The updates bestowed on the latest-generation C-Class sent Mercedes’ compact executive challenger back to the sharp end of the class in style. We were so convinced we named it our Compact Executive Car of the Year at the 2018 Auto Express New Car Awards.
The C-Class’s 2018 update didn’t bring significant styling changes, but changes both under the skin and in the cabin, including the adoption of some new engines and some welcome new technology, make this an executive car worthy of any buyer’s time.
Mild-hybrid technology impresses in the C 200, but the 1.5-litre engine it utilises could be a bit quieter. Similarly, the 2.0-litre diesel in the C 220 D is a welcome improvement over the coarse old 2.1-litre unit.
The Mercedes C-Class is a strong all-round package and particularly if your priorities are comfort, equipment and running costs, the latest version won’t disappoint.
The compact executive sector is the name given to the car market arena in which the Mercedes C-Class does battle. It’s one of the toughest contests out there, with premium marques doing battle with posh Fords Peugeots, Mazdas and Vauxhalls, primarily for the attention of fleet managers and company car users.
The fierce competition pays dividends for company car drivers. The Mercedes C-Class is just one of a clutch of luxurious, refined and fun-to-drive machines that include the Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Infiniti Q50, Jaguar XE, Lexus IS and the Volvo S60. Throw in the top-spec versions of large family cars like the Ford Mondeo, VW Passat and Skoda Superb, plus a plethora of stylish crossovers and SUVs, and it’s easy to see how ‘competition improves the breed’.
The C-Class was the junior Mercedes in 1993 when it first arrived, but the A-Class followed soon after as the German brand pushed deeper into the mainstream and an expanding A-Class range has pushed the C-Class further upmarket. The C-Class for sale today is the newly facelifted fourth generation model, and as well as the regular saloon you can buy a C-Class Coupe, a C-Class Cabriolet and a C-Class Estate.
There are also a couple of C-Class AMG performance variants, the C43 and C63 – the latter offering the sort of brute force you’d expect from a supercar. The Mercedes C-Class price list starts at a just over £29k for the C180 S in manual guise. Other trim levels include SE, Sport Edition and AMG Line.
The C-Class for looks largely the same as it did before its 2018 update – some new headlights and very minor alterations to the bumpers are all you’ll spot if you strain your eye, but under the skin you’ll find new and updated engines, new gearboxes and new tech.
Equipment on the SE spec is hardly sparse, as you get 17-inch alloys, leather and gloss black trim, air conditioning, heated seats, a reversing camera, a 10.25-inch infotainment unit with navigation and Dynamic Select driving modes. A glut of driver assist systems are included too, such as cruise control and parking assistance. As a result, SE is the trim level we’d recommend.
The C-Class Sport Edition only adds a few cosmetic tweaks. It gets 18-inch alloy wheels, Agility Control comfort suspension lowered by 15mm, LED headlights, gearshift paddles, a new steering wheel and ARTICO leather sports seats as standard – all this on top of the SE’s technology and equipment count.
It’s a similar story with the AMG Line model. 18-inch alloy wheels are added alongside an AMG bodykit, AMG Sports seats and further sporty looking tweaks in the cabin. This car also gets lowered Agility Control sport suspension, brakes and steering, and a 12.3-inch digital instrument display, but the basic level of equipment otherwise remains the same as on the SE.
Other trim options include AMG Night Line Edition Premium, which comes with 19-inch alloys and gloss black exterior highlights, along with Mercedes’ Memory Package adjustable driver’s seat, ambient lighting and a 225W Midline sound system. AMG Night Line Edition Premium Plus then adds 360-degree surround-view camera system and a 13-speaker Burmester sound system.
For now, engine choice consists of three diesels and three petrols, plus two AMG performance models. The basic petrol option is the 154bhp C 180, which uses a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit and is available in S and SE trims with a manual gearbox only in the former, or the choice of manual or nine-speed automatic with the latter.
The C 200 model gets an all-new engine boasting 48v mild hybrid tech, enabling lift-off and coast. It’s a 1.5-litre unit with an EQ Boost branded belt starter generator, with total system power rated at 181bhp. This engine is available with SE, Sport Edition and AMG Line Edition, and is mated to the nine-speed auto box as standard.
