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Click to view road test review picture galleryMercedes’ classy-
  looking new C-Class
  Estate has raised the
  bar in the compact
  premium estate sector
  for other car
  manufacturers to
  aspire to...”

BY INTRODUCING MODELS MORE SPORTING IN STYLE TERMS — such as the sharp-looking new C-Class Estate — Mercedes-Benz are aiming to drive down the average age of users to their late 40s, and to attract more female customers. In addition to 'sporty' styling, the new C-Class Estate models have higher equipment levels, more load space, more power and more performance — but emit less CO2.

Although Mercedes are looking to appeal to younger customers with the aggressive styling of the Sport versions of the new estate, they have also ensured — with SE and Elegance variants — the new range retains its appeal to traditional C-Class Estate buyers. All new models offer high versatility, high levels of driver and passenger comfort, class-leading load capacity, a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating and certified environmental credentials.

Mercedes is the only automotive manufacturer to be accredited with the Environmental Certificate, recognising the achievement of meeting ISO standards in 'Design for the Environment'. What this means in practise is that throughout the life cycle of their vehicles ('dust to dust'), emissions of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide are reduced by 12 tonnes per vehicle — equivalent to a 19 per cent reduction since 2001.

While the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate models have been available for customers to order for some time, deliveries are only just starting now, with C63 AMG versions following in May (2008). On-the-road prices begin at 24,630 for the C180 Kompressor SE and rise to 52,570 for the C63 AMG variant. C-Class Estate models carry a 1,200 price premium over the comparative Saloon versions. The likely best-selling model, the C220 CDI diesel with SE specification, costs 26,760. With the expected high-selling Sport upgrade, this model will be priced at 29,655. C-Class Estate prices show an average 3.8 per cent increase over the outgoing Estate versions but Mercedes says this is offset by the better equipment levels, increased space and improved performance.

Traditionally, the C-Class Estate sales are split 50:50 between fleet and retail customers; 54 per cent of sales are for diesel models; and
93 per cent of customers choose an automatic transmission option.

However, Mercedes UK thinks the take-up of manual gearbox models will increase for two reasons. Firstly — the on-the-road price of a car with an automatic gearbox is higher, so fleet and business users are becoming more cautious of incurring high levels of benefit-in-kind tax-ation. Secondly, the traditional Mercedes foot-operated parking brake has not been easy to use on manual transmission models. With the car on an incline, once the parking brake had been released a driver had
to hold the vehicle on the footbrake whilst attempting to quickly move their right foot to the accelerator. Now all models have Hill Start Assist, which gives the driver enough time to move their foot to the accelerator pedal without the car rolling backwards.

Mercedes sells, on average, in the region of 4,000 C-Class Estates annually in the UK, as opposed to 17,000 C-Class Saloons. But demand for estate cars is growing — particularly in the medium-sized C-seg-ment — because some customers are now moving away from five-door hatchbacks and more new customers are down-sizing from larger D-segment vehicles.

By far the most popular engine for C-Class Estates is the C220 CDI turbodiesel which takes 48 per cent of sales, mostly fleet and business users. The next highest selling engine is the C180 Kompressor petrol unit which appeals to 33 per cent of customers, mainly retail buyers.

All four-cylinder engines for the new C-Class Estates have more power and torque, and all engines have, on average, a 7 per cent reduction
in fuel consumption and less CO2 emissions. Ninety-eight per cent
of C-Class Estate models are under the future 225g/km, 25-per-day London Congestion Charge.

The C220 CDI diesel engine sees a 13 per cent increase in power from 148bhp to 168bhp with CO2 reducing by 12 per cent to 159g/km, putting it in VED Band D with a 140 road tax cost. The best-selling C180 Kompressor petrol engine has its power increased by 9 per cent from 141bhp to 154bhp whilst CO2 is down by 12 per cent to 168g/km, giving it a VED rating of 165.

By and large, the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class Saloon models on which the Estates are based have been widely praised since their launch last year, particularly for their much-improved quality, their style, agility and performance, their cleaner and more powerful engines and, most of all, for their increased interior space — especially for rear seat passengers.

