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Click to view picture gallery“The all-new C-Class
  Mercedes is hard
  to fault and comes
  with a host of cutting-
  And, depending on
  model, it also sports
  different faces…”

THE ALL-NEW MERCEDES-BENZ C-Class goes on sale in the UK in June, with the first saloon models in the revised model line-up available in three specifications: SE, Elegance and Sport.

Somewhat confusingly, in Europe these models will be badged Classic, Elegance and Avantgarde. Mercedes says the change of names for
the UK models better reflects the two new styling 'faces' available with the new C-Class range.

SE, the entry and volume-selling models, and Elegance, the luxury/ comfort models, both feature a wide, louvered front grille with the traditional and classic Mercedes three-pointed star mounted on the bonnet. The Sport models however, have the three-pointed star mounted prominently in the centre of the grille.

Talking of grilles, the new ones are more upright in appearance than those of the previous C-Class cars, with a higher bonnet — all part of the 'softer' pedestrian-friendly front-end. The new range exchanges the signature teardrop shaped front lights of the superseded model in favour of conventionally-shaped headlamp units.

The new — it's the fourth-generation — C-Class range kick offs with Saloon models. Estate versions will follow in September and the sleeker
C-Class Sports Coupé will be introduced in 2008.

Prices for the new C-Class Saloon range start at £22,950 (for the C180 Kompressor) and rise to £35,475 for the C350 Sport. The first C-Class Saloon models to be available will be the C200 Kompressor (from £24,090), the C280 (£28,175), the C350 Elegance (£33,775), the C220 CDI (from £25,090) and the C320 CDI Elegance, which will cost £31,590.

More C-Class saloons will follow later in the year and these will be the C180 Kompressor (from £22,950); the C200 Kompressor Sport at £25,845; the C230 (from £26,375); the C200 CDI (from £24,090) and the C320 CDI Sport, costing £33,290.

Dermot Kelly, managing director of Mercedes Car Group in the UK, speaking at the international press launch for the new C-Class Saloon range: "Although the new models are longer, wider, roomier, more stylish with significant improvements in quality and technology, they are more or less budget-neutral and the entry-level model, for instance, has a price increase of just £80.

"The best-selling models are traditionally the C220 and C200 CDI diesel versions because of the demand from fleet and business user-chooser customers. Private buyers mostly go for the C200 and C180 Kompressor variants but there is strong demand as well from private buyers and senior directors who want just that extra bit of performance and driv-ing response offered by the C350 and C320 CDI versions. Saloons and Estates together represent 70 per cent diesel sales, but if you factor in the Sports Coupé versions then the overall split for demand is 60 per cent in favour of diesel.

Apparently customers who specify automatic transmission models over manual gearboxes represent nearly 80 per cent of registrations. Kelly also confirmed the 4Matic all-wheel drive system would not be available as an option for the UK market.

The UK is the third largest market in the world for Mercedes sales, behind Germany and America. Over six million 190 and C-Class models have been sold since the 'baby' Mercedes was launched in 1982, making it the best-selling range in the premium C-Segment — which includes the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4.

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 Coupés. And there are already 65,000 orders for the new C-Class Saloon models in place from Western European countries.

All model variants share the latest, state-of-the-art technology; much of it from the highly-rated S-Class executive saloon. This includes
the newly-developed Agility Control package with situation-responsive shock-absorber control, the Intelligent Light System with five different lighting functions and the Pre-Safe preventive occupant protection system.

There is a choice of four- and six-cylinder engines with up to 13 per cent more output than the preceding models, accompanied by up to six per cent lower fuel consumption and, on average, 15 per cent lower CO2 emissions. Overall the new C-Class is bigger — but not heavier; offers more power for less fuel consumed and costs more or less the same price. Not so obvious, the newcomer also has 16 per cent more torsional rigidity than the outgoing models and the weight balance has been improved to 52:48 front-to-rear for better handling and overall balance.

Mercedes also says the new C-Class benefits from the safety DNA and the comfort DNA of their highly-rated S-Class. They could have added 'the looks' as well.

With a length of 4,581 millimetres, the Saloon is 55mm longer than its predecessor. The body width has increased too — by 42mm to 1,770 millimetres — and the wheelbase by 45mm to 2,760mm. These dimens-ions create the conditions for a generously-sized interior and, con-sequently, more comfort. The front shoulder room has, for example, increased by 40 millimetres.

