – with the latter all having direct injection (therefore qualifying for a BlueEfficiency badge) and averaging a claimed 29% improvement in fuel economy for the headline V6.

The range buy-in point is at R359 000, for the C180, powered by Merc’s 1.8 turbo, producing 115kW/250Nm. It will get you from 0-100km in less than 10 seconds and return 7.3 litres/100km (if you drive nicely) on the combined cycle.

Next is the C200 (R379 000), which shares its engine configuration with the C180 but produces 135kW/270Nm, trimming the 0-100km/h sprint to 8.2 seconds, with fuel consumption averaging a claimed 7.2 litres/100km. These are the only C-Class derivatives with a six-speed manual transmission, if you want the seven-speed auto that's R15 000 more.

For an additional R1000 you can trade up from C200 to the first diesel in the revised (facelifted) C-Class range, Merc’s C200 CDI. Powered by a 2.2-litre engine, good for 100kW/350Nm, what it lacks in output (compared to BMW’s 320d), it makes up for in terms of fuel efficiency. Paired with an improved version of Mercedess' 7G-Tronic auto transmission (featuring a torque converter with lower mechanical drag properties), the C200 CDI is claimed to consume only 5.3 litres/100km on the combined cycle – making it the most frugal C-Class.

Beyond the psychological R400 000 purchasing threshold, the next available engine is the last forced-induction petrol, a high-output version of the 1.8-litre four-cylinder, sporting the C250 badge – retailing for R469 000. Producing 150kW/310Nm, it strikes a statically outstanding balance between performance and economy, registering a rather swift 0-100km/h sprint time of only 7.2 seconds and a claimed 6.9 litrs/100km.

Similar to the 200-monikered models, adding R1000 gains one the CDI affix, which changes the 250’s engine configuration to a 2.2-litre diesel, keeping power on par with its petrol sibling, but boosting torque by a substantial 190 units to 500Nm. Unsurprisingly, considering its peak torque figure, Merc’s C250 CDI is quicker than its petrol sibling from 0-100km/h (7 seconds, dead), whilst promising outstanding economy too, with average diesel consumption of only 5.3l/100km.

Headlining the C-Class range is a twin-act of C350 badged V6s. Each priced at R520 000, the C350 (powered by a new 3.5-litre V6) and its CDI eponym (featuring a half-litre smaller capacity V6 turbodiesel) produce a string of impressive numbers. Incidentally, the only engine to be dropped is Merc’s three-litre petrol V6.

The new C350 makes 25kW/20Nm more than its 3.5-litre V6 predecessor, registering 225kW/370Nm, while its turbodiesel twin is good for 165kW/510Nm.

With the petrol V6 cutting a (very) impressive claimed 0-100km/h time of six seconds (6.4 for the diesel) and averaging 7.6 litre/100km (the diesel brings that down to 7.2/100km), the desire for V6 C-Class power is not incommensurate with proper cruising, thanks to the combined efficiency of (slightly) improved aerodynamics and the torque-converter adjustments visited upon the 7G-Tronic transmission.

Curiously, of all seven engine, only the C220 CDI and C250 CDI are equipped with Merc's Eco stop/start...

ANY LABRADOR’S DREAM: The additional third pane of side glass adds luggage space and R9000 to the price but the C-Class estate remains one of the most elegant around. …


So, the C-Class now looks (even) more elegant and has a range of sophisticated direct-injection engines (most are, admittedly, carryovers), yet as a driving machine have those 2000-plus component changes really combined to make a perceptible difference?

Our ride-and-drive route ran from East London to Stutterheim and – unfortunately - was greatly marred by a preponderance of potholes caused by recent flooding around Buffalo City. Although on pape, the 500Nm C250 CDI would appear to be the pick of the range, I only sampled the two higher-grade petrol models: C250 and C350, the latter with the AMG package.

All the characteristic C-Class tributes of excellence were reinforced during our pothole-dodging drive with the new direct-injection engines (and slightly quicker seven-speed auto transmission) adding impetus to the car’s dynamics.

Most impressive, probably due to its AMG-package sports seats and steering wheel (enhancing the car’s intimate tactile appeal from the driver’s perspective), was the C350. Its additional 25kW may not sound like a huge improvement over the 200kW V6 t replaces, but the surge of power at full throttle, dutifully converted to overtaking acceleration by the 7G-Tronic transmission, makes it an authentic junior ‘AMG’.

At high-speeds, even the most unsettling Eastern Cape mid-corner bumps are effortlessly absorbed by the C-Class’s suspension which, like most modern executive cars, manages to provide an excellent median compromise between ride comfort and confident handling.

True, it’s configured to understeer at the limit (in mitigation, so is BMW’s 3 Series), but the steering is not entirely without feel at speed. Placing the C-Class confidently at high velocities (whether edging the wheel a few degrees over to enter a sweeping corner or executing a high-speed lane-change overtaking manoeuvre) is never an issue.

Beyond its pleasing dynamics (especially the C350’s relentless pace) the C-Class remains a very cosseting environment in which to cover great distances; it remains quiet (even at high three-figure speeds), the cabin architecture is soothing and ride settled.

So, it may not be an all-new car, but the W204 model range refresh is one rather triumphant facelift – one sure to guarantee C-Class remains South Africa’s best selling luxury car. It would be an even better deal is quality sound (the Harmon Kardon system is a R6300 option) and parking radar (R4700) were standard...


C180 BlueEFFICIENCY  R359 000
C200 BlueEFFICIENCY  R379 000
C200 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY R380 000
C250 BlueEFFICIENCY  R469 000
C250 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY  R470 000
C350 BlueEFFICIENCY R520 000
C350 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY R520 000

C-Class Estate

C180 T BlueEFFICIENCY  R368 000
C200 T BlueEFFICIENCY R388 100
C200 CDI T  BlueEFFICIENCY R389 300
C250 T BlueEFFICIENCY  R478 600
C250 T CDI BlueEFFICIENCY R479 600
C350 T BlueEFFICIENCY  R530 000

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