What's it like?
For this car, Mercedes has retired its long-serving and somewhat coarse 2.1-litre four-pot diesel engine and brought in its new-generation 2.0-litre, as seen in the latest E-Class. What a difference it makes.
While there’s still the faintest edge of uncouthness to the engine’s combustion under load compared with the very quietest four-cylinder diesels, the new C220d has just as much apparent torque as its predecessor and feels just as strong when accelerating; is much freer-revving; and will return an indicated 60mpg on a longish journey of mixed roads when moving with the flow of traffic. Having been a bit of a relative weakness for the C-Class for decades, the C220d’s engine is now a real strength.
And yet this is still a C-Class: a luxury compact executive option in among pseudo sport-saloons, catering best to a fairly laid-back driving style. Rush that new nine-speed gearbox and it can hesitate a bit during bursts of kickdown acceleration. Hurry it down less than perfectly smooth roads and the car’s standard ‘agility control comfort’ steel suspension, which does deliver an absorbent ride at mooching speeds, allows the body to jounce and porpoise a little too freely over bigger intrusions to provide great onboard tranquillity. The rear axle can also occasionally seem to stumble a bit over sharper edges.
Perhaps Mercedes is a bit guilty of confusing a soft, under-damped ride for a comfortable one, then. But at least we needn’t criticise this version of the car for not being more athletic – though it’s by no means sloppy-handling – since you can have ‘Sport’ or ‘AMG Line’ trims with increasingly shorter and firmer set-ups if you want better body control. And if it was mine, I would.
This might be the first time we’ve tested any ‘W205’-generation C-Class in bottom-rung ‘SE’ trim – and, in some ways, you might prefer the associated interior treatment you get here to the ones of more expensive trim levels. There’s certainly less shiny aluminium-look decoration around the cabin than you get in a ‘Sport’-spec C-Class, with gloss black plastic replacing the metallic trim we’re used to seeing on the car’s doorcards, steering boss trim, air vent surrounds and speaker grilles. It amounts to a less chintzy ambience than pricier examples of the car have – the car’s new button-rich steering wheel looking markedly less busy in black than in bright chrome.
Perceived quality levels are close to class-leading, practicality is good and even the car’s cheapest infotainment system now measures 10.3in from corner to corner. For those reasons and others, the car doesn’t struggle to pull off a pricing position that floats above many of its rivals.