The life of a motoring journalist involves flying to and from the various airports of Europe, often at times of day I’d forgotten even existed, jumping in to a new car and driving it around the countryside for a few hours before heading back home.
In the time I’ve been doing it, only once have I been upgraded to business class, and that was for a very short flight to Hannover to play with some Continental tyres. The rest of the time it’s been economy, knees pressed in to the plastic of the seat in front while trying to fit a laptop on to the fold-out tray somewhere between BA’s chicken flatbread and a glass of water.
I’ve often thought about paying to upgrade myself but, while the job is undoubtedly varied and exciting, you don’t become a motoring writer in order to get rich. Economy it is then.
Mercedes-Benz eased my discomfort recently by providing me with the new C-Class to cruise around in. This is a hugely important model for Mercedes, accounting for more than 20% of their sales each year, and this latest iteration will have to hold the fort for at least seven years.
On the outside it’s unmistakably a modern Mercedes. A bold, and even aggressive, front end with a wide chrome grille gives way to an unusually sleek body that tapers away towards the rear. It’s bigger than the outgoing model, but thanks to the elegant lines doesn’t look it and, importantly, is a great deal lighter.
Combined with some heavily revised engines, that’s good news for economy and emissions. The C220 BlueTEC driven here officially returns 65.7mpg and manages to emit just 110g/km of CO2. For private buyers that means there’s an annual car tax bill of just £20, while business buyers will be pleased with the 18% BIK rate. In real-world driving, 50mpg and above is easily achievable, without making too much effort.
Not that you should be making any effort in the C-Class. The cabin is designed in such a way that you’re isolated from the outside world, cosseted in one of the finest car interiors on the market today.
A seven-inch screen sits jarringly atop the dashboard, looking a little like an afterthought, which brings together all the functions you might need, controlled by both a rotary dial and a touchpad that sits between the seats. It looks impressive, even if nobody could explain why you’d need two different ways of using the one screen.
Some unnecessary complexity aside, the C-Class cabin is not only head and shoulders above the rest of its competitors, it’s positively knees and toes ahead too. Piano-black gloss materials sit alongside aluminium strips and finely stitched man-made leather, combining to create an environment that looks wonderful but is also a joy to spend time in.
You’re positively encouraged to sit back and relax rather than press the loud pedal and disturb the serenity.
If you do want to press on, then the C-Class is left ever so slightly wanting. The 2.1-litre diesel engine, despite its revisions and a ‘Sport’ badge on the bootlid, is still too vocal when under pressure, and needs working hard if you’re to make the scenery turn a little blurry.
When you get to the twisty bits of road, you’ll also find that the suspension and steering aren’t as sharp as you might find on some other German rivals. It rides superbly, but never digs in and lets you feel as if you’re extracting every last ounce of grip.
Instead it simply reminds you that this is a car for swift, if not exciting, progress. Dial things back ever so slightly and you’re left with a car that has a fluidity to its dynamics that few other cars can match. If your expectations of the car match its sweet spot of capabilities, then any snaking ribbon of tarmac will be nothing but a faint memory as it glides from one end to the other.
Occasionally you’ll be left wondering if you should have purchased a BMW 320d for a cross-country run, or the Audi A4 for its super-smooth engine, but the more time you spend with the C-Class, the less frequently you ask yourself those questions.
The new C-Class might not be quite perfect, but it’s as close as anybody has got so far. Think of it as an upgrade to Business Class for everyday driving, but at no extra cost over the competition.
Engine: 2.1-litre in-line four-cylinder common-rail diesel with turbochargers
Top speed: 144 mph
0-62 mph: 7.4 seconds
Power: 168 bhp / 170 PS
Torque: 295 ft-lb / 400 Nm
|Official combined mpg: 65.7 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 110 g/km
VED Band: B / £20 per year
Insurance group: 34
Kerb weight: 1,570 kg