The new Estates — 4,596mm in length — can expect further praise for their classy and elegant exterior styling and also for their increased load carrying capacity, which ranges from 485 to 1,500 litres (Mercedes says this is the largest in its sector). The new C-Class Estate range competes against the BMW 3-Series Touring and, from June, against the new Audi A4 Avant models.

As with the Saloons, the new C-Class Estate range in the UK has a revised model line-up structure with SE, Elegance and Sport specific-ations. 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 three pointed star mounted prominently in the centre of the grille that sits better with the aggressive AMG body styling cues.

The new Estate line-up for the UK is available with eight engine options (not including the C63 AMG version, which replaces the C55). Petrol engines are the C180 and C200 Kompressor units along with the C230, C280 and C350 engines. Diesel engines are the C200 CDI, C220 CDI and C320 CDI units. A six-speed manual transmission is standard for most models although C280/C350 petrol and C320 CDI diesel models have the seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox as standard.

As already mentioned, the C220 CDI's 2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine now develops 168bhp and it has 44lb ft more torque — 295lb ft — developed at lower engine speeds. Average fuel consump-tion is now quoted as 46.3mpg (up from 40.9mpg) and the top speed is 139mph with 0-62mph taking 8.5 seconds. In all respects, this engine is the sensible choice for most customers. It is relatively frugal to run, tax efficient, quiet, a strong performer and makes light work of heavy traffic conditions.

The C180 Kompressor's four-cylinder petrol engine has a modified engine management system, improved supercharger and redesigned pistons which result in 13hp more power and better fuel consumption. This 1.8-litre unit now produces 154bhp and 170lb ft of 'grunt' from 2,800rpm. Top speed is 135mph and 0-62mph is covered in 9.8 seconds. The official average fuel consumption is 39.8mpg and CO2 emissions are 168g/km. 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 in the range. Thanks to its supercharger, the Estate's low-down acceleration is good and the car doesn't feel underpowered or the engine stressed on the open road. And it returned a healthy 32.8mpg during a brief
test drive.

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 either the saloon or the estate, whichever best suits their image, lifestyle and business requirements.

The Estate's stretched exterior length over the C-Class Saloon and the steeper (over the previous Estate) rear end 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 155 litres more space — now 1,500 litres. The maximum load length from the front passenger footwell to the tailgate has also increased: by 170mm to 2,820mm.
The new estate also has the maximum permissible payload of 605kg and 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 latest model also benefits from a wide tailgate opening and a wide and long load floor — all features estate owners want. The only criticisms are that the rear seats do not fold completely flat to create a truly flat load floor, and 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 including Adaptive Braking as standard with the options of Intelligent Lighting and PRE-SAFE pre-ventive passenger protection. The Estate also gets a new rear sus-pension system for all models. Called Agility Control, it 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 and for customers who need to carry heavy loads on a regular basis — or use the C-Class Estate for towing — an additional-cost self-levelling suspension option is 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. The C-Class Estate does 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. To that criticisim you can add: with the rear seats folded down, the extended rear load floor is not flat; it's tricky to load long items; and some people will find the ride of the Sport models too firm.

However, in any guise the new C-Class Estate is no sluggish load-carrier with a poor ride quality and compromised performance. Just look at the quality, specification and performance figures and it's easy to see why the new C-Class Estate raises the bar in the compact premium estate sector for other manufacturers to aspire to. Its many plus points include the classy styling, large load area, a range of cleaner and more frugal engines, comfortable ride quality, more interior passenger space, much improved quality and higher specification. It certainly looks fresher — and is roomier — than the competition from BMW but it has yet to face the new Audi A4 Avant models (due out in June 2008). — David Miles

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Mercedes-Benz C180 Kompressor SE Estate
| 24,630
Maximum speed: 135mph | 0-62mph: 9.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 32.8mpg | Power: 154bhp | Torque: 170lb ft

CO2 168g/km | VED Band E 165 | Insurance group 13E
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