For a car that is still some way from its global launch and comes to India only in 2015, the hype surrounding the new Mercedes C Class is considerable. The buzz among dealers in India is that the expectation is so high that enquiries for entry-level luxury sedans has plunged, in anticipation of the new car. Ironically, this segment, which also has the Audi A3 and the BMW 3 series, is not the highest selling segment --- the bigger A6, 5-series and E Class sell higher volumes. But the C may alter that equilibrium. A first look at what Mercedes calls the baby Benz.
S, in a smaller package
The next gen C Class follows in the footsteps of the highly acclaimed new S Class as Merc tries to make younger and more exciting looking cars. It is longer and wider than the outgoing version, and is definitely better looking. It has two choices up front --- a sporty “Avant garde” version with a twinlouvre grille and the three-pointed star embossed on the bonnet, and an “Exclusive” version that retains the classic visage with three horizontal louvres and the emblem on the bonnet. India may be biased towards the Avantgarde and the Exclusive may not even make it here.
The headlamps are large but somewhat dwarfed by the bigger grille, and the lines flow neatly to the rear. The tear drop shaped tail lamps with LED inserts also feel as if they belong to a higher segment. The similarities with the E and S classes are endless, and there is little to complain.
The scent of S inside too
Mercedes has for long been panned for serving up uninspiring interiors. The new C is an exception. The increased wheelbase means more leg and shoulder room at the back. But it is the amount of gadgets and the freshly laid-out instrument console that stand out. Inspired by the S (again), the centre console flows into the cabin to completely separate the front seats. The metal, leather and wood are a straight lift from the S class, so are the air-con vents. The infotainment system uses the latest software. Sadly, the 7-inch screen does not retract, and is not touch-enabled. Instead, you get a geeky touch pad that is not quite as convenient as the rotary dial.
Powerful drive, but more elegant than fun
There are a host of engine, gearbox and safety options, but the ones we are sure to get in India are the C200 petrol and C220 diesel, both mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission. The diesel is a familiar motor with identical output as the existing version, but the petrol motor has been updated and now develops more power and torque. Along with that, the car gets an airmatic air suspension that makes the car pliant on bad roads without compromising on handling. As a result, while the C is not as much fun for the driver as the brilliant BMW 3 series, it is one of the most balanced sedans; and the 3 series offers a rather choppy ride for the rear passenger. It also gets four-wheel drive, but that may not come to India. Not the fastest, but definitely more elegant than the others.
Verdict: a step up, all around
Mercedes may possibly price the C Class on the higher side to avoid a conflict with its CLA. To an extent, it may out-price the segment of the 3 series and the A4. However, there is enough going for the car to lure customers. A replica of the S class in many ways, it looks stylish and upmarket. It is loaded with features, and the ride is good for both traffic and the highway. The baby Benz has few rough edges and looks set to disrupt traditional segments.