Elsewhere buyers can opt for a bit of extra performance with the C 300 petrol. It’s a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder developing 254bhp, but it’s only available as an AMG Line Edition or AMG Line Night Edition Premium car.
A more recent addition to the powertrain line-up is the C 300 e plug-in hybrid, which combines a 208bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine with a 120bhp electric motor, and is available with Sport, AMG Line, AMG Line Premium and AMG Line Premium Plus trims.
Diesels start with the manual only C 200d, but the real volume seller will be the updated C 220d. The old 2.1-litre unit is gone and has been replaced by a fresher 2.0-litre, which you’ll find fitted in the larger E-Class. Power is rated at 191bhp, an automatic gearbox is standard, and 4MATIC all-wheel-drive is on the options list. A more powerful version of this engine is the C 300d model, rated at 242bhp.
A further diesel option is the unusual C 300 de plug-in hybrid. Again this pairs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, in this case a trend-bucking diesel, making 191bhp, with a 122bhp electric motor.
The plug-in hybrid powertrains claim economy figures of up to 188mpg and emissions ratings of around 40g/km of CO2.
At the top of the range sit the awesome AMG models. The half-fat AMG C 43 now has more power than before, with a 385bhp 3.0-litre bi-turbo V6 and 4MATIC all-wheel-drive. It’s seriously quick but can’t match the rear-wheel drive, 4.0-litre V8 biturbo C 63, which can also be had as a 503bhp S model.
This C-Class was the first car to be built using Mercedes’ new rear-wheel drive architecture (called MRA). This employs around 50 per cent aluminium in its construction – up from 10 per cent before – and cuts 70kg from the body. Other weight savings mean the C-Class weighs around 100kg less than its predecessor, which helps improve the driving experience and efficiency.
The standard suspension offers a comfortable ride if you stick to 17-inch wheels. The £895 Airmatic Dynamic Handling package adds air suspension. It brings another dimension to the way the car rides, easing off some of the harsher low speed bumps you’d otherwise feel strongly in the cabin. It’s only available as an option on Sport and AMG Line models, however, not on the basic, and otherwise well equipped, SE.
The car’s steering is pleasingly direct and well weighted, giving the C-Class a sense of agility at the front, though like many modern electric power steering systems it lacks on road feel. Selecting Sport+ mode sharpens the throttle, adds weight to the steering and stiffens the dampers, but the Mercedes’ front tyres start to lose grip more easily than we’d like. Plus, the firmer Airmatic suspension setting this triggers causes the car to feel skittish over mid-corner bumps. On a good surface, this is a composed car to drive though, and it’s a very well attuned motorway cruiser too.
First up of the two performance models is the half-fat four-wheel-drive V6-powered C 43. It can’t match the firepower of its more potent C 63 sibling, but it’s not short on grunt, very comfortable and stable at pace, and the six-cylinder engine sounds charismatic enough. It’s easier to drive, too, thanks to its superior traction. As a point-to-point machine it’s highly competent and superbly polished, if a little undramatic.
The C 63 S is the true drivers’ car. AMG has worked hard on the suspension and steering, to deliver the sort of composure and engagement that drivers of the standard C-Class can only dream of. For the ultimate AMG C-Class experience though, drivers should head towards the Coupe models as they have their own bespoke rear axle and suspension settings. We’d probably recommend stumping up for the flagship 503bhp C 63 S over the cheaper 469bhp car, which occupies a strange middle ground between the truly boisterous C 63 S V8 model and the more user-friendly C 43.
The Mercedes C-Class’s entry-level slot is occupied by the 154bhp 1.6-litre turbo C 180 petrol – a model re-introduced to the UK with this facelift to pick up declining diesel sales. It’s available in S and SE trim levels with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, with the option of a nine-speed automatic in SE trim only.
Petrol buyers may want to look to the C 200 model though, which uses an all-new, turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder 48-volt mild hybrid setup. There’s 181bhp on tap plus engine shut-down and coast capabilities. 181bhp is more than enough to hustle the C-Class along at a respectable rate, with 0-62mph completed in 7.7 seconds. The 48-volt engine cut-out works seamlessly for fuel-free and almost undetectable coasting on motorways, keeping the model’s CO2 figure down to as little as 136g/km.
