Mercedes C Class Saloon Review
When Mercedes-Benz first introduced the C-Class, it was the ‘baby’ of the German brand’s line-up, condensing all the company’s expertise into one compact saloon. Now, though, it’s one of Mercedes’ best-selling models – and with good reason. The design might be more than half a decade old, but it’s still a good-looking thing, and a mid-life refresh has done that image no harm at all. More importantly, though, the car under that curvy bodywork is still up there with the best in the class.
Select's rating score* - 3.6 / 5
If you want a comfy, stylish way of whizzing around the country, look no further. The C-Class has the road manners and looks of a luxury limo in something the size of a Mondeo. Most recently. The C-Class Saloon received it's last major design update in 2018, but Merc have made a few subtle additions since then. Even entry-level models come with a decent amount of standard equipment, and high-specification versions are even more luxurious. If you want performance, the Mercedes-AMG versions are ready and waiting with big engines and even bigger power outputs, and if you want economy there’s a plug-in hybrid that combines diesel power with electric motors for epic efficiency. In short, there’s something for everyone, and despite the C-Class’ advancing years, it still has more than enough to compete with the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.
The C-Class really is a lesson in doing the simple things well, with some smooth diesel engines, a plush ride and a good amount of space. The style game is strong with this one, too, and the crisp, modern looks will appeal to many. There are some details that really scream luxury, too, from the (probably unnecessary) 64-colour ambient lighting to the laptop-style touch pads on the steering wheel. They take a bit of getting used to, but they are quite a neat way of navigating the various menus and infotainment settings without festooning the wheel with buttons. Things like that really make the difference in cars like this.
The C-Class range is pretty sizeable, so you might have to engage in a bit of light speed dating before finding the one for you. But that’s what we’re here for, right? In essence, then, this is how it works...
You get a choice of two petrol engines, two diesel engines and two plug-in hybrids, one diesel and one petrol. If you’re a thrill-seeker, you can add two more high-performance AMG petrol engines to that list. For now, though, we’ll concentrate on the mainstays of the range.
The two petrol engines wear the ‘200’ and ‘300’ badges, but both use mild-hybrid technology to improve economy. The former is a 1.5-litre turbocharged engine with 184hp, while the latter is a 2.0-litre turbo with 258hp. Both are reasonably quick, with 0-62mph times of 7.7 and 6.0 seconds respectively, and both come with a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
You get the same transmission if you go for the diesels, which are both 2.0-litre units adorned with the 220d and 300d badges. They’re much smoother than the old 2.1-litre engines, and they pack plenty of punch. The 220d comes with 194hp – enough to get from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds – while the 300d gets 245hp and a 5.9-second 0-62mph time.
Then there are the plug-in hybrids, which combine 2.0-litre engines with electric motors and batteries big enough to manage more than 30 miles on electricity alone. The 300e combines a 211hp petrol engine with the 122hp electric motor, while the 300de effectively combines the 194hp 220d engine with the same electric motor. Both are remarkably sprightly, managing 0-62mph in about five-and-a-half seconds.
But if you want to go fast, the AMG models are the real deal. You get a choice of the 3.0-litre V6-powered ‘43’ or the 4.0-litre V8 ‘63 S’. The ‘43’ engine is sensational, mixing the creaminess of a V6 with a chunky 390hp and the stability of a four-wheel-drive system. The sprint from 0-62mph takes 4.7 seconds. But the 63 S is faster, using its 510hp might to race from 0-62mph in four seconds flat, accompanied by the bellow of that characterful V8 engine.
Unless you opt for either of those AMG models, you’ll be getting a car that’s wonderfully serene in the way it drives. Sure, some six-cylinder engines would be welcome methods of making the C-Class smoother, but the 2.0-litre diesel engines are way quieter than their 2.1-litre predecessors. And the ride comfort across the range is excellent, making the C-Class a really agreeable long-distance cruiser.
But although the Mercedes feels tuned for comfort, it still handles sweetly thanks to the rear-wheel-drive layout and well judged steering. Both AMG models are more visceral than their stablemates, which gives them a somewhat hairy-chested character, but that gives them a certain charm that’s missing from some German super-saloons.
