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Mercedes-Benz CLC 220 CDI SE

Click to view picture galleryThe new Mercedes CLC-Class
  — formerly known as the C-Class
  Sports Coupe
is the new entry-
  level model in Mercedes-Benz’s
  Coupe family range. The good
  news is that it has the same appeal
  and the same price...”

MERCEDES-BENZ SAYS THE CLC SPORTS COUPE IS THE NEW YOUNGSTER, the new entry-level model, in their Coupe family range. The new CLC models replace the C-Class Sports Coupe range and go on sale in the UK from 12 June (2008), with prices ranging from 19,920 to 27,240.

Mercedes-Benz has been very active this year in introducing new and revised models. At this week's International Press launch in Austria they said that since January they have presented more new and updated cars than ever before in such a short period.

Following on from the new C-Class Saloon and Estate models introduced last year, the Mercedes range has been refreshed with the introduction of the SLK Roadsters, revised SL-Class, updated M-Class, a show premiere of the new A- and B-Class and GLK compact SUV models, the revised CLS-Class four-door Coupes and now the CLC three-door
compact Coupe.

With a downturn in the overall new car markets in the UK, Europe and the USA due to the economic climate, Mercedes-Benz's product offensive is well timed and in keeping with similar new and revised model programmes from BMW and Audi.

Mercedes-Benz says the rear-wheel drive CLC-Class is a new car but in fact it uses the architecture and is a heavily revised version of the old C-Class Sports Coupe it replaces. The CLC is, in reality, a re-skin but Mercedes says there are 1,100 detailed changes between the new models and the old. They have borrowed heavily from the styling, if not the size, of the latest C-Class Saloons and Estates to try and establish a link between
the two ranges.

New or not-so-new, the CLC is nevertheless a very important car for Mercedes-Benz. The C-Class Sports Coupe achieved 340,000 sales worldwide, including 46,750 in the UK, since its launch in 2001. Mercedes never forecast sales of new models, so it is reasonable to suggest around 7,000 sales on average each year might be a target in the UK for the new range.

The CLC-Class range for the UK will have four petrol and two diesel engine options.
Historic UK sales show the C180 Kompressor petrol unit to be the most popular, with 47
per cent, followed by the C220 CDI diesel with 27 per cent, C200 CDI with 14 per cent, C200 Kompressor with nine per cent, C230 two per cent and C350 one per cent.

However, the UK market place is changing rapidly, especially in the fleet and business sector which will account for 60 per cent of sales. Increases in Benefit in Kind company car tax, road tax and higher fuel prices are combining to slow 'real' sales. Company car users and retail buyers — faced with ever escalating family budget financial pressures — are looking to cut their motoring costs, either by down-sizing to smaller cars, opting for smaller engines or not buying a 'new' car at this time.

The good news for CLC-Class customers is that retail prices are the same as those of the outgoing models. Mercedes-Benz UK says residual values will be three per cent better,
the equipment levels are higher, the engines offer an average eight per cent better fuel economy and seven per cent lower emissions. The outgoing C-Class Sports Coupe holds the distinction of achieving the highest conquest rate attained by any model in the Mercedes-Benz range — around 70 per cent. And nearly 50 per cent of customers, once they have entered the brand, stay with it, with many moving up in size to other Mercedes models. The new CLC is expected to improve on this conquest figure.

The rear-wheel drive, three-door Mercedes-Benz CLC-Class has a number of good points
— and some disappointing ones. The good news is that nothing has changed too much, including the range starting price of 19,920. The engines have more power, return more miles per gallon and produce fewer emissions. On the downside, the CLC is not totally new over the C-Class Sports Coupe models they replace. In some ways, for some people, that is not such a bad thing. The outgoing Coupe was really well liked and it brought many customers to the Mercedes brand for the first time — and it retained owners in its own right.

Most disappointing though, it has lost its C-Class status — it is no longer a Coupe from
the highly-rated new C-Class Saloon and Estate family. The newcomer is based on the older and smaller C-Class, which is why, says Mercedes, that the new CLC branding is
more appropriate.

The wedge-shaped profile is retained which gives a low glass line at the front rising to
a high body waistline at the rear. At the front there has been a successful attempt to transfer the new C-Class looks to the CLC. There is the wider grille, the wrap-around projector style headlights, the large air intake in the bumper and, most importantly, the Mercedes star positioned in the centre of the grille. At the rear there have been some updates from the old C-Class Coupe but the styling is not so different and looks out of keeping with the more modern front and side changes.

