The latest Mercedes C-Class saloon has given buyers looking for a compact executive car much to think about. It offers a sharp new look, heavily inspired by its bigger E-Class sibling, outstanding levels of comfort and strong on-board technology. All this, plus the C-Class features interior quality that puts much more expensive models to shame.
If you factor in the improved efficiency of the mild-hybrid petrol and diesel versions, along with the introduction of new plug-in hybrid models, the C-Class makes a compelling case for itself and should be one to consider.
About the Mercedes C-Class
Over recent years, the popularity of traditional petrol and diesel saloon cars like the Mercedes C-Class has been on the wane. High-riding SUVs continue to capture the hearts of buyers, and it’s a trend that hasn’t been lost on Mercedes, because it has redoubled its efforts with the latest C-Class to deliver improvements across key areas to help it stay competitive. Exterior styling, on-board tech, ride and comfort have all been thoroughly revised, while the most appealing update for cost-conscious buyers will be the introduction of new mild- and plug-in hybrid models.
The C-Class engine range is made up of four-cylinder petrol and diesel units, all featuring 48-volt mild hybrid assistance to help improve efficiency. The entry C 200 has a 1.5-litre petrol powerplant developing a healthy 201bhp, although you can upgrade to the more potent 2.0-litre C 300 with 254bhp. Diesel power for Mercedes’ executive saloon consists of the 197bhp C 220 d, and the C 300 d which produces 261bhp. All use a standard nine-speed auto gearbox.
By far the most efficient models in the C-Class line-up, the C 300 e petrol and C 300 de diesel plug-in hybrids offer around 60 miles of all-electric drive and, provided you regularly top up the 25.4kWh battery, should drastically cut down on visits to the fuel station.
Mercedes has kept the trim line-up for the new C-Class pretty straightforward and easy to understand: the familiar Sport specification is the entry point to ownership, followed by the popular AMG Line which can be upgraded with Premium and Premium Plus packs.
Competition to win over buyers in the executive saloon market is stronger than ever, with the C-Class not only facing up to German rivals the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, but also rivals such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Jaguar XE which look fantastic and are great fun to drive. The Volvo S60 offers its own brand of subtle, sporting luxury with powerful petrol engines and the advantages of plug-in hybrid technology, while the Genesis G70 is a Korean newcomer that’s an intriguing alternative.
New pure-electric models offer further opposition to the executive saloon establishment, with the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6 and Polestar 2 all delivering low running costs, while the Tesla Model 3 has brand appeal strong enough to meet the C-Class head on.
The latest Mercedes C-Class uses a heavily revised version of the previous model’s MRA architecture. This set-up also supports the new luxury S-Class, with the smaller compact executive benefitting from an overhauled suspension system and improved ride comfort.
All models in the C-Class range include 48-volt mild-hybrid assistance, which uses an integrated starter/generator that recoups energy lost under braking. The system then uses the small electric motor to help boost the efficiency of the combustion engine when you accelerate. It sounds a little complicated, but the tech works away unobtrusively out on the road, allowing you to focus on driving.
We’ve tried the C 220 d mild hybrid model and found it an incredibly smooth drive: with 440Nm of torque available from 1,800rpm, the C-Class was able to effortlessly shift up to higher motorway speeds and remained relatively quiet and composed under harder acceleration.
There are five individual driving modes to choose from: Comfort, Eco, Sport, Sport+ and Individual. Each mode is tailored to suit a particular driving preference, with the softer Comfort setting being our choice for everyday driving. Eco mode adjusts the throttle, climate control and other settings to help reduce overall fuel consumption, while also automatically shutting off the engine when you come to a standstill.
Switching to Sport and Sport+ means you’ll benefit from sharper steering and throttle responses, along with a firmer suspension set-up; a better option if you’re taking on a twisty B-road. The nine-speed auto transmission works intuitively and isn’t often caught out, although when we tried the plug-in model we found the hybrid system required a little moment before catching on that we were looking for a lower gear.