The design of the new C-Class is based on the modern Mercedes family theme which, Mercedes says, reflects the technical superiority of automobiles bearing the famous three-pointed star. Mercedes describes the C-Class as having taut styling lines and large tranquil surfaces, while the pronounced wedge-shape of the front-end serves to em-phasise attributes such as agility and performance. This sporty pres-ence can be enhanced even further with the AMG sports package, which includes well-defined front and rear under-bumper extensions, side skirts and large, bold, wide alloy wheels.

During the course of its development, the new C-Class was subjected to more than 100 crash tests. Occupant protection is based on an intelligently-designed bodyshell, seventy percent of which consists of high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel. Compared to the previous series, Mercedes-Benz has enlarged the deformation zones even further and improved energy flows. The front-end structure of the new C-Class has four independently-acting impact levels, which enable forces to be distributed over a wide area while bypassing the passenger cell.

The safety technology in the interior is complemented by the very latest protection systems. Seven airbags are included as standard equipment: two adaptive airbags for the driver and front passenger,
a knee bag for the driver, two side bags in the front seat backrests and two large window bags which, in the event of a side impact, extend from the A- to the C-pillar.

The driver, front passenger and the passengers occupying the outer rear seats also benefit from belt tensioners and belt-force limiters. The standard head restraints operate on the Neck Pro principle — during a rear-end collision, the padded surfaces are pushed forward within milli-seconds to support the heads of the driver and front passenger at an early stage. This significantly reduces the risk of a whiplash injury.

The new C-Class is, without doubt, a significant product for Mercedes-Benz and it is their single best-selling model range. By giving it the scaled-down looks of the hugely-impressive S-Class saloon and by in-corporating much of the technology from that advanced car into the far less expensive C-Class models, I foresee this newcomer being a huge sales success. Really it cannot fail.

Inside the C-Class it is typical 'new-age' Mercedes: everything where it should be. All the controls are logical and easy to use and, importantly, just where they should be. It scores heavily over the BMW 3 Series
by having more interior room — particularly for rear seat passengers — and a more comfortable ride. Maybe the BMW has just got the edge for out-and-out handling, but for overall refinement and badge value the C-Class wins.

During some torrid test driving this week in a very wet and windy Spain, the newcomer put in an accomplished performance. The car is well balanced and it rides flat and level through corners with huge amounts of grip. The well-weighted steering is also vastly improved
and now gives feel and feedback to the driver.

The Advanced Agility Control system offers the driver a choice of two gearshift programmes: Sport and Comfort. When activated, it sharpens the steering even further, making it more direct; automatically adjusts the 7G-Tronic automatic transmission patterns for quicker gearchange response; sharpens throttle reaction and firms-up and lowers the sus-pension. On the motorways, simply switch off the Agility system and comfort and driving refinement is fully restored to that of an 'executive cruiser'.

Although the best-selling engines for the UK market were not available for this initial test driving programme, the star of the show was undoubtedly the V6 C320 CDI diesel unit with 221bhp and 376lb ft of torque available from only 1,600rpm. Top speed is 156mph and the 0-62mph sprint takes a vigorous 7.7 seconds. The petrol 270bhp C350 unit (with 258lb ft) is also very good and very fast — 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds with the same top speed. The C320 diesel engine, however, just pips it with its extra torque at low speeds to provide instant progressive response and much better fuel economy (38.7mpg) and better (192g/km) CO2 emissions.

The new Mercedes C-Class is the first car in its market sector to be awarded an Environmental Certificate for its environmentally-focussed development, highlighting advances over the entire vehicle life-cycle in areas such as fuel consumption, exhaust emissions and selection of materials used in its design and construction.

It's difficult to fault this new C-Class. I actually prefer the grille design of the outgoing model, but that's my own personal taste so it would be unfair to hold that against it. And yes, it will be costly with the added options. The facia panel control screen installation is also a tad messy but, that said, it does work well. Now for the good points: sharp design; undoubted quality; generous interior rear space; performance; cutting-edge technology; great engine; and 7G-Tronic transmission. And, last but not least, the cachet epitomised by the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star. — David Miles

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Mercedes-Benz C320 CDI Sport | £33,290
Maximum speed: 156mph | 0-62mph: 7.7 seconds
Overall test MPG: 38.7mpg | Power: 221bhp | Torque: 376lb ft

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