Not only has the car had a serious external makeover, inside the cabin and underneath the hood the all-new C-Class has more in common with the top of the line S-Class luxury sedan than with any of its competitors in the compact executive segment.
The new car is longer, wider and lighter than its predecessor. Photo:AFP
Bigger, more comfortable, lighter and bursting at the seams in terms of features, technologies and toys that aren't usually standard on cars three times as expensive, Mercedes-Benz is flexing some serious automotive muscle with the new C-Class. The company says the new car "sets new standards in the premium mid-range class".
Externally the designers have channeled the spirit of the wonderful CLS -- the company's curvaceous yet aggressive coupe/sedan. The result is a car that really stands out visually, especially when parked among BMWs and Audis, yet it does so with sufficient grace and subtlety to never be considered ostentatious.
Helping the car stand out is the fact that it is 90cm longer than the outgoing C-Class and 40cm wider to accommodate the fact that people are getting taller and to ensure rear passengers aren't cramped. The trunk is also bigger, making it a great potential tourer.
But the car is also lighter by some 100kg to improve handling and fuel economy -- the latter in particular being a key feature of the initial models coming to market that offer smaller gas, diesel and hybrid powertrains (don't worry, bigger and more potent engines are on their way).
Inside, the car is full of state-of-the-art features that were only being showcased on the company's flagship executive car, the S-Class several months ago. These include a satellite-controlled air conditioning and filtration system that automatically closes exterior filtering flaps when the car enters a tunnel. Then there's the integrated armrest trackpad that allows the driver to swipe, tap and even write numbers and letters with a finger in order to enter information into the car's infotainment center.
Or the strangely named Distronic Plus system, which offers semi-automatic traffic jam driving. When the car is traveling at less than 37mph (60km/h) it can follow the car in front, maintaining a safe distance and can also automatically stop and start in response to traffic conditions. Then there's the heads up display that provides the car's current speed, the current speed limit, navigation instructions and even messages from the Distronic Plus system on the windshield within the driver's field of vision.
The C-Class can also monitor a driver's alertness and prompt him or her to take a break (it automatically shows cafés, restaurants and rest stops on the satellite navigation system) and can step in in the event of a potential collision. If the driver fails to respond, the C-Class can break autonomously -- even at speeds of up to 125mph -- to prevent a crash.
At slower speeds, the system can bring the car to a halt or to a safe speed in such a manner that the car behind also has sufficient time to break, avoiding rear-end shunts too.
As well as active driver aids and connected car technology, the new C-Class can be specified with air suspension and the same levels of fit and finish more usually associated with luxury executive flagship cars. Photo:AFP
To top it all off is active park assist which will do all of the hard work of parallel parking, including the braking and steering.
In terms of safety, the car is packed with airbags too. It is the first car in its class to have window airbags, pelvis air bags and a knee-height airbag to protect the driver. It also has sensors in all of passenger seats which tell the car when a child seat has been installed and automatically deactivates any nearby airbags.
All in all the C-Class will get potential customers running to Mercedes-Benz showrooms and the company's competitors running to their drawing boards. Mercedes will publish regional specifications and price lists early in 2014.