Mercedes has managed to improve the C-Class’s dynamic performance, but it still doesn’t trouble a BMW 3 Series for driving fun. Keen drivers will find that the brakes don’t offer enough feel and the steering could be more communicative, despite the various drive modes on offer.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
Outside of the sporty AMG-tuned models, the plug-in hybrid versions will no doubt be the quickest cars in the C-Class range. Mercedes is yet to publish data for the PHEV lineup, so the interim performance crown goes to the C 300 d which manages a 0-62mph time of 5.7 seconds and a 155mph maximum.
The petrol C 300 isn’t far behind, sprinting from 0-62mph in 6.0 seconds flat, while both the C 200 and C 220 d accomplish the same feat in 7.3 seconds, with top speed down a few mph.
Private buyers and business users will find it hard to ignore the cost savings to be had from running a C-Class plug-in hybrid model, compared with a conventionally-powered petrol or diesel car.
The C 300 e and C 300 de versions offer around 60 miles of all-electric drive, with a top speed of 87mph in battery mode, so it’s quite possible that you could take on the daily commute without ever needing to fire up the combustion engine – as long as you get into the routine of regularly charging the battery. Mercedes has even equipped its plug-in models with a 55kW charging capability, which is a faster rate than you’d normally find in other PHEVs, so replenishing the 25.4kWh battery from 0-100 per cent can take as little as 30 minutes.
Company car drivers will also benefit from a big reduction in Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) tax, with the C-Class plug-in models falling into sub-10 per cent brackets. In comparison, the C 200 and C 300 petrol cars are 20-25 per cent higher, which means you’ll pay a whole lot more to HMRC if your compact exec comes without plug-in power.
Diesel models fare a little better for tax, and they also return better fuel economy: the C 220 d with up to 61.4mpg on the WLTP combined test cycle and the C 300 d averaging 55.4mpg.
With the petrol C 200 and C 300 only able to manage around 42-44mpg, but costing around £2,000 less to buy than the equivalent diesel, you’ll have to work out which option best suits your circumstances and offers the best value.
Insurance group ratings haven’t yet been confirmed for the latest C-Class, although the previous model range occupied a sliding scale from the low 30s for entry level versions through to group 40 for more powerful, top-spec diesel variants. The AMG-tuned performance cars were more expensive to insure, sitting in groups 41-49.
The previous C-Class saloon had begun to lose a little of its shine on the used market, with residual values of around 40 per cent after a typical three-year ownership period. Early indications are that the all-new, fifth-generation car should perform better: our data predicts an average of 50 per cent retained across the range over three years and 36,000 miles.
With increasing competition from stylish SUVs and the clean-sheet designs of modern all-electric rivals turning the heads of potential buyers, Mercedes has decided now is the right time to significantly overhaul its C-Class compact executive.
Based on a heavily reworked version of the previous model’s Modular Rear Architecture (MRA) platform, the new C-Class is bigger than before, although it has a lower roofline which helps to create a more purposeful, sportier stance. It’s a good looking car that takes design cues from its bigger E-Class sibling, such as the twin power bulges in the bonnet and the stronger shoulder lines.
It’s a look which should hold your attention and hopefully draw you to the interior, where the real improvements are clear to see. Plush materials and a first-class fit and finish to the cabin feel suitably premium, while the view forward from the driver’s seat is like sitting in a junior S-Class limo. The cleaner dashboard layout is dominated by a huge 11.9-inch infotainment screen, while a 12.3-inch digital instrument display is standard for all models.
Opting for AMG Line specification is where most executive buyers will put their money because, as with BMW’s M Sport trim, it’s become a bit of a badge of honour in the company car park. The 18-inch AMG alloys, body kit, rear privacy glass and chrome accents generate a subtly aggressive look for the C-Class, but the cheaper Sport models certainly don’t skimp on levels of kit.