On paper, running a C-Class on the cheap will mean opting for one of the plug-in hybrids. Both will return three-figure economy on the official economy test, although that does depend on how often you’re going to charge the batteries. If you only do the occasional long trip and you can charge at home, they’ll make an awful lot of sense. The 300de is particularly strong on that front, with its diesel engine allowing good economy on a run while the electric motor deals with the urban stuff – a traditional diesel weak spot.
If you don’t fancy a plug-in hybrid, the diesels will suit the mile-hungry motorists, while the mild-hybrid petrol engines will still be frugal enough for those who only cover a few thousand miles a year. But if you want to keep fuel (and insurance) bills down, it’s probably best to steer clear of the AMG cars, which only manage economy in the high 20s.
With low fuel bills come low emissions, so the plug-in hybrid C-Classes will also make most sense for those planning to run their C-Class as a company car. The C 300e produces 34g of carbon dioxide per kilometre, while the C 300de shaves that down to 31g/km. Both fall into the 10% company car tax bracket, which helps to minimise the amount you send to HMRC.
If you’re a private customer who is simply concerned about emissions, we’d normally recommend one of the petrol or diesel engines, depending on your mileage. But the C 300de must surely be worth a look for customers whatever their mileage. On a short trip, it’ll use electricity most of the time, while the diesel engine will only really see use on long journeys, where it’s more efficient than a petrol engine. If you can charge at home or at work, the 300de is a win/win in our book.
If you’re used to the solid but generally quite bland interior of an Audi or a BMW, the C-Class will be a breath of fresh air. Flowing lines and smart switchgear set the tone, while classy-looking chrome finishers complement the premium dark wood trim. It’s all very German, without being too German.
In places, though, the C-Class is beginning to show its age – especially when compared with some of the more modern models in the Mercedes-Benz range. Even the smaller A-Class Saloon has a more up-to-date cabin, and that’s a bad look for something that purports to be the A-Class’ big brother.
That said, it’s still a very pleasant place to spend your time. The seats are good and there’s a nice sense of space, as well as a feeling of quality. No, it isn’t quite as solid as an Audi or a BMW, but there’s no shame in that. That it runs those two brands incredibly close is a massive compliment in itself.
The C-Class’ infotainment system is undoubtedly its Achilles heel, and it’s one of the most obvious displays of this car’s underlying age. The ‘floating’ central screen looks fine, and the definition of the reversing camera system is exemplary, but the control mechanism feels a little behind the times. It’s a control wheel arrangement a little like the BMW system, but it’s nowhere near as well thought through or as well executed. Perhaps more worryingly, it’s also less competent than the system in the A-Class.
Those choosing an entry-level C-Class might also lament the lack of a digital instrument cluster, which is reserved for high-end models. The dials you get as standard are functional and fuss-free, but they aren’t as posh as the swanky new screens.
Screens aside, you get a reasonable amount of on-board tech, with USB connection, wireless charging on some models and the big Burmester sound system on well-equipped models. That system is good, and it comes with rather natty chrome-effect speaker covers, which add a little something to the cabin.
When all’s said and done, the C-Class is a four-door saloon, so practicality is something of a given. There’s bags of space in the front and rear, with more than enough room to sit four adults in comfort. That said, the middle of the rear bench isn’t that capacious and you wouldn’t want to sit there for long, but it’ll do for a short trip.
Further back you get a 460-litre boot that’s bigger than that of either the BMW 3 Series or the Audi A4. And if you fold the rear seats down you free up 1,480 litres, which is very reasonable. You still get a relatively small boot opening, though, so those wanting to carry bulkier items will be better off with the C-Class Estate.
Whether you choose the saloon or the estate version, though, you’ll get plenty of space for the usual guff and paraphernalia that litters day-to-day life. The C-Class has a particularly roomy centre console with a split opening armrest, and the glovebox is a good size, too.
As you might expect, the C-Class cruised to a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating when the pre-facelift car was tested in 2014. Admittedly, the test has become more stringent since then, but you can only beat what’s in front of you. And whatever you say, a 92% score for adult occupant protection is impressive, as is an 84% score for child occupant protection.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes to the crash test is on the technology front, but the C-Class still comes with plenty of safety tech. A collision prevention system is standard across the range, while cruise control and parking assistance tech are also included with every model. And if you go for the Driving Assistance Package you get blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance and even an adaptive cruise control system that can slow you down to prepare for junctions or sharp bends.
