Mercedes' C-Class chases S-Class act

  • 07-Jan-2014 12:27 EST
Merc12-13 new C Class 1.jpg

The new Mercedes-Benz C-Class achieves an excellent Cd figure of 0.24.

The new Mercedes-Benz C-Class is chasing the S-Class with a raft of technologies including air suspension, plus quality and equipment levels designed to give it enhanced status in the compact premium sector.

Use of a hybrid materials strategy, with most exterior panels in aluminum, helps towards fuel reductions of up to 20%. The body-in-white is around 70 kg (154 lb) lighter.

Making its world debut at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show, the C-Class sedan on the company’s MRA (Mercedes Rear Drive) architecture—although 4Matic all-wheel drive will be available—heralds a broad-based range with a station wagon following. A new C-Class coupe, which in its present form is proving highly successful, will appear as a MY2015 model. There will also be a diesel-hybrid and plug-in hybrid. Other variants yet to be confirmed by the company include a cabriolet and high-performance AMG members of the range.

The shift up market is partly the result of the arrival of the CLA version of the latest generation A-Class. Mercedes’ entire range is now so comprehensive that models seem to be jostling for position.

Some exterior styling cues of the new C-Class echo both the A-Class and S-Class, although the new compact has been given a clear individual identity. Interior includes a wraparound dashboard, again with S-Class cues.

More than 2.4 million examples of the outgoing model, manufactured since its introduction in 2007, proved the car's fine design, but Dr. Thomas Weber, Daimler Board Member for Group research and Mercedes-Benz Cars’ Development, said of its successor: “Its efficient and high performance engineering provides the basis for a high standard of driving enjoyment.”

During its production life, the outgoing model received many updates including a switch from a five- to a seven-speed automatic transmission.

That enjoyment is slated to cover almost everything from frugality to comfort via performance and safety, with Weber emphasizing the focus that has been placed on providing what in many aspects is a compact edition of the S-Class. He added that the new car has a “high quality and modern” interior, which includes a touchpad for the driver.

Its styling emphasizes a long hood, with the cabin set well back on a wheelbase lengthened by 80 mm (3.1 in) to 2840 mm (111.8 in), said Gorden Wagener, Vice President, Design, for Daimler. Overall length rises by 95 mm (3.7 in) to 4686 mm (184.5 in) and width by 40 mm (1.6 in) to 1810 mm (71.3 in). All this indicates that Mercedes is taking seriously not only an increase in customer expectations but an increase in their average height.

As always with modern Mercedes, aerodynamics is a focus, and the new C-Class range achieves a best Cd of 0.24 for the 125-kW (168-hp) diesel C220 BlueTEC Eco version. Maximum torque is 400 N·m (295 lb·ft). Combined fuel consumption is 4.0 L/100 km, with a CO2 figure of 103 g/km. Performance remains brisk, with 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) taking 8.1 s.

Achievement of these figures is supported by an overall mass reduction of some 100 kg (220 lb).

The outgoing C-Class’s materials composition included just under 10% aluminum; that figure rises to almost 50% for the new car. A bonus of this is a lower c.g. (center of gravity).

The C-Class will have a broad power unit choice and, as with most manufacturers, downsizing is part of the economy equation, although V6 units are expected to be offered. As well as a 1.6-L gasoline engine producing 115 kW (154 hp) and returning a combined fuel consumption figure of 5.0 L/100 km and emissions of 116 g/km, a 1.6-L diesel will also become part of the range. It will be available in two levels of tune with an output of 85 or 100 kW (114 or 134 hp) and torque of 280 or 320 N·m (207 or 236 lb·ft). Injection pressure is a relatively modest 1600 bar (23 ksi).

Mercedes’ highly efficient 2.1-L diesel engine introduced six years ago will be available with outputs ranging from 85 to 150 kW (114 to 201 hp) in bi-turbo form. All diesels have SCR (selective catalytic reduction) to reduce emissions.