A smooth nine-speed automatic gearbox is standard fit, and our only real gripe with the C200 is that it could be a bit more refined – accelerating through the gears to get up to motorway speed is a little noisy. A 4MATIC all-wheel-drive version is also available.
Before you hit the six-and eight-cylinder AMG models the four-cylinder petrol line-up tops out at the C 300, offered in AMG Line Edition or AMG Line Night Edition Premium trim. With 254bhp and 370Nm torque available from a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, 0-62mph comes up in a very respectable 5.9 seconds, and it’s done with little fuss and a great deal of refinement. It feels like a wonderful package but will be a rare sight on roads compared to the more frugal and cheaper C 200 model, which is our pick of the four-cylinder petrols.
The entry-level C 200 d has been dropped, making the C 220 d the base diesel model in the C-Class line-up. Power comes in at 191bhp with 400Nm of torque available from as low as 1,600Nm. It’s an engine we’ve long waited for in the C-Class – the old 2.1-litre unit used in the C 220 d was far from perfect and very gruff. While the new 2.0-litre isn’t as refined as it is in the larger E-Class, it’s a big improvement and will probably be the best selling engine.
The C 220 d is equipped with a nine-speed automatic gearbox as standard and is available across all three trim levels. A 4MATIC all-wheel-drive version is offered in AMG Line trim only.
At the top end of the diesel line-up, the C 300 d is a more potent version of the 2.0-litre C 220 d, featuring 242bhp and an impressive 500Nm of torque. Much like the C 300 petrol it’s an extremely convincing proposition behind the wheel, but makes less sense when it comes to buying price and running costs – the 4MATIC version pops in at over £40,000 on the road, for example.
Two plug-in hybrid powertrains are also offered; a petrol-driven version called the C 300 e and a diesel model called the C 300 de. We’ve only driven the latter so far, and we’re happy to report that it’s perfectly civilised. It blends Mercedes’s latest 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel with an electric motor, producing a combined output of 302bhp and 700Nm of torque.
This makes the C 300 de good for a 0-62mph sprint of 5.7 seconds and a top speed of 155mph. Even more impressively, it will travel at speeds in excess of 80mph on electric power only and, if driven more economically, will cover more than 35 miles without using the combustion engine at all.
Completing the range are the two AMG-tuned cars. The lesser C 43 features a 385bhp bi-turbo V6 mated to Merc’s excellent nine-speed gearbox and four-wheel drive. The saloon will race to 62mph in 4.7 seconds, while the Estate is one tenth slower over the benchmark sprint.
The range-topping Mercedes-AMG C 63 is a beast of a car, powered by a mighty twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8. It’s available in ‘standard’ 469bhp trim and wild 503bhp S guise. The latter will sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.0 seconds as a saloon (4.1 seconds for the 63 estate, 4.0 for the 63 Coupe and 3.9 for the 63 S Coupe) and can be specified with a raised speed limit of 180mph; decide not to opt for this and both cars are electronically limited to 155mph.
The latest mpg figures supplied for the Mercedes C-Class facelift have been achieved under the new, tougher Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) rules, but have been converted to be representative of the kind of figures Mercedes estimates the C-Class would claim under outgoing, less stringent New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) rules.
Unsurprisingly, the most economical petrol offering on paper is the C 180 equipped with a manual gearbox. Mercedes claims 43.5mpg on a combined run, with CO2 emissions ranging from 134g/km to 138g/km depending on wheel size and the choice of manual or automatic gearbox.
Comparing the automatic C 180 and the C 200 – equipped with an automatic gearbox by default – it becomes clear that the 48v mild hybrid system on the more potent model does deliver some fuel economy gains. Merc claims 42.8mpg for an automatic C 180, compared to 44.1mpg for the C 200. However, it’s nothing too ground-breaking compared to equivalent rivals such as the outgoing BMW 3 Series. For instance, an automatic 320i will deliver 47.1mpg under the same WLTP to NEDC conversion. As for company car tax, the C 200 boasts a BIK rate of 32per cent for the 2020/21 tax year.
