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The Top Gear car review:Mercedes-Benz C-Class
What is it like on the road?
The genius of the current C-Class is that it does entirely its own thing, leaving the likes of the Alfa Giulia and BMW 3 Series to be sporty, and focusing instead on easy going comfort.
Nowt’s changed with the car’s big mid-life update, and while the bulk of Cs are rear-wheel drive, they’re hardly cars that allow or encourage you to explore the outer limits of their grip. Instead, there’s just a neat, confidence-inspiring balance when you’re driving briskly, which could very easily be the merits of a nicely set up front-wheel-drive car if you didn’t know otherwise.
Comfort and refinement are the standout features, and you need to be particularly heavy with the throttle for any of the engines to make themselves unduly heard. There are three diesels to choose from, with the 191bhp/295lb ft C220d likely to be the default choice, especially as it claims over 60mpg and comes with the option of four-wheel drive.
Diesel’s a bit of a dirty word these days, of course, and Merc’s decision to fit the C-Class with some interesting new petrol engines is probably sage. The C200 opens up C-Class pricing, just north of £33,000, and its mild hybrid technology is something we’ll see increasingly in Merc models, performance versions included.
Electrical assistance is provided by the alternator rather than a bunch of batteries and motors, but the theory is more interesting than the practice, as it all blends in pretty surreptitiously. Switch the C200’s drive select into its more eco-minded modes, though, and you’ll sense the electrics whirring away as you pull out of junctions, while the engine will cut out as you coast towards junctions or on the motorway, to further save fuel and cut emissions. Switch to Sport and accelerate hard and the electrically-provided 14bhp is all used for performance, but doing so is probably missing the point a bit.
All but the entry-level diesel come with a nine-speed automatic gearbox as standard, and it works well in the C200, where it helps manage the car’s intriguing power source when left in auto mode. In quicker C-Classes, the C300 petrol included, it’s sometimes better to take manual control of the transmission with the steering wheel paddles. With nine gears, it’s perhaps understandable that the car’s computer trickery might not always choose the one that’s best.
The C300 is a sensitive engine as it can sound quite harsh when revved hard, but as a turbocharged four-cylinder filling the role of an old six-cylinder, it makes a decent fist of its unenviable task. If you still want a six-cylinder, then it’ll be the C43 AMG you want. It’s a proper product of the AMG division – not just a trim line – but it’s less aggressive than the full, V8-powered C63.
AMG offers a rather naughty sports exhaust, but the C43 is otherwise a sensible performance car in the vein of an Audi S4 or suchlike. It has standard four-wheel drive, and while it sends two thirds of the engine’s 385bhp to the rear wheels, it’s more about grip than slip. You can sustain some proper pace in it, but exhaust note aside, it’s not a tyre-shredding lout like the full-fat, 503bhp V8-equipped C63 AMG. That car’s about as characterful and irresistible as saloon cars get.