The last C-Class came out in 2007 - yes seven years ago! So when the W205 first broke cover, it was naturally like a breath of fresh air. It was in May that we brought you our comprehensive review of the new generation of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. (Read: C-Class Review) At the time I was impressed with the sheer leap Mercedes-Benz has managed to take with it.
The new C-Class is lighter, lither and more agile. Its also modern, beautiful and yes - it is indeed the Baby S-Class - as its been popularly called all year long. Now it's set for launch in India - which has been pulled ahead from what we initially thought would be January at the earliest. Mercedes-Benz is launching only the C200 petrol variant for starters.
The cars will be imported, but pricing takes into account local assembly, which begins around February next year. That is also when the diesel C220 will join the C200. (Watch: New C-Class W205 review from Marseilles)
C-CLASS VERSUS 3 SERIES & A4
So now that I have the car here, it was only fitting to pit it against its immediate rivals. Yes the segment has been the traditional battleground of the German foes for long - not just here, but globally - the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and of course the C-Class.
LOOKS TO KILL
Now the first thing you notice is that the C-Class looks really new. The A4 still holds its own since Audi defined 'pretty' in this segment long ago, but it looks admittedly sober now. The 3 Series screams sporty and the C-Class does run away with the pageant crown for its sharp character lines, sloping roofline and boot-lid, and the bold face with the organic looking lights.
ON THE ROAD
We are not testing like-engines here, but rather comparing drive dynamics and overall proposition. Now in this particular segment when it comes to sporty appeal and precise direct driving, the BMW 3 Series has always been the one to lead. And while this is the C-Class that's come closest, BMW manages to hold on to the crown. The 3 Series' handling is superb, with extra precision and great steering. The C-Class follows and the Audi, while accurate is soft and offers more of a comfort-oriented feel, than a dynamic one. I suspect that will change when the next generation A4 arrives next year.
But given that in India, a lot of buyers will prefer to sit in the rear, and that the car does fairly well on bad surfaces or through potholes, the balanced ride feel on the C may appeal the most. Though the weirdest thing - I wish the steering was smidgen larger, as it feels small by comparison to the other two.
The C-Class is also lighter than its predecessor by 100 kgs thanks to a 39% increase in the use of aluminium in the car's structure. And that does make the car a lot stiffer. Yes the 3 Series remains the out-and-out drivers' car, but the C is very satisfying to drive now too, especially if you flick the Agility setting to Sport or Sport+. The 7-speed gearbox is also smooth, but there are slight delays on downshifts in Sport+ mode.
CABIN, COMFORT AND CONVENIENCES
The Baby S tag means the interiors have to be super-swanky and you won't be disappointed. The C-Class being launched has a plethora of high-end equipment including a Burmester sound system, with 13 speakers, panoramic sunroof, high-grade leather and wood inserts. I am not sure all of that will make it to the locally assembled version though.
It's a bit of an opulent feel you get in this car, with great material quality. The new updated Command infotainment system is easier to use, and comes with a touch pad and has in-built navigation too. The car's cabin exudes a sense of space which the last C-Class lacked, The seats are comfortable and like the S-Class the C too now boasts ambient lighting options though in just 3 colours - amber, white and blue.
By comparison the 3 Series and A4 look drab, though material quality and fit is good. The BMW has the edge over the A4 on being more contemporary, Now given that the 3 Series is the driver's car of the pack, it's no surprise that it's also got the best driving position. You can really adjust the steering and seating to get it just right. Throw in the M performance package with sports seats and you've really got it made.
The A4 is nearing the end of its life cycle too now, and so yes is dated, but the MMI or multi-media interface is actually the most intuitive and easy to use of the three brands.
Prices for the new C are expected to hover over the ₹ 40 lakh range. It does emerge as the winner in this contest, but with the caveat that I cannot give it an absolute win as yet. We are still waiting on the prices, and the whole strategy form Mercedes-Benz on how many variants we will eventually have - what their local content will be, and the trims/features to be offered eventually. But having said that, the car will probably get a nice clean run because others cars like the Jaguar XE and the next generation of the Audi A4, won't arrive till the end of next year, or in early 2016.