Even though it is one of the most established names in the business, life is getting tougher for the C-Class. Not only must it contend with its fellow German rivals — the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 — but there are fierce challenges from further afield including Japan with the Lexus IS, Britain and the Jaguar XE, Sweden and the Volvo S60 and a bunch of non-premium competitors from Korea which have plenty to offer and for considerably less money too. And, when you throw in the extreme popularity of CUVs and SUVs today, it is pretty clear that the saloon segment has a real battle on its hands, but Mercedes is fighting back by giving its fourth-generation C-Class a mid-life refresh — and as a result, it is better than ever.
Visually, there is very little at all but under the skin, the Stuttgart carmaker says over 6,500 components have been changed. The vast majority of these are in a brand new electrical architecture (borrowed from the S-Class) that has unlocked a host of new safety tech and self-driving potential while its upmarket feel is emphasised by the high-quality materials including wood or metal finishes (depending on your choice) not to mention an attractively styled dashboard with eyeball, chromed air vents. It now features a new multifunction steering wheel (again, taken from the S-Class and it is pleasingly direct and well weighted) a new infotainment display with a 10.25in central display as standard (it’s a big improvement and boasts sharp graphics and far more intuitive menus) while the optional 12.3in digital dials are customisable every which way you please (it has three different colour schemes and can display the rev counter, sat nav, a G meter, and detailed trip info) and operated through the touch sensitive pads on the wheel. There are relatively few buttons on the dash with mostly everything controlled via the rotary controller and touchpad on the centre console which is very intuitive even if you are a technophobe.
If affords enough room for taller passengers seated in the front however space is a bit more limited in the back as is the case with all of its segment rivals (although ingress and egress is far better compared to the XE...) and it has a 480-litre boot which will swallow several heavily stocked grocery bags or chunky suitcases without a problem.
There are several new engines for the C200 including an all-new turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder which benefits from a mild 48-volt hybrid setup (electrical assistance is provided by the alternator rather than a bunch of batteries and motors) that should provide punchy performance and impressive fuel economy and has a total output of 181bhp — but our tester came with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot making a healthy 204bhp and 300Nm of torque. It sure makes you grin when you engage Sport Plus mode (this improves throttle response, sharpens up the new nine-speed automatic and adds weight to the steering) and it can hit 100kph from rest in 7.1 seconds. That’s respectable but the C200 is all about smothering its occupants with a refined and comfortable ride (its chassis soaks up road imperfections with ease) and in this regard it scores very impressively indeed.
The revised C-Class has now become an out-and-out S-Class mini-me — and that is not a bad thing at all since the flagship is superb.