2022 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic C206
There’s much to like about the C-Class, but that doesn’t include the engines
‘Hey Mercedes. Please check whether there is someone home,’ I ask. ‘The last recorded movement was in the kitchen over an hour ago,’ the car replies. With a new C-Class in the right spec, and a home kitted out with suitable Bosch or Samsung appliances, you really can have a sensible conversation with your car about what’s going on in your house, thanks to a real-time over-the-air connection between the MBUX infotainment and your gizmo-packed home. Open the window blinds! Adjust the heating so the cat is comfortable!
But for all the amazing built-in and optional new technology, much of it lifted straight from the S-Class, the C-Class is in other ways the last of its kind. In contrast to the E- and S-Class, there is no zero-emissions version planned for this entry-level Benz saloon and estate – no rival to the BMW i4 and the Tesla Model 3.
From now on, it’s fours for everyone, despite the retention of some old badges strongly associated with six-cylinder engines. There are two 1.5-litre petrols and a 2.0-litre petrol, and a choice of 2.0-litre diesels. All get some mild-hybrid assistance.
The only transmission is a nine-speed automatic, but there’s a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive, and rear-wheel steering is available on some models.
The mild-hybrid module, which consists of an integrated starter-generator, 48-volt system and improved start-stop feature, gives all models a 20bhp/148lb ft boost. Capable of coasting in Eco and Comfort, the slicker and quicker nine-speed automatic is here mated to lighter, reduced-friction all-wheel-drive hardware that sends almost twice as much grunt as before to the front axle when traction threatens to expire.
The 300e, arriving soon, is a plug-in hybrid. And, as before, there will be hot AMG versions – but, not as before, they will be electrified four-cylinder cars.
We’ve driven several versions of the new C-Class, but the one that highlights most of the key changes – for better or worse – is the C300 4Matic. Its performance leaves little to be desired. The 0-62mph acceleration is a six-second affair and the top speed is the usual 155mph. While Mercedes quotes a favourable average fuel consumption of 40.3mpg, our silver arrow returned a more realistic 24.7mpg over a full day’s hard driving. Pity about the small tank, which holds a paltry 50 litres.
Although Mercedes claims the fancy twinscroll charger has practically eliminated turbo lag, the ho-hum throttle response is all too typical of a dynamic ambivalence that runs like a red thread through most departments. This vagueness is more obvious in some areas than in others, but on aggregate it can make the difference between exceptional and merely adequate, so be sure to get that final specification absolutely right.
Whatever the spec, and whatever combination of modes and preferences you opt for, the non-AMG C-Class is programmed for normal drivers, not for tarmac peelers. Attempt a reasonably brisk take-off when the lights turn green, and progress will be quite smooth and seamless. Do it Hamilton style, and the black box typically needs a moment to realise that this is a first-gear job, that maximum torque is the main mission of the moment, and that it’s being asked to provide a rapid sequence of shifts.
A similar initial hesitation cushions the in-gear acceleration, although it’s more eager in Sport and Sport Plus. Downshifts tell a similar story. When you’re wafting, the shifts flow nicely. Try to push the limits, though, and you’ll find the initial downshift response a tad reluctant. Avoid Eco mode unless you’re trying to save the planet by changing up at idle speed. Check out Sport instead, or even Sport Plus, which work to more inspiring algorithms.
While the steering ratio quickens from 2.35 to 2.1 turns from lock to lock in combination with rear-wheel steer, this difference shrinks to a marginal 2.3 in cars fitted with Comfort steering and AWD. You don’t really want that Comfort steering, though, because it feels a little light, a little too eager around the straight-ahead position and a little vague on lock. Dialling in Sport or Sport Plus stiffens the action, but it doesn’t change the inner workings.
The standard Agility Control suspension is best avoided. The optional Dynamic Body Control lets you select between three set-ups and lowers the ride height by 5mm. This is the better buy for sales reps who regularly encounter the full topographic spectrum. But DBC also adds a small dose of four-corner vagueness.
The most compelling solution by a clear margin is the Sport suspension fitted to the mule we drove earlier in the year. Featuring stiffer springs, tauter non-adjustable dampers, ground clearance reduced by 15mm and, most importantly, the sporty Direct Steer system, this – along with 19-inch wheels and tyres – is what brings the C300 to life.
The brakes on the outgoing C-Class were always fine, but the new-generation model seems to have taken a step backwards. One factor might be software that puts a stronger emphasis on energy regeneration. Pedal feedback is slow, pedal travel is too long and the result is not exactly confidence-enhancing.
On the autobahn, the C300 is very happy in the fast lane. On the winding roads through remote parts of the Black Forest, though, you become conscious that the electronic surveillance squad has everything under control irrespective of the number of driven wheels, and even with ESP off the available thrust rarely qualifies for the next level of playfulness. Even in the pouring rain, our test car’s 4Matic system doesn’t seem to make any significant difference to turn-in, traction and roadholding behaviour that’s so thoroughly supervised by the electronics. So why not save weight, fuel and cost and check out the rear-wheel- drive car, which feels a little more agile, light-footed and inspirational?
The brawny C300d is three-tenths quicker off the mark than the petrol-fed variant, and it uses almost 20 per cent less fuel. The PHEV offers an even more lively getaway from the line. Plug-in hybrids have their downsides, but engine and e-motor acting as a team can be simultaneously strong and smooth.
Choose the C-Class that’s right for you and you will be in a classy, relaxed car with decent performance. And whether or not you care that it can communicate with your fridge and smoke detector, the cabin is clever, comfortable and for the most part easy to use.
Expect the expected: a wisely specified new C-Class won’t disappoint. But the real EQC is still five years away
The brakes have taken a step backwards and are not exactly confidence-inspiring
No analogue dials, but digital options galore. Rear-wheel steering one tool in the armoury. Equipped to keep the cat comfortable. Bigger than the last one in every way except height, and roomier inside
PRICE £44,000 (est, 2022 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic C206)
POWERTRAIN 1999cc 16v turbocharged four-cylinder, nine-speed auto, all-wheel drive
MAX POWER 255bhp @ 5800rpm
MAX TORQUE 295lb ft @ 2000rpm
MAX SPEED 155mph
WEIGHT 1700kg (est)
ON SALE Summer
THE FIRST HOUR
1 minute Take the blindfold off. C-Class or E-Class? Wrong
10 minutes Still busy sorting the complex infotainment and the driver-assistance irritations
19 minutes This engine does not excel in terms of refinement
30 minutes Steering, brakes, chassis grow on you. Slowly
44 minutes The world’s best headlights?
59 minutes Classy and cool, but dynamically not quite as talented as it appears on paper
+ PLUS Best-in-class interior; a Mercedes through and through
— MINUS Lacks world-class engines; not as involving as a 3-series