The last time I was in France, I experienced glamping for the first time, and drank Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc trackside at midnight while enjoying the symphony of 50-plus race cars zoom into the Circuit de la Sarthe’s final chicane during the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was one heck of an experience, if not a bit hectic. On this trip to France, I’m driving the all-new sixth-generation Mercedes-Benz C-Class on some glorious roads in Southern France, before kicking back at the luxury hotel in the ancient Mediterranean port city of Marseille and enjoying some rosé wine from Côtes de Provence and local seafood at dinner. C’est la vie, but I’ll tell you what! If the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C 400 4MATIC sedan I drove is an indication of things to come from Mercedes, then more goodness is on its way.
Mercedes-Benz has sold more than 8.5 million cars in this segment since the first generation (W 201) 190 and 190 E models debuted in 1982. Since then, the C-Class has continued its success story marked by innovations in three more generations – the 202 model series (1993-2000), 203 (2000-07) and 204 (2007-14). The next generation of the C-Class (205 model series) celebrates its debut in 2014 and leads this tradition into the future.
The first thing you will notice about the incoming W 205 is that it looks nothing like the outgoing W 204. It really doesn’t, inside or outside. In fact, the differences are game-changing from a design standpoint as the exterior and interior have been completely redesigned to be more luxurious, spacious and sophisticated. I rather fancy the outgoing car, but I like the new version even more so.
The lightweight body is constructed using 20% more aluminum parts, and this new chassis is larger than the outgoing one in every dimension. The car is also 100 kg lighter than its predecessor and stiffer, too. With an 80 mm longer wheelbase (2,840 mm) than the outgoing model, the vehicle is 95 mm longer (4,686 mm) and wider by 40 mm (1,810 mm). The result is improved driving comfort and a generous 480 litres of trunk capacity. Rear legroom is still at a premium when the front seats are set at their furthest back position, but the whole cabin has an upper-class look and feel to it.
Canadian C-Class models will have a decidedly sporting silhouette. Our models will prominently feature the AMG hallmarks, something the Canadian market favours. Evidence of this sporty disposition can be seen on the enlarged front air inlets, sporty-looking grille with lower chrome front splitter and a trunk lip spoiler. Completing the functional package are LED head and taillights punctuated by more chrome brightwork.
For those looking for a more fashionable appearance, the Exclusive Line front end with the classic saloon radiator grille and vertical Mercedes-Benz three-point star on the hood is available as a factory option; this grille features louvres that close to reduce drag, increase fuel economy and look classier.
The cabin is roomier than before, and represents a significant boost in quality and craftsmanship. But, besides a new centre stack, sportier console and seats, the biggest change might just be to the command system interface, which combines the old round control knob with a new touchpad interface that hovers over top. Both are used to make selections on the enlarged touchscreen that sits higher on the dash for better readability.
The innovative touchpad also permits letters, numbers and special characters to be input in handwriting – in any language – with the user getting clear, tactile feedback from the surface of the touchpad. The display itself now offers more options available through the interface than before; and, that makes setting up the car or changing settings faster and easier.
This new model blurs the line between sport and luxury even further. Although my favourite Mercedes feature – massaging seats – do not come on the new C-Class, it does share several available features that come by way of the new S-Class, which launched mid last year.
One such feature is the upgraded Burmester surround sound system, which makes it sound like you’re sitting in the front row of a concert. Then there’s the Air Balance package with active fragrancing, ionisation and even more efficient filtration compared with the standard model. Four different fragrances are available (Freeside Mood, Nightlife Mood, Downtown Mood and Sports Mood), with a glass dispenser and a fragrance generator in the glove compartment.
Another more functional feature that has migrated over from the flagship is Intelligent Drive, which can act as your personal chauffeur system if you so desire. Sort of.
Intelligent Drive is a suite of comfort and safety technologies all merged into one. It combines Distronic Plus (intelligent cruise control) with steer assist and active lane keeping; Pre Safe Plus brake assist with cross-traffic and pedestrian recognition; as well as the active blind spot and parking assist is also available for those with vision difficulties.
A multitude of sensors and radar are used to monitor traffic around the vehicle, and react accordingly whether that be emergency braking to reduce the chance of rear-ending another vehicle, or bracing for impact in the case of getting rear-ended. If the system detects you’re drifting out of your lane unintentionally (without indicating), steer assist will take corrective action to get you back on the straight and narrow. Intelligent drive can be turned on or off, but it can’t save your arse if it’s not. Better to name it something like Gustav, and let him watch your back!
A small army of engines is available, however, only a handful will come to Canada. When the car goes on sale this summer, the C 300 will be powered by an all-new turbocharged four-cylinder that churns the 4MATIC drivetrain with 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. One was not available to try out on the press drive. However, I was able to grease my palms with the C 400 and its biturbo V6 engine that boasts 329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. A hybrid model is being offered in other markets, but not here. Mercedes-Benz Canada reps have confirmed a diesel-powered variant will make it over here at some point, but it might not be before the next version of the almighty C 63 AMG gets here next spring.
The carefully-selected drive route is short but brilliant, and snakes its way from the airport in Marseille to La Villa Madie in Cassis on the Coast to the east some 80 km away. The C 400 4MATIC has no trouble keeping up with the well-caffeinated locals, beaming quietly while composed on the beaten and worn highway leaving town, in total contrast to the forests of graffiti outside.
The speed-sensitive electromechanical steering rack is direct and responsive with good feedback, and the flat-bottom steering wheel feels solid with paddle shifters to control the seven gears manually if so desired. The car is quick and agile on local roads, and holds its own in the countless roundabouts and switchbacks on the route.
From La Villa Madie in Casis, I switch on Sport mode and take on the dramatic, twisting and turning mountaintop Route des Crêtes (its views of the Mediterranean Sea put Red Rock Canyon to shame) where the car’s only problem is that there are no places to pass slower cars, which it catches up to quickly.
The brakes are up to the task, and the newly designed aluminum four-link front axle and five-link independent rear work with the optional segment-first Airmatic suspension to smooth out expansion joints and asphalt patches as it traverses the undulating asphalt effortlessly.
The C 400 4MATIC doesn’t just look sporty, and the C-Class has come a long way from its “Baby Benz” compact luxury roots. It’s become a wonderfully agile saloon with a number of different personalities, selectable driving modes that adjust steering, suspension and powertrain performance and fuel economy. Agility Select can be set to Comfort, Eco, Sport, Sport Plus or Individual, the latter only when equipped with the aforementioned Airmatic suspension, via a switch near the touchpad.
Whereas the E- and S-Class have great to excellent back seats, the front seats in the C-Class are where it’s at! To truly enjoy this car is to be sitting in the driver’s seat, even without the massage function! With the CLA and GLA now carrying the Baby Benz flag, the C has certainly come of age in size and stature. Not so much that it’s in danger of cannibalizing E-Class sales.
The list of standard features for Canadian models is long and impressive. However, we’re getting only a small part of the C-Class lineup. And while the Bluetec Hybrid model will not be one of them, the BlueTec clean diesel option will be nice to ponder. The additional torque and range is enough to make some of us Canucks cry, eh.
Pricing won’t be ready until closer to launch, however, expect it to be on par or slightly above the current pricing scheme, only with even more standard equipment. Now, if Mercedes-Benz would only offer it in a long wheelbase version and/or shooting brake format.