The entry C-Class includes 17-inch alloys, the Dynamic Select drive mode system, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, leather upholstery, a reversing camera and a wireless smartphone charging function.
Upgrading to the Premium and Premium Plus versions adds bigger 19-inch wheels and extra tech such as a 360-degree camera system, a head-up display and four-zone climate control, along with a panoramic sunroof.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
A 12.3-inch digital instrument panel and a huge 11.9-inch infotainment display take pride of place across the dash, and control of many of the vehicle functions. The graphics are clear, but the system can feel a little busy and be a touch confusing to use manually, which is why the upgraded ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control function is more useful than ever.
As an example of having too much information, we found the ‘augmented reality’ system brings up a front camera view in the central screen which obscures the map that you’re following directions from. It’s a function that’s standard with the Premium pack, and perhaps another reason to err towards Sport or possibly AMG Line models.
Live music streaming services are now available on board, allowing owners to hook up to services such as Spotify and play songs via the car’s infotainment set-up, while the latest MBUX system means that over-the-air updates will now download automatically.
Once sat in the driver’s seat you can really start to appreciate the comfort on offer in the C-Class. Comparisons to the S-Class luxury limo are not without merit, with entry-level Sport models featuring leather upholstery, heated seats and climate control, along with the Seat Comfort pack which provides increased electric adjustment to enable you to find the perfect seat position.
The C-Class isn’t all style without substance, though, and there are plenty of useful practical touches included to help make life a little easier from behind the wheel. The standard reversing camera will help with tricky parking manoeuvres, while AMG Line Premium cars come equipped with the Active Parking Assist system which does most of the hard work for you using its clever radar tech and sensors.
Other kit such as the MBUX voice-controlled multimedia system, helps you to concentrate fully on the road, and there’s further scope to add equipment like a head-up display and an augmented reality function for the sat-nav.
The new fifth-generation C-Class is a bigger car overall than the model it replaces. Mercedes’ executive saloon has increased in length by 65mm to 4,751mm and 10mm extra in width to 1,820mm, although it sits 7mm lower. The wheelbase has grown by 25mm too, which helps provide a little more room in the cabin.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Room up front in the C-Class is good for both the driver and passenger, while those travelling in the back benefit from more head and knee room. Four adult occupants can be accommodated with ease, with an extra fifth passenger in the back perhaps best left for shorter journeys. The estate model offers a little more head room up front, but a full 30mm over the saloon in the rear of the cabin.
At 455 litres, the C-Class’s boot falls short of the 480-litre space found in both the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, but the Mercedes should be practical enough for most needs. Again, the estate model offers extra capacity with a 490-litre load space, which increases to 1,510 litres with the rear seats folded.
Euro NCAP hasn’t yet crash tested the latest C-Class, but with the executive saloon’s raft of standard safety kit, we’d expect nothing less than a top five-star score. All C-Class models feature a blind spot monitoring system, lane-keeping assistance, an autonomous emergency braking function and Attention Assist which detects driver fatigue on a longer journey and alerts you to take a break.
Mercedes has also taken pedestrian safety into account by fitting its Active Bonnet tech to the C-Class: if an imminent collision is detected, the bonnet raises up to create a cushion between itself and the engine, helping to prevent injury to the pedestrian.
Mercedes achieved a much improved result in our 2021 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey: up to 13th position (out of 30 manufacturers) in the Best brands poll, compared with 28th spot in 2020. The C-Class didn’t feature in the latest Best cars to own survey, with the A-Class hatchback the highest ranking Mercedes model, in 23rd place.
Mercedes offers a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty for its C-Class, with an option to take out extended cover for a further 12 or 24 months at extra cost. Alternatively, a one-month rolling contract is also available.
The Mercedes ServiceCare plan allows you to spread servicing costs into monthly payments, or settled upfront as a one-off payment. Prices start from £30 per month.