I have heard many people refer to the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class as a baby S-Class. Us motoring journos can be a bit weird sometimes. We criticise Audi for making all its cars look the same and in the past we have questioned BMW for the same thing, but make a C-Class look like an S-Class and it’s fine with us.
It is fine because the S-Class is a benchmark. It epitomises luxury, refinement and technology. It is the Saville Row suit of success, that three-pointed star being something for others to aspire to and to want to follow. Making your medium sedan like an S-Class is a good thing.
In the looks department there is no arguing the similarity; it is like seeing the features of a parent in their newborn baby. The front can be specified with the traditional classic grille with the star mounted on top, or the more sporty option we had on test where the star sits in the middle of the grille. The side profile echoes the S too but the rear is where the biggest likeness can be found with that wide chrome strip and vast LED tail lights.
I am a huge fan of car design but that is all I have to say about the exterior. I will spare you the whole muscular haunches, athletic stance, executive lines blurb that so often permeates journos’ opinions, but I will talk about the interior, which again has been compared to that of the S-Class.
Our test model had a rather old-fashioned wood trim which I thought had been left behind in the old 500SEL but clearly it is still popular with some punters. The interior is an exercise in how to blend traditional with modern in a way that might possibly never date. There are old school air vents, drilled metal buttons that would not look out of place in a Roller and sumptuous leather as well as the seat buttons which remain on the driver’s door. These elements have been expertly integrated with the new items like the flat-bottomed, sporty, yet upmarket steering wheel, the tablet-style screen and the heads up display.
Then there is the touchpad in the centre console. It tries to mimic the everyday technology of our tablets and smartphones with its swiping action and push-down selection. I found it really annoying, mainly because I had to swipe two or three times before it acknowledged what I was trying to do. This becomes painful when you realise that most of the menus all rely on this piece of tech. Fortunately I found that I could use a dial mounted beneath it when it got too annoying, though.
Then there are the menus themselves. There seemed to be so many pages I wondered if they had been added by Julian Assange. As an owner I have no doubt you will quickly get used to them and you will know how to get where you want to be quickly. Fortunately Merc has not done away with things such as a programmable favourite button which also helps. As someone who loves gadgets, it might seem bizarre that I am critical of this element but I remember when a Merc PR once told me they did not want to isolate their older customers and so kept but- tons and markings large, familiar and simple.
Merc has changed its image since, attracting a younger clientele, but I fear that for some the tech may all be a bit much. These might all seem like issues in their own right but they are a matter of personal preference and in some respects I am playing devil’s advocate. Overall the exterior and interior package is brilliant and I understand the comparison to the S-Class. It has all those characteristics of the S that I listed above in terms of the way it looks and makes you feel.
So how does it drive? Well, our test model was the C250 with its 2-litre turbocharged petrol unit that pumps 155kW and 350Nm through a 7G-tronic Plus transmission to the rear wheels. You have a multitude of adjustments when it comes to driving style and comfort, some of which can be accessed easily and some through the menus. Find a setting you like and keep it because even in sport mode, the ride is comfortable in true Mercedes style, although you will sacrifice a little on fuel.
Should the mood take you then you can also switch to the Eco mode and try to prolong that trip to the petrol station. The steering is not as direct as that in something like a BMW but Merc has done a decent job on compromising and I could live with it quite happily. Throttle response is good in all modes and the ride comfort is just superb. My final point has to be the price.
In standard trim the C250 costs R504,549 and the specification at this price is rather good, but our test unit had another R121,700 worth of extras added to it bringing the price of this C-Class to R626 249. Even then the passenger seat was manually adjustable which was just astonishing. The BMW 328i starts at 20 grand less which could pose a slight problem for Merc, but it will be of little consequence to those who want to say they drive a baby S-Class and, in this regard, the three-pointed star is shining in its class once again.
The Facts: 2014 Mercedes-Benz C250
Engine: 1991cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol
Power: 155kW at 5500rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 1200rpm
0-100km/h: 6.6 seconds
Fuel consumption: 5.9l/100km (Claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h
Price: R504 549