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Mercedes-Benz C-Class Car Review | June 1, 2006

Driven March 2007

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Our C320CDI Sport came on 17-inch AMG wheels as part of the AMG styling kit, and the seven-speed automatic 'box as an alternative to the standard six-speed manual.

It also featured something called the Advanced Agility package, which consists of slightly more direct steering than the standard car - itself more direct than before - plus electronically adaptable dampers, lowered springs and an over-ride for the auto 'box via steering-wheel paddles.

You can press a Sport button on the dash to firm up the dampers, but their basic adaptive programme is just fine - Sport simply makes things crashy in a straight line without greatly adding to the gaiety of cornering.

Corners are a good place to be in the new C-Class though. It keeps roll and pitch well under control, and all its reactions are well-measured and proportionate, so you get a good feel for what it's up to and it's usefully more agile than the old one. But the ride is truly superb too.

At low speeds it rolls uncomplainingly over town potholes, and on a heaving, broken country road neither the small shocks nor larger motions bother it in the slightest.

The 350 petrol engine is quick, getting to 62mph in 6.3secs with its standard auto 'box. It feels decently torquey too, but it's a bit tingly at the top end. The C350 I drove did without the Advanced Agility pack, but as standard all C-Classes without it have dampers with a passive oil-controlled adaptive function, and they work well.

In fact, despite its theoretically slower steering and softer suspension, the C350 sniffs out corners just as enthusiastically as the diesel, presumably because the lower mass of the engine offsets the less 'sporty' suspension.

Hardly anything to choose between the two on ride comfort either - if you want an educated guess, I'd say the Advanced Agility pack probably isn't worth it on anything but the big diesel.

So, Mercedes has managed to turn out a C-Class that's more sporty than before, without losing the long-haul refinement and comfort that is its bedrock.

OK, I haven't driven them side-by-side, but I'd put a quid on it not being quite as fun as a 3-Series, and of course, come early next year, Audi will have an all-new A4 based on the A5 coupe. The C remains a car for Mercedes lovers - it's hugely capable but it keeps that quiet until you press it.

But then, too many Mercedes lovers have had a break-up these past few years. If the new C can persuade them to reunite it'll be a success. And for that it's probably just the car that was needed. No revolution but a solid improvement. That's solid in both senses.

Paul Horrell

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