The car’s four-cylinder gasoline engine lineup gets the BlueDirect third-generation multiplier injection system with spray-guided combustion currently used on V6 and V8 engines.

The hybrid versions of the C-Class will embrace a 150-kW (201-hp) four-cylinder diesel in the C300 BlueTec plus an electric motor output of 20 kW. Provisional combined fuel consumption is 3.9 L/100 km. A plug-in hybrid will also be added to the range, although Mercedes has given no precise timescale for either.

Engines drive through six-speed manuals designed to provide improved shift precision or a 7-G-Tronic Plus auto, also described as having undergone further development.

As well as hybrid powertrains, Mercedes has majored on chassis changes for the new C-Class to try to provide a sportier but compliant mix to match or surpass market rivals. It uses a four-link front axle and an “optimized” five-link independent setup at the rear. Design targets include improved straight-line stability and steering to give the car added agility. On-demand speed-sensitive electromechanical Direct Steer is fitted.

Mercedes’ self-leveling Airmatic air suspension a la S-Class is an option on some versions, with continuous variable damping front and rear. The company claims outstanding (suppression of) road roar and tire vibration characteristics even with the vehicle loaded. The system meets a broad spectrum of ride modes: Comfort, ECO, Sport, Sport+, and Individual, the latter enabling fine tuning.

Another area of benefit from the up-market S-Class and E-Class concerns safety. This includes Attention Assist to warn the driver that a little more attention to the task of driving would be sensible. It provides a driver-adjustable level of sensitivity to warn via the instruments that possible drowsiness is being manifested, simultaneously flagging up elapsed travel time since the most recent stopover. The car’s Comand system can suggest, via the navigation system, on or near-route refreshment facilities.

Collision Assist Plus can provide autonomous braking when the driver is failing to respond to a developing collision risk situation. It operates at speeds up to 200 km/h (124 mph). At lower speeds, it can brake if a stationary or very slow-moving vehicle is detected ahead.

Other systems from the C-Class’s more prestige siblings include semi-automatic traffic jam assistance at speeds up to 60 km/h (37 mph).

Brake Assist Plus can detect crossing traffic and boost pedal force; Enhanced Active Lane helps keep the car on track.

If all this does not prevent an impact, the car’s airbag count includes pelvis for driver (who also gets a knee bag) and front passenger, a newly developed window system, and sidebags for the rear seats.

Quality aspects of the car are described by the company in rather frothy un-Mercedes like language, such as: “The Mercedes-Benz designers have styled the interior on a level which is rarely encountered even in higher vehicle categories.” This seems almost to suggest that the new C-Class could even surpass the company's own S-Class! Probably not.

On a rather more prosaic level, the car gets a basic 7-in screen, but when Comand is specified this increases to 8.4 in. The Comand screen has a resolution of 960 x 540 pixels and what is described as a “special bonded glass cover” similar to those used for Apple's iPhone and iPad.

The touchpad borrows from smartphone technology too. Mercedes states that it allows letters, numbers, and special characters to be entered in handwriting and in any language. The user receives clear haptic feedback from the touchpad’s control surface, and it is said to be highly intuitive to use.

The C-class also gets a HUD (head-up display) to give navigation information, vehicle speed, and speed-limit alerts—and it shows alerts from the Distronic Plus traffic-jam assistant.

Mercedes claim the C-Class as the only model in its segment to provide tunnel detection via satellite navigation, automatically closing the air recirculation flap as the tunnel is entered, to re-open on exiting.

The outgoing C-Class had proved Mercedes’ best-selling model. Depending on pricing, which has yet to be confirmed but is unlikely to be greatly above present levels, the new car is set to consolidate that position, while size, quality, and technology enhancements edge it towards a higher sector.

In view of Mercedes' fondness for use of the full capped-up word PLUS (not indulged here), perhaps it is time to re-name it C-PLUS-Class. 

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