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Click to view road test review picture galleryThe new Mercedes
  C-Class Estates throw
  down the gauntlet to
  Audi and BMW.
  You can’t buy them
  until Spring 2008 —
  but you can order one
  right after you’ve read
  this road test review...”

EARLIER THIS YEAR, in June, the new Mercedes C-Class Saloons were launched in the UK, although customers will have to wait until Spring 2008 for the right-hand drive C-Class Estates to arrive. However, the order books are already open…

By and large, the new C-Class Saloon — on which the Estates are based — have been widely praised for their much improved quality, style, agility, performance, cleaner and more powerful efficient engines. But, most of all, for their increased interior space — especially for rear seat passengers. The new Estates are likely to reap further praise for their load capacity (485 to 1,500 litres) which Mercedes claim is the largest in its sector.

The good news for UK customers was that the new Saloons were intro-duced at more or less the same prices as the models they replaced, and the Estates are likely to follow that pricing pattern. The like-for-like pricing of the C-Class Saloon has resulted in increased sales across Europe and, in the UK, in the very competitive premium compact sector of the market where the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4 ranges are the main challengers to Mercedes models.

Spring 2008 will also see the introduction of the high-performance C63 AMG Saloon and Estate models in the UK at prices estimated to be in the region of £51,000 and £52,000.

Although supplies of the new models are not available until next year, Mercedes-Benz have introduced them to the international motoring media because they are eager to attract advance orders — especially in the fleet and business car sectors.

The competitor BMW 3-Series and M3 models are already in place and the new Audi A4 range opened for orders last month (September) — although deliveries of the Audi saloons will not start until February and Avant estates will follow in the summer. Obviously Mercedes-Benz is keen to lay down a marker with prospective customers that their C-class Estate and AMG models are available for order now. The C-Class Sports Coupe will follow later next year.

As with the Saloons, the new C-Class Estate range in the UK has a re-vised model line-up structure in SE, Elegance and Sport specifications. In Europe these models will be known as Classic, Elegance and Avant-garde. The change of names for the UK, says Mercedes, better reflects the two new styling faces available. The C-Class Estate SE (the entry model) and Elegance (the luxury and comfort models) feature a wide and louvered front grille with the traditional and classic Mercedes three-pointed star mounted on the bonnet. The Sport and AMG models, however, have a large three-pointed star mounted prominently in the centre of the grille.

Dermot Kelly, managing director of Mercedes Car Group in the UK, said: "No prices for next year's C-Class Estate models have been finalised but I expect them to be more or less 'budget neutral' with Estate models carrying just under a £1,000 price premium over their respective C-Class Saloon models."

For the record, C-Class Saloon prices range from £22,937 up to £35,577. Prices of the new C63 AMG Saloon and Estate are less clear at this stage, although prices starting in the region of £51,000 are likely.

Mercedes-Benz is also reluctant to talk about future sales figures and will only talk about past sales numbers, which we have to assume they intend to beat. Last year, just over 24,000 C-Class models of all types were sold in the UK: 14,500 Saloons; nearly 3,000 Estates; and over 6,800 Sports Coupes. Overall, nearly 70 per cent of C-Class sales have in the past been to fleet and corporate sector customers but estate models are more popular with retail customers, said Dermot Kelly. He added: "In the UK over the last two quarters we have seen a rise in demand for E-Class Estate models over Saloons, so there appears to be a trend towards estates which could be reflected in future C-Class sales."

Regarding the new C-Class AMG models, Dermot Kelly said that sales in the past have been limited — between 250 and 275 a year — but that there appears to be added interest from customers for the new C63 models and expectations are that up to 1,000 AMG versions (Saloons and Estates) could be sold in the UK in a full year.

The new Estate line-up for the UK will be available with eight engine options (not including the 63 AMG version which replaces the C55). Petrol engines will be the C180, C200 Kompressor, C230, C280 and C350 units. Diesel engines are the C200 CDI, C220 CDI and C320 CDI units. A six-speed manual transmission is standard for most models but C280, C350 and C320 CDI models will have Mercedes' seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox as standard.

