In recent times Mercedes-Benz styling has jumped from between extremes as we’ve moved from one generation to the next. Not so long ago, Stuttgart’s favourite cars were chock full of soft feline curves, now they’ve got enough hard edges, slashes and anger to turn the emo crowd a deep shade of angst.
Rather appropriately our review car came dressed in black and, with its AMG bodykit, was easily the meanest, baddest wagon this side of the River Hades. That’s in no small part thanks to the bodykit’s 18-inch alloy wheels, lowered suspension, spoilers and side skirts. The company’s over-sized three-pointed star sits proudly in the centre of the grille, snarling at any rear view mirror that dares to look its way, while chrome has been all but banished.
Out the back there’s an auto tailgate, which, unlike the one fitted to the 3-Series wagon, doesn’t have a seperate lift-up windscreen. Indicators are mounted in the auto-folding wing mirrors and although the xenon headlights have auto height adjustment, they lack the ability to swivel left and right to keep the shaft of bright white light pointing down the road. Fog lights which switch on in concert with the indicators only partially makes up for this.
The angles are just as prominent inside as out, but while the design is quite sober, the fittings are either soft to the touch or have a feeling of quality — accusations that couldn’t be levelled at the old model. Interior ambiance on our car was lifted greatly by the contrasting cream coloured leather — not MB-Tex — that’s, unfortunately, discoloured rather all too easily. Plenty of light enters the cabin through the C’s dual sunroof — both feature an electric blind, but only the foremost one roof opens.
All creatures great and small should have no problems with the wagon’s rear seat: headroom is plentiful all around and leg space ample, unless you’re sitting behind Michael Jordan. The rear seats split folds and can be folded flat to extend boot space. Handily the luggage blind folds down with the larger seat back, although it does require Samson’s strength to lift it back into place.
Pop out luggage hooks and a series of pockets add to the boot’s usefulness, while the full-size spare tyre is greatly appreciated. The front seats are deeply dished, and manages to be both comfortable and supportive during cornering. Irritatingly there’s electric assistance for the front seats’ backrest and cushion angle, but fore-aft adjustment is manual, although this may suit the longer limbed amongst us as foot space underneath the front seats is not compromised by complex electric gee-whizadry.
Mercedes-Benz thrived in the recession we had to have by emphasising its safety credentials, so it’s little surprise to see that the C-Class comes with eight airbags, traction control, ABS, electronic stability control and emergency braking assistance. Automatic wipers and headlights are also standard, although depending on conditions the former can be more of an irritant than a useful feature. Front and rear parking sensors are fitted, but there’s neither a reversing camera or sonar-style display in the Comand screen, just a bank of LED lights on the dash and in the ceiling.
A two zone climate control system is fitted as standard and, in European tradition, the recirculation setting is annoyingly reset every time you start a journey. Another Mercedes-Benz signature item we wish would disappear into the annals of history is the all-in-one indicator and wiper stalk. On the other side of the ledger is Benz’s speed limiter and cruise control wand, which, with the ceaseless proliferation of speed cameras on Aussie roads, is like manna from heaven.
In the centre of the speedometer is a large LCD display capable of displaying radio and track selections or, even better, next turn instructions — annoyingly it defaults to an odometer reading on every start up. Using controls on the steering wheel’s spokes, the driver can select stations/tracks, adjust the volume and handle calls via the Bluetooth hands-free system. The latter works quite well despite the diesel din, and the microphone is located near the central air-conditioning vents, so both passenger and driver are able communicate with faraway persons.
With a large mesa of torque available only in a fairly narrow rev range, the C220CDI is a car that requires a degree of finesse to drive smoothly. Prod the accelerator too much and, after a short pause, the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine’s wave of torque will push you firmly into your seat before the five-speed auto shifts up a gear and you repeat the process. Go too gently and you’ll spend a short lifetime being overtaken by old folk dawdling off to a game of bowls.
Drive with anything approaching vim and vigour and the C-Class feels fast. The short dash and resultant seating position contribute greatly to this, as does the over-assisted and feel-free power steering. There’s more self-centering than on the just superceded E-Class, but it can be occasionally caught out on roundabouts and sharp turns. For the simple task of shifting between park, reverse and drive — we weren’t really inclined to do more — the metallic shifter is a wonderfully tactile device. According to the official figures, the C220 CDI should sip 6.4L/100km, but in our city-based testing the best we saw was around 8L/100km.
In the dry, the low profile 18-inch wheels that accompany the AMG kit fitted to our car proved more capable of handling the diesel engine’s torque, and required more speed and courage than we were able to muster to break traction. The pay off for this surefootedness is, naturally, a firm ride and a dash of tyre grumble to accompany the engine’s raucous tones.
Switch on the Sport mode that comes with the AMG pack and the suspension becomes hard and unyielding, amplifying Sydney’s array of speed humps, unintentional undulations and potholes. Gears are also held for longer and kick-down is not only easier to trigger, but also more abrupt, causing us to lurch uncomfortably during stop-start driving. With Sport mode off, an open highway wending its way to the horizon and the prospect of many miles to be eaten, the C220 CDI is a much happier camper.