The Mercedes C-Class estate mixes practicality and panache in a nicely sized package. Jonathan Crouch reports on a revised line-up featuring a fresh trim structure and lower running costs.
Ten Second Review
Although the same-again styling might be lost on some, it's hard not to be impressed by the latest Mercedes-Benz C-Class estate's improved fuel economy and meaner emissions. Equipment levels and the provision of safety gear have also been boosted. Better than a BMW 3 Series Touring? In most scenarios, yes.
The estate bodystyle is a key component in a Mercedes C-Class range that's quietly become a good deal more appealing of late. Of course, with the improvements made in recent times to the rival Audi A4 Avant and the launch of BMW's latest generation 3 Series Touring model, it's had to up its game. Has Stuttgart done so by enough? Well let's judge the result.
This third generation C-Class model was heavily revised in early 2011 but has been tweaked again for the 2013 model year with an upgraded trim structure and lower running costs, especially for the C180 BlueEFFICIENCY petrol variant that many buyers choose. Otherwise, this estate variant's practical virtues remain as appealing as before. As a result, Stuttgart's German rivals still have something to fear here.
For C-Class estate customers, the mainstream engine choice comprises four cylinder petrol and diesel units. There are two direct injection petrol powerplants comprising a new 154PS 1.6-litre BlueEFFICIENCY unit (in the C180), plus a 204PS version of this engine (badged C250). Then there are the 2.1-litre diesel powerplants. Choose from either 136PS (C200 CDI), 170PS (C220 CDI) or 204PS (C250 CDI) or 265PS (C350 CDI), depending on your performance requirements. At the top of the range is the 457PS C63.
The C-Class has never enjoyed a reputation as a top-drawer drive, thanks largely to unimpressive steering and some coarse engines, and although only the C350 offers a truly silky feel, the rest of the engines are these days a good deal more refined and the steering and suspension packages are much improved. The steering is accurate without offering heaps of feedback, but its taciturn nature calms the experience at the wheel over the sort of poor surfaces and unruly cambers that affect the typical British B-road.
Particular attention has been paid to further finessing the automatic gearbox and all automatic versions get the 7G-TRONIC PLUS seven-speed box which has been tuned to improve fuel efficiency across the range. Despite being a good deal more economical than before, performance hasn't been sacrificed and even the base diesel C200 CDI feels agreeably spry, sprinting from rest to 60mph in a mere 8.9 seconds.
Design and Build
The C-Class estate is an undeniably handsome thing, with a purposeful slash on its flanks that rises from halfway up the front wheel arch to fade into the top of the rear light cluster. The lights, grille and bonnet were all revised during the 2011 mid-term facelift, as was the cabin. Here you'll find a restyled dashboard with an integrated screen and higher quality materials. A large section of galvanised trim extends from the centre air vents across the front passenger side to the outer air vent, Mercedes listening to feedback from CLS owners highlighting their appreciation of bold interior design themes.
The wheelbase of the C-Class remains the same as in the saloon, so don't expect any more rear legroom but this estate makes the most of what it has. The rear seat backrests are divided on a 1/3 to 2/3 ratio and can be folded forwards. The luggage compartment capacity can be extended from 485-litres (or 690-litres when the vehicle is loaded to roof height) up to 1500-litres (when the rear seat backrests are folded forward and the vehicle is loaded to roof height). Two bag hooks and four eyelets for anchoring loads are included in the load compartment, while stowage compartments with net covers and a collapsible shopping crate are also part of the standard specification, as are the combined luggage cover and retaining net.
Market and Model
You'll pay a premium of around £1,200 over the cost of a normal C-Class saloon to own this estate derivative. That means pricing mainly ranging in the £27,000 to £37,000 bracket for mainstream models, though the fearsome C36 variant is up around the £57,000 mark. Trim levels run from Executive SE (with or without a Luxury upgrade package) through to AMG Sport and AMG Sport Plus.
Mercedes has managed to shoehorn a quite jaw-dropping amount of safety technology into the latest C-Class and while all functions aren't offered on all trim levels, it's worth the effort to get to know what's on offer. With a total of ten clever driving assistance systems, ranging from ATTENTION ASSIST drowsiness detection to DISTRONIC PLUS proximity control, the C-Class goes beyond the usual stability control, airbags and ABS norm.
The assistance systems are based on the latest radar, camera and sensor technology, and cover frequent accident causes such as driving too closely, fatigue and darkness. These assistance systems, some of which only warn and some which actively intervene in hazardous situations, consist of Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist ,ATTENTION ASSIST, DISTRONIC PLUS, Speed Limit Assist, Parking guidance including PARKTRONIC, PRE-SAFE Braking, Lane Keeping Assist and Blind Spot Assist, the latter pair being warnings that don't actively intervene to prevent an accident.
Cost of Ownership
The most recent engine change in the C-Class line-up is the addition of a new 1.6-litre petrol unit to power the entry-level C180 BlueEFFICIENCY variant. This is significantly more efficient than its predecessor, managing 47.9mpg on the combined cycle and 139g/km of CO2.
Across the range, the enhancements made to this improved line-up have helped to lower running costs and, Mercedes reckons, can reduce BIK for business drivers by up to four per cent. In addition, the revisions have immediately had a positive impact on the already-strong residual values of the C-Class, with CAP announcing a five per cent (£450) increase in values for the entry-level trim grade. Three year residual values for a C 200 CDI are expected to comfortably top 50 per cent, leading in turn to a cost per mile figure that's less than a 2.0-litre diesel Renault Megane.
The C200 CDI is a popular choice. With a manual six-speed gearbox and the standard ECO start/stop function, this model manages 57.7mpg on the combined cycle and emits just 127g/km of CO2. Opt for an automatic C250 CDI and it'll manage 56.5mpg while emitting just 131g/km.
The brief for this improved Mercedes C-Class estate couldn't have been clearer. Beef up the specification and make big improvements to economy and efficiency. Judged by those criteria, the car is an undeniable success, even though it's a car that's been developed against a backdrop of ever improving rivals.
Yes, the new BMW 3 Series Touring and the improved Audi A4 Avant both represent strong competition, but this C-Class does more than enough to keep itself in the game here. There's still something just that bit more classy about this practical package. You'd like one: simple as that.