Just as there’s a wealth of engines to choose from, the C-Class comes in a variety of guises providing various levels of standard equipment. The range kicks off with the SE, which still comes with Artico man-made leather seats, 17-inch alloy wheels and a reversing camera. You get heated front seats and satellite navigation, too, plus automatic lights and wipers.
If you want a few more gadgets, you can have the Sport Edition, which just adds 18-inch alloy wheels, lowered suspension and sports seats trimmed with real leather. But perhaps the most desirable trim of all is the AMG Line Edition, which gets you the sporty AMG body kit, sports suspension and a performance brake kit, as well as AMG sports seats and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
Opting for the AMG Line Night Edition Premium, meanwhile, gets you larger 19-inch alloys (unless you go for a plug-in hybrid, in which case you have to stick with 18s) and gloss black trim on the door mirrors and rear bumper. Wireless charging is also included, along with memory settings for the seats, mirrors and steering column.
Topping the main range is the AMG Line Night Edition Premium Plus, which goes to town on the tech with a 360-degree manoeuvring camera, the Keyless Go Comfort package with a powered boot, and a high-end Burmester sound system. You get a panoramic glass roof, too.
Then there’s the AMG cars to consider, with the Mercedes-AMG C 43 getting three trim levels all of its own, while the C 63 S gets two. As standard, the 43 comes with 18-inch alloy wheels and an even more aggressive bodykit, plus leather upholstery and red seat belts, while the Edition Premium adds larger wheels and a “mid-line” sound system and the Edition Premium Plus gets the Burmester sound system, 360-degree camera and panoramic roof.
The 63 S, meanwhile, comes with 19-inch alloy wheels, performance seats and the AMG Driver’s Package, which removes the customary 155mph limiter to allow speeds of up to 180mph. As with the 43, the Premium Plus model adds a better sound system and a panoramic roof.
Fortunately, that much choice means the options list is as short as possible, with only one optional package available alongside the usual array of colour schemes and alloy wheel designs. High-end AMG Line Night Editions and the high-performance AMG cars get the option of the Driving Assistance Package, which offers a load of safety systems, including adaptive cruise control that maintains a safe distance between you and the car in front.
The C-Class faces some stiff competition, with a wealth of rivals from all the usual suspects. Perhaps the closest rival in terms of style and comfort is the Volvo S60, which comes with a fabulously Scandinavian cabin and a refreshingly un-sporty feel. If that doesn’t float your boat, there’s always the Jaguar XE, which is a stunning driver’s car let down by some less-than-exemplary engines lower down the range. Or there’s the Lexus IS, which comes with hybrid power and excellent build quality, but it’s dogged by a suspect infotainment system.
The strongest rivals of them all are the Audi A4 and the BMW 3 Series. Those two German giants vie with the C-Class for the lion’s share of sales, and with good reason. But although each model is excellent in its own way, they all do things slightly differently. The 3 Series is the driver’s choice, with sublime steering and some fabulous engines – particularly the 3.0-litre motors. The A4, meanwhile, is less agile but more tech-focused, and although the 3 Series’ cabin is hardly shoddy, the Audi sets new standards for quality. But neither model has the style or the comfort of the C-Class.
Realistically, the battle for top honours in the executive saloon class is a straight fight between the A4, C-Class and 3 Series. For some, the BMW’s stunning driving dynamics and divine 3.0-litre engines make it a shoo-in, but for most of us, it’s the C-Class’ comfort and style that win out. It may not be the youngest car on the market, but the Mercedes is still one of the classiest ways to get from A to B.
Where to next?
View latest Mercedes C Class Saloon car leasing deals - from just £289.73 per month inc VAT**
Looking for a great car lease deal? Check out our incredible range of Special Offers
New executive saloon? Read our latest Car Reviews and find the right model for you
Want to know more about leasing? Take a look at our comprehensive Leasing Guides
Interested in everything motoring? Why not catch up on all the latest Car Leasing News.
*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Mercedes C Class Saloon
**Correct as of 10/12/2020. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2,607.55 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.