For: Superb performance, impeccable handling, race-proven quality engineering, distinctive AMG styling, option of Saloon and Estate models, competitive prices. Against: Sports setting provides a ride which is too firm and intrusive.
The new Mercedes C-Class Saloons were launched in the UK in June this year but right hand drive customers in the UK will have to wait until Spring 2008 for the C-Class Estates to arrive. However order books are already open.
By and large the new C-Class Saloon, on which the Estates are based, have been widely praised for their much improved quality, style, agility, performance, cleaner and more powerful efficient engines and most of all increased interior space, especially for rear seat passengers. The new Estates are likely to reap further praise for their load capacity, 485 to 1,500 litres, which Mercedes claim is the largest in its sector.
The good news for UK customers was that the new Saloons were introduced at more or less the same prices as the models they replaced and the Estates are likely to follow that pricing pattern. The like-for-like pricing of the C-Class Saloon has resulted in increased sales across Europe and in the UK in the very competitive premium compact sector of the market, where the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4 ranges are the main challengers to Mercedes models.
Spring 2008 will also see the introduction of the high performance C63 AMG Saloon and Estate models in the UK at prices estimated to be in the region of £51,000 and £52,000. They will go on sale in left hand drive markets early next year.
Although supplies of the new models are not imminent to European or UK customers Mercedes-Benz have just introduced them to the international motoring media because they are eager to attract advance orders, especially in the fleet and business car sectors
The competitor BMW 3-Series and M3 models are already in place and the new Audi A4 range opened for orders from last month, although deliveries of the saloons will not start until February and Avant estates will follow in the summer. Mercedes-Benz are keen to lay down a marker with prospective customers that their C-class Estate and AMG models are available for order. The C-Class Sports Coupe will follow later next year.
As with the Saloons the new C-Class Estate range in the UK has a revised model line-up structure in SE, Elegance and Sport specifications. In Europe these models will be known as Classic, Elegance and Avantgarde. The change of names for the UK says Mercedes better reflects the two new styling faces available with the new C-Class range for British fleet, business user-chooser and retail customers.
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 have a three pointed star mounted prominently in the centre of the grille.
Dermot Kelly, managing director of Mercedes Car Group in the UK said “No prices for next year’s C-Class Estate models have been finalised but I expect them to be more or less budget neutral with Estate models carrying just under a £1,000 price premium over their respective C-Class Saloon models.” C-Class Saloon prices range from £22,937 up to £35,577.
Prices of the new C63 AMG Saloon and Estate are less clear at this stage but prices starting in the region of £51,000 are likely.
Mercedes-Benz is also loathed to talk about future sales figures and will only talk about past sales numbers, which we have to assume they intend to beat. Last year just over 24,000 C-Class models of all types were sold in the UK, 14,500 being Saloons, nearly 3,000 Estates and over 6,800 Sports Coupes. Overall nearly 70 per cent of C-Class sales have in the past been to fleet and corporate sector customers but estate models are more popular with retail customers said Dermot Kelly. He added, “In the UK over the last two quarters we have seen a rise in demand for E-Class Estate models over Saloons so there appears to be a trend towards estates which could be reflected in future C-Class sales.”
Regarding the new C-Class AMG models Dermot Kelly said, “Sales in the past have been limited, between 250 and 275 a year, but there appears to be added interest from customers for the new C63 models and our expectations are that up to 1,000 AMG versions, Saloons and Estates could be sold in the UK in a full year.”
The C-Class Estate range
The new Estate line up for the UK will be available with eight engine options (not including the 63 AMG version which replaces the C55). Petrol engines will be the C180, C200 Kompressor, C230, C280 and C350 units. Diesel engines are the C200 CDI, C220 CDI and C320 CDI units. A six-speed manual transmission is standard for most models but C280, C350 and C 320 CDI models have the seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox as standard.
The four and six-cylinder engine line-up may look familiar to the outgoing C-Class Estate engines but Mercedes say all have received further development to provide more power but with better fuel economy and lower emissions. Larger four cylinder units now on average use 12 per cent less fuel than their predecessors while developing up to 13 per cent more power.
For instance the two best selling engines in the UK will be the C220 CDI, by far the most popular choice, and the C180 Kompressor. The C220 CDI diesel engine now develops 170hp rather than the previous 150hp and it has 60Nm more torque developed at lower engine speeds. Average fuel consumption is now quoted as 45.9mpg instead of 40.9mpg. This engine is the sensible choice for customers in all respects. It is relatively frugal to run, tax efficient, quiet, a strong performer and makes light work of heavy traffic conditions.
The C180 Kompressor petrol engine has a modified engine management system, improved Kompressor and redesigned pistons which result in 14hp more power and better fuel consumption. The 1.8-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine now produces 156hp and 230Nm of ‘grunt’ from 2,800 rpm. Top speed is 136mph and 0-62mph is covered in 9.8 seconds. The official average fuel consumption is 35.3mpg and CO2 emissions are 183g/km putting it in VED Band E at £165 a year. For the private buyer who wants a compact, prestigious estate car or for the company car user that doesn’t cover a high mileage this is a pretty good ‘starter’ model in the range.
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 the saloon or estate, whichever suits their image, lifestyle and business requirements.
The stretched exterior length over the Saloon and the steeper rear end over the previous Estate 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 is155 litres more space to 1,500. The maximum load length from the front passenger footwell to the tailgate has 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 new Estate has a wide tailgate opening and a wide and long load floor, all the features estate owners want. The only criticisms are the rear seats do not fold completely flat to create a 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 shares all the highly praised technical features of the C-Class Saloons and S-Class models, Adaptive Braking as standard with the options of Intelligent Lighting and PRE-SAFE preventive passenger protection. The Estate also gets a new rear suspension 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 carrying heavy loads on a regular basis, or use the C-Class Estate for towing, an additional cost self levelling suspension option will 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 feedback 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.
In any form the new C-Class Estate is no sluggish load carrier with a poor ride quality and compromised performance. Just look at the specification, see the quality and specification and look at the performance figures. It raises the bar in the compact premium estate sector for other manufacturers to aspire to.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate, C220 CDI Elegance. Price: £27,300 (Estimated). Engine/transmission: 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, high-pressure common rail diesel with turbocharger, 170hp, 400Nm of toque from 2,000rpm, 6-speed manual. Performance: 140mph, 0-62mph, 8.9 seconds, 45.9mpg (31mpg actual), CO2 159-161g/km, VED Band D £140.
For: Styling, large load area, excellent fast and frugal range of engines, superb ride quality, interior passenger space, much improved quality and high specification.
Against: Could be pricey if options are added, load floor not flat at the front, load area cover and fittings not up to the high quality of the rest of the vehicle.