What is it?
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class estate – which so far hasn’t proved one of those added-practicality German execs that rivals its saloon sibling for popularity.
Only 20 per cent of UK sales of the outgoing C-Class consisted of wagons, compared to almost double that proportion for the Audi A4 Avant.
But that balance may shift a little in favour of the estate with this ‘W205’ model generation Mercedes. There’s not only more cargo space on offer this time – 490 litres going on 1510 with the seats down, the latter a segment-best – but also now three-way 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats and optional self-leveling air suspension. The latter is sure to go down well with the towing fraternity.
The engine range mimics that of the recently launched saloon, with 168bhp C 220 and 201bhp C 250 Bluetec diesels available from launch in September, as well as a 181bhp C 200 petrol.
Shortly after launch a more economical C 200 Bluetec diesel will join the range, as well as a diesel-electric C 300 Bluetec Hybrid. There will be no six-cylinder turbodiesel this time around, however – and the C400 V6 petrol offered in other markets won’t make it to the UK either.
What’s it like?
Growing 80mm between the axles and almost 100mm overall, the new C-class offers 45mm more second-row legroom than its predecessor. Our test car still felt a bit smaller in the back than the roomiest cars in the class, but without the optional panoramic sunroof it’d be fine for all but the very tallest adults.
Space up front is excellent, and the boot is well packaged. It offers flat sides, a flat, wide loading lip and a handy storage compartment for loose items.
Performance, ride and handling are very much as we found them in the C-Class saloon: suitably laid back and more than respectable in every case, but generally not outstanding.
Despite some background noise, the cabin’s very well isolated from what’s going on under the bonnet, although the combination of 19in alloy wheels and air suspension on our test car made for more road roar than is ideal.
Mid-range urge is definitely better from the C 250 than the lesser C 220 diesel, and there seems little refinement penalty from choosing the more powerful of the two – something you’d never have said of the previous-generation C-Class.
With less than £3k between a C 220 and C 250, more than half of that premium offset against a standard automatic gearbox on the latter, and no gain on economy or emissions for choosing the former in automatic form, the C 250 instinctively seems better value.
The transmission selects ratios intelligently and shifts smoothly at all times, though it could be quicker in manual mode. Pedal response is good and the power delivery – while biased for that gutsy mid-range – is flexible enough.
Air suspension makes for a very comfortable motorway ride. The C-Class has a cushioned gait at high speed and, though always eddying around on its suspension ever so slightly, the Mercedes’ a calming place in which to cover distance.
But the car doesn’t have the deft, subtle body or wheel control of steel-sprung ‘Sport’-spec cars; occasionally its air suspension is caught out by a sudden ridge, which thumps through into the cabin and disturbs the ride.
Steel sprung C-Classes, in our experience, also steer with a shade more precision and feel than their air-sprung counterparts – particularly those without Mercedes’ troubling, artificial-feeling ‘Direct-Steer Sport’ extra-direct variable-ratio steering rack, which is certainly to be avoided.
Should I buy one?
It’s a compliment to Mercedes’ artful styling that, all in, the C-Class is an even more appealing and no less elegant proposition in estate form than it is as a saloon.
The car’s right on the class standard in terms of space and efficiency, and above it on material quality and – in some ways – on refinement.
But overall, that effortless sense of functional superiority that characterizes some of Stuttgart’s more expensive machinery still eludes its biggest-selling model.
This is without question a good car – but it’ll take Daimler’s new raft of 2015 engines and a fair bit of chassis development before it can become a great one.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class C 250 Bluetec Estate
Price £33,220; 0-62mph 6.9sec; Top speed 150mph; Economy 62.8mpg (combined); CO2 117g/km; Kerb weight 1660kg; Engine 4cyls, 2143cc, turbocharged diesel; Power 201bhp at 3800rpm; Torque 369lb ft at 1600-1800rpm; Gearbox 7-spd automatic
What is it?