The four- and six-cylinder engine line-up may look familiar to the out-going C-Class Estate engines, but Mercedes says all have received further development to provide more power allied to better fuel econ-omy and lower emissions. Larger four-cylinder units now, on average, use 12 per cent less fuel than their predecessors while developing up to 13 per cent more power.

For instance, the two best-selling engines in the UK will be the C220 CDI — by far the most popular choice — and the C180 Kompressor. The C220 CDI diesel engine (a 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, high-pressure com-mon rail diesel with turbocharger,) now develops 170bhp rather than the previous 150bhp and it has 44lb ft more torque developed at lower (from 2,000rpm) engine speeds. Average fuel consumption is now quoted as 45.9mpg instead of 40.9mpg, making this engine the sensible choice in all respects for customers. It is relatively frugal to run, tax efficient, quiet, a strong performer and makes light work of heavy traffic conditions.

The C180 Kompressor petrol engine has a modified engine management system, improved Kompressor and redesigned pistons which result in 14bhp more power and better fuel consumption. The 1.8-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine now produces 156bhp and 170lb ft of 'grunt'
from 2,800rpm. Top speed is 136mph and 0-62mph is covered in 9.8 seconds. The official average fuel consumption is 35.3mpg and CO2 emissions are 183g/km, putting it in VED Band E at £165 a year. For the private buyer who wants a compact, prestigious estate car or for the company car user who doesn't cover a high mileage, this is a pretty good 'starter' model.

Buying an estate is mainly about the extra space and load carrying versatility it offers over the boot of a saloon. In this premium sector, five-door hatchbacks are not considered to be up-market enough so customers go for the saloon or estate — whichever best suits their image, lifestyle and business requirements.

The stretched exterior length over the Saloon and the steeper rear-end over the previous Estate has given the new model the largest load bay in its class: up from 470 to 485 litres; and with the rear seat backs folded forwards there is 1,500 litres — that's a useful 155 litres more space. The maximum load length from the front passenger footwell to the tailgate has increased by 170mm to 2,820mm. The new Estate also has the maximum permissible payload of 605kg, along with a maximum braked towing capacity of 1,800kg. Various bespoke load securing systems and a function for the tailgate to open and close at the touch of a button are available as extra cost options.

The new Estate has a wide tailgate opening and a wide and long load floor: both key features estate owners want and appreciate. The only criticisms are that the rear seats do not fold completely flat for a totally flat load floor, and that the load area cover and its fittings are not of the same high quality as the rest of the interior.

The new Estates share all the highly-praised technical features of the C-Class Saloons and S-Class models and benefit from Adaptive Braking as standard with the options of Intelligent Lighting and PRE-SAFE preventive passenger protection. All Estate models also get a new rear suspension system called Agility Control, which adjusts the damping forces front and rear depending on speed, driving style, load carried, cornering and braking forces. The aim is to provide a near perfect 50:50 weight and force distribution under all conditions — particularly advantageous for customers who need to carry heavy loads on a regular basis or use their C-Class Estate for towing. An extra-cost self-levelling suspension option will also available.

Certainly the handling and ride quality is superb. The new Estate is more responsive in the steering and road holding areas, and the feed-back to the driver is pin-sharp. It is almost unique to find an estate car that provides a perfectly flat ride — fore and aft and left and right — whilst accelerating, braking or cornering. But the C-Class Estate does exactly that. Ride comfort is excellent, and the suspension's ability to absorb road noise and thumps and bumps from potholes is remarkable. Only the wind noise from the door-mounted mirrors was intrusive.

In any form the new C-Class Estate is no sluggish load carrier with a poor ride quality and compromised performance. Just look at the quality and specification and check out the performance figures. Overall, it's hard to fault: as mentioned, the load floor is not flat at the front and the load area cover and fittings are not up to the high quality of the rest of the vehicle. Against that you have a large load area along with impressive interior passenger room, an excellent range of engines both fast and frugal, superb ride quality, much improved quality, high spec-ifications and desirable styling. No question then that the new C-Class Estate raises the bar in the compact premium estate sector for other manufacturers to aspire to. — David Miles

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Mercedes-Benz Estate C220 CDI Elegance | £27,300
Maximum speed: 140mph | 0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 31mpg | Power: 170bhp | Torque: 295lb ft

CO2 159-161g/km | Insurance group TBC
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