Recently facelifted, we test the entry-level C-Class to establish whether it matches its pricier line-up mates’ lustre...
We’ve said it many times but it bears repeating: lower-end models in a range are often the best ones. Take our former long-term Peugeot 3008 1,6 THP Active, for example, or a BMW 520d or Ford Fiesta 1,0 EcoBoost Trend. While sharing many of the qualities that make these ranges as good as they are, entry-level models often forsake ride-ruining wheels, mass-hiking additional spec and lofty pricing with correspondingly precipitous used values. Does the same rule apply to the Mercedes-Benz C180? Let’s find out.
Towards the close of 2018, the German brand released a revised C-Class range featuring myriad tweaks aimed at strengthening its connection to larger Benzes in terms of refinement, ride quality and tech toys, while introducing new petrol engines linked to 48 V EQ Boost systems (that’ll be the C200, for instance). In fact, up to 6 500 parts are all-new, depending on the model; nearly half of the vehicle’s total make-up. The C180, however, retains the 1,6-litre engine.
And what a surprisingly excellent pairing it is with the midsize sedan. Coupled with an in-house developed nine-speed automatic transmission far more fluid in its workings than Benz boxes of yore, the four-pot is suitably refined at low engine speeds and torquey enough to limit forays into the less-hushed upper reaches of the rev range. The sprint to 100 km/h takes less than 10 seconds, no doubt assisted by this lightly optioned test unit weighing a relatively lithe 1 537 kg. It has a likeable growl in the mid-range, too, where its flexibility affords speedy overtaking.
So far, so very Benz. However, a consistent point of criticism in our tests of C-Classes has been the all-round multilink suspension’s inability to fully cushion occupants against road-surface scars, especially in variants equipped with sportier packages and a corresponding 15 mm drop in ride height. Standard-fitment, firmer run-flat tyres have also not helped. That’s why we’ve always recommended air suspension as a worthwhile – although costly – option to include when speccing a C-Class.
Judging by this test unit, however, C-Class buyers can now feel confident leaving that R21 500 box unticked and rather funnelling their cash into the optional digital instrumentation and a few choice bits and bobs. Despite running on 45/40-profile tyres front to rear, this test unit rode a variety of surfaces with both impressive absorbency and control. There’s a smidge too much rebound on the rear axle when encountering an obstacle mid-bend that can nudge the vehicle off line, plus a touch too much suspension noise filtering into the otherwise terrifically hushed cabin, but the C-Class matches the overtly comfort-oriented Audi A4 for ride sophistication. The new BMW 3 Series will have a hard time copying this level of composure (look out for a comparison test in our June 2019 issue).
It’ll be heaps more fun to drive though, if history is any indication. While the Benz boasts direct, quick steering (a mere 2,3 turns lock to lock), the weighting is consistently lifeless (although, impressively, consistently devoid of kickback, too) and the cornering attitude neutral before washing into understeer. We’d scarcely consider knocking a chunk of points from the C180’s tally because this is ultimately a midsize-executive sedan and comfort and refinement are top considerations, but you’ll have more fun behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo Giulia and an F80 3 Series.
And what of our critiques about the interior build integrity? Well, Mercedes-Benz does not claim to have fiddled with the fit and finish but the team agreed build tolerances feels tighter and some plastics – especially those on the facia surrounding the buttons for radio, media, etc., buttons – are less creaky. Jump from an A4 and you’ll notice a slight dip in perceived quality but this is still an opulent cockpit.
It’s not quite cutting-edge, though, missing the new MBUX infotainment system as contained in, for instance, the A250 we earlier tested. The C-Class boasts analogue instrumentation with the option of a fully digital setup (that’ll be R11 000 extra), coupled with a standard seven-inch central screen or wider 10,25-inch Media Display as seen here (R9 000). Benz has upgraded the graphics and menu layouts, and it’s easier than ever to use, especially when controlled via the new touch pads on the redesigned steering wheel.
Elsewhere, it’s business as usual: the seats are firm but supportive; front occupants have massive adjustability on the chairs; rear-seat room is very much dependent on the generosity of those in front, although this applies to nearly all cars in this bracket; and the boot is well sized without being generous.
Recording just 7,4 L/100 km on our standardised mixed-environment fuel route, the C180 is commendably frugal. The C-Class range is also brimming with safety features, looks great (especially in optional R29 000 AMG-Line package), retains value better than any other vehicle in the class and has the best maintenance plan bar the Lexus IS’ class-leading seven-year/105 000 km item.
We do have some reservations, despite considering this C180 one of the best buys in the range. Compared with the Audi A4 35T FSI, the C180 is bullishly priced but no better specced (and the truly appealing features such as the AMG-Line option and the digital screens are pricey additions), while Volkswagen’s Arteon is an interesting alternative with a far more generous list of standard features. That doesn’t take away from the C-Class’ excellence, though, and this side of an AMG, we’d heartily recommend the C180...
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sedan price and specs here