What is the Mercedes-Benz C-class?
The Mercedes C-class is a valid alternative to the more popular BMW 3-series and Audi A4 that carries some cachet. It is a comparatively inexpensive way into a Mercedes saloon and it’s a car that still carries some cachet despite the increasing numbers of ageing Benz minicabs in use.
There’s a good reason why the 3-series is more popular, however, and it’s simply that it tends to be the better car no matter which generation of Mercedes or BMW you’re looking at, although this C-class is closer than some versions have been to matching the BMW’s qualities. New prices started at just over £25,000 for the slightly raw-sounding C180, and rose to more than £56,000 for the mighty AMG 63 powerhouse, a rapid, vocal and memorably entertaining V8-engined muscle machine. But this version is quite rare, and most C-class buyers are drivers of company cars, who choose shrewdly with an eye on low emissions, the level of standard on-board equipment and long-distance cruising abilities.
Incidentally, this (W204) generation of C-class was replaced by a new model in early 2014, but that doesn’t diminish its worth in any great way.
Even though that minicab aura is faintly present in the subdued but persistent clatter of the 220 CDI diesel, it’s this engine that makes the most practical all-round choice. It’s also almost sportingly brisk, impressively economical and makes for a fine motorway cruiser. That’s what most buyers want, and in truth the four-cylinder’s background grumble is sufficiently subdued to overlook. And like many Mercedes cars, the C-Class feels relaxingly stable at speed. It’s also defter than you might expect on country back-roads, partly because there’s little body roll, and partly due to accurate, direct steering.
The flip-side is a ride that’s firmer than it ought to be in a car of this calibre, so if comfort is your priority you should choose the Executive SE rather than the Sport. BMW’s latest 3-series, incidentally, does a better job of balancing both of those qualities. It has also has a better gearchange, the springy action of the C-Class’s gearchange making the seven-speed automatic — which works very well — an option to seriously consider.
A dashboard that sits slightly lower than usual makes it easier to feel at home in the C-class, even if the pedals are offset and the foot-operated park brake is a nuisance in combination with manual transmission. The infotainment system is well sited but not the easiest to use, and the minor instruments are harder to read than they ought to be. Otherwise this is a straightforward and relaxing car to drive. The optional panoramic roof enhances the experience, but don’t order it if taller people are regular occupants, because it steals headroom. That apart, there’s plenty of space for four — a fifth occupant must battle the sizeable transmission tunnel — and the boot is one of the biggest in the class.
This Mercedes is pretty quiet too, a few diesel grumbles apart, and besides the startling absence of standard cruise control — cars costing half this money have it — equipment levels are fairly good overall. Beware of ticking too many option-pack boxes though, because you’ll quickly reach a towering all-up price. Despite the fact that the new BMW 3-series is the better car, the C-class has quite some appeal, particularly as a long-distance servant.
What to look out for when buying a used Mercedes C-class
C-class owners, on the whole, give their cars glowing reviews, and reliability has seen definite improvement in recent years. Servicing, however, can be quite expensive through the franchised dealer network.
Ten vehicle recalls have been issued since 2007, concerning possible power steering system and some fuel system leaks. Don’t mark it down too heavily for this, but do check that any car you’re thinking of buying has already had the necessary remedial work carried out by a franchised dealer.
The one to buy
Mercedes-Benz C 220 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY AMG Sport
- 2143cc, in-line four
- 168bhp @ 3000rpm
- 295 lb ft @ 1400rpm
- 6-speed manual (automatic available)
- 0-62mph in 8.4sec
- Top Speed:
- Road Tax Band:
- L 4591mm, W 1770mm, H 1447mm
Mercedes C-class rivals
- BMW 3 Series (Click here for used car prices on driving.co.uk)
- Jaguar XF Check (Click here for used car prices on driving.co.uk)
- Mercedes-Benz E-class (Click here for used car prices on driving.co.uk)