The steeply raked tailgate does not allow for acceptable rear view vision from the driver's seat: it is like peering through a letterbox. UK models will have rear parking sensors as standard and the door-mounted mirrors just about do the job of keeping the driver informed of what is behind the CLC on the road.

The interior is similar to the outgoing Coupe. It has been refreshed, but no more than that and the interiors of the BMW 1-Series and latest Audi A3s are now superior. The plastics look more 'volume' than 'premium' brand quality, but the instrumentation is modern and easy to read. Rear legroom is, of course, limited; rear seat access not easy but there is a fairly good boot and load area. Younger and older couples with no children will be better suited to this Coupe.

The UK model line-up has been restructured and there are now two distinct model lines:
SE and Sport. In keeping with the added value specification, SE models have Parktronic sensors, fabric and synthetic leather upholstery, a chrome trim package, automatic climate control and 16-inch alloy road wheels. The Sport option, which costs an extra 1,100, adds 18-inch alloy wheels, metallic paint, sports suspension, upgraded interior package (but still with synthetic leather upholstery), upgraded instrumentation, tinted rear lights and stainless steel exhaust.

There are other extra-cost option packs from the 400 Comfort Pack to proper leather upholstery at 1,500 and a Panoramic Sunroof at 1,400. Traditionally, most of the outgoing C-Class Sports Coupe models had most of the necessary goodies and residual values were higher for those versions. Business users and company car drivers in particular will benefit from the new CLC's further improved residual values when it comes to leasing and contract hire costs.

In action, the SE test cars I tried at the International Press Launch handled equally as well as the Sport models and were more comfortable without the sports suspension and bigger 18-inch wheels. For the record, the CLC's suspension is nowhere near as compliant as the new system used for the C-Class Saloons and Estates. The CLC might look modern but
the mechanicals are getting old — and it shows. The CLC is certainly not as agile or as composed as the latest 1-Series and A3 competitors, but for the many older users that will not be an issue.

According to Mercedes-Benz UK, there was more or less a 50:50 split between male and female customers for the previous C-Class Coupe. Sport versions were bought or used by 28 to 33 year-old image-conscious executives buying or leasing their first Mercedes. SE models attracted older users: 77 per cent without children and where the vehicle was a second car.

As already mentioned, there are four four-cylinder and two six-cylinder engines, with power outputs ranging from 120bhp to 268bhp. The 181bhp powerplant in the CLC 200 Kompressor now develops an extra 20bhp while returning 36.2 mpg — the equivalent of up to 2.8mpg more than before. The CLC 200 CDI returns a consumption of 48.7mpg, which is improved by 2.4mpg over the outgoing model. Conveniently, the CDI models boast operating ranges of over 600 miles on a full tank of fuel (62 litres). I drove the likely best-selling 2.1-litre diesel CLC 220 CDI, the CLC 200 Kompressor 1.8-litre petrol and the flagship 268bhp CLC 350 V6 3.5-litre models. The 3.5 V6, not surprisingly, will be a very small seller indeed. Suffice to say, all these revised engines offer more performance, better miles per gallon and lower CO2 emissions.

As I mentioned earlier, the SE variants have a much better level of ride comfort than Sport versions. The firm Sport suspension and larger wheels showed up the shortcomings in the CLC's aging chassis department, even when driving on Austria's manicured road surfaces.

I agree with Mercedes that nearly half of all CLC customers will go for the CLC 180 Kompressor model. At 19,920 for the SE and 21,020 for the Sport they will be perfectly suitable for most people's use. We could even see petrol model sales increasing as the price of diesel over petrol increases, seemingly by the day. However, many CLCs will find their way into the fleet and business sector, where better mpg and lower CO2 levels point to the CLC 220 CDI being the most user-friendly diesel model for high-mileage drivers.

To sum up, aging driving dynamics, poor ride quality with the Sport package, limited rear visibility and dated interior plastics offset the plus points of more power, better mpg and lower CO2 emissions. Additional benefits include better value for money at the same (still high) price, better front-end styling and higher residual values. And, of course, there's the proven allure of that three-pointed star! — David Miles

Mercedes-Benz CLC 220 CDI SE
| 22,260
Maximum speed: 135mph | 0-62mph: 9.7 seconds
Overall test MPG: 47.7mpg | Power: 148bhp | Torque: 251lb ft
CO2 156g/km | VED Band D 145 | Insurance group TBC