Kudos to Mercedes-Benz. It has defied peer pressure and has boldly done absolutely nothing different. You see, other automakers have axed their wagon variants in SA due to our preference for SUVs and Crossovers. By contrast the folks from Stuttgart have decided to offer the new version of the C-Class Estate. We members of the Fourth Estate attended the launch in the Free State last week.
It must be said that the designers did a commendable job of tacking the wider rear berth onto the C-Class without making it look frumpy. Staid styling has always been the downside of the wagon. Yet this manages to look athletic, more so when fitted with the AMG Line kit. But if that is not your cup of tea, there are design packages in line with the more subdued, traditional Mercedes style.
Compared to its predecessor, it is 96mm longer and 40mm wider. Luggage space has also increased to 490 litres from 485 litres. With all the rear seats folded flat it gains a maximum load capacity of 1510 litres. The C-Class has been showered with plaudits for its luxurious interior quarters. And nothing changes in wagon guise. It still feels very much like a compact S-Class. The attention to detail is really quite remarkable here and I would go as far as saying that it is the best in its segment at the moment.
Little things, like the damping of the electric window switches, are a marvel: they are not so light that they feel flimsy, nor so firm to induce a harsh click when you push down. It sounds extremely pedantic, I know. But it is great to see Mercedes heading back to their past habits of tireless over-engineering. You will be pleased to know that, despite the additional load-lugging capabilities it drives just like its sedan counterpart. There are no distinctive differences between the duo.
Over our two-day test drive we covered around 750 kilometers through sinuous roads and torrential rain. Because the vehicle will be a low volume seller, the engine choices are streamlined to three. You can take your pick between the C180, the C200 or the diesel C250 BlueTEC. Unlike with the previous iteration, no C63 AMG version will be available.
The first leg of our journey was spent with the latter derivative. And it seems like the ideal choice, for those with towing applications in mind. The abundance of torque on tap thrusts the classy wagon to the horizon rather briskly. Save for some initial lag on take-off, the C250 is a sweet power source indeed.
But the middle-range C200 could be a more sensible compromise. It offers ample power for the daily commute and stints on the open road. We can attest to its punchy nature. The turbocharged mill serves up a decent amount of go, when summoned upon to overtake trucks rapidly on narrow backroads.
The ride quality is also sorted. Even though our test models wore bigger alloys and suspension geared towards spirited driving, it remained acceptably pliant. You can flick between various driving modes and our Mercedes stuck happily in Comfort, soaking up ridges and nasty potholes without flinching. Whereas brethren like the A-Class and CLA are a little clumsy with their harsh-riding characteristics, this moves as gracefully as a Mercedes-Benz should.
So, be in no doubt that the new C-Class Estate is a good car. But there is a factor that will count against it: price. Things start off at R447,660 which is about R31,700 more than the equivalent sedan. This is where the sibling rivalry aspect comes into play. The similarly-priced GLA might be smaller, but people might find the slightly raised ride height and urban warrior persona a little more enticing. Mind you, the models we had on test were laden to the brim with optional extras. Some units nudged the R700,000 mark. Hopping out of those and into lesser models revealed just how miserly Mercedes-Benz can be with the niceties.
But it is clear from their decision to continue selling this car, that the C-Class Estate has its fair share of loyal followers in SA. The choices are limited in this premium wagon segment and its only rival at present is the Volvo V60. BMW no longer sells the 3 Series Touring and Audi offers the A4 Avant only in Allroad, S and RS guises – the latter are well out of this price bracket. If space is high on the priority list and you find the SUV and Crossover genres a tad pretentious, then the roomy Benz caters superbly.
Engines: 1595cc (C180); 1991cc (C200); 2143cc (C250)
Power: 115kW at 5300rpm (C180); 135kW at 5500rpm (C200); 150kW at 3800rpm (C250)
Torque: 250Nm at 1250rpm (C180); 300Nm at 1200rpm (C200); 500Nm at 1600rpm (C250)
0-100km/h: 8.4 seconds (C180); 7.7 seconds (C200); 6.9 seconds (C250)
Top speed: 223km/h (C180); 235km/h (C200); 241km/h (C250)
Fuel consumption: 5.6l/100km (C180); 5.8l/100km (C200); 4.8l/100km (C250)
CO2: 132g/km (C180); 133g/km (C200); 124g/km (C250)
Pricing: R447,600 (C180); R468,300 (C200); R558,400 (C250)