The C 300 doesn’t take too hard an economy hit, delivering 40.42mpg. However, exhaust emissions are high at up to 136g/km depending on which wheel size you choose, sending the BIK rate into the thirties.
The C 220 d diesel gets a combined figure of 55.4mpg with 114g/km in its cleanest spec. A best combined figure of 49.6mpg is quoted for the C 300 d, with emissions of 135g/km.
There’s little between the AMG models from a running costs perspective – Mercedes claims 28.8mpg for the six-cylinder C 43 saloon and 25.5mpg for the eight-cylinder 63 badged models, with 208g/km and 227g/km CO2 emissions respectively.
The most economical models by far are the two plug-in hybrids. The diesel-hybrid C 300 de claims to have economy figures of 188mpg and emissions ratings of 38g/km of CO2, while the C 300 e returns a claimed best of 176.6mpg combined along with 37g/km of CO2.
All powertrains take a slight economy and emissions knock if you opt for the estate body, given the extra weight of the more practical rear end. The coupe’s figures are remarkably close to those quoted for the saloon. Like the estate, the heavier cabriolet model is not quite as frugal or clean.
Entry-level models such as the C 180 and C 200 equipped with manual gearboxes occupy groups in the low 20s depending on your final specification, with the volume sellers – the C 220 d diesel and C 200 petrol – hovering around the group 30 mark.
Our latest data suggests that the C-Class is no longer quite the value holder it once was, with the true volume sellers – the C 220 d and C 200 saloons – likely to hold on to between 36-42 per cent of their value over three years and 10,000 miles, depending on what specification you opt for.
Generally, the three other bodystyles the C-Class is offered in fare better, with coupe and cabriolet variants expected to hold on to their value the best. For example, a C 200 AMG Line Coupe is predicted to retain 50 per cent of its value over three years.
Looks count for a lot in the executive car park and the Mercedes hits the spot. Taking its inspiration from the brand’s flagship S-Class limousine, the C-Class’ neatly styled lines, sculpted sides and swept-back headlamps provide plenty of appeal. Mercedes offers the C-Class with the ‘classic’ Merc grille in some territories, but in the UK we only get the sportier option, featuring a large Mercedes badge in the centre of the grille rather than a bonnet ornament up top.
SE and Sport trim cars get 17-inch wheels, chrome treatment and LED lights, while AMG Line models have an even sportier cabin, 18-inch wheels and body styling to look like the most potent versions of the C-Class.
The flagship C 43 and C 63 cars are the most potent and a bit more distinctive as a result. They’re marked out by deeper front bumpers with aerodynamic lips, subtly flared front wheelarches, quad exhausts and a bonnet that features a pair of ‘power’ bulges. The C 43 and standard C 63 get 18-inch alloys, while the C 63 S has larger 19-inch front wheels, with a 20-inch pair attached to the rear axle.
The C-Class’ upmarket feel is emphasised inside where the luxurious cabin sets high standards. Again it’s influenced by the S-Class, so you get high-quality materials and a beautifully designed dash with eyeball air vents and wood or metalwork finishing depending on your chosen specification.
The tactile metal finish of the air conditioning controls, power seat adjusters and the rotary Comand system controller are further highlights, while the leather multifunction wheel is lovely to hold. In the AMG Line models, this is a flat-bottomed affair.
Changes in the cabin are limited with the facelift, the only real tweaks being the adoption of the new multifunction steering wheel from the S-Class, the new infotainment display and the availability of digital dials for the first time.
Standard equipment is generous, too. All versions get cruise control, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and Mercedes’ trademark Artico man-made leather, while Sport and AMG Line cars add desirable extras such as heated seats, sat-nav and LED headlamps. The C 63 is given a low key makeover with bespoke AMG instruments, a pair of high-backed sports seats and its own flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The infotainment system in the pre-facelift car couldn’t match BMW and Audi’s latest efforts with low-resolution graphics, clunky menus and poor navigation. However, the new system equipped on the updated C-Class is now easily right at the top end of the market.
All cars get a 10.25-inch central display as standard, and it’s a huge improvement with much clearer graphics and far more intuitive menus, operated through the COMAND rotary dial.
The optional 12.3-inch digital dials are worth considering too, placing key information and directions right in the driver’s line of sight and operated through the touch sensitive pads on the new steering wheel. It’s on option on all cars except the C 63 though.
Available in four body styles, the saloon remains the biggest seller and represents the lion’s share of Mercedes C-Class sales, noticeably outstripping estate, coupe and cabriolet.
Up front, there’s lots of space in the comfortable seats, with plenty of head- and legroom. The driving position is better aligned now, too, and visibility is good.
There’s plenty of space in the doors and dash to store the usual on-board clutter, including a large glovebox, door bins and a lidded cubby between the front seats. The rear armrest also incorporates two cup-holders. With all models including a media interface for connecting your smartphone to the car.
It doesn’t take long with a tape measure to realise that Mercedes used the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 as benchmarks when designing the C-Class. All three cars provide similar amounts of head- and legroom for rear-seat passengers, plus they have identical 480-litre boot capacities in saloon guise.
Against the tape measure, the C-Class saloon measures up at 4,686mm long, 1,442mm tall and 1,810mm wide, with the total span of the car with mirrors folded out being 2,020mm. AMG models are slightly longer, less tall and a little wider given their lower suspension setups and more imposing, sporty bodywork.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Space in the front seats is generous and there’s more than a meter of headroom in either saloon or estate, with 1,039mm in the four-door and 1,046mm in the wagon.
The estate’s higher roofline does help with rear headroom, raising it to 974mm compared to 942mm in the saloon. But legroom in the back is a healthy 686mm in both cars and – coupled with the Mercedes’ large rear doors – this makes access to the back row of seats easy. All C-Class models have Isofix seat points in the rear. The Coupe naturally has less room in the rear but is spacious enough for adults on short journeys.
The size of the boot in the back of the saloon varies depending on which powertrain you opt for. For instance, you’ll get 455 litres in all diesels with all seats in place.
Most petrol powered cars also feature a 455-litre boot, though the C 200 dips to 435 litres owing to the 48-volt mild hybrid system, and the C 63 model records the same deficit in space. And, even though the boot floor is flat, there’s no under-floor storage. Overall, it’s good enough to live with but there are more practical compact executive options out there.
Mercedes finished in a disappointing 26th place (out of 30) in the Auto Express Driver Power 2019 customer satisfaction survey, with the C-Class itself only managing to place 74th out of 75 cars in the individual model rankings.
As you’d expect from a new Mercedes, the C-Class is loaded with standard safety and assistance equipment. Seven airbags are standard, and the entry level SE includes assistance tech including cruise control, rain sensing windscreen wipers, parking assist, automatic emergency braking at speeds of less than 65mph, and Merc’s Pre-Safe collision protection system, which prepares the car for maximum protection if it detects an accident is imminent. A reversing camera is also standard fit on every car, as is tyre pressure monitoring and a driver attention warning system.
Buyers can add hi-tech options like the £1,695 Driving Assistance Pack, which brings blind-spot warning, lane departure, change and keeping assist and adaptive cruise control with route based speed adaption and Pre-Safe Plus, which enhances safety when the threat of a rear-end collision arises. Other options include an £825 head-up display.
The current model hasn’t been crash tested by Euro NCAP, but the previous version of the C-Class was awarded the full five stars, scoring 91 per cent for adult occupant safety and 84 per cent for child safety.
All Mercedes C-Class models come with a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty that can be extended for a variable fee depending on individual circumstances. BMW and Audi both have similar set-ups but do have mileage limits that come into effect in years three, four and five on their vehicles.
The C-Class works on the condition-based servicing system Mercedes has had in place on almost all of its cars since the late 1990s. It’s therefore dependent on driving style how often your Mercedes is in the dealership.
Regular short, city-based journeys will put more of a strain on components and consumables than long motorway commutes at steady cruising speed – inevitably where most C-Class buyers will put miles on their cars.
For either a one-off fee, or paying monthly amounts from as little as £1 (up to £40 for the AMG C 63), Mercedes-Benz Service Care guarantees owners the price of parts and labour for up to four years to protect against inflation. Service Care covers the cost of all recommended service items, including fluids, filters and spark plugs.