JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – South Africa can be proud of the accomplishment that all right-hand-drive C-Class sedans are currently manufactured in East London, from where they are shipped to the north and east (and, of course, also sold locally). Still, the locally built C-Class was due for a refresh, and has gained updates to its oily and electrical bits.

It’s quite amazing how automobiles can keep advancing, year after year, as everyday offerings head towards the seemingly inevitable fully electric powertrain. In the interim, electrical improvements, especially with LEDs, connectivity, instrumentation displays and more efficient petrol and diesel engine technology, continue at pace.

Updated electrics

The C200 I drove in Johannesburg boasts many of the latest features of the renewed C-Class range (check out pricing here). These are slowly trickling through as testing proves their worth. One of these is the switch to 48V on-board electrics. This is a sensible upgrade as it means a four-fold reduction in current flow, which in turn has resulted in thinner wiring and much less copper. So, less mass and reduced cost.

This derivative, which slots in above the entry-level C180, also features the brand's latest M264 engine, a 1,5-litre four-cylinder petrol mill with turbocharging. This powerplant employs a twin-scroll turbo with electrical charge control that reacts quicker than one with purely pneumatic control. Variable cam timing with valve lift takes care of the best configuration for every situation.

Pistons with cooling channels and sodium-filled valves provide enhanced cooling and a belt-driven starter/generator system (which the Stuttgart-based brand calls “EQ Boost”) helps to recover energy and adds 10 kW of available power to supplement initial acceleration.

All models in the local C-Class line-up have switched from the familiar seven-speed auto transmission to nine-speed items. Interestingly, manual gearboxes are no longer offered in South Africa, while estate versions aren’t available here anymore, either.

A fresh face

More visible to the naked eye are the styling tweaks that the brand has made to the grille, which gains a chromed, single-slat arrangement (AMG models are set apart by a dual bar and diamond-effect detailing), new LED headlamps and fresh tail-lamps. An optional “multibeam” headlamp package is furthermore available, featuring 84 LEDs – each one individually adjustable according to the surrounding inputs.

These days, the driver of a new luxury sedan is truly spoilt for choice. You can leave it virtually all up to the car as you head from A to B or you can opt for paddle shifting and a choice of dynamics, including eco, comfort, sport and sport+ setups. All, naturally, at the flick of a switch.

The test car we sampled was fitted with the optional larger display screen (measuring just over 10 inches in diameter) for easy-to-read navigation and displaying all other information you may need. The cruise control buttons have been moved from an awkward stalk to a prominent position on the steering wheel. Also added to the tiller is a pair of sensitive touch pads for menu navigation. These, though, are not to my liking as they are small and fairly finicky to use. Seating is comfortable and legroom in the rear sufficient.

The only ergonomic flaw I noticed is that the (very large) transmission tunnel has a ridge surrounding the centre console that may cause discomfort to your left knee. This will likely affect taller drivers the most.

The sweet spot?

The 1,5-litre engine is willing and likely represents the sweet spot in the range, with 20 kW more power than the C180. The C300 uses a larger engine and has 45 kW more than the C200, but this sort of output is probably not necessary for everyday driving (it also costs a little over R100 000 more).

Although the provided specs had an incorrect CO2 emissions figure of 144 g/km (worse than the old C200, which used a 2,0-litre unit), the actual claimed fuel consumption is 6,0 L/100 km, which is somewhat better than the previous figure of 6,4 L/100 km.

Overall, the updates (especially those under the skin) to the C-Class sedan range are pretty comprehensive, with the new 1,5-litre engine and the nine-speed automatic combining impressively. Needless to say, we expect the renewed C-Class sedan to continue to prove popular both locally and abroad. And that certainly bodes well for the future of the East London plant, which in June secured an additional investment to the tune of €600-million...