“SQUEEZED MIDDLE” is fast becoming one of those phrases used so much that they tip over into meaning very little, writes Huw Thomas.
For the car market, however, it retains some currency. Uppermedium sized, one time “volume” or “fleet cars” from Ford and Vauxhall have had to beat a long retreat in the face of “premium” brands such as BMW’s 3 Series, Audi A4 or Mercedes C-Class. Everyone is trying to become premium (or acquire a next-best “quality” image at least). Buyers are “down-sizing” (“premium” badges have got into the lowermedium sector too now) and there’s a major shift to SUVs or Crossover “look-alikes”.
In fact, they could be the ultimate threat to conventional midrange (and large) cars. What still sets BMW and Mercedes apart in this upper-medium class and above is a classic rearwheel drive layout. If not quite as good as a BMW 3 Series to drive (with its outstanding dynamic ability), the C-Class evinces all the inherent balance and consistency of a rear-wheel drive motor car – pure, un-contaminated steering, finely judged cornering poise and body-control coupled to a smooth but stable ride. Standard line-up is SE, Sport and AMG Line. The car on test was a Sport – it’s a touch lower and firmer than the SE (AMG Line lower still) and a bit livelier but it is the one with the best chassis set-up overall probably and the model with the greater general appeal. Asking prices: £26,855- £38,120 (saloon); £28,055- £36,710 (estate).
Recent additions to the saloons and estates (which came here last September) are high performance AMG C63 versions (Spring this year): 4.0 litre V8 476ps (510ps- S) and 155mph; 0-62mph 4.2/4.0 seconds; £59,795-£67,745.
A Diesel-electric hybrid C300 BlueTec (2.1L; 4cyl. 231ps) has just arrived and an eco-tuned C200 BlueTec low CO2 1.6 is imminent. “BlueTec” is the name on the newer cleaner Diesels.
Basic engine is a 2.1 Turbo Diesel 4cyl producing 170ps (C220) or 204ps (C250) and there’s also a C200 petrol 2.0 putting out 184ps too. These are carried over from the previous model as is the seven-speed automatic gearbox.
six-speed manual transmission is available with the C200 and C220. The vast majority will be automatic but those brave enough to swim against the tide will not only save £1,500 on the list price but enjoy a better drive.
Headline equipment on the SE includes heated windscreen, headlamp wash, cruise control, DAB radio and a reversing camera. Sport is about £2,000 dearer but brings into the deal satellite navigation, heated front Sports seats, audio-visual park assist and 17-in alloy wheels (as opposed to the AMG Line’s 18-in set). Dynamic set-up can be varied for Comfort, ECO or Sport but beyond that and the above, the options list is long and expensive – air suspension at £895, for example.
There are also packs majoring on driving (blind-spot or lanedeparture alerts, e.g.) and luxury (lighting, enhanced audio, connectivity and “infotainment”, etc.) which can add anything from £1,500 to almost £3,000 to the price. Car on test was the C220 BlueTec Sport and, autobox nothwithstanding, proved very frugal on fuel. Despite one disappointing 41mpg result, Trip Computer average was an excellent 47- 52mpg and in clear class leading territory up against BMW’s 320d. Fit and finish inside is outstanding (enough to steal a march on Audi’s A4 for example) – front seats and driving position particularly good. Rear seats fold forward (hatch style) to extend boot space, equipment and controls are all of a high standard.
The previous C-Class was an excellent vehicle – a potentially very good used car buy especially if one with the six-speed manual ‘box is found. The latest model raises its game further and represents the kind of “class act” one expects of a Mercedes-Benz.
Facts and figures: C220 BlueTec Sport 7sp auto; £32,860; 144mph; 0-62mph 7.4 secs; 65.7mpg (official combined figure); 47-52mpg on test; CO2 110g/km – road tax ‘B’ and a mere £20pa; insurance group 34; maximum braked trailer